SHARP Conference, Dublin

I’m going to be speaking at the SHARP Conference in Dublin at the end of June, with Professor Claire Squires and my supervisor David McMenemy. In fact, we’re lucky enough (?) to be the very first session on the very first day of the conference. The programme is available here.

Our bit is about this:

The Fight for Libraries: 21st Century Advocacy, Austerity and Alliance

  • David McMenemy (University of Strathclyde) Losing the library faith? The public library ethos in an era of austerity
  • Lauren Smith (University of Strathclyde) Advocating for libraries in an era of cuts
  • Claire Squires (University of Stirling) Uneasy Alliances: Libraries and the UK Book Trade in the 21st Century

I’m really excited to be presenting for the first time as a PhD researcher (although what I’ll be talking about isn’t within the remit of my research and is based on my experiences and what I’ve learnt over the last couple of years as an activist/advocate/interested party) and it looks like a really varied programme with an audience who might not usually be exposed to library and information science research and goings on, which is always a good thing. I’m a bit disappointed that I’ll be missing Alistair Black’s session, which will be happening at the same time as mine, but I’m looking forward to the rest of my time there.

Here’s a bit of blurb about the conference:

The 20th Annual SHARP Conference
The Battle for Books
26-29 June 2012
Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

“In a city like Dublin, which has been home to Swift, Wilde and Joyce one
naturally thinks of ‘The Battle for Books’ in terms of censorship,
constraint and restraint. This major international conference will address
these topics but will also consider the concept of ‘the battle for books’ as
broadly as possible.

More than 180 papers will be presented at the conference. Keynote speakers
include Professor Ann Blair (Harvard), Professor Germaine Warkentin (Toronto),
Professor Nicholas Cronk (Oxford), Professor Claire Connolly (Cardiff),
Professor James Raven (Essex), and Sir Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS.

This conference will bring the leading practitioners in the field of ‘book
history’ from around the world to Dublin, a city which has recently been
designed as a UNESCO City of Literature.

If you are interested in books, and the cultural, social and economic
conditions in which books are produced and consumed, you should not miss this
conference.”

Online Information 2011 – Day One

What an overwhelming day! I was asked to be an official twitter moderator at the conference, so led on one of the sessions and acted as backup for another – and, inevitably, tweeted heavily throughout!

The conference lasts three days but I could unfortunately only make it to today because of work commitments. The full programme is here. I attended:

Opening Keynote AddressEffective Social Media: Past, Present and Future
Speaker: Craig NewmarkFounder, craigslist and craigconnects, USA

Morning Session: Google+

Google+: Is it a plus or a minus for librarians?

Speaker: Phil BradleyInternet Consultant, UK

Google+: What is it? Who needs it?

Speaker: Brit StakstonAuthor and Social Media Strategist, JMW, Sweden

Afternoon Session: Social Media Strategies

How Westminster Abbey created world-wide audience engagement around the Royal Wedding with online and social media

Speaker: Imogen LevyOnline Editor, Westminster Abbey, UK

The European Union’s Regional Policy, Social Media and Online Collaboration

Speaker: Tony LockettHead of Web Communication, DG for Regional Policy, European Commission, Belgium

If you want to read the tweets for all the sessions have a look at the #online11 tweets. They’re separated by the rooms the events took place in (#aud, #cfrm1 and #cfrm2). I just wanted to note down here some recurring themes and important points made by speakers today:
  • We need to go to where our users/audience want to be and take our content to them (and it’s not that much of an effort to do so using a few different platforms);
  • We need to be brave and take risks with social media and communicating with our users online;
  • It can be very worthwhile to set something up and then ask for permission and forgiveness later! (Heck, if Westminster Abbey and the EU are going to take this kind of risk, then surely libraries can too);
  • It might be worth spending less time being concerned about a ‘brand image’ and more worthwhile  focus limited energy and resources on being useful for our users;
  • Social media is a legitimate and effective method of communicating with users and getting them engaged in learning/discussion/debate/collaboration
  • We need to make sure that our social media presences are interactive – more than just something used to pump out information and updates
  • It’s a good thing for social media accounts to have personality and be fun;
  • This of course needs to be balanced with whatever requirements are placed on the organisation;
  • Responsive Design is the way to go to save a bunch of time and effort rewriting code for different devices;
  • If you’re doing something new and exciting, be prepared for regular tweaks;
  • If you’re doing something new and exciting, don’t muck it up too badly when you launch because you risk losing users;
  • Librarians/Information Professionals have the opportunity to position ourselves as experts in the field of information retrieval, fact-checking and democratisation of information. We need to make ourselves useful, sell ourselves and gain recognition for this.

