Cambridge Libraries Conference 2019


Having attended several library conferences, I can comfortably say the Cambridge Libraries (CamLibs) Conferences have generally been at the forefront when it comes to my own enlightenment.

This year, for the first time, I joined the organising committee to see if  I could help produce something as equally memorable as past conferences. In doing so, I was essentially hoping to utilise my acquired knowledge and, in the process, try and expand my existing skillset.

So, on the 22 August 2018, I met with other eager CamLibs19 volunteers to learn about the conference date, venue choice, organisation hubs and decide on conference roles and conference themes.


Within days, I was launched into a frenzy of timetable creation, learning about our venue, scheduling and social media promotion. The learning module I had completed, over the summer, on time management was clearly going to come in handy here!

Whilst my colleagues covered such parameters as merchandise, sponsorship, speakers, catering and ticketing, my first task was to nail the conference logo.

camlib19 dandelion logo

By using a combination of Pixabay (a free database of public domain images licensed under Creative Commons CC0 licence) and Canva (a free graphic-design tool website), I was able to create three logos all loosely based on past conference designs. After consultation with the Committee, the image above was roundly approved to be the final design.

By November, with my Venue & Timetabling (V&T) hat on, I had started work on the conference running order, allocating speakers to time slots and venue rooms. This allowed another team to whip a conference programme into shape to send to the printers. Very quickly it was time to release the conference tickets and invite delegates to book.

In early December, I met with my V&T colleague to recce the venue and establish the set-up for each room and the equipment we’d need for the speaker audio recordings.

By late December, the workflow had changed so that the majority of tasks involved problem-solving and fine-tuning and, by January, we were running around like headless chickens panicking!

As the day neared, I stuck on my Social Media (SM) hat, and began prepping for my official conference account ‘on-the-day live tweeting’ role. This involved uploading the speaker slides to my device to utilise on the day and planning the types of post to keep those following (both attendees and those remotely monitoring) the #camlibs19 hashtag both informed and interested in the day’s events. My SM colleague very kindly scheduled in some of the more informative posts to ease the workload a little.

A short breather to attend the scrumptious pre-conference dinner and then suddenly, it was conference day and an early start to prep the venue. The directional wayfinding signage I had rapidly created using Canva (again) were set-up along with the conference posters and the welcome, catering and sponsor tables.

As the first few delegates started trickling in, there was no turning back and the whole experience became almost surreal. It was almost as if once the ball had been set rolling, it had become this unstoppable object. Everyone involved, from the committee to the delegates, wanted this to run smoothly so it just did.

It got me thinking that those early decisions the committee had taken had completely dictated what followed. For instance, the choice of conference theme – Collaboration & Exploration -had decided the tone of the logo, the particular speakers that had been invited, the content of the talks and the character of those attending. It sounds obvious but choosing a different, say, theme like “the green library” would have resulted in different speakers, different characters attending, different costings! :):)

Once the final talk was over, I joined my super-talented committee colleagues and those incredible speakers and guests down the pub for a well-earned celebratory pint. An amazing experience all round!



With my live-tweeting role already well under way, I took my seat ready to soak up as many of the conference events as I could (in between my other committee commitments).

First up was a spot of housekeeping and Lizz Edwards-Waller (co-Committee Chair) entertained us with a ‘Survival guide’ to battling the chill of the venue – caused by an untimely breakdown in the Law Faculty’s main heating supply (the back-up system had kicked in so all was mostly well).

Then, Jess Gardner (Cambridge University Librarian) spoke about the conference and its themes mentioning that this “opportunity” provided us with “a range of speakers from Cambridge and beyond” and “how brilliant we were when we all worked together”. She hoped the programme would give us a chance to reflect and to “provide a catalyst” to help us to achieve great things.

Keynote 1: What makes a library?

Next, our first keynote speaker, Dr Philippa Sheail (Edinburgh University Library) asked us “What Makes a Library?”

