The LILAC conference in Manchester last week was my first return to an in-person conference for a couple of years, and it was an exciting, tiring, informative, frustrating, and inspiring three days all about information literacy.
I was one of three librarians from the University of Edinburgh, and all of us presented; me on feedback from our individual consultations with student researchers, and the others talked about our online information literacy course, LibSmart. It was lovely to go with colleagues who I haven’t seen face-to-face for so long.
The talk from the conference that my thoughts keep returning to* is Emily Drabinski’s keynote discussion on how information literacy can reveal and challenge structures of power. By power, this mean the ability to change things, do things, influence things – we all have power in different ways and different situations, and that power is determined by political, social, cultural and economic factors. Emily argued that information literacy can equip our students with tools to recognise and understand power dynamics (for example, who designed this database? With whom in mind? What is included in the database and what isn’t, and who makes those decisions?) and that we as information literacy experts have power to teach this.
All of this is right up my street; I was transported back into my AS-Level Sociology classroom, where this concept of power was one of, if not the, very first things we learned about. I completed my Sociology undergraduate degree about 10 years ago, and I really miss it. Emily’s talk highlighted to me how I can integrate the sociological imagination into my work as a librarian in Higher Education, and also how I am already doing it.
Social justice, speaking truth to power, and information literacy within a capitalist society, were all key themes of both the keynote discussions and many parallel sessions. I took so many notes and will be integrating lots of new ideas into my work; I’m glad the writing workshop hosted by the Journal of Information Literacy was on the day so I could make use of the ‘free writing‘ technique I learned, to record my many and muddled thoughts and reflections.
My conference presentation
My own talk was very first billing. Because there was no Welcome address to open the conference, for many people my talk was their first launch into LILAC. So no pressure…
The topic was an analysis of one-year’s feedback on our individual consultation service, aka one-to-one meetings with a librarian. In the feedback, which was predominantly from postgraduate students but from a variety of academic schools, we found overwhelmingly positive impact on researchers’ projects and their information literacy.
I was worried it would be too mundane, that it’s standard work for many academic librarians, so I was thrilled to get so many thoughtful and enquiring questions from the audience. I suspect many, like we were until a year ago, are doing these meetings but not systematically collecting feedback and analysing it, or are perhaps looking to expand this type of service.
The speakers at LILAC gave me a lot to think about. Information literacy matters have been pinging around my head ever since, even during my post-conference visit to the People’s History Museum, where I saw examples of anti-Trade Union propaganda cartoons published by the Tories in the 19th & 20th centuries. Misinformation and a need for information & media literacy are not new issues. I think it could’ve made a great fourth keynote speech: a material history of how workers have historically (and contemporarily) harnessed information literacy to empower themselves.
And just attending an in-person conference again was good preparation for helping organise the UHMLG Summer conference in Swansea this June. Things like telling people the hashtag for social media early on (both #LILAC22 and #LILAC2022 were in use!), fostering a sense of place, and setting the tone with a Welcome address, were all things I hadn’t had to consider before.
Being back in-person, and not having travelled much lately, I found it difficult to choose what to wear! After two years of jogging bottoms and slippers, what does one wear for three full days of looking presentable? When I was a Baby Librarian, I tended to wear smarter clothes to feel I was presenting myself more professionally, but these days I’m much more comfortable – in terms of the profession, and in literal terms of my clothing! I opted for smart-casual/comfy-professional. And as someone also said (I think it was @woodsiegirl in a coffee break) it was a nice excuse to wear things that haven’t had many outings for the last couple years.
Plus, dancing shoes were essential 😉
My more-organised-than-me colleague has already put a date in the diary to follow up on our learnings and assign actions. It’s good we can keep momentum – the ‘now what part of the ‘what? So what? Now what?’ reflection tool.
I’m feeling energised to attend and present at more conferences. It’s hard sometimes, when you’re too close to the day-to-day or too busy, to zoom out and see how it might be new or interesting to others. Listening to the other speakers, I have some ideas of things I do in my work that could make a good conference proposal.
*I dithered about this wording, ‘my thoughts keep returning to’, as I wasn’t sure if it’s usually just used in a romantic context? But what the hell, we all fell a little bit in love with Emily, her keynote was that good!