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Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ 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?

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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.)

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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!

 

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Ridiculously excited to be interviewed in SLA Information Outlook

19 Aug

I love being a member of the SLA – although the word ‘Special’ in the title implies that it will be solely aimed at legal or business librarians, it actually has a large percentage of its membership coming from academic institutions like mine. Part of membership includes getting the magazine, Information Outlook. This is a really good trade mag – there’s a lot of useful, intelligent, grown-up content there. My favourite part of it is the member interview section, 10 questions with… I’ve learned a lot from it (and loved reading Bethan Ruddock’s one when she did it) so I was ridiculously excited to be asked to participate in it.

I’ve done a few interviews now but, with the obvious exception of Circulating Ideas, they’ve all been via email. This one was a proper telephone conversation with Stuart Hales in Washington, which was taped and then transcribed. It was exciting doing it this way. I got a copy of the questions in advance, although we went off on different tangents in the conversation itself (Stuart told me a great wedding-crashing related tale which you should force me to tell you should we meet at a conference or in a pub…). I was a little bit apprehensive in the lead-up to it because the questions seemed slightly passive-agressive in a weird type of a way, but Stuart wasn’t remotely like that in the actual conversation, so I think I just got an incorrect impression from them on paper!

We talk about marketing, the SLA itself (more on that below the interview), the Buy India a Library project, professional development, new technology, and taking a step back. (Whimsical tales of my ability to lead a walking tour of York are greatly exaggerated. :) ) Anyhow, here it is – it specifically says at the bottom of this page that it’s for personal use only and not for reproduction, but I’ve got proper permission to use it, I promise…

 

Ned Potter Information Outlook Interview by thewikiman

 

If you’re an SLA member you can read the whole July-August 2013 issue from which this came by logging-in here.

On the subject of the SLA, at the weekend I read this absolutely brilliant post about the organisation and the annual conference, by Penny Andrews. It articulated things I value about being a member which I didn’t know I knew… It certainly seemed to chime with a lot of people judging by the Twitter response, so particularly if you’re not an SLA member but have wondered about it, have a read.

I’m a member of both CILIP and SLA, and will continue to be so. I get different things from them – in some ways I feel that CILIP helped me more as I was growing up (which is partly why I’ll keep paying my membership fees; I owe them) and SLA helps me more now I’m grown up. The SLA is / are a confident bunch, and very positive – perhaps this is partly because they are under less obligation to ‘save libraries’ than CILIP or the ALA, so there’s a lot less hand-wringing. (Incidentally, I LOVE Penny’s comments about MOOCs and gamification in that article!) There’s a lot of money in the organisation (they work hard to build and maintain relationships with corporate sponsors) and quite honestly it’s nice to be part of an organisation that can afford to do things with style and without an ever-present sense of worry about finances. The downside of this is that it is if you don’t like wearing suits for work-related things, and aren’t going to do so just to fit in (*raises hand*) you can feel under-dressed at the London SLA-Europe events! Penny talks about being treated as an equal at the conference in the US, regardless of the status of the person you’re talking to – I’d agree with that, but if you start mixing with the sponsors in London, expect at least a couple of them to be baffled that dressing in a suit and schmoozing isn’t your number one priority…

What the SLA does (in my view) is focus on making us into better, more effective information professionals. They can afford to focus on improving us, and let others worry about the Latest Big Library Crisis besetting the profession. Part of the way we can endure in libraries is to be really brilliant at our jobs – it feels like the SLA addresses making a practical impact in a very hands-on way, all of the time, rather than being side-tracked. The conference itself remains the greatest experience of my professional career – I’m over the moon to be going back, to Vancouver in 2014, to give a few talks and see everyone again, and generally drink up the atmosphere of niceness and happiness.

Here’s the link if you’re thinking of joining; I wish I’d done so earlier. I didn’t sign up to the SLA previous to winning the ECCA which gave me a year of free membership, because of the cost. To spend a big chunk of money on something work related, especially after already paying for CILIP membership, is daunting. But it’s based on a sliding-salary scale so you pay less if you earn less, and now as a proper fee-paying member from my point of view (and from that of all the members I’ve talked to), it’s worth it.

Librarianship can be tough these days, but the SLA makes you feel good and gives you confidence – that’s not a trivial thing.

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