RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Conferences & Events’ Category

10 things to make a conference great

16 Dec

What makes a conference great? Andy Priestner posed the following question on Twitter today:


I found my answer wouldn’t fit even across loads of tweets. So with that in mind, and following on from the previous post on inspiring conferences, here’s my personal opinions based on conferences I’ve attended.

  1. The other delegates. This is very tricky. Much like what makes a good school experience isn’t really the Ofsted report and the facilities so much as the other kids and whether they’re nice, and a good job experience has (probably) more to do with your colleagues and line-manager than your salary and objectives, a good conference experience has a lot to do with the kind of crowd the conference attracts. If you get open, enthusiastic and practical people to hang out with, the presentations themselves are really just a springboard rather than the focus of the conference. What I remember most about SLA was the other delegates.
  2. A good keynote from outside the industry. LILAC gives fanstastic keynote – and part of the reason is they bring in someone from outside of libraries, who knows enough about them to make their talk relevant without just pandering to librarians. Spare me people saying ‘A library without a librarian is just a room’ – guess how much that helps me? Correct: not at all.
  3. A variety of formats. There’s no excuse just to have a bunch of people doing long presentations, these days. I want to see Pecha Kucha 20/20s, I want to see Teachmeet style sharing, I want to see panel discussions, I want some unconference style rewriting of the hierarchy. Ideally, I’d like to see something not listed here because I’ve never seen it before. Surprise me.
  4. Speakers who understand speaking rather than just the subject they’ve been asked to speak about. Don’t tell me all about your methodology at the start – if you have to tell me about your methodology at all, do it after you’ve told me WHY I should care about it (i.e. give me the results first). On the subject of results, if you’ve not yet finished your project and can’t tell us your conclusions, why are you here? And of course, don’t get me started on presenters who can’t be bothered to make decent presentations, or go over their time slots.
  5. A mixture of the cerebral and the immediate. I want to be inspired, uplifted, and invigorated. I ALSO want to be able to go back to my desk when the conference is finished and change the way I work, for the better, right away.
  6. New blood. I want there to be new professionals at any event I go to, because apart from being, obviously, The Future, they’re often the most enthusiastic and passionate. So make sure your event offers hard-up new profs the chance to attend and ideally to present too. (On a related note, I’d recommend going to New Profs events even if you aren’t so ‘new’ anymore; it restores your faith…)
  7. A lead organiser who really has their shit together. I’ve been to conferences where the person effectively chairing the event seems completely at sea, or not to be invested in the success of  the day at all. Organising conferences is REALLY hard (I’ve done it, enjoyed it, but resolved to stick to speaking from then on because that is MUCH easier) so you’ve got to be completely committed and quite sharp, and creative, and good at logistics, to make a success of it.
  8. An appropriate level of resource. It is possible to organise conferences and unconferences very cheaply, but that needs to be built into the DNA of the conference. A hugely ambitious conference shouldn’t be attempted without a hugely ambitious budget. I’m quite happy to sleep through 15-minutes of sponsor-talk at the start of each day if it means the event is well financed and everything works.
  9. Technology. If the wifi is no good, find another venue. If the screens are small, find another venue. If the presenter PCs are positioned so the presenter has to look away from the audience to present, find another venue. If someone is doing a presentation via Skype or a webinar software then by God they’d better give a transcendent and truly transformative talk if we’re to suffer through the 100% inevitable bad sound quality, visual glitches, and delays where the screen goes blank.
  10. Downtime. I’m an introvert. Most people going to library conferences are introverts. Introverts need time to recharge, away from the crowds, or we go a bit loopy. So the best conference schedules, for me, are the ones brimming with activity – but with some downtime built in too.

achievement via says-it.com

Anything you’d add?

{lang: 'en-GB'}
Print Friendly
 

Why don’t English conferences make you feel like this?

16 Dec
Library badges

Creative Commons image by Michael Porter (aka Libraryman!) – click to view the original on Flickr.

 

Back in 2006 when I got my first position in a library, in a job-emergency and with no intention of staying in the profession, one of the many many things I didn’t expect librarianship to involve was exciting foreign travel. But so far it’s taken me to Philly, to Latvia, to South Africa, and next year to Vancouver.

In part 3 of my posts about Cape Town (part 1, including a presentation on professional brand, can be read here; part 2 about the trip itself can be read here) I wanted to discuss something that the LIASA 2013 conference made me think about: English conferences have something missing. They don’t seem to make people feel inspired and uplifted like other conferences do. Why is that?

