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March 4, 2013 / playforth

Library Camp London March 2013

#libcampldn - a handy way to check what your hair looks like from the back (photo by @calire)

#libcampldn – a handy way to check what your hair looks like from the back (photo by @calire)

Saturday was my first Library Camp, and my first visit to the very lovely Senate House Library at the University of London. As I was on my time, not work’s, I deliberately chose sessions to attend that sounded interesting and/or different, not necessarily the ones most relevant to my day job or where I already had knowledge/expertise. This meant that I a) listened rather more than I talked (for a change) and b) learned a lot. So while I was sad to miss a discussion on open access, how could I pass up the chance to take part in rhyme time???

The first session I went to WAS quite relevant as well as interesting: hidden collections led by Katie Birkwood (@girlinthe) and based on this RLUK report. It’s a huge issue but also one that exists in microcosm in my own library. ‘Hidden’ refers to uncatalogued material, but with increasing user expectations that everything is available online, in terms of perceived accessibility it can also mean non-digitised material. (Or badly catalogued, or in card catalogues…) That’s a lot of hidden stuff! It’s very difficult to make user-focused decisions about what to ‘unhide’ even when the resources are available to do so, because by definition users don’t know what they are missing. Katie has written up this session (and others) very thoroughly already, so I’ll just expand on some small recent developments in this area at BLDS.

1) Since 2010 we’ve been running a government-funded digitisation project working with African and Asian social science research organisations to make their publications available in a digital repository. This is based on our own print holdings of these materials (often the only copies) so it boosts the visibility of our collection as well as the online profile of our partners (we make links in both directions between our catalogue and the repository).

2) We have recently launched our own institutional repository and as we had a small amount of funding to populate it before moving entirely to self-deposit, we were able to select some content to expose/digitise. This has mostly been decided through liaison with research teams, but we’ve also been able to talk to our enquiry/reference/document delivery staff and offer some ‘reactive’ digitisation – ie. a request came in to our document delivery service asking about a project led by our institute in the 1990s, whose outputs we had catalogued but which were not online. Rather than scan them for 1-to-1 document supply we decided to put them online permanently in the repository (we own the copyright) for 1-to-many open access, and they have already been discovered and downloaded multiple times.

Other sessions I attended:

  • Radical libraries (pitched by @alicecorble and @librarian)

This was something I chose because I knew nothing about it, and it was really instructive (about a range of socially important projects) and thought-provoking (about the definition of a library, a librarian, a profession). As Alan Wylie said in the session (great to have him there), all libraries and librarians are ‘radical’ – it’s a radical concept – but this is something that gets lost in institutional structures (and is actively under attack at the moment), so as ever the really exciting work happens autonomously and on the margins. I think it’s important to make the distinction between ‘community’ libraries where volunteers have effectively been forced to fill a gap left in public provision, and proactive voluntary libraries with a political mission (often created by professionals in their spare time). These are some of the libraries we talked about: the Feminist Library, Street Books, Radical Reference, A47 mobile library.  This session also caught the interest of some of my non-library friends following remotely on Twitter, and it was great to see the famous Itinerant Poetry Library in action, ink stamps and all!

  • How do you solve a problem like… the printed book? aka collaborative monograph management  (pitched by @davidclover)

This probably isn’t something that would affect my own work directly, as we were discussing how large (national/HE/research) libraries might approach weeding and physical stock management collaboratively, doing for monographs what the UK Research Reserve does for journals. But it was really interesting to unpack some of the barriers to this (which seemed to multiply the more we talked about it!) and to get a British Library perspective from Stella (@miss_wisdom) and Andrew (@generalising).

  • Rhyme time (pitched by @spoontragedy)

Not a session about rhyme time, but an actual rhyme time, complete with singing, clapping, jumping around, puppets, toys and parachute! I used to go to these sessions at Seaford Library all the time when my daughter was little(r), and it was a great way to get out of the house, into the warm, occupy the sprogs and meet other parents. (And borrow books of course!) I’d never really considered that it could be mood-enhancing and beneficial for grown-ups in child-unrelated ways, but I did feel energised, happy and more comfortable in my body and in the group once it was over – a perfect mid-afternoon diversion. Linsey and Jodie also had practical tips for running sessions (applicable to other group/kids events too) and we talked about it being one of the most popular services that public libraries provide, and why.

  • Librarians and personality (pitched by @rosiehare and @preater)

No library event would be complete without a bit of navel gazing, and this was a packed session that made me want to discover more about personality types and especially the way that individuals and organisations can use them productively (rather than seeing things like  ‘extrovert’ and ‘introvert’ as fixed categories or merely fodder for an online quiz in an idle hour.) It was great to hear from the managers in the group who had taken on board ways of working that fitted with the personalities of their staff, and also to talk about personality traits that were suited to librarianship (the stereotype and the reality). One trait that did stand out for me (first mentioned by @sarahwolfenden) was empathy – whether you’re a coder, a cataloguer, a subject librarian or a circulation assistant you need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the user.

Speaking of personality, I will admit to being slightly apprehensive about the unconference format, being a typical introverted cataloguer who thrives on structure and pre-planning, but I got at least as much out of it as any traditional conference and felt less drained at the end of it too. The best thing for me (not counting the fabulous crowd-sourced lunch feast!) was mixing with people from other types of jobs, libraries and sectors, which doesn’t often happen at formal events structured around a sector or a professional role/area. For example I almost never get to share ideas with public library staff (other than my sister!), but they were really well-represented here, and full of ideas and professionalism and enthusiasm despite the massive cuts that are hitting their sector harder than any other.


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  1. Sarah Wolfenden / Mar 10 2013 4:46 pm

    Thanks for mentioning me. I’m glad you enjoyed the unconference – it sounds like you got a lot out of it. Sarah

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