Monday, 27 July 2015

Conferences and note-taking

In the past three months I have been to three library conferences, one big [approx 600 delegates], one medium [I think about 200 delegates] and one small [less than 100 delegates]. I got a lot out of each one as individual experiences, but I also found myself reflecting on them as a group and considering the ways in which my attitude to getting the best use out of them has altered.

In the past I would write copious notes, which I would then turn in to lengthy blog posts afterwards, generate numerous tweets during, and actually find myself having consumed so much information that I struggled to put it to some productive use. In fact I often found that once I had blogged about my experience, I rarely thought of it again.

I recently read this very interesting blog post on conferences and note taking, and as I'd just been to the CILIP Cymru Wales conference in Swansea [the medium sized one!] it really resonated. It advocates organising your notes into categories and assigning action points to them, this should then [hopefully!] translate into a 'to do' list and make your notes more useful.

I made very few notes during the sessions at the CILIP Wales conference, other than to jot down references to various articles or resources and a reminder to investigate them further. I barely tweeted at all, other than to comment on how much I liked the food and being by the beach! In short, I mainly listened, talked to other delegates, and generally absorbed the atmosphere, rather than trying to cram in loads of note taking. As a result I came away with what I felt was a more manageable list of ideas that I could explore later, instead of my more usual overwhelming pages and pages of notes that would probably just end up forgotten in a desk drawer because I didn't have time to go through them.

When I went to a big conference at the beginning of July (the CILIP conference in Liverpool) I felt it was important to continue this practice. I did take notes this time, there were so many sessions crammed in that I thought I might start to loose track of what I meant if I just jotted down keywords and to do lists. However I did still stand by the mantra of 'less is more', and tried to avoid copying everything down and attempting to quote speakers. This was made much easier because the speakers slides would be made available online, so we could access them at a later date.

In the past I have used my tweets as a form of note taking, I find that I am unable to listen properly to the speaker, take notes and compose tweets all at the same time, so combining the tweeting and note taking seemed to be a good solution. I would simply Storify my tweets after the event and then use them to compose my blog posts. However, as mentioned earlier, the notes I took this time were quite specific to me, things I wanted to try out, or explore further, or ideas they sparked. They weren't a record of what was said, and so would be pretty unintelligible to anyone else but me. It seemed pointless putting them out in public, and so I just took notes and didn't tweet very much.

And I actually felt more comfortable not tweeting. I've always been happy to tweet from conferences and believe in sharing what's happening, especially for events that can be prohibitively expensive to attend. But I did always feel a pressure to accurately convey the speakers intent and to provide enough context. There was a freedom to not feeling that responsibility, or having my attention split that I quite enjoyed.

Last week I attended the ARLIS conference in Cardiff. It was my first time at an ARLIS event, and it was also my first experience of being part of a conference working party. I found that being part of the organising team meant that I experienced the conference from a different perspective than if I had been a delegate (unsurprisingly!!).

One of my responsibilities was to blog about the conference afterwards, so I found that informed how I made notes. I didn't get to attend all the sessions, I spent some time manning the reception desk, but when I did I was no longer taking notes for myself, but instead for the blog. It meant the types of notes I took altered, because they had a specific purpose, and I adjusted what I recorded to suit that need.

So I guess what I mainly learnt was;

  • For me, notes with a purpose, either because I've been asked to feedback on a session, or as a 'to do' list, seem to be more effective than simply trying to capture everything that happens.
  • That it's hard to give my full attention to things if I have a competing obligation (like tweeting, or being an organiser) so if I want to do those things I need to make sure I factor it in.
  • And that one of the things I like best about attending conferences is the networking (although I hate that term, and just think meeting people!) and that I find it a lot easier to do at the smaller conferences.

Hopefully, having the chance to reflect on what works best for me means that when I attend future events, I can bear it in mind and get the most out of the experience. I'd love to hear other peoples feelings about how they get value from attending them too!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

It's been a while ...

It's been over a year since I last posted on this blog.

Things have been so busy, and I was a little distracted posting on 23 Llyfrgellydd, so it's been a bit neglected.

However, I have good intentions to resume, I'm in the process of chartering and plan on using it to chart my progress and reflect. I'm also enrolled on the CILIP Leadership Programme, so it will be a good opportunity to share my experience of taking part.

