Saturday, 27 December 2014

Brighton, baby! ARLG 2014 conference

Earlier this year I was successful in applying for the 2014 AlisonNorthover Bursary, awarded by ARLG. I used the award to fund my attendance at the 2014 ARLG conference, entitled ‘The final frontier: to boldly go where youhave never gone before’. This was the second CILIP ARLG study conference and was held at the University of Sussex, near Brighton, between 23rd-25th June.

I have pondered long and hard how to best record and reflect upon my attendance at the conference, and even now – several months later – I’m still not sure of the best way to approach it. The conference offered a very full schedule of talks and workshops, and I came away with a wealth of knowledge. I met new people, learned new things about myself and had an amazing time. Attempting to put the entire experience into words is a tall order! It may not be the most innovative method, but I shall tackle it in the form of a daily diary, leading to a final post summarising my overall thoughts. I make no promises, but shall attempt to keep the entries relatively short, to prevent them from becoming overly descriptive, tedious reads.

And so, dear reader, settle down on the sofa with a warm drink as I take you back to the summer of 2014…

Hello from the beach!
Sunday 22nd June 2014
traveled to Brighton by train(s!) and chose to arrive on Sunday, the day before the conference. There were several legs to the journey and I looked forward to dumping my luggage and unwinding. I arrived late-afternoon and followed the signs across campus to the conference registration desk. Room key and documents collected, I set out to find my accommodation block. After reading the welcome material, I pottered around campus to find my way in preparation for the next day. The campus was still and quiet, populated more by wild bunnies than people. Although I attended university in Wales rather than the South coast, flashbacks from my student days filled my head and I felt like the shy and lonely 18 year-old I was on my first day in halls of residence. The ARLG held a meal this evening but – not being the best of travellers – I felt too pooped to attend and instead downloaded a film to watch. In retrospect, I should have made myself go to the meal. The rest of the conference was so enjoyable that I’m sure this would have been too. Plus, it would have been a good opportunity to put together faces and names of the committee members. I felt myself reverting back to my shy, introverted ways and should have pushed myself out of my comfort zone; I regret not attending the meal.

Monday 23rd June 2014
The lecture theatre, home to all keynote presentations.
The morning was allotted for registration; having completed this the previous day, I took the opportunity to visit Brighton. The weather was glorious and I spent the morning at the beach. A wonderful start to the day! The official conference welcome speech began at 1.50pm, with the first keynote speaker presenting at 2.15pm. John Purcell (University librarian, Durham University) spoke about ‘stretching the envelope’ and making ourselves indispensable, especially in times of financial austerity. He asked how many people had taken on extra responsibilities during the past year and over half the people in the room raised their hands, myself included. I found this interesting, as it is very easy to wallow in thinking changes are only imposed on yourself. At this moment in time, I knew my workplace would soon be undergoing mass restructuring but did not yet know the format these changes would take. It was a timely reminder that change is common and must be adapted to if you are to thrive.

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to the first two workshops. Each workshop session lasted 45 minutes, with a choice of approximately 5 or 6 in each timetabled slot. For workshop 1 I opted to attend an e-safety session. Seven people attended this session and I found it really thought-provoking. The session explored an initiative in Thomas Rotherham College (spearheaded by Emma Hadfield) where students taught e-safety to primary school pupils. Several useful CEOP resources were highlighted, and we took part in a ‘guess the social media logo’ quiz. In order to teach social media you need an understanding of the tools and risks, and should consider the possibility of performing risk assessments for websites. I have worked in both compulsory and college education and found this session of great value. It was stimulating and I became quite engrossed in it.

For workshop 2 I selected an inclusivity session, facilitated by Virginia Power (of 23 librarians England fame). Working in the FE sector I found this particularly relevant. She shared college resources with us, including an interactive ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ style game, and highlighted other useful tools, from places such as JISC TechDis. I made a note to explore these in the future and see if we could implement them within the library in which I work. I particularly liked this session because I won a memory stick! (Freebies are always welcomed!) There were ten of us in attendance at this session – a nice number as it meant we were all able to contribute.

