Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Librarycamp12: Yet another conference (or unconference to be precise)

I really wasn't sure if I wanted to go to Librarycamp this year. I had enjoyed the first one last year, and indeed the regional one in Manchester. But I was apprehensive this time, because so much has happened to libraries this year, with public libraries closing, funding being withdrawn, everyone tightening their belts and I could see no positive outcomes that had happened as a result of the first Librarycamp. I was also a bit dismal about the lack of response to my job applications, or the responses of "We have had so many candidates of a high quality..." I know that there are a lot of librarians out there looking for a very few jobs. I thought that the atmosphere would be all doom and gloom. I was very wrong.

I returned home that night, very tired but also in a much cheerful mood. The sessions that I attended were positive and provided their own immediate outcome. The subjects discussed were all different from last year, with different facilitators (at least the ones that I went to were, there may have been duplications). Everyone there was in a good mood and contributed to the discussions in a positive way. My only complaint was that the day started at 9am, and for reasons that can't be revealed in this place, I found it very difficult to get there so early on a Saturday morning. I will just say that it had something to do with airports and collecting someone late night/early morning. I therefore missed the first set of sessions, and didn't pitch for one myself (I managed to hi-jack a few later though).

My first session was the one about the happiness index and libraries. I have an interest in the subject because one of my talks, or workshops, is about "How libraries can make you happy". Unfortunately I didn't glean very much from that session, the discussion did not flow, and we never managed to settle how libraries could monitor their effect and show benefit from measuring happiness. It is a very subjective and abstract idea, especially as  the happiness survey is a quantitative online survey based on few questions. Perhaps it was a hard topic to tackle.

The second session I attended was about the problems associated with opening research collections to the public. Over the past two decades or so, while I have been studying or studying and working, I have thought that it would be really useful if I could access academic libraries more freely. Also, while standing in the library for my University I have thought "This could be a wonderful resource for the Town, why don't they open it to the public?" It seems that Universities and research intuitions now realise that they are getting tax payers money, and maybe those tax payers would like to see what they are paying for, and they mean more that just digitising their collection and putting it on the web. Initiatives that are already happening include a travelling archival display that is touring Wales, various co-operative schemes between academic and public libraries, and the Ultimate in Co-operation, the Hive in Worcester, which is not only a building that contains many council facilities, but also has integrated the public library and the academic library, both collections being shelved together and one ticket for all users. What I also found inspiring is that the Hive contains a large display area that exhibits materials and expertise from the libraries, archive and archaeological sectors to a three monthly changing theme.

My next session was collaborative. It was about storytelling in Libraries and most of the people who came to that session are practitioners. The idea of the facilitator was to share experiences and we did. I talked about storysacks, we sang some songs, talked about most requested Rhymes, and then realised that one amongst us had come along because she thought we would be talking about storytelling from a knowledge management point of view, She stayed because she was enjoying herself. That session was fun, and practical, I have come away with more ideas to use in story sessions. There was just the glimps of a suggestion that perhaps there should be a storytelling camp. Perhaps it could be arranged.

The following session was about repairing books, which wasn't quite a practical demonstration, but almost. I would love to go an a book restoration course and there were many helpful suggestions of places that run courses, demonstrations on youtube and a shop that sells supplies. There was a little discussion about the worth of repairing a book as opposed to buying a new one, which of course would depend on the cost of the book in the first place, and how easy it is to get a replacement  We deviated slightly into the use of old and discarded books into art objects, and were informed about the "library of lost books" which is a project for artists to use the books that have been discarded from Birmingham Library because of its rehousing. I realised that I could practise on my own collection, I have a lot of old books and I collect things such as ladybird books and Victorian children's novels. Definitely a positive outcome from that session.

The final session was really inspiring, it was like a call to arms for all librarians, to go outward into the world with all their skills and be librarians in every situation. I found out about the American Librarians that call themselves Radical References, who started by supplying information to protesters at a Republican party conference in 2004. They have gone global, with Chapters in various parts of America, the Boston Chapter supplying information to Occupy Boston. Another enterprising Librarian takes leaflets and information on planes, being the "Inflight Librarian". The facilitator of the session is herself an "itinerant librarian", taking poetry into clubs in the early hours of the morning. She believes in "Going where people are". One of the group worked with scientists and he told us of plans to do "Science Busking": demonstration of experiments in a shopping centre. the whole idea is that a librarian doesn't have to be attached to a place with walls, the collection could be information on a USB stick, or a bag full of books or leaflets to come out at the right time. My conclusion to this is maybe I should go around with a selection of storybooks, or take gardening books down the allotment (actually, taking them to Gardening Club may be a better idea).

The best bit of the day was being with like minded people, and the chance to meet them in the between sessions time. I look forward to next year's National Librarycamp and the surprises that it will bring.

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