Hopefully things will go according to plan!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Library Camp Wales 2014 in Cardiff

After months of planning the day of the first ever Library Camp Wales dawned bright (although sadly not sunny!). If you've never heard of a Library Camp before, it is an 'un-conference', a free, participant driven event. The idea is that instead of booking speakers and presentations, the attendees pitch ideas on the day and contribute to the discussions.

After setting up in our fabulous venue, the Glamorgan Building in Cathays Park, our Library Campers started arriving and got stuck in to playing Human Bingo.

Some of the Library Camp Wales team manning the reception area

After the sessions were pitched and the timetable for the day was arranged the day got under way.

I didn't get to take part in many sessions as I was wandering about making sure everyone had all they needed, but I did get to facilitate the Speed Networking event, which was very noisy!

Speed Networking in action

Lunch involved a lot of food (Library Campers were very generous with their contributions) and we also had our very own customized cupcakes.

In the afternoon I got to attend a session on library skills and qualifications (which I'll blog about separately). Before I knew it, it was time for the wrap up and awarding the prizes for the badge competition, Human Bingo prize draw, and cake competition.

Winner of the Cake Competition!

We rounded the day off in Buffalo, enjoying 2 for 1 cocktails!
A card catalogue in Buffalo Bar, photo courtesy of @karen_gibbins

Check out a Storify of the day here.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Library Camp UK 2013 part 2

Slightly delayed part 2 of last November's Library Camp UK!

After lunch I headed to the digitisation session, it was really interesting to hear about current projects, such as the georeferencing of map and topographical collections at the British Library. Digitisation projects can often be too expensive or time-consuming for some libraries to consider, but suggestions were made to find ways around those barriers. Someone in the group mentioned  NADFAS [National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies] whose heritage volunteers can be brought in to assist with digitisation projects. An interesting discussion also developed on the pros and cons of Google books, which seemed to conclude that the main problem was quality control. That's certainly been my experience, particularly with older texts, some are just unreadable!

The second session of the afternoon was on special librarians. At the introductions first thing in the morning, I was disappointed (but not surprised) to notice that after public, academic libraries, or students, everyone else was somewhat lumped together as ’other’. This session felt like a good opportunity to redress that a bit. I can’t list all the different types of library or information environments that people worked in but it was very varied, TV, legal, NHS, government, cathedral, and museum of course! There were also a large number (about half the group) who were students or graduate trainees wanting to hear more about the wide variety of library and information work out there.

The session began with a discussion on the challenges of working in these types of environments and whether you still define yourself as a librarian, particularly from those working on more corporate sectors. We then explained a bit about what our particular jobs involve, before finishing off with sharing tips on how you might pursue a career in a special library. An excellent write up relating to the session is available here.

The final session I attended was on catalogues and search interfaces, which although sharing a space with another group, was small enough that I had no problem hearing the discussion. The starting point was ‘what if the library catalogue had a different type of interface?’. Laurence (@Lorp, one of the pitcher’s?) elaborated on this by showing us a number of online catalogues and lists of books, including Amazon to demonstrate how a more visual approach may be more helpful in finding material. I certainly agreed with the idea, I have always found it 100 times easier to find a book if I know what it looks like. And, I really like the idea of the catalogue as virtual bookshelf with photos of the spines of books to identify them [although not as visually attractive as using the covers!].

The discussion then moved on to metadata and the problems of inheriting poor data, which no-one ever has the time or resources to put right. Some of the tools that could be used to help you fix problems, such as KDK-Alli Record Manager tools from National Library of Finland recommended by @preater

I consciously tried to take more of a backseat and not talk too much in sessions at this Library Camp because I felt that I just wanted to enjoy the experience on a slightly more passive level, soaking everything up like a sponge. I actually found it quite refreshing, at previous events I have been far more of an active participant, but it was nice to try a different approach this time.
You can see the full list of sessions here and access related social media activity on the Pinboard the organisers set up here.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Library Camp UK 2013 part 1

Last week I set off for Library Camp UK 2013 at the new Library of Birmingham. I’m not sure how many people were attending, but it certainly seemed as though there was a really large crowd gathered. If you’ve never heard of a Library Camp before, they are a series of 'unconferences' held around the UK. Free to attend, they operate an 'Open Space' policy meaning there is no formal agenda or speakers, attendees set the schedule on the day and the direction of the sessions is guided by the participants.