NB: I originally, erronously, entitled this post ‘Why don’t UK conferences make you feel like this?’ – but one thing which came out of the Twitter discussion I had about this subject while in SA is that there are plenty of people who’ve been inspired by conferences in Ireland, Wales and Scotland; this is borne out by the Storify embedded below. Apologies, rest of the UK…

English reserve

LIASA in Cape Town was on a pretty large scale – several hundred librarians from several countries. Here’s how it made me feel: excited, uplifted and optimistic. This is exactly what I want from a conference: you come together with your peers, you share ideas, you go away not just with practical ideas to apply to your job, but feeling inspired about librarianship. This is how I felt after SLA2011 in the USA, too. Interestingly, this is how I felt after the New Professionals Conferences I’ve been to, and this is how, judging from the Twitter reaction to them, people feel after attending LibCamps. But this is not how I’ve felt after, for example, Umbrella, or LILAC, or various JISC-related things I attended as part of a previous job, or smaller events I’ve been to organised by ARLG or CDG. That’s not to say these events weren’t good events, or weren’t useful to me – they were mostly both of those things (LILAC particularly). They just didn’t send me home beaming on the train / plane with optimism and uplift.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that English reserve and cynicism is what stops some events reaching the heights I’m describing. The events I’ve been inspired by have either been on foreign shores where English reserve and cynicism aren’t applicable, or for New Professionals conferences where the delegates haven’t been around long enough to become cynical or reserved. People seem to get very inspired by unconferences such as Mashlib and Libcamp, and Radical Libcamp – and by definition unconferences should be populated by a self-selecting group of engaged and non-cynical (about the profession, at least) delegates. So basically in situations where the English reserve and cynicism can’t get a proper foothold, the conference can flourish and leave everyone feeling reinvigorated – is it that simple?

Now, I’m aware not everyone agrees with me on this. Colleagues of mine, my boss for example, have been to English conferences and come away inspired, so maybe I’m either a: going to the wrong conferences, or b: approaching them in the wrong way? If you have time to leave a comment, I’d be interested in your thoughts.

What’s the most inspiring library event you’ve ever been to? Storify time

Finally, I conducted a brief and unscientific poll on Twitter this morning, so you can get some other perspectives on peoples’ most inspiring library events. Thank you to all who took part and RT’d my request for input. I was going to total up the ‘traditional UK conferences versus other types’ votes, but the waters are murky there as there’s plenty of responses from people not in the UK in the first place. So I’ve attempted to categorise the answers but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. If nothing else, make a note of these as events to try and attend in the future (be sure to press the ‘read next page’ button at the bottom – there’s loads of good stuff here)…

 

This will automatically update here as I add things to the Storify. (Storify is great, by the way.)

{lang: 'en-GB'}
Print Friendly
 

The Trip. Library adventures in Cape Town part 2

13 Dec
water, sky, boat

From the boat to Robben Island

This is the second in a mini-series of posts about my attendance at the LIASA 2013 conference in Cape Town. Part 1 is here, with slides and audio from one of my presentations. I’ll put more about the conference itself in Part 3 of this post, but it seems remiss to blog about giving a talk in South Africa without talking a little bit about what going to South Africa was like.

This conference happened in Week 2 of the academic year. As anyone who works in academic libraries knows, this is a BONKERS time, incredibly busy, possibly the busiest week out of the entire 52. So when I was first invited over I’d actually written the entire email saying that, although it killed me turn down such an amazing opportunity, I was going to have to say ‘no’. But then three things happened – firstly I expressed my anguish out loud and my fabulous colleagues all said ‘Go! Go! You have to go! We’ll cover your teaching, anything, you can’t not do this!’, secondly I checked the dates and by a series of coincidences and happenstance, I actually didn’t have any teaching in Week 2 (just hours of it in Weeks 1 and 3). The third thing that happened is I Google Image searched Cape Town. This was a mistake. It is SO beautiful – I love anything near Water anyway, but how many Cities have a mountain right in the middle? Not at the edge – in the actual middle! I also know several people who’ve been there who say it’s incredible, and I have the painting of it done by my Great-Grandfather you can see in the presentation video in Part 1 so feel like I have a small connection with it.

In any case, I deleted the draft email, and sent another one saying, essentially, ‘OMG yes’.

