Reflections on the LILAC conference

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me”

– Warning, by Jenny Joseph

Last month I travelled up to Sheffield for LILAC, the Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference. I was fortunate to receive a bursary to attend for the full three days, which was great as I really enjoyed the conference and the evening events. I miss Sheffield a lot (I studied for my masters there) so it was great to be back.

The Culter's Hall
The Culter’s Hall

I actually knew quite a lot of people at LILAC. It was lovely to catch up with familiar faces, I recognised a lot of names from Twitter, and a good sized contingent of SLA members were present, including SLA President Kate Arnold as a keynote speaker on the final day (in which we SLA people got a bit of a shout-out *polishes ego*). I’m glad the conference organisers arranged plenty of time for networking, and the networking evening and the conference dinner were both in stunning venues – the City Hall and Cutler’s Hall.

Some parts of the programme were very practical, such as Jade Kelsall’s workshop on creating interactive online skills resources, and the small groups in a few of the sessions allowed for interesting discussions to develop. A big take-home for me was the need to be critical of our own definitions of information literacy (IL), from Andrew Whitworth’s lecture on Dialogism, Mikhail Bakhtin and information literacy. I’ve already had to realign what I think IL means having moved from academic libraries to healthcare, but Andrew’s session made me consider how definitions of IL are a discourse, and whether our definition of ‘literate’ means conforming to claims of authority or scrutinising them.

The highlight of LILAC was the Health Literacy theme on the final day. Kondwani Wella’s research into information challenges for serodiscordant* couples in Malawi was fascinating, and refreshing after two days of quite Higher Education-centric talks. Sessions on the problems of lack of information for rare diseases (Hannah Spring), and on the heath information needs of young people (Barbara Sen & Hannah Spring) were similarly inspiring. They got me thinking about the impact of librarians on IL and health literacy, and how it can actually have an impact on people’s lives.

On a more academic sector note, LILAC debunked the myth that students struggle most with searching when doing their research, and that librarians are needed most for help with search skills. Many of the sessions highlighted that students are struggling most with contextualising their topic, and actually this is where IL practitioners need to be to support the needs of our users. In our library, students on health courses make up a fair proportion of our users, so this is definitely something I will need to keep in mind when training on finding evidence.

It was LILAC's 10th birthday
It was LILAC’s 10th birthday

I did had a couple of niggling issues with LILAC, the main being the Higher Education bias of the sessions. However, this was successfully countered with the Health Literacy theme on the final day, and I know is something the LILAC committee are working to rectify (the bursary I received is to encourage delegates from other sectors, for example).

Another niggle: there seemed to be a slight, typically English embarrassment. I found this particularly evident in the larger sessions, such as the keynotes. A couple of times, this sort of thing happened;

*Keynote finishes presentation*
Host: “Thank you, that was fantastic, do we have any questions?”
Audience: *No immediate questions, still mulling over the speech*
Host: “No? You’ve stunned them into silence! Well, we’ll finish there”

Over so quickly, and I am still formulating questions. The reaction to silence was to try to make it go away, but what we needed were a few minutes to gather our thoughts. But then again, it’s my fault too for not stopping this happening; I should have been coming up with questions throughout the speech. However, this didn’t happen in every session. In fact, I was impressed that in the parallel sessions the LILAC hosts often asked the first questions to get the ball rolling.

I had a really great time at LILAC. I enjoyed the networking/social times, following the conference on Twitter, and I even enjoyed being a little bit critical at times. At events or conferences in the past, I’ve felt very much a newbie listening to all-knowing experts. But at LILAC I started to feel that, you know what, I know a bit more about this than I thought, and I’m confident enough in my knowledge to have opinions. I don’t know if that makes any sense to anyone reading, but to me it feels like a turning point away from being a newbie librarian (even though I doubt my imposter syndrome will be disappearing any time soon!).

I won the networking bingo!
I won the networking bingo!

I was impressed by the scale, smooth running, and atmosphere of LILAC. Congratulations to the conference planners on a great job. I would highly recommend attending LILAC in 2015.


[*] Where one partner in the couple is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative.

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