Session pitches
Although I had considered whether or not to pitch a session, in the end I decided not to. There were so many great pitches to choose from it didn't feel necessary.
The first session I went to was run by @llordllama on performance in presentation, and it was the perfect start to the day. Unlike some sessions, it was less of a discussion and more of a teaching and learning experience, although still very interactive. He illustrated the ways we might convey confidence using body language, facial cues and voice. It was useful to think about how we can use our style of presentation to engage with people and get the best out of situations. Not to mention learning to recognise what those cues might be telling us about others, and how that could affect how we approach them. A lot of the session involved audience participation, and most people seemed to leave smiling.

The secret garden on floor 7
The second session I attended was Evidence-based Librarianship, which was a very, very popular. This meant that the group was large and you had to really raise your voice to be heard. We were also sharing the room with a second session and the noise occasionally made it hard to hear. Such is the burden of popular sessions!
However despite those issues, I found the session really interesting and you can read notes from @pennyb [who pitched the session] here. It focused on service led research, and although I didn’t really feel like I had much to contribute personally I still enjoyed it. It was interesting to hear the difference between academic librarians in the UK and in the US, where involvement in research as part of your job is more widely expected. 

Concerns were raised about how difficult it can be to find out about research in the field unless you happen to be actively involved in it. A number of resources were mentioned that could help, such as Educause and the LIRG website. But there was also a call for a more formal bringing together of information centrally, and the thought that it should be the responsibility of CILIP to provide it.

I was also very interested to hear of a scheme run by the University of Brighton that matches dissertation students with libraries looking to undertake research.

The falafel stand was often mentioned in the run up to Library Camp

As I had been so unorganised as to not bring any food to share, I decided to go out for lunch to the explore the Christmas market [way too crowded], and look around the library, which is truly stunning.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Career Paths and Networking

Back in July 2012 I attended the CILIP Career Development Group/New Professionals conference and had intended on blogging about it, but I never got round to it and now so much time has passed it doesn’t really seem worth it. Plenty of people who attended wrote up their own thoughts on the event, a couple of which you can read here or here or here.
However I thought one of the sessions I attended might be useful to share as it focused on Career Paths and Networking and was presented by Jeremy Clarke of Sue Hill Recruitment. It aimed to highlight some of the ways in which you can approach career development regardless of whether you are just starting out or more established.

To begin with Jeremy highlighted the importance of planning, and asked these questions;

  • Where are you now?
  • Where do you want to be?
  • How will you get there?
Once you begin to answer those questions you can target areas that perhaps need improvement, and focus on trying for jobs that will help your progression. He also mentioned that it might be worth doing a 'skills audit' at this stage to help you answer some of those questions.
If we accept that the idea of a ‘job for life’ has pretty much gone, then the idea of training for just one particular type of role makes less sense. Transferrable skills and the need to be more flexible in our career choices is becoming increasingly important, so Jeremy suggested we think more in terms of ‘portfolio careers’. Selling your skills and experiences, and trying out various job roles and ways of working to demonstrate your flexibility.

He also gave us a number of practical tips on where you can find out about job opportunities, such as;

  • Local & national papers, and trade publications
  • Websites such as Lisjobnet
  • Recruitment agencies – although these are often better for temporary positions
  • Social media – LinkedIn, or Twitter accounts such as @UKLibraryJobs or @LISNPN
  • Listservs such as LIS-LINK, or ARLIS-LINK if you’re interested in art librarianship
  • Organizational websites – as it’s increasingly expensive to advertise through traditional channels, some organizations will only advertise on their own website
  • Direct approaches – some organizations will keep a database of potential applicants and let you know when vacancies arise
  • Word of mouth – networking and personal contacts

The second part of his presentation focused on networking, a skill which many people can find off-putting or uncomfortable, so he shared some practical tips he'd picked up over the years that had helped him to get started;
  • Learn to smile & say hello – basic but important, and the easiest way to get chatting to someone
  • Ask someone you know to make introductions – you probably won’t have to ask outright, just mentioning that you don’t know anyone else there might result in them offering!
  • Approach singles – always less intimidating than a group, and often grateful for someone to chat to as well
  • Prepare in advance – if you have a couple of topics/questions in mind it can help fill the dreaded ‘empty silence’
  • Go with your boss – I’m guessing this depends on how well you get on with your boss
  • Learn to listen – try not to fall into the trap of panicking so much about what to say next that you forget to pay attention to the conversation

