Monday, 15 October 2012


So, I spent this weekend in wonderful Birmingham with 125 or so other library folk, taking part in Library Camp UK 2012 at the Signing Tree Conference Centre.
This was my first Library Camp experience - and indeed my first foray into the world of the 'unconference'. I was not disappointed.

The day was off to a bad start, on the discovery of a £70 penalty notice stuck to my car windscreen. However, in hindsight, I am choosing to class this as a positive learning experience. I will always double check parking signs in future..
Arriving at the Signing Tree there was a short opportunity to network and meet up with participants who had been missing from the pre-librarycamp curry (which was gorgeous) the previous evening.
Then it was on to the pitches. There were a number of sessions proposed which appealed to me, but I had to whittle it down to five.

The first session was led by Sarah Barker and was 'the sweary session'. Sarah's proposal was:
On being told to "F^&k Off, you C%^t" how do you respond? An alternative to decking 'em!
The session was very well attended as I expect many of us in our Library life have had some experience of this.
It was a good mix of people from different backgrounds and we received input from a Prison Librarian who explained that swearing is just part of the vernacular and can be ignored in a Prison Library (where there are, of course, no children present!) if the swearing is not being aimed specifically at the Librarian. The Librarian also described body language and how it is important not to allow yourself to be a good target for violence. I added to this by telling of how all of the frontline staff at my Library Authority are offered training in 'breakaway techniques', in the event of violent confrontation.
It was discussed whether it was the swearing itself that was the problem or the emotion behind it. If somebody is really angry and 'in your face', that is scary whether they are swearing or not - One participant suggested that, in such circumstances, swearing helps as it gives you an added justification to eject someone from the premises.
Whereas, on the other hand, if a user is good-naturedly allowing the occasional swear word to slip through in conversation with you, you may be inclined to ignore it.
A participant made a very good point that it boils down to balancing the needs of your users. When you have a situation where an angry customer is swearing at you, in an otherwise empty library, the opportunity is there to let them vent and then calmly explore the actual problem behind the anger and deal with that in a professional way. Looking to address the problem, rather than the behaviour.
 If, however, this is taking place in the middle of the junior library at the start of Parent and Toddler, it would be necessary to be ask that person to leave there and then.
A public library worker told us how in their library authority it is commonplace to call the police as soon as the mark is overstepped. It was agreed by many that it is a good idea to foster good relations with local police office support officers.
The question was put to the room about sanctions available. School Librarians can refer problem behaviour to teaching staff to deal with - One participant remarked how useful it can be to have a 'snitch' on board in the school library pupil librarian team...
Overall I found the session thought provoking and was disappointed that it ended when it did, as I felt there was a lot still to discuss. This is a problem that I encounter rarely in my current branch library - but if and when it happens, I feel better equipped to deal with it.

The second session of the day was hosted by the #uklibchat team. The subject was careers. I was very interested to come along to this one and I had added a couple of questions to the googledoc before the day. After a quick introduction by the team we began discussion.
The first question that was posed was that of career progression i.e. how easy is it to further your career within your organisation. The general feeling across sectors was that it is very difficult at the moment to progress. Unless you are prepared to relocate to other parts of the country, at the moment prospects are pretty bleak. It is a case of waiting for older Librarians to retire, but having said that, there is then so much competition for posts that it can leave qualified Librarians stuck for many years, if not their entire career, in a junior position.
As many positions are only advertised internally within organisations, qualified Librarians are competing with one another for very junior roles just to get a foot in the door.
A number of people suggested that using agencies can work, particularly to gain contacts within organisations. Most of these contracts are short lived but it all helps in adding to a CV.
Useful websites to aid job hunting were discussed.
The second question was 'How important is Charterhip to your employer'.
The general response was 'not very!' Public libraries, in particular value LIS qualifications in staff at a higher level, but Chartership is very rarely a prerequisite. One participant talked about how her institution is very supportive of staff going through Chartership, but there is little actual benefit to achieving it in terms of their current position.
It was discussed that as we are all taking part in CPD in some way or another, it may as well be recorded in working towards Chartership.
It was also suggested that PG Cert in teaching may be a more valuable qualification to work towards. This depends, of course, on the sector in which you work.
The discussion on Chartership led to the question of whether it is ok to describe yourself as Chartered Librarian even if your CILIP membership has lapsed. It isn't. However if a candidate puts on their application form that they chartered in a particular year, this hints that they still have Chartered membership - one candidate was recently marked down for this as it was seen as misleading. I'm not so sure this is fair. If a candidate chartered in a particular year then that is a fact. It doesn't erase that if CILIP membership is not still held. One suggestion was that it would have been wise to add 'although not currently a member of the professional body' or something similar.
The third question broached the subject of skills required in Librarianship at the moment and how these may change in the near future.
The discussion began with the importance of customer service skills. Especially in University Libraries - a higher level of customer service from Library staff can be married to the rise in tuition fees and resulting expectations. In public libraries this is just as important if we are to maintain our attraction to users.
An ability to interact with children is seen as incredibly important in public libraries.
I terms of what employers will be looking for in the future, we were encouraged to keep ahead of the game and look to the future. Gaining skills that will stand us in good stead in what is not a dying profession, but a changing profession. It may be necessary to use our transferable skills in other careers that wouldn't necessarily be described as Library work.
I had to leave the session at this point to take a telephone call from my employer - funnily enough to ask me to take on some extra hours at work! I will be interested to read blog posts from others to see how the session concluded.