And the final thing to take home from the day was the reaffirmation that librarians are awesome, knowledgeable and keen to learn how they can improve their services. I have the pleasure of working with some particularly fantastic ones – huge congratulations to my Voices colleague Ian Anstice for winning the IWR Information Professional of the Year Award for his work on Public Libraries News. It’s great to see people who work so hard to protect library services being recognised for the work they do, and Ian certainly puts in the hours!

CC Phil Bradley on Flickr

LIS DREaM Workshop 1: Edinburgh

I was fortunate enough to be granted an AHRC-funded travel bursary to attend three workshops as part of the DREaM Project (Developing Research Excellence and Methods). The first workshop was held in Edinburgh on 25th October. It was a really interesting and informative day, and in terms of timing the whole programme works perfectly for me – I will be starting my PhD in January so haven’t yet developed a methodology.The DREaM project aims to encourage researchers to make better use of well-established social science research approaches, thereby improving the quality of LIS research in the UK and adding variety to the range of research methodologies used by LIS researchers. I’m very much hoping that my research into the role of public libraries in supporting and encouraging democratic engagement will be a meaningful and valuable contribution to LIS research which can be applied in practice.

All three workshops will follow the same format with different content:

  1. a broad research approach;
  2. a specific quantitative research technique;
  3. a specific qualitative research technique;
  4. a research “practicality” (e.g. ethics, improving research impact, influencing policy).
Workshop 1 looked at ethnography, social network analysis, discourse analysis, research ethics and legal issues. All the sessions were led by interesting, enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable researchers and even if I don’t apply the methods we explored, I certainly feel like I’ve gained valuable knowledge about the range of approaches that can be used to produce high-quality research.

Session notes and all the slides and videos used have been put up on the DREaM website, so I won’t duplicate content, but highly recommend them as useful resources.

Thank you to Professor Hazel Hall, Professor Charles Oppenheim and everyone involved in the DREaM project for the opportunity to take part in the workshops and for making the day such a success. I can’t wait for the next one.

National Library Campaign Conference

On Saturday I attended the Library Campaign conference in London, organised by The Library Campaign and Voices for the Library. The roundup of the day by Voices is here, along with the full text of the speech that Philip Pullman gave.

At the Library Campaign Conference with a teeny bit of Johanna, Demelza and Philip Pullman (Image c/o Benedicte Page)

This was a really important event, not only because it allowed campaigners to share their experiences and offer support and advice, but also to get a sense of how groups around the country feel about hot topics such as volunteer-run libraries, the likelihood of success in legal challenges and what to do about national campaign activities. I think it helped to put campaigners in touch with information and resources they can benefit from. It’s hard to get the message out to everyone about what we do in Voices for the Library, the resources we have on the site that might be of use, and the network of people with experience of library campaigning that we can put in touch with each other, so the event and subsequent publicity has helped. At the same time, it can be hard to be obvious about our limits to manage expectations – we’re all volunteers working full time jobs, and Voices isn’t a funded organisation. We can’t save libraries all on our own and we need a national network – which is why the day was organised in the first place!

A lot of action points came out of the day, a couple of which are particularly important and pressing:

  • The need for a wiki where people can update everyone about local situations and discuss plans of action etc. Voices, The Library Campaign and some others are going to get cracking on this immediately;
  • The need for a large-scale, national event such as a march or rally to put pressure on the DCMS to intervene in library cuts around the country – Voices have been discussing this for a couple of weeks and it was seen as an important activity to get going. Plans are in the pipeline to make sure that the timing, location and scale of this are as effective as possible – let us know if you can help.
I’m very hopeful that the delegates went away with useful information, and will be able to strengthen their own campaigns as well as contribute to the national network. Working alongside organisations like Voices for the Library, CILIP and Campaign for the Book will make events like National Libraries Day even more successful.