Some of Jeremy's recommendations for successful networking included;
  • Picking the right event – some events make it easier to network than others
  • Realize that there are ‘sliding scales of networking success’ – you shouldn’t expect all networking experiences to be the same, and never compare yourself to others, what you need to achieve your goals may not be the same as someone else
  • Set yourself targets – ie I will try to talk to at least 3 new people today, as it can help you to feel less overwhelmed and keep you focused
  • Consider what it is you want to find out – having a goal or purpose can help focus your thoughts
  • Have an idea of what you want to communicate – networking is a two way thing, you’re not just looking to find information from others, but you are also taking the opportunity to advertise your own skills and experience
  • Follow up afterwards – a good way to ensure that you don’t get forgotten, particularly if your networking has been done at a large event with lots of people
And a related tip I remember from a similar training session – always have an ‘out’, a way to disengage naturally from the conversation, rather than see it flounder. Common examples include, 'I'm going to get another drink/visit the toilet/check out the trade stands/find the next presentation or session'. Personally I’m not a fan of the ‘there’s so and so I just need to go and have a word with them’ method as it can come across as a bit rude!


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

CILIP Umbrella 2013 #ub13

Last week I went to CILIP’s big annual conference, Umbrella, for the first time thanks to a bursary from the Cataloguers & IndexersGroup. I will blog in more depth about some of the sessions later, but I wanted to get down some of my impressions of the event as a whole.

Never having been to a conference of more than about 200 delegates before, I was incredibly excited to attend Umbrella, which I think had about 600. Before setting off, I had gone through the list of sessions to try and get a feel for what I wanted to go to and was fairly overwhelmed at the choice, there was a lot going on!

Biddy Fisher giving the opening address at Umbrella

What were my highlights?

Un-brella 2013 - I headed up the night before the conference, so went to the drinks event they put on. It was great for a first timer who didn’t know anyone else there, as it meant I got to know people before the conference began, I would definitely recommend it. Un-brella also ran a number of other events over the two days, including ‘un-conference’ sessions (and ‘Human Bingo’ which was a great ice-breaker) I thought the team were great, and they did a fab job over the conference.

Janice Lachance (CEO, Special Libraries Association) - I found Janice’s talk really inspiring, I could tell from Twitter that not everyone shared that feeling, particularly with her suggestion to ‘release your inner executive’ and proposition that the word ‘librarian’ could be limiting. While I get where people were coming from, personally I did connect with it. I think if you bear in mind the context of what she was saying (many members of the SLA work in corporate environments) it’s more understandable. I found it encouraging that she spoke at Umbrella, it was a recognition that those of us working in less typical library sectors may need to consider different approaches to suit our workplace.

Ben Showers although much of Ben's session focused on the skills we need for the future, I found his discussion of projects that use technology to open up collections and the work of the JISC/OCLC digital visitors and residents project most useful. Likewise Rebecca Bartlett’s portion of the debate (!) about libraries without walls, outlining mobile technologies and interactive tools at the new Library of Birmingham, was very interesting.

Future skills – I ended up in a few sessions that discussed training for library staff, both formal and informal, I’ll blog more on them later, but it was really interesting to see the approaches of library professionals in the UK and around the world. Transferable skills were definitely the buzz words of the conference!

MOSI - attending a wine reception in such an unusual venue (Museum of Science and Industry) and hearing about some of the amazing life changing and life saving activities that libraries are involved in at the Libraries Change Lives award ceremony. It really hammered home the amazing impact libraries can have on their community.

Photo courtesy of @Librarianpocket (Victoria Treadway)

Any down-sides?

Timings – a number of the sessions had four talks squished into the hour, it wasn’t long enough. A good proportion of the presentations I would have really liked to have heard more from, but there just wasn’t enough time to go into them in detail. Perhaps less choice would have allowed for longer sessions?

Seating – or lack of it! It meant eating lunch (it seems wrong to complain, it’s not the lunches you are there for, but they were terrible!) while sat on the floor. At coffee breaks you’re trying to juggle bags, conference programme, cup and saucer with nowhere to sit or a table to rest belongings. I wouldn’t ordinarily mind, but I don’t think it helped to facilitate networking.

But, overall it was a fantastic experience, and I’m so grateful that CIG gave me the opportunity to go, it certainly left me feeling inspired, and with things to mull over, which I suppose is the purpose of a conference!
Watching Phil Bradley give the closing speech

Check out presentations from the conference on the CILIP website.