Reflections on Library Camp UK 2011…

On Saturday 8th Oct 2011, I made my way to Birmingham’s Maple House for Library Camp UK. I had luckily secured a ticket to the event during the summer of 2011 during a casual night’s ‘tweeting’ (if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that every night is casual tweet night!). Lots of librarians/library staff I follow on Twitter started to talk about Library Camp as the event to be at if you worked within, or were interested in, the library sector. It soon became apparent this was an event I would miss at my peril, and again I had Twitter to thank for highlighting useful professional development and networking events that covered my area of work. The fact that the camp was to be held in Birmingham also appealed, meaning I could make the short train journey from Leicester to B’ham New Street easily (and also return on the same day).

So, after an early start to catch the 7am train from Leicester station, we were on our way to Birmingham. I say “we” as my fiancee and mother-in-law-to-be had also decided to join me in Birmingham for a day’s shopping – it was a real family outing!!

Upon reaching B’ham New Street (and a quick detour via Starbucks) I made my way to Maple House. Library Camp’s central location was fantastic – a 5-10 minute walk from New Street station along one single road – Birmingham’s Corporation Street. I found Maple House relatively easy (I am usually a useless navigator) and made my way to the building’s first floor which was to be taken over by Library Campers for the day. I arrived just after 9am, and the facility was already buzzing with campers registering at the welcome desk, creating homemade badges with marker pens or saying hello to old and new acquaintances over a cup of coffee. Maple House’s first floor reminded me of a fluorescent American Diner for some reason (that’s not meant as a negative comment) – I think the bright, striking colours of the location added to the buzz generated by attendees on the day.

The other striking element upon first arriving at Library Camp was the huge amount of cake laid out for guests to gorge on during the day (Library Camp also had the sub tag line “Cake Camp”). Most of these delights were homemade by attendees themselves, ensuring there was enough sugar available all day to sustain campers’ attention spans well into the afternoon sessions and beyond!!

After a cup of tea and introductions to some new faces, I gathered together with other campers for a more formal hello from Library Camp’s brilliant organisers and to hear attendees’ ‘pitches’ for the day. A microphone was passed around the room for each camper to introduce themselves and give one reason for why they had travelled to Birmingham for the Library Camp event. It was funny to hear how many people introduced themselves by just referring to their Twitter name – it highlighted just how Twitter has proliferated into day-to-day communication (the use of a ‘social profile’), especially in the world of librarians/library staff. Most Library Campers seem to be on Twitter, and have been for a number of years. I think library staff tend to be early adopters of new systems and emerging technologies – library staff seemed to be one of the primary groups that embraced Google+ earlier in 2011.

So, on to the Library Camp ‘pitches’ (organisers had asked for discussion ideas to be posted to the Library Camp Wiki). I attended five group discussions during the day, all varied and well-attended with different voices, opinions and judgements on offer. There was a nice mix of staff representing different parts of the library sector – a good balance of public, academic and corporate library staff. I attended a number of discussions with diverse library themes – these included the role of harvesting and analysing library user activity data (I was already aware of DMU Library’s involvement with the Library Impact Data Project via discussions at MashDMU sessions), embedded librarianship, the nature of social media interaction with regards to libraries (focusing on the Twitter #uklibchat team) and an absorbing debate relating to games and ‘gamification’ in libraries (getting users to learn by stealth!). I could see parallels to the issues shared in this discussion with recent changes made to DMU Library induction for 2011, especially with the introduction of the DMU Library Trail which replaced more static building tours and teaching.

I think the main, and key, theme of the day was ‘Library Advocacy’ itself – the opening pitch I attended, entitled “real social networks”, concentrated on the connections between libraries and society. I sensed Library Camp wanted to celebrate the role of libraries and librarians, but not in a superficial or glib way. The group was not afraid to pose some difficult questions of the sector and see how the ‘value’ of libraries could be made more transparent to stakeholders and wider local communities (especially in the context of public libraries). Groups such as Voices For The Library have made a clear impact in this area already with some sterling, positive work over the past year but it was clear from discussions on the day that more needs to be done in this area with the reality of reduced or non-existent public library services up and down the country. Many speakers at the camp highlighted the need to open libraries up to communities, removing barriers and stereotypes (e.g. librarians who ‘shush’ users all day long to tell them to be quiet) whilst emphasising a library’s increasing virtual presence and online space (moving away from traditional management by footfall/visits through the door). I think increased collaboration between academic and public libraries could help with in this matter.

As an individual who works in an academic library (a sector not immune from budget/staffing cuts itself), I found Library Camp was an excellent and worthwhile vehicle to listen to fellow professionals and practitioners who work in different library sectors, and hear the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis – some of which I could identify directly with, others which I did not recognise and were new to me. Whilst the day highlighted the many difficulties the sector currently faces (this could be widened to many parts of society at present), it was also an event where new ideas and opportunities could be raised, discussed and argued – varying viewpoints and experiences highlighted by attendees at Library Camp could be taken back by individuals at the event to their own place of work to be debated, developed and maybe even implemented in the future. I think this is the beauty of such unconference events like Library Camp – the legacy of conversation, collaboration and networking which takes place during the day goes far beyond the actual event itself. It was fantastic to meet up with familiar Twitter friends and new faces alike, but the real value of Library Camp for me is using the experiences gleaned and connections made to enhance my work in a positive fashion back at DMU.

Roll on Library Camp 2012!!

About Mitchell Dunkley

I work in the Content Delivery Team at De Montfort University Library. I manage DMU Library's e-resources portfolio and I am involved in library systems admin, collating resource usage statistics and troubleshooting. All comments are my own.
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