A few weeks ago I went to Library Camp London at Senate House Library. For those who don’t already know, library camps are ‘unconference’ style events, which means that there is no set agenda and instead people pitch their ideas for sessions on the day. This was the third library camp event that I’d been to, so I was already familiar with the unconference style format and I was looking forward to some interesting discussions and also some networking with other like-minded library folk!
The first session of the day that I attended was entitled ‘Leadership without Portfolio’ and it was aimed at library workers who weren’t yet in a management role but who wanted to gain some experience in leadership. I attended the session despite being in a management role already because I wanted to learn more about the development of leadership skills. The session was run by Penny who was a current graduate trainee. She suggested that taking opportunities to volunteer for projects or committees could be a good way to develop leadership skills, in addition to participating in activities outside of work such as those associated with CILIP. Taking the initiative and suggesting new ideas at work was also seen to be a good way to develop experience in leadership.
One person in the group pointed out that managers might be wary of new initiatives suggested by trainees or library assistants as they often had concerns over the long-term sustainability of such initiatives. However, this didn’t necessarily mean that trainees should assume that all their ideas would be vetoed. Someone pointed out that in order to sell a new project to management, it would be important to demonstrate how the project would a) be beneficial to library users, b) not cost anything or even save money, and c) help to deliver the organisation’s overall strategy. With any new idea, it would also help to show that the work wouldn’t take up too much time and that the project would be sustainable. I found the discussion interesting because I am currently working on my own project to create a social media presence for my library, and so it was useful to hear people talk about their approaches to project work and how they pitched their ideas to management.
The second session that I attended was called ‘Design Your Own LIS Qualification’ and it was run by the #uklibchat team. One of the main topics of conversation in this session was whether current LIS qualifications were too theoretical in nature given that librarianship was a vocational discipline. Liz Jolly pointed out that there was a danger that library courses had become too academic and she argued that such courses should be focused on practice and should enable people to work in the real world. However, it was generally agreed that some theoretical unpinning was also important for LIS courses.
For those who had taken or who were currently taking a LIS qualification, there followed a discussion of which aspects of their courses had been the most useful. A number of people suggested that gaining a broader awareness of the library and information field had been more useful than any particular module or assignment on their course, while others said that specific practical elements like web design or cataloguing had helped them in their current roles. At the end of the session, people made suggestions as to what their ideal LIS qualification would include. Several people suggested that teaching should be a part of their course as many academic librarians had to teach information literacy skills workshops as part of their roles. Other people wanted a greater choice of modules and for the courses to be taught by library practitioners as well as by academics.
The third session that I attended was called “The Role of Library Assistants” and it was a discussion about the difficulties that some library assistants faced when they tried to accomplish professional development within their roles. Several people said that they felt that their library was quite hierarchical and that senior library staff looked down on library assistants and did not allow them to deal with more complex tasks. Many in the group felt that it was important for library assistants to be given a voice and to be allowed to make a contribution towards projects, rather than only being responsible for circulation and shelving. Someone pointed out that it was frustrating to have a manager who had qualified as a librarian 20 years ago and had never done any CPD since qualifying, as it was hard to persuade someone like this to help you to develop your own professional skills. One person pointed out that some library assistants may have had many years of experience and that this experience should be valued regardless of whether that person had a library qualification.
At the other end of the spectrum, there were a few people who felt that they had been asked to take on responsibilities which were above their pay grade and which they had subsequently found a bit overwhelming. They felt that it was unfair that they were expected to take on the work of a qualified librarian when they were not compensated accordingly. One person said that she felt unable to turn down these additional responsibilities as she was grateful for the experience, but she nonetheless felt that she had been thrown in at the deep end without any support.
It was pointed out that library assistants do essential and important work and that without them the library would not be able to function. There was a strong feeling in the group that the work of library assistants should be more highly valued. Given that I am now responsible for managing a small team of library assistants myself, I found it very useful to hear everyone’s different viewpoints and experiences.
The final session of the day that I attended was the ‘Librarians and Personality’ session, which turned out to be pretty popular. As an icebreaker, we were all asked to stand in a line in the order of most extroverted person to most introverted. The difference between extroversion and introversion was explained as follows: an extroverted person will feel energised by spending a whole day at a conference speaking to people, whereas an introverted person will feel drained and will need to recover by spending some quiet time alone. I was definitely on the introverted side of the scale! After this exercise we were split into four groups; two groups had to write down which personality traits a librarian was often believed to possess by people outside the profession, and two groups had to write down what traits librarians actually needed in order to do their jobs well. As might be expected, the first two groups came up with a lot of stereotypes about librarians being quiet or timid, as well as being knowledgeable and trustworthy. The other two groups pointed out that librarianship was a service-based profession and therefore librarians needed to be good communicators rather than shrinking violets. Dealing with information also meant that librarians had to be organised, logical and rational.
It was considered that a lot of librarian personality stereotypes came from a time when library roles were quite homogenous, but now that there were many different kinds of library role – from cataloguing to outreach to digitisation – there were also many different types of personality which would be suited to the profession. It was however generally agreed, within my discussion group at least, that empathy was a pretty essential trait for a profession that is all about helping people.
Overall, I really enjoyed this library camp event and thought that it was really well organised – and I liked the fact that the event had a savoury rather than a cakey theme as it meant that I wasn’t suffering from a massive sugar crash by the end of the day as is normally the case at library camp events! Many thanks to all the people who cooked and baked and to all the fab organisers for putting on this event