Notes: LibConCam 2017

I have just attended this excellent conference and there was plenty of presentations that invited self-development, in a personal context as well as in a professional one. Go here for the full programme: http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/conference2017/programme.html

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Graham Virgo’s introduction invited us to consider our part in the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). His speech inspired me to discover more so that I would be able to critically appraise it and I have lined up a course to attend on what it means for libraries. It was certainly reassuring to discover that steps are already being taken at government-level to consider their role.


Jeremy Knox’s keynote talk took the conference theme of “Are you a library superhero?” and asked us to consider why Iron Man might be our hero of choice. Certainly the fact he has no supernatural power seemed intriguing and also his chosen career path of tech seemed apt.

Certainly, in today’s world, everyone is more connected to tech than ever before. And of course, this means we carry a lot of tech around with us, and by design, more data. Data stored on mobile phones and laptops that we can access at the touch of a button. Do we, therefore, need to remember less – to store less information in our brains. Or perhaps in this post-truth world, it means we need to do more research than ever before?

Quite deliberately, he filtered each of his topic points down to consider them in terms of…

  1. Creativity
  2. Mundanity (the everyday)
  3. Complicity

Certainly, this last adjective was extremely thought-provoking. Are we complicit for our actions? Should we be? How can we avoid or embrace complicity?

He talked of opennesss in terms of it being a positive word and a positive movement. Certainly, in  an open environment, complicity is deeply considered before release of data.

He went on to consider massive open online courses or MOOCs. The fact that MOOCs are free, online, structural and temporary. The fact that they are unrestricted means they are not restricted to academic environs, so enabling the public to engage. Consequently, the figures that Edinburgh University (in collaboration with Coursera) have collected are of 2 million MOOC participants versus 30,000 lecture attendees and that seems damning.

Should/could they be a replacement for lectures or should they run in parallel/in addition to them? Of course, they are a form of light-touch support; they are modules not degree programmes and participants get certificates of completion not credit.

Ultimately, they pose the question “Is a teacher more present designing a MOOC or a face-to-face lecture?” Is one ultimately more valued above the other? Either way, Jeremy reiterated the valid thought that, potentially, data is the new oil.

moocbetterwordbubble

He talked of his other recent projects such as the LARC (Learning Analytic Report Card) and the Teacherbot @EDCMOOC. The former seemed like a curious project to collect analytics on student performances, then feeding it back to them in a “progress report” format and gauging reaction. I know how I would have reacted considering my own resistance to the thought that “Big Brother” is always watching. The value of the latter project, an online programme to automatically answer student questions posed on Twitter, would obviously be a process of trial and error so whether the answers can actually be tailored to match the questions and whether the answers are of value seemed like an unattainable goal and complex beyond belief.


Of the parallel sessions, I plumped for the “Failure Panel”. It was an attempt by the panel to “normalise failure” and was very much of value.

Here we were told that failure was a byproduct of trying new things. In my head I boiled that down to: “Try nothing, fail nothing. Try nothing, succeed at nothing.” Each new attempt is a learning opportunity.

Job interviews: Obtaining interviewer’s constructive feedback on reasons for failure can help you make adjustments for future attempts. With only one job to shoot for, I suppose you could look at it in these terms: Even the 2nd most successful candidate will be turned down.

Researchers: Usually, the ultimate researcher aim is to gain a professorship and there are so few of those available. This means that to an extent, failure is normal/acceptable. Achievement is always on a scale for a researcher. If an experiment fails, the result can still be seen as a success because repetition is now unnecessary. Can we learn from this?

Be careful not to become someone who observes but does not see and process as fact.


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The second parallel session I attended was on Library Innovation presented by Masud Khokar of Lancaster UL.

When innovating, he invited us to consider the key points of:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Creativity
  3. Leadership
  4. Confidence

He seemed to suggest that by inducing confidence first, it follows that capability will increase. He paraphrased that important thought that “different people think differently”. He also listed the types of innovation.

  1. Forced innovation  – out of necessity (i.e.; the Research Excellence Framework or REF)
  2. Exploratory innovation – horizon-scanning (basically stealing others’ ideas)
  3. Randomised innovation – share uncommon themes/teams
  4. Empowered innovation – supported by institution (i.e.; unique concept)
  5. Customer-led innovation – users as co-producers (i.e.; analytics/voice platform)

He also talked about some of Lancaster University’s trial and implemented projects. These included:

  1. Smart cushions (that pair with user’s mobile and vibrate to indicate break times).
  2. Noise-cancelling headphones
  3. Visual maps in the library catalogue
  4. Sensors on walls (to document the user’s journey through the building and the time spent in each space)
  5. Augmented information tagged to library locations (a physical tag for user to connect mobile to which shows online information).

