I haven’t been to a library conference yet, but I can’t imagine one as fun as Library Camp. (Can’t imagine any having Cake Camp as a fringe event, either!) I also had the added benefit of living near Birmingham, which meant no hotel and no unfortunate waking times. All this led to a relaxed mood, and the unconference format only reinforced it. Library Camp was an informal environment where librarians felt free to discuss their professional interests and challenges in an open and honest way. Throughout the day, I felt a healthy amount of optimism in spite of recognition of the issues facing us today. Most of the sessions I went to were discussion, and as a result most of them were also fairly open-ended and seemed to identify problems instead of offering solutions. All of them raised important questions, though. Choosing sessions was very difficult, as I think there were about 30 options! (A link to session notes for most of them can be found on the Library Camp wiki.) My thoughts on the five I attended are below.
1) Cataloguing & classification
This was a discussion-based session. Topics varied from MARC to UDC to the usefulness of classification. What made the session most unique was hearing the perspective of systems librarians, who asked a lot of questions. It made me realize that there is a dichotomy between systems librarians and cataloguers, though they should probably work in tandem to create the best user experience. It was also systems librarians who brought up the hardest questions: Why do you spend all that time on punctuation if we have to remove it to use it properly? What’s the point of classification? The former question was a very good one, and made me think that I should really learn more about systems and programming. The latter question confused me a little; users may see the classmark as a geographical location now, but it also provides a point of reference for librarians, and shelfmark systems don’t allow for expansion or physical reorganisation.
2) Special collections
My dream job is in special collections, so I’m always keen to learn more and hear what those who already work with them think. This was another discussion-based session with a lot of different topics. I also have the most notes from this one. A lot of talk centred around outreach: the value of partnerships with local institutions when putting together an exhibition, the pros and cons of digital exhibitons, and how it can lead to more funding and donations. Of particular interest was the comment that public collections are often still treated like private ones, and the continued inaccessibility of items that have been shared online. This was directly relevant to That’s Not Online, a project I’m involved with. Toward the end of session there was also mention of various collections that are online, like the Culture Grid and People’s Collection Wales. Other topics discussed included depositing special collections or loaning them to libraries that would have appropriate storage conditions, what makes a special collection (the short answer is uniqueness), and a little bit of mourning for potential special collections that have been lost in skips.
3) Libations/zoning in libraries
I went to this session because I was interested in hearing Jo Alcock in person, and because I think this is a topic that is increasingly important. It was certainly the most lively session I attended. A red stress ball was passed around to give people permission to speak, and at the end there was a bit of a lively debate about the use of (fiction) genre sections in public libraries. Top tips included putting baskets in the library for users, floorwalking and training staff to spot people who need help, non-permanent signage that can be removed (making spaces more versatile), and marketing coffee shops in libraries as social learning spaces.
Not surprisingly, this session is what inspired my recent That’s Not Online! post about Wikipedia’s GLAM project. Andy Mabbett spoke about the importance of open access cultural material and his own experiences as a Wikipedia volunteer.
5) Interlibrary loan
Having worked in an interlibrary loan department in an American academic library, I wanted to hear what UK librarians thought about it. It was a small and unfortunately somewhat gloomy session, with a lot of comments suggesting that those outside the department really don’t value it. One person said her library director thought ILL was elitist! I was also surprised to hear the range of fees charged for the service, from 80 pence all the way to £5. While the cost benefits of ILL were mentioned, the list of potential drawbacks was a little longer; it included the “I want it now!” attitude of patrons and the difficulty of effectively managing consortia and delivery. The session ended with the potential link between special collections and interlibrary loan, with a public librarian suggesting niche markets were the way to go in the future and an academic librarian agreeing that one of the most successful examples of ILL she remembered was two departments with similar narrow interests sharing articles. It was a thought-provoking session, and I particularly enjoyed hearing the public library perspective on ILL. It seems to have a completely different function within them as opposed to the one it serves in academic libraries.
Overall, Library Camp was a fantastic way to spend a Saturday! Unfortunately, I was having one of my shy days & therefore didn’t meet as many people as I would’ve liked. I’m really pleased to have met some other librarians from my place of residence, though, and am so glad I signed up for the waiting list.
Postscript: Rumor has it there will be an IFLA New Professionals unconference in Helsinki next year. Needless to say, I’m hoping to go!