Alan Gibbons’ address to the campaign conference

Umbrellas, Windows and Voices

I was given the opportunity to go to a day of the Umbrella conference thanks to sponsorship from Credo Reference for Voices for the Library. I had a fantastic time and thoroughly enjoyed the sessions, catching up with people, making new acquaintances and finally meeting people I really should have met in person before now! I found some sessions particularly valuable, most notably Christine Rooney-Browne’s talk on measuring the value of libraries (there are some really useful links that she shared on the Voices site). Some of the themes that emerged from discussions in John Pateman and John Vincent’s session about the Big Society, social justice and public libraries were thought-provoking, such as the concept of ’empowerment’ from above, accountability, accessibility and engaging core, passive and non-users. My focus was inevitably on public libraries, with my Voices hat on, but I also found the talk by David Hunter, the Strategy and Performance Manager at the National Library of Scotland very interesting too. He discussed the bibliometric evaluation method that the NLS has been experimenting with, to try and discern the ways in which library users benefit from the library’s resources. There’s much work to be done, but I’m excited about its potential.

So much of what Gerald Leitner, EBLIDA President and Secretary General of the Austrian Library Association, the keynote speaker on Tuesday morning, had to say about the need for library and information professionals to take control of emerging digital copyright issues and negotiate with publishers made a lot of sense. I agree with his assertion that now is the time for LIS professionals to work together, cross-sector and internationally, to develop a unified library policy. Libraries provide access to culture, resources for lifelong learning and methods to counteract the most demoralising aspects of current economic and social crises. Gerald pointed out that the problem of legislators not understanding the value of library and information services and their lack of understanding about the difference between print and electronic copyright issues is not just a UK issue, it’s Europe-(if not world)wide. This needs to be addressed and it’s important for librarians to set it high on policymakers’ agendas. An issue he raised that was particularly relevant to my research interests was that a high proportion of children and young people in Europe are illiterate, which means that they can no longer be reached with written information. They are therefore more likely to become (or continue to be) marginalised and unengaged and vulnerable to radicalisation. This is something that libraries are in a key position to tackle.

The focus of the conference this year was on six themes, (skills and professionalism, promotion and advocacy, technologies and access, libraries in the Big Society, digital inclusion and social change, tools and techniques) the majority of which are relevant to the advocacy, campaigning and media work that I do. Tomorrow at the Windows on the World event at the West Yorkshire Playhouse I’ll be talking about the risk to UK public libraries, current legal challenges, what councils are doing in order to implement the cuts imposed on them and the implications these changes have in relation to access, universality, digital inclusion, education and social change.

It was lovely to meet so many people at the conference who knew about Voices for the Library, what we’re doing and why it’s not just important for the public library sector, but for the whole profession. I’m so grateful for the support that we have from so many people within the profession as well as members of the public, authors and other campaign groups. As Ian’s mentioned, we’d really like to get some more contributions from people, whether they’re working in libraries or just using them, to spread the message about the great work that public libraries do. It’s always been one of our key aims, but with all the campaigning against things that needs doing it’s hard to keep up the advocacy message for things. Please write to us at stories@voicesforthelibrary.org.uk with anything you’d like to share.

CILIP Yorkshire and Humber / Career Development Group AGM

I gave a talk at the CILIP Y&H / CDG AGM in Keighley on Tuesday. Here are the slides – fairly cryptic as usual but there are some nice quotes and pictures from Hay Festival in there.