She mentioned the her library’s frontage redesign which featured a large stone feature reading ‘LIBRARY’. She posited that “If you can’t find the door to your library, you’re really going to struggle with your degree”. Well, that’s true (but I am biased)!

She asked us what we expected to find on the outside and inside of a library. One piece of UX work with students asking about what their library expectations were, elicited quite a response from the delegates. “Communal suffering”, said one. “It sounds really strange but it’s the atmosphere when people around you are working”. Atmosphere was often mentioned in responses – “Hushed, respectful of the peace and quiet”. It was seen as “an historically dense setting” – Philippa asked us a series of questions around this. “Was that important?” We shouldn’t hide it. “What kind of machine is a library?” “Learning machine?” “Knowledge machine?”

The word “loan”, one student felt, was “something that you have to pay back”. Therefore, there was a reticence to use the service. She asked us “What is the library smell?”. “Coffee and stress?”, answered one. The library sound? Two pointers we got were to:

a) Smells of a library:

b) Sounds of a library:

To get us thinking about what makes a library, Philippa also recommended we check out this excellent recording featuring stories of people who roam the stacks and find unexpected things that just happen to be exactly what they required –

Literary terminology being well-established has lulled us into a false sense of security and Philippa tapped into this by asking us about the humble “self-issue machine”. Do our users think it means the same thing as we think it means? This was a very pertinent question to my own library as we had just installed a self-service borrowing machine and had been asking ourselves this very question!

Self-Service Borrowing

She asked us “Is the library an online identity?” We create software with a proprietary layer between the user and the library? This form of student tracking or “liquid surveillance” – is it necessary?

Finally, she mentioned the rise of social media as a face of the modern library and cited the clever Orkney Library. They have utilised its advantages to gain a great deal of potential power over future funding and garnered a huge level of interest in their library. Their Twitter feed now stands at 63,900 followers. And one of the stars of their feed is their mobile library which their followers chose to name #BookyMcBookFace – as Philippa pointed out… “try shutting that service down now!”

Keynote Address 2: Keep calm and carry on!: digital capabilities at the Open University


“Connections with the Open University affect everyone! It is a part of popular and national culture!” Jo Parker’s introduction read like an advert for the institution and she followed up with a Benjamin Franklin quote: “Energy and persistence conquer all things”.

However when she started delving deeper, it became apparent that this was no hyperbole – well maybe a bit. She pointed out, as an example, that OU courses were utilised in prisons. UK prisons, as a rule, have zero unsupervised access to email or the internet yet prisoners all have equal educational need. Here, loud and clear, spoke an example of “the digital divide”.

She went on to explain how the Open University were trying to institute organizational change to their existing digital model. Historically, they had gone through a period of working on “digital by design”, then “digital by definition”. However they met with some resistance to these changes and so employed the ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement) model to decide their most important stakeholders.

They wanted to establish “digital ownership to all” and create an atmosphere of “digital inclusion” by establishing a level of positivity and enthusiasm through reinforcement. Getting businesswoman Martha Lane Fox on board was a game-changer. It gave them a level of active and visible sponsorship.

Jo recommended utilising the tool DiSC and using your forbears to gain knowledge and experience. “Collaborate with them and the end product will win!”


To highlight the potential for making a misstep in creative design, we were shown a fantastic link detailing designer’s breakup letters to once cherished products: learning to empathize with consumers –


Further reading

The conference website can be found here:

The conference blog can be found here:

You can follow the conference Twitter feed here, the Instagram feed here or read the hashtag #camlibs19 story.

The audio feeds from the conference are now online for you to listen via the conference YouTube feed.

There are also quite a few other conference reports from others that are also worth checking out:

  1. Cambridge Library Trainees: Report, Part One
  2. Cambridge Library Trainees: Report, Part Two
  3. Librarian Errant: Barriers in landscapes of the mind
  4. Medical Library Staff CPD: Report



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