Ingrid Thompson, from HELIG, had invited me over. We follow each other on Twitter (hence my comment in the branding presentation that ‘without Twitter I wouldn’t be here’  in South Africa) and, like everyone else at LIASA, she was incredibly helpful, generous, and welcoming. After a journey which was REALLY long (24hrs each way from door-to-door – I got about an hour’s sleep in total, woo!) I was kindly picked up from the airport by Nikki Crowster who told me a bit about the City and the conference. They put me up in a much nicer hotel than the kind I’m used to staying in, and after a quick trip to the waterfront to explore a little, I had some food in the hotel and went to bed very early indeed.

My second day there was a Sunday, which I had to myself. I went to Robben Island and it was pretty moving – you’re shown round by a former inmate. This was a fantastic initiative – the guy said it was like therapy for him, reclaiming a space which had previously only been associated with suffering. For us, it took a prison which had become iconic and part of a worldwide narrative regarding a cultural hero in Nelson Mandela, and took it out of that rarefied realm and into a much more immediate reality.

I explored the Waterfront, which is a hive of activity – on my last night I bagged an outdoor table in a steak restaurant and watched the sun go down behind Table Mountain, while the fishing boats came in from their day’s work in a steady stream. It was pretty epic. I can’t wait to go back with my wife.

The waterfront

 

As well as the Conference itself, I was also given a tour of the University of Cape Town by Ingrid (she works there); what a ridiculously beautiful campus that is. It reminds me of Verona – beautiful old stone buildings crawling with ivy. Here’s the view from near the main Library:

View

University of Cape Town

On my final night there we went to the President’s Dinner, at Gold Restaurant – watch this video for an idea of the experience. This was amazing too. You didn’t choose from a menu, you were just brought food. Your wine glass was refilled with alarming frequency. There was singing, dancing, face-painting, drumming, scarily tall sort of dancing puppet-costume things, great conversations. I sat next to a lady who knew the language so she translated the songs for me as they were sung – it felt like a completely unique experience that I couldn’t have had anywhere else. The whole thing was just heady, an assault on the senses. I don’t know how authentic it truly was, but I completely loved it.

For all sorts of reasons I very nearly ended up not going to Cape Town, but I’m so glad I did. It was an incredible trip, and incredible conference, more on which in part 3.

 

{lang: 'en-GB'}
Print Friendly
 

Building your professional reputation. Library adventures in Cape Town part 1

11 Dec

In October I was invited to South Africa to speak at LIASA 2013, the 15th annual Library and Information Association of South Africa conference. It was in the fabulous City of Cape Town and it was incredible; I just haven’t had a chance to put my thoughts down in a blogpost until now. But I know not everyone is particularly interested in a ‘here’s what I did’ type post so I’ve put that separately in Part 2. There’s also a Part 3 to follow about the differences between UK conferences and international ones.

I was asked to do three things at the conference – a marketing workshop (half a day on strategic marketing and half a day on emerging technologies), a session for the Higher Education Library Interest Group on induction / orientation here at the University of York Library (the presentation is here, although it doesn’t make much sense without me talking over the top, I’m afraid), and a talk aimed primarily at new professionals on building your reputation and professional brand. It’s a tiresomely controversial subject, this; what it comes down to for me is that people fairly new to the profession can sometimes worry about being some sort of super librarian and DOING ALL THE THINGS, but actually you don’t have to be like this at all. You just have to get involved with the areas of librarianship which correspond to your goals in the profession. So the talk was about that, and about different ways to be part of the wider community.

Below is the talk: it consists of my slides, the audio of the talk (recorded from my iphone in my jacket pocket!) and a couple of pictures to look at while I talk about some things I wasn’t intending to talk about, at the very start.

It was fun doing this talk, it was different to the normal things I do. The room was bigger – this is the first time, outside of the webinar environment, that I’d talked to several hundred people at once. Speaking to a room that size is very different to speaking to 30 people – my usual very conversational presentation style wouldn’t have worked. Presenting is a bit like drawing a picture in that the further away the audience, the broader the strokes needed for the picture; the detail gets lost.

The atmosphere was different in SA that from conferences I’ve presented at in the UK, too – people were laid back, ready to laugh. I was one of only three international speakers so everyone was very welcoming. And also, this talk is a version of something I’d originally delivered at a New Professionals Day back in 2012 which was designed primarily to address an anxiety about branding I’d heard many new professionals express – an anxiety which, having arrived in South Africa and been at the conference for a couple of days already, I’d found to be largely absent! So I felt a bit like my talk didn’t match my slides – certainly I was trying to manipulate the slides to tell a slightly different, more widely applicable story, as I went along. But anyway I really enjoyed it and I’ve had some genuinely touching feedback about people feeling inspired.

Parts 2 and 3 to follow!

 

{lang: 'en-GB'}
Print Friendly