The Third session was based on Digital Media. The session was proposed and Led by Ben Lee. We were encouraged to discuss how we teach digital media information skills to students. How, for example, is a reading list different to a list of google results?
We discussed the prevalence of copying and pasting from Wikipedia in pupils' (and even post-graduates') work. How do we explain to children and teenagers why this is wrong? An interesting distinction was made by one participant that although teens are used to copying music tracks from online sources they are not then trying to pass it off as their own album - whereas in copying other peoples creative thought processes, they are doing exactly that.
Some School Librarians were present and it was interesting to note that one found it impossible to teach information literacy as there was not the opportunity within the curriculum.
Some parents in the room are teaching their own children as there is the distinct danger that they will not learn it anywhere else.
In public libraries, in structured, well led homework clubs, this can be achieved part-way.
One School Librarian suggested creating an erroneous webpage with the pupils, so that they can see how easy it is to post a load of rubbish to the web. Other suggestions included changing a wiki page with the class.

My fourth session was led by Katherine Black, on the subject of storytelling. She brought along with her a storysack full of lovely ideas to bring storytelling alive, which included a hotly debated 'is it a whale or is it a shark' puppet. Also present was an octopus glove puppet. I have already started work on a spider version to use with my favourite read aloud book 'Aaaargh Spider' by Lydia Monks.
It was a really interesting session, and one that I felt I could contribute a lot to, given my experience in this area. It was fantastic to meet Lyle the crocodile, brought along by Linsey Chrisman, who livens up her sessions by trying to eat the children (Lyle, that is, not Linsey). Great idea and one which I hope to steal replicate.
We discussed children's books and which ones work well with certain age groups. Kath brought along a nice selection and I managed to jot down a couple of titles to use myself.
The session took an unexpected turn when we were shown a technique to get children focussed and ready to listen. The book 'Monkey Puzzle' was cited as an example. We all closed our eyed for five seconds and imagined a jungle noise and then all made those noises together creating a 'soundscape' to set the scene.
Some example of popular songs used in library sessions were talked about (and sung!) and I learnt a couple of new ones to take back with me. One participant suggested the use of a set of farm animal puppets when doing Old MacDonald so that the children can participate more fully. I shared with the group the situation I found myself in when I asked a young girl to choose the next animal for the farm... a rabbit. Hmm, what noise does a rabbit make then exactly?
A participant questioned the group about storytelling in children's hospitals. Nobody in the group had done any but some suggestions were made that it would be best to speak to the ward sister beforehand to determine the ages / level / ability of the children before going in. Storysacks a definite no-no due to infection control. A good suggestion was made to use a wipe-clean ipad or even a projector, to minimise the chance of any infection being carried in by library books, which despite research which claims this isn't likely, still causes some consternation amongst hospital staff.
The final question was whether anybody had any experience in actually teaching storytelling to children. This is something I have had experience with in modelling good / bad storytelling techniques to Y5 children and working with them over four weeks until they have the confidence to go into nursery classes and read aloud by themselves. I do hope that some participants take up this scheme idea as, in my experience, it works really well.