It was great to meet so many members I’ve not had the opportunity to meet before, both new and otherwise professional. We talked about public libraries, changes to CILIP as an organisation, and the need to promote librarianship as a valid and valuable profession. It all reminded me that there’s a lot of history to the struggles we’re dealing with, which of course are complex and varied. A lot of people have been tackling a lot of issues as best they can for a very long time. The problems are nothing new, but I think the ways in which we do it as individuals and as a profession are and increasingly will be. Just don’t ask me how (yet) 🙂

Edit

Here’s a lovely picture of organiser Daniel presenting Carly Miller, Jenny Owens and me with thank you eggs and honey!

Edinburgh Has The Edge (2010): Day One

I don’t want to write too much about The Edge 2010 conference, because I’m going to be submitting a piece to the Public Library Journal, but I do want to get a bit down about it, because it really was a brilliant two days. Here are a few highlights.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle, the conference venue

Susan Benton is the President and CEO of American Urban Libraries Committee and gave a fantastic keynote speech about the value of the work of public libraries. She emphasised the need for leadership, partnerships and publicity to send this message loudly and clearly to local authorities, national governments and communities. As well as the need for leadership in terms of promoting and advocating our services, public libraries could act as physical examples of sustainability in the community; working out of green buildings and being actively involved in recycling, etc. as well as offering involvement opportunities for local businesses and educational establishments would enable libraries to take the lead in an increasingly important area. Susan also expressed the thought that public libraries are trusted by communities and are often the first place people go to for information, advice and support. This is something that libraries need to be aware of and use to their benefit in serving their communities.

Nicky Parker and Councillor Mike Amesbury from Manchester City Council presented the plans and developments for Manchester Library and Information Services, which are considered an important political priority in the area. The libraries were given a poor report six years ago, which prompted action to improve their services drastically with an investment of £255 million, being spent on, amongst other things, 2 new buildings, widespread renovation and a virtual library. The challenge in Manchester was to decide which buildings to rebuid and which to adapt; this has been met innovatively with the decision to never build a standalone library again, instead to co-locate with other services such as adult learning centres. Strategically locating libraries in the heart of communities alongside other public services, near transport links, schools and homes, will hopefully make the library service more a part of the community.

Manchester Central Library
Manchester Central Library (CC by harshilshah100 at Flickr)

Mancester Library and Information Services are also investing in new technology such as RFID, automated storage and retrieval, self service and return and book vending machines. I hope that the introduction of these will make the service more widely used and not discourage people from using the Central and City libraries. Although the automated storage system is meant to make access to books easier and because of the current layout of the Central Library does not reduce the amount of open shelving, I am concerned that in public libraries, automated storage may not be as suited as it is in the British Library. Much of the book lending in public libraries seems to take place after time spent browsing the shelves and coming across something they were not deliberately seeking – I worry that taking this away will reduce the chances of someone serendipitously borrowing something wonderful and unexpected. A benefit of the self service borrowing system, though, is the ability to borrow books anonymously – this may have the opposite effect and encourage more people to borrow the items they want or need but are too embarrassed to take to the counter. I would be interested to see the results of any studies conducted!

I particularly enjoyed the speech from The Leader of Newcastle Council, Councillor John Shipley. His conviction that public libraries with their add-on services have become an essential public service that people should pay taxes for other people to borrow books and use libraries was inspiring. Libraries are cheap for the services they provide, efficient and effective – and if they are accused of being high cost – they should be proud, because it means that a valuable service is being provided. Bravo! There’s more about what he had to say on Ewan McIntosh’s blog. As he says, it truly was profound.

Edinburgh’s new virtual library, Your Library, was introduced by Liz McGettigan, Head of Edinburgh Libraries & Information Service and Jim Thompson, Quality Development Manager. Although 97% of Edinburgh’s population live within walking distance of a library, 97% of the population choose not to visit a library. The new Virtual Library is not designed to replace physical libraries, but to work alongside it and serve those who cannot or do not want to make the trip down the road, offering a Talis OPAC, image database, e-newsletter, community organisations database, full text ebooks and audiobooks. Citizens will be able to become members of the library online, and the website features Browsealoud support for the visually impaired, making the service more accessible.

This is by no means everything I found interesting, but I have too much uni work to be doing to be able to write a longer post, and as I say, I’ll be writing a big thing later.