Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the annual Library Camp unconference at the brand new Library of Birmingham. The new library has a very interesting layout and there are lots of unusual angles and different kinds of spaces, which I really liked and I could definitely imagine spending time studying there. My favourite visual element was the contrast between the futuristic bright blue glowing escalators and the central rotunda with its curved wall of books.
For our library camp event, we had use of the studio theatre on the ground floor of the library in addition to several rooms on the first floor. The event began in traditional unconference fashion with a variety of homemade cakes being laid out upon the tables, followed by people queuing up to pitch ideas for sessions.
The first session that I attended was on social media and libraries, a topic which is of particular interest to me as I am currently responsible for managing my library’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. I worked on developing these accounts over the summer and we officially launched our social media presence at the start of the October semester. This means that we’re still in the early stages of building our online network, so I was hoping to pick up some tips and advice from other librarians as to how to increase student engagement.
There were lots of useful suggestions from people in the group. One person suggested that it was a good idea to target new students before they began their courses, such as by running competitions using social media during Fresher’s week. Another person suggested that Twitter could be used to share information or links that students would find useful, even if they weren’t directly related to the library. This is actually the approach that I am
taking with my library’s social media accounts, and I am trying to market them to students as a current awareness tool rather than just another way to keep up to date with library news and services.
However, I’ve found that some students don’t immediately understand how social media can be useful to them in this way, which has meant that it has been necessary to spend some time promoting social media itself, in addition to promoting the library’s own social media presence. We have tried to do this in various ways, such as by creating displays about the benefits and uses of social media, and by incorporating social media resources into all the subject guides that we produce. I would like to run a survey at some point in the future to gather more data about our students’ existing attitudes towards social media, as I think that this could help to inform further social media marketing initiatives in the library.
Another useful suggestion that was made in the social media and libraries session was to promote your social media accounts to other social media administrators within your institution. It was argued that this would increase the likelihood of your posts being shared or retweeted by other departments, thus increasing your capacity for reaching your target audience.
Other suggestions included using tools like Storify or Pinterest to combine information about the library with news about current happenings on campus, such as exams, in order to promote library resources and facilities within a wider context. It was also suggested that social media accounts which exhibited some form of personality would be more likely to gain responses than impersonal accounts which only published information – @OrkneyLibrary was seen to be a good example of the former.
One person pointed out that publishing images alongside your social media posts would increase the likelihood of people clicking on and reading your content, while someone else suggested that posting links to local relevant events could give users another reason to want to follow your accounts.
There were many other interesting suggestions, but I think that one of the main things that I took away from this session was that continual marketing of library social media accounts is key to sustaining their momentum, and that ensuring that your published content is interesting and relevant to your target audience is essential for ensuring long-term success.
The second session that I attended was entitled Evidence-based Librarianship. One of the main arguments made in this session was that reading practitioner based research should be seen as especially important for librarians who were looking for new ways to enhance their library services. However, the point was made that not all librarians had
access to such research, particularly if they didn’t work in an academic library. It was noted that CILIP members were able to access a number of library journals via their membership subscription, and that Twitter could also be a useful resource for links to professional literature.
It was also noted that librarians often had to undertake such reading and research in their own time as there was limited time available for CPD and innovation on a day-to-day basis. One person argued that undertaking some work outside of normal working hours was inevitable if your intention was to keep up with issues within the profession and to research new ideas. This has certainly been true for me and I have found that setting some time aside for reflection is especially important if you want to come up with new innovations, because the daily tasks of running a library tend to fill up every moment of the working day.
The third session of the day for me was about librarians and teaching. The importance of training was one of the central issues raised and it was argued that at the very least a basic grounding in lesson planning and classroom behaviour management was key for librarians who found that teaching was a part of their remit. One person expressed concern about people taking on teaching responsibilities when they had no knowledge of pedagogy, as this could greatly reduce the effectiveness of their teaching. Many people in the group had taken PTLLS courses or similar qualifications and had found them to be very useful, although some had found it difficult to enrol on to a teaching course because they did not teach the requisite number of hours required in order to be eligible.
Fortunately for me, my college has recently started running an in-house teaching programme which I hope to enrol on next semester. Although it does not lead to a qualification, I think that it will be extremely useful for me and will help me to develop a basic understanding of teaching theory. At the moment I have a very limited amount of
teaching experience, but I have recently started teaching library information skills workshops as part of my role and so I am keen to develop my skills in this area.
There was some discussion in the group about how to create lesson plans which were challenging for all students regardless of differing ability. This was seen as a challenge for librarians as they would be less likely to have an idea of the differing ability levels of the students in their class. Someone argued that it was important to be able to pick up on cues from learners in terms of the ways that they responded to your teaching, as this would enable you to tailor your teaching to meet their needs. Designing lessons to have elements with varying levels of difficulty was also seen as a good way to ensure that all learners could be given something to challenge them.
In terms of getting students to attend library skills sessions, it was argued that such sessions could be marketed in a different way so that students did not assume that the classes were not relevant to them. Some people made the point that students often think that they already know how to search for information, and therefore that they don’t have anything to gain from information literacy classes, when this often isn’t the case. This will definitely be something to think about when I come to promoting our library workshops next semester.
For my fourth session of the day, I decided to be brave and go for some speed networking as I’d never been to a session like this before. However, I didn’t have to be as brave as I’d thought, as we turned out to be a fairly small group. We decided to sit in a circle together and each share what we did and what our future career plans were, which I thought was a valuable way to spend the time and I enjoyed getting to know some new people.
For my final session of the day, I attended a session on demonstrating the value of college libraries. The discussion was mainly focussed on FE as opposed to HE college libraries, but I thought that I might find something of general relevance to me. One of my objectives for the next academic year is to find new ways to market my library’s services so I was interested to see how other people were doing this.
There was some discussion about the importance of measuring the impact of library services as this was seen as important when trying to demonstrate the value of the library to faculty members. However, it was noted that obtaining conclusive evidence of library impact was often tricky as student performance could be influenced by a variety of factors. It was agreed that students’ perceptions of their library could be heavily influenced by their lecturers, and this meant that it was extremely important to market library services to lecturers as well as to students.
Some people suggested that librarians needed to increase their own visibility by inviting themselves to relevant meetings and taking every opportunity to build relationships with academics, as this was another way to raise awareness of the library. Another suggestion was to host open-house events in the library for staff to come and learn about the resources and facilities offered, and someone else suggested that a regular publication to
market the library’s current projects and achievements could further help to raise the library’s profile among faculty.
I definitely took away a lot of useful ideas from this year’s Library Camp and I’m already thinking about how I might implement some of these ideas in my own library. Many thanks to the organisers, the bakers, and to the Library of Birmingham for hosting the event!