Monday evening was as heavily scheduled as the daytime. There was a wine reception and dinner, followed by a quiz. I admit I was a little apprehensive about the quiz. I didn’t know anyone at the conference and found an entire day spent ‘networking’ to be draining. In reality, I found the quiz to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the entire conference. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know anyone to form a quiz team with, as the teams were randomly selected. There was also a member of the ARLG committee on each team, which I thought was a nice touch. The quiz helped me feel less alone, it was like making new friends. Spending an entire evening with a group of people gave me familiar faces I felt I could chat to throughout the duration of the conference.
My reflections on day one. (Posted via Twitter.)

Tuesday 24th June 2014

This day was very heavily scheduled with two keynote talks and 5 workshop sessions, followed by evening activities. The morning’s keynote speaker was Madeleine Lefebvre (Chief Librarian, Ryerson University) who spoke about spearheading a large-scale new build in Canada. There was quite a buzz surrounding this talk with many people saying it was the one they were most looking forward to. This was essentially a case study with the lead person outlining the project which - judging from the number of questions in the audience (including one from me!) - many people found intriguing. The academic library joined forces with the local public library to create an app called ‘The library mile’. It followed the one mile route between the two libraries, pointing out things of interest. The surrounding area was less than respectable and this way the libraries were helping to regenerate the area outside the physical boundaries of their walls. A great idea. Could perhaps do one for the view from my own library’s windows???

The third workshop was a Prezi presented by Hannah Young from Southampton Solent University on embedding blending learning into library training sessions. Although there are common factors, this session was most applicable to university libraries, rather than FE libraries. When selecting the sessions I would attend, I was careful to ensure I went to those aimed at FE libraries, so I would be able to make valid comparisons with my own library and implement good practice. I wanted to attend one session aimed at HE to see how it compared and contrasted, and this was the one I selected. One noticeable difference was the attendance numbers. This session was – by far! – the most populated of all those I attended, with 34 delegates present. I wasn’t particularly surprised by this, as the majority of people I’d met at the conference seemed to work in HE rather than FE. I felt this number rather too high for one session; it was standing room only and not everyone could interact as they wished – there were simply too many questions and the session ran out of time.  Although interesting, this was the session I personally took the least away from. Most of the initiatives couldn’t be rolled out in FE libraries as we are much smaller teams with fewer learners to interact with. Our competencies are broader and time more limited as we generally do not have staff attached solely to one aspect of the service. Despite this, I liked the idea of students completing a skills gap analysis (outlining what they thought they knew before the library session compared to what they knew after the session). I could see many people appreciated this workshop as it generated a lot of conversation about how other university libraries approach sessions for learners.

I selected a session on shared services for workshop 4, which was attended by 25 people in total. Greg Bennett (Assistant librarian, University of Essex), is based at ‘The Forum’ in Southend, a joint university, college and public library service. Knowing there were possible changes in store for my own library, I was very keen to attend a session on a shared service. It was enlightening  to hear the benefits and negatives of sharing resources, and how they approached this. Shared services such as this are still relatively rare in the UK, but are increasing in popularity. I suspect this will make services more resilient to funding cuts in the future, but it is a big change to introduce and manage. I tweeted throughout the conference and this workshop generated the largest conversation from people not in attendance. There are other shared library services – such as ‘The Hive’ in Worcester and the Twitter conversation allowed people to explore the way they are managed differently. 

I spent workshop 5 having lunch instead of attending a session, but attended a session on social media policies during workshop 6. There were 20 people in this session and it generated quite a lot of discussion. Social media is quite common in libraries nowadays and I was interested to hear about the considerations of creating such a policy. The college in which I work has a social media policy, and the library operates our social media presence within these guidelines. Comparing it to that of other establishments demonstrated they were all fairly similar in content. At the time, I maintained the library’s Twitter account and it was useful to hear the thoughts behind how people structure their social media posts. This session was very valuable and had strong cross-sector relevancy.