This last one can also be a simple data information point to offer, for instance, directions or closing hours.

We discovered that they were the first UK library to create a Minecraft profile for online participants to interact with.

In closing he offered us 6 main issues to consider for library development:

  1. To progress, break your line management structure (“do it NOW” he urged!)
  2. Be authentic
  3. Mix up your teams
  4. Continuously upskill
  5. Reflect always and pay your staff to do so
  6. Work in partnerships (pairs, not teams)

The final keynote speech was from Emma Coonan who invited us to consider “the underside of the carpet” – the stitching of our lives that we’d rather people didn’t see.

She used numerous analogies and brought our attention to the work of others so, Emma, please forgive me as I paraphrase my thoughts on the topics she covered.

She considered that admission of fallibility in all librarians (regardless of status) and their peers engenders understanding in students and colleagues. In itself, it encourages engagement with concepts by creating a bridge they can cross over.

She considered failure and gave us the thought-provoking quote…

fallfly

She proffered the thought that there is no either or. It is a product of binary thinking. Even the “she” at the start of this sentence is irrelevant. Our whole world is constructed from gender-specific either or’s.

Be the best that you can be. Don’t be influenced by what others view success as.

Acquisition of knowledge is constructed into development. Non-recall doesn’t mean you haven’t absorbed something. Our perception of knowledge can be, in general terms, restrictive. It is actually far more complex. We don’t have to lose something to learn something. Retrospective introspection is equally valid.

Now that’s one heck of a series of thought concepts to throw at an audience but I’m pretty sure at least some of these points were considered “light bulb moments”.

bulb

She (“they” – yes, she posed this as an non-gender specific alternative when referencing an individual) went on to talk on the researcher learning environment and the psychology of learning. The innovative process, for instance, was the art of looking at a fact “a bit squintily” and the research process as “farting around in the dark” – both hilarious and great alternatives to the perceived or expected norm.

farting

The graphic above shows the perceived process versus the actual process. The one of the right, the “farting around in the dark” would naturally be associated with failure and associated emotions like stress and sadness. But what if the “C” result turns out to be an improvement on the perceived “B” result?

Char Booth’s work on the “USER” method of instructional design versus the “ARGH” method was quoted and certainly was a great way of looking at the reflective learning process: http://www.alaeditions.org/files/Appendix%20A.pdf

So…. finally, and this really is the paragraph of the conference, she offered this as a parting morsel.

• So: can superheroes fail?

Failure is not only unavoidable, it’s imperative. If a superhero can’t fail, then don’t be a superhero. Be something better. Be faulty. Be kind. Be a mentor. Share your failures. Be compassionate. Be yourself. … Be a librarian.


The conference finished up with a series of mini-talks on issues such as “library superpowers”, collaboration and technologies, the wonderful world of the Cory Library and their promotional skills, volunteer work and virtual learning environments. We also learnt of the trials and tribulations of moving from a large library space to a small one (as experienced by the Medical Library) – a “superbook fetching service” (connecting readers to books via a building site) and an “incredible disappearing training room” (dealing with enforced shared facilities).

Looking back, the conference has certainly given me plenty to ponder on. If you feel like shaking me and shouting in my face, then please do get in touch here or on Twitter. I’m @moorepheus42

Further reading:

  1. A blog that includes collected information of the conference: http://libatcam.blogspot.co.uk/
  2. This excellent blog post from LibrarianErrant: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/24297035/posts/1287483372
  3. An appraisal of Emma Coonan’s keynote speech by Kirsten Lamb: http://librarysphinx.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/farting-around-in-dark-failure-learning.html
  4. Emma Coonan’s own post-speech thoughts and conference notes: https://librariangoddess.wordpress.com/2017/01/10/getting-it-wrong-so-you-can-get-it-righter/ 
  5. More on Lancaster UL’s innovation ideas: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/library-innovation/2016/12/22/explore-reflect-communicate-repeat/
  6. Conference Moodle site – here you’ll find a sound recording of the keynote speeches of the conference. At the moment it appears to be Raven-restricted to but I’ll try to offer a link update if it becomes more widely available: https://www.vle.cam.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=88081
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One Comment Add yours

  1. Ryan C. says:

    Thanks for writing this up, it was a shame I couldn’t make it, sounds like I missed a really interesting day.

    Liked by 1 person

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