Thursday 2nd August 2018
Five years ago, and six weeks into my career in libraryland, I attended my first ever conference – a relatively tiny event in the Oxford Road end of Manchester. Despite being billed as a conference for newcomers to the profession, I found that many of the other attendees had been working in libraries for several years, and all seemed to know each other already – either in real life or from Twitter. It was utterly overwhelming and exhausting and I left early, resolving never to attend a stupid conference again.
Fast-forward to 2018, and I’m a surprised and really quite pleased recipient of a customer bursary from OpenAthens, to attend the CILIP Conference in Brighton. Nothing like throwing yourself in at the deep end, eh.
Pimping my conference badge
Of all the sessions I attended over the two-day conference, there were three that really stood out. Day one peaked with the catchily-titled parallel session ‘Networking for the rest of us’, hosted by Jo Wood and Mike Jones. Networking is very much not my speciality (why are other people so terrifying?), and my natural inclination is to avoid it at all costs, so it was helpful to be “forced” to network by this dedicated part of the conference.
Jo and Mike gave us some of their top tips (“pimp your conference badge” being my favourite; I instantly cracked out my calligraphy pens and added my Twitter handle and other “embellishments”) and shared some of their own experiences. I was particularly reassured when Jo told us that she’d been so overwhelmed at last year’s CILIP Conference that she’d ended up going to hide in the toilets; having sat and panicked on many a toilet seat in my time, I could relate. We were then let loose in little groups to bond over Jenga and a massive colouring-in sheet. Simple, but it worked for me: I left the session feeling better prepared to handle the rest of the day, and you can’t ask for more than that.
Diversity of content in our libraries
I indulged myself by going along to the ‘Voice and vision’ panel, which focused on the role of diverse representation in literature for children and young people. One of the key themes that emerged from the discussion related to the importance of “diverse” fiction also reflecting a diversity of experience. Nadia Shireen and Juno Dawson both pointed out that books featuring, for example, BAME or trans main characters don’t always have to focus on the fact that the main characters are BAME or trans; rather, in an ideal world, these characteristics would be incidental.
GDPR and inspiring future library strategy
Finally, the keynote from Helen Dodd, Head of Data Governance at Cancer Research UK, provided a thrilling (no, really) insight into how the GDPR could actually benefit organisations. Helen argued that reducing risk can lead to more innovative work, and somehow managed to put a very positive spin on something that seems mostly to have been regarded as Just A Massive Faff.
Honourable mentions must also go to the ‘Managing health information’ seminar during which I had a belter of an epiphany with regard to advertising the NHS library I currently work at (no details, sorry – my cunning plan is still in its formative stages); and the ‘From advocacy to activism’ keynote from the directors of the EveryLibrary political action committee – their words whipped up a palpable feeling of vocational awe in the room, and it will be interesting to see what steps are taken by the wider profession to continue the work of the UK-based activists who have campaigned solidly for public libraries over the years.
I would also like to publicly apologise to the staff of Brighton Palace Pier who had the unenviable task of trying to coax a group of library workers off their carousel at 10pm. They eventually conceded defeat and were forced to run the ride one last time. Bless them.
The conference was such an illuminating experience, and seems to have helped me to feel more connected to the library and information world – a definite plus I wasn’t expecting. I particularly valued the opportunity to befriend other library workers from sectors different to my own and find out more about their work. I left feeling that I could cheerfully do it all again; a not insignificant contrast to my first conference visit. If you would like to relive the conference or experience it vicariously, I wholeheartedly recommend a lunchtime scroll through #CILIPConf2018.
– Jo McCrossan, Senior Library Assistant, NUH Library Services
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