The second keynote of the day was delivered by Paul Jeorrett (Head of library and student services, Glyndwr University). This reaffirmed a lot of the points addressed in the first keynote speech on Monday, except Paul referred to it as ‘superconvergence’. There was an element of audience participation as we were asked to sing a song to the tune of Frere Jacques in a round, to show what can be achieved when people work together. As well as nicely making the point, it also injected a bit of action into the day to keep us alert.

And then… another workshop! (I did tell you it was a heavily scheduled day!) Workshop 7 offered several sessions I would have liked to attend, but I selected one by Tracy Totty from Middlesbrough College. There were ten of us in this session, but I expected many more as the focus had cross-sector applications. This was a practical workshop in a computer lab where attendees followed a worksheet to create a survey using Google Docs. We already use this at work, so I didn’t particularly learn any new skills, but it was still enjoyable. Good to end the day on an interactive session. The conference had a mixture of sessions, but I think a few more practical sessions such as this would have been beneficial in breaking up the PowerPoint presentations.

My Alison Northover Bursary award.
The ARLG AGM was held on Tuesday afternoon. I’m guessing there were several hundred people at the conference, but there were only a relatively small number at the AGM; I’m presuming many took this as an opportunity to grab a breather from the hectic schedule. The AGM took approximately 20 minutes and it was a shame so few turned out to support the committee. My attendance was necessary in order to be formally presented with the Alison Northover Bursary award, but I would have attended regardless; the nitty-gritty of committee work interests me and it is unlikely I’ll have the chance again to attend another ARLG AGM.

Tuesday evening consisted of a wine reception and gala dinner in a Brighton seafront hotel. I’d never been to a gala dinner before and was unsure what to wear, but it wasn’t as formal as I feared. I was seated on a table with several library suppliers who were pals of old, and I took thanks in there being one other person on the table who didn’t seem to know them either. The food was delicious and the after-dinner speaker quite humorous; it was a good night.

Wednesday 25th June 2014
The final day of the conference! The fourth keynote speech was the one I found perhaps most interesting. Fiona Courage (Special collections manager, University of Sussex) spoke about ‘The Keep’. This is a shared archive and rare book service, jointly managed between the University of Sussex, East Sussex Council and Brighton and Hove Council. This presentation generated a lot of discussion from the floor and – being archive based rather than library based - was different to other presentations.  

Workshop 8 was the final one I attended and chose another on shared services. This session focused on the Rowan Partnership, delivered by Richard Hughes (Perth College UHI) and Anna Enos (University of the Highlands and Islands). Although this session explored a university case study, it was LMS based, and being a systems librarian this was relevant to my role. They outlined the experience of migrating to a shared LMS between three universities. There may be a time in the future where I need to consider this in relation to my current job, and I took great comfort in knowing we would not be alone! Only 6 people joined this session, making it the smallest of those I attended. There were still enough of us present for a debate to arise, but the presentation had such a lot to offer it’s a shame it wasn’t better attended. I wonder if another session in the same timetable slot drew in large crowds? Or were there generally fewer delegates present as it was the final day?

I wanted to get the most out of my conference attendance - not knowing if or when I’ll be able to attend another - but I had to skip workshop 9 to catch my early afternoon train. This was a great sadness but needs must. There were a few of us at the train station and I felt a little better when I realised I wasn’t the only person skipping out early. The journey home took several hours and gave me time to look back on the conference; I felt incredibly lucky in attending the conference, and generally quite proud and happy to call myself a librarian.  

Overall ponderings
This was the first time I’d attended a conference and felt very nervous about doing so. I had always thought conferences were for the highflyers rather than ‘normal’ librarians like me, so I was quite concerned I would be out of my depth. Before the conference, CILIP Update published a piece on the conference, introducing a few of the speakers (June 2014: p22). This piece raised my excitement levels and I couldn’t wait to go!

