Let the librarians eat cake

I was not impressed when my alarm started buzzing at 4.55am. Especially since a few nights ago I was woken by a fire alarm at 6am. But as early as it was, I was excited to go to Library Camp.

The journey to Birmingham was fairly uneventful, and I even managed to find my way to the venue easily. I then double backed to a Cafe Nero for some much-needed caffeine. While I was waiting for my chai (yes folks, chai season is upon us), unexpectedly Kirsty, a former trainee too, and Sonja, who works in the Bod Law Library, walked in, so we had a nice catch up.

Library Camp followed the structure of an ‘unconference’ where “participants decide on the programme at the beginning of the event, working on the principle that the sum of the knowledge, experience and expertise of the people in the room is likely to be greater than that of those on the stage at traditional conferences”. This meant there wasn’t any set programme until we arrived and people pitched their ideas to the group. I’m not sure how successful this was, as it seemed to me that all the pitches got through (I was at the back so couldn’t see how many people there were with ideas vs how many spaces in the day there were!).

The sessions board

When we arrived at the venue, we were asked to write our names on sticky labels, as well as Twitter names if we wanted. We were also asked to write why we had come on a green paper foot, to go on display. I can’t remember what it was I wrote exactly, but it was along the lines of ‘to discuss interesting ideas and experience an unconference’. I then admired the vast amount of cake. They put my baking efforts to shame, and I’m glad I didn’t attempt anything for library camp, but did inspire me to make banana cake for my housemates the following day.

Everyone was called into a large room, and with a microphone someone went round every. single. person. asking who they were and why they were here. I didn’t catch most people’s responses because was too terrified by he prospect of speaking into a microphone. It was a bit long and unnecessary, but it was a good chance to introduce the organisers and the resident poet.

200 Swety cakes

The first session I attended was titled ‘Managing the Transition between School and University’, headed by Jo Alcock and Jean Allen. Apparently Jo and Jean didn’t know each other beforehand, but I couldn’t tell! I really enjoyed this talk, but unfortunately it was too short. This is because we ate up half our time going round the room introducing ourselves and why we were interested in the topic. There were a number of themes that came out of this discussion, including expectations and assumptions, induction classes, and intimidation by the physical library. We only really had time to tackle the first one, but you can follow the discussion on Twitter at #Sch2uni.

The next session was led by Maria Cotera, whose talk at the CILIP New Professionals Day I really enjoyed. This session was about the role of librarians as agents for social change. This is something that really interests me, especially as I am really missing my lovely sociology (my undergrad degree). The question we considered was what kinds of information we provide, or can provide, that facilitates social change. Some of the things we came up with were basic skills such as reading, computer literacy, health information, information about council services. We were also considering it in a global context, not just within the UK, though this is also important. We then talked about how we can let people, and other librarians, know that librarians are doing these things.

The third session I went to was a bit of a whim, as there were many good sessions and I couldn’t decide. It was concerning  legacies, and to be honest I’m not sure I really followed this one. I think my caffeine level was dipping, and I needed a bit more cake to perk me up. There was, however, and interesting discussion over classification vs categorisation, something which I will also mention in an upcoming blog post. At the end, there was also a call for everyone to harass Frank Skinner into becoming an official advocate for libraries, but once talk turned, jokingly, to a nude calendar featuring him, a la Men of the Stacks, I was less keen!

Definitely needed this session by this point

Next up, ‘The Embedded Librarian’. This was a discussion about librarians out fo the physical library setting, or librarians by other names, such as information specialists etc. The consensus was, in answer to the question ‘what’s in a name?’, was that it doesn’t matter, as long as it makes sense to people and they know what you do. This was the only session where we had to hold an object when we spoke, so that not everyone spoke at once. It was a small red ball, which cause much hilarity since it seems few librarians can throw or catch.

The final session concerned academic libraries and cross-sectoral collaboration. The 5am start was really taking its toll by this point, and I was really struggling to keep up. Also I was feeling a bit sick from too much cake. What I got from this session was that there are a few examples of collaboration, but generally not that many, and that it is more important to be clear on what libraries offer and what £9000 a year tuition fees gets students.

I actually found the most useful parts of the day were the breaks in between the sessions, where we got a chance to get to know each other. I found a librarian I chatted to while making tea knew two people on my course at Sheffield, who I don’t think knew each other before we started. It was also great to chat to people I know from Twitter, but not in real life! In fact, I have since sent Jennifer some resources to do with Information Literacy, which we may not have chatted about if not for the much-needed tea break before the day started.

I feel that I would’ve got a lot more from the day if I wasn’t so tired, as I would’ve contributed more myself. But I did have a very good time, and would definitely go along to Library Camp 2012.



  1. I’m glad you had a good time – I’ve read quite a few posts about it, but a lot of people seem to have gone to the same sessions, whereas most of the sessions you went to I haven’t read about before.

    I’d love to go if it happened again, if only for the cake and chat!

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