The fifth session of the day was about the use of using volunteers in Libraries. This was a well attended session and prompted hot debate. The session was proposed and led by Carol Musgrave. She talked initially about her work as a community development manager and the role that she was able to play in helping volunteers find roles in libraries and other organisations.
She spoke passionately about the benefits that volunteers can find from working. The self esteem and confidence boost that they receive, and also the increased likelihood of finding paid work in the future.
In terms of libraries, Carol conceded that it was not at all possible to bring in volunteers from the street to organise and shelve books - this was not a suggestion, but she advised using volunteers to supplement the work being done by paid staff to allow Libraries to offer services that may otherwise have to be cut. She described a retired Librarian who still came back every week to offer a story session which otherwise would have ceased upon her retirement.
One participant, Liz Jolly, expressed valid concerns that allowing this to happen gives off an impression that services are being maintained despite budget cuts whereas in fact they are not. The public wouldn't see so many disruptions to the activities on offer by libraries if these activities are instead being taken up by volunteers.
She went on to make the point that if there is a reduction in services then this must be visible. Otherwise the view may be taken that Libraries were over-funded in the past. It makes us guilty of hiding the problem and 'putting a plaster on an issue that needs immediate attention'.
Carol told us how the volunteers were being used to put out tables for craft sessions etc, things which paid staff simply did not have the time to do. Liz Jolly again made a point that this is a dangerous blurring of the line between what paid staff are doing and what volunteers can or should be called in to do. She also made the point that  'People have a right in a democratic society, to an effective and comprehensive Library service, as enshrined in Law'. Using volunteers ultimately has a damaging effect upon this service.
The point was made also that volunteers are not free. They need training and managing just as paid staff do.
The question of whether it is better to close libraries rather than give them over to volunteers was raised. There was some discussion about this in which the point was made that a Library is not a room full of books. A Library is run by a Librarian who belongs to a profession with morals and ethics at its core. Without a Librarian, there is no Library.
An analogy was made to nurses 'We don't need nurses - I can make beds'. I felt this illustrated the point well.
The topic of internship was raised. Many interns are being used to gain relevant experience in unpaid work before they can get into the employment market. Many felt this very unfair and that people have a right to expect to be paid for what they do 'A fair day's pay for a fair day's work'.
In a recent report it was shown that visitors to public Libraries and the number of issues are broadly similar, the implication being that each visitor borrows one book. Of course this is not the case and this illustrates that so much more goes on in libraries than book stamping. Unfortunately, it is the book borrowing aspect that is visible. Society and those in power do not understand what Libraries do which is why there is a perception that volunteer-run libraries will work.
Carol brought the subject back to volunteering from the viewpoint of the volunteer and told us that it can be empowering for them and can make a big difference to somebody. She illustrated this point by telling us about the increased self-esteem that she had seen in a particular volunteer and how it had helped him to shape a future for himself.
I would like to thank Carol for proposing this session, as she must have anticipated some ill-feeling towards using volunteers in Libraries. It was a very informative and interesting session which I took a lot away from.

I really enjoyed my first Library Camp and so was drawn in my final session to the 'Running your own Library camp' session proposal.
This session was led by members of the organising team, including Carolin Schneider.
We were told that organising a Library camp is fairly straightforward. You need one room, an eventbrite account to distribute tickets, a twitter account, a wiki, directions and cake recipes. The rest looks after itself. I'm not so sure that is true! I hope to find out though as I would like to be part of a team involved in organising a smaller scale Library Camp in Newcastle next year.
The hardest part is securing an appropriate venue. Venues for over 100 people will usually expect to provide catering, even if the room is free. Smaller scale camps would benefit from a 'bring your own lunch' structure if a free venue can be found. This camp was funded though crowdfunding and some generous donations from individuals, in addition to sponsorship from Red Quadrant, Shared Intelligence, Kenchad Consulting and others.

At that, the prize was given for best cake of the day, the raffle was drawn and then it was off to the pub. It allowed a final chance to network and swap contact details.
Library Camp gave me the opportunity to catch up with old friends, introduce myself to friends I had only known online, and also to meet some altogether new ones. I would like to thank the organisers for all of their input into a very worthwhile and well managed day.


  1. Thank you for coming to our #uklibchat session! All the tweets from the session, some resources and blog posts have been gathered together on our blog:

  2. Just started 23 Things so reading your blog. Sounds like interesting discussions at Library Camp, the sweary session is of particular interesting as I have experience of challenging behaviour from young people which we took down a behaviour contract route which was effective so am always interested in how others handle these situations. Good luck with the rest of 23 Things, I'll pop back to see how you are doing sometime.

  3. Wow, this post was really interesting, never heard of the Library Camp UK, it was great hearing your summary of the sessions. I found your page as you had commented on my blog a few weeks ago and I'm now finally coming back to doing some more on 23 things cpd!

  4. Valuable information and excellent design you got here! I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts and time into the stuff you post!! Thumbs up. ..

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