Timetable excitement! (Posted via Twitter.)
The committee provided us with a timetable full of sessions and I am thankful for such a variety. The majority of attendees were from HE rather than FE, and I felt the majority of workshops corresponded with this trend. Originally, I looked for those aimed at FE, but also wanted to attend one aimed at HE in order to compare. My initial choices were based on workshop titles, but several changed after I read the abstracts. Workshops were separated into several themes, with one on each theme per timetable slot. I tried to ensure I attended a range of themes, but in the end the sessions which were most relevant to me focused on just a few of the themes:

  • Teaching and learning: 3
  • Shared services: 2
  • Electronic resources: 2
  • Learning spaces: 1
  • Research support: 0
  • CPD: 0

There were lots of sessions I wanted to attend and working out which to go to was tricky! I wanted ones I could identify with, but also ones I could learn from. I chose two from each timetabled slot, just in case my first choice was fully-booked. For those I could not attend, I followed the conversations on Twitter. This was a great way of utilising social media, but it was quite difficult to track the conversations; whilst there was a conference hashtag (#ARLG14), there were not hashtags for specific workshops. The introduction of these would have made it easier to follow those specific conversations.

The timetable of workshops and keynote speeches was so full that at times, it was hard to keep up! The timings were strict, so punctuality was a must, and the success of the conference depends on it. I had often heard people say how intense conferences are, and I never really believed it until I experienced it for myself. Going straight from one session to the next often meant you didn’t have time to reflect or discuss the session you’d just attended. At times, I would have appreciated a moment or two to make notes or gather my thoughts between sessions; however, if breaks were scheduled between all sessions this would have resulted in a reduced offer of sessions, which would have lessened the appeal of the conference. Attending so many sessions reaffirmed the value of standing out from the crowd. The session I most remember is the one which explored accessibility; the facilitator asked questions throughout and gave a freebie memory stick to whoever answered first. It added an element of fun to the session and proved that an interactive factor improves the overall vibe and atmosphere of the session. The same may be said for the mid-keynote speech singing lesson. It really makes a big difference. This was also reflected in the lightening talks. These were three minute long mini-presentations delivered by suppliers, and were numerous throughout the conference. It is impossible to convey any great message in just three minutes and it is easy to bombard the audience with too much information. The most successful of the lightening talks were those which tried to simply interact with the audience; for example, Emerald gave out wine bottles, and Infor showed a video of cute puppies. Neither of these had anything to do with the products they supplied, but was a way of ensuring we remembered them.
Taking the opportunity to meet suppliers. (Posted via Twitter.)

Attending a conference – for me – is the rarest of privileges so I wanted to make the most of every minute. I attended as many sessions as I could and set myself the target of interacting in every one. I am an introvert by nature but when my librarian hat is on I force myself to embrace networking opportunities. Being the ARLG award winner meant some people were already aware of my name, and this acted as an ice breaker during conversations. I found Twitter a help too, as a few of us had used it to make contact beforehand. Twitter conversations happened throughout the conference and I think it would have been useful if people’s Twitter handles were printed on their name badges. I found many new people to follow on Twitter, and gained many new followers myself, especially after I received the award at the AGM. In my three years on Twitter, my number of followers exceeded the number of people I follow for the very first time!

ARLG committee members were very visible throughout. They were on hand every morning during registration, which helped make the whole conference seem more friendly and less intimidating. I was very glad of their smiling faces, reassurances that I wasn’t the only one to feel a little intimidated by attending a conference, and their general helpfulness. They were all very ‘clued up’ on everything that happened and were clearly well organised. They didn’t ‘keep themselves to themselves’, and instead distributed themselves among the delegates at all times. As a conference newbie, I was very appreciative of this.

Looking back, winning the Alison Northover Bursary and the subsequent conference attendance, were definite highlights of 2014. I had always been weary of conferences, but now I feel more confidence regarding them. I am even considering offering a session at a future conference; I would never have had the courage to do so beforehand and am excited at the thought. The conference was an amazing experience in many ways and I would love to attend another. I am very grateful that I was given the opportunity to attend - there is much for me to thank the ARLG committee for! 
Goodbye! (Posted via Twitter.)

1 comment:

  1. What a excellent summary of the professional conference experience, a great reminder that what you put in has a big effect on what you get out, and proof positive that we can all benefit from interacting with our fellow professionals. Hope you go ahead and submit a paper for a future event Cara.