Why don't English conferences make you feel like this?

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Back in 2006 when I got my first position in a library, in a job-emergency and with no intention of staying in the profession, one of the many many things I didn't expect librarianship to involve was exciting foreign travel. But so far it's taken me to Philly, to Latvia, to South Africa, and next year to Vancouver.

In part 3 of my posts about Cape Town (part 1, including a presentation on professional brand, can be read here; part 2 about the trip itself can be read here) I wanted to discuss something that the LIASA 2013 conference made me think about: English conferences have something missing. They don't seem to make people feel inspired and uplifted like other conferences do. Why is that?

NB: I originally, erronously, entitled this post 'Why don't UK conferences make you feel like this?' - but one thing which came out of the Twitter discussion I had about this subject while in SA is that there are plenty of people who've been inspired by conferences in Ireland, Wales and Scotland; this is borne out by the Storify embedded below. Apologies, rest of the UK...

English reserve

LIASA in Cape Town was on a pretty large scale - several hundred librarians from several countries. Here's how it made me feel: excited, uplifted and optimistic. This is exactly what I want from a conference: you come together with your peers, you share ideas, you go away not just with practical ideas to apply to your job, but feeling inspired about librarianship. This is how I felt after SLA2011 in the USA, too. Interestingly, this is how I felt after the New Professionals Conferences I've been to, and this is how, judging from the Twitter reaction to them, people feel after attending LibCamps. But this is not how I've felt after, for example, Umbrella, or LILAC, or various JISC-related things I attended as part of a previous job, or smaller events I've been to organised by ARLG or CDG. That's not to say these events weren't good events, or weren't useful to me - they were mostly both of those things (LILAC particularly). They just didn't send me home beaming on the train / plane with optimism and uplift.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that English reserve and cynicism is what stops some events reaching the heights I'm describing. The events I've been inspired by have either been on foreign shores where English reserve and cynicism aren't applicable, or for New Professionals conferences where the delegates haven't been around long enough to become cynical or reserved. People seem to get very inspired by unconferences such as Mashlib and Libcamp, and Radical Libcamp - and by definition unconferences should be populated by a self-selecting group of engaged and non-cynical (about the profession, at least) delegates. So basically in situations where the English reserve and cynicism can't get a proper foothold, the conference can flourish and leave everyone feeling reinvigorated - is it that simple?

Now, I'm aware not everyone agrees with me on this. Colleagues of mine, my boss for example, have been to English conferences and come away inspired, so maybe I'm either a: going to the wrong conferences, or b: approaching them in the wrong way? If you have time to leave a comment, I'd be interested in your thoughts.

What's the most inspiring library event you've ever been to? Storify time

Finally, I conducted a brief and unscientific poll on Twitter this morning, so you can get some other perspectives on peoples' most inspiring library events. Thank you to all who took part and RT'd my request for input. I was going to total up the 'traditional UK conferences versus other types' votes, but the waters are murky there as there's plenty of responses from people not in the UK in the first place. So I've attempted to categorise the answers but I'll let you draw your own conclusions. If nothing else, make a note of these as events to try and attend in the future (be sure to press the 'read next page' button at the bottom - there's loads of good stuff here)...


This will automatically update here as I add things to the Storify. (Storify is great, by the way.)

A competition to benefit everyone in libraries, not just the winners

LISNPN, the New Professionals Network, has just announced it's first ever competition and I am really excited about it.

A scree-grab showing the LISNPN competition blog post

You can read all about it on the network itself, but the short version is this: we want people who have entered the profession in the last decade or so to create a piece of library advocacy. It could be an article, a video, a slide-deck, an essay, a piece of art, a project, a campaign - literally anything that doesn't pre-date the competition. The only criteria is that it gets some pro-library ideas to people who wouldn't normally engage with libraries at all. The idea is to indulge in a bit of stealth advocising - to package up some library advocacy in something so intrinsically awesome that it reaches new audiences. Doesn't even have to be particularly stealthy - just reach new people.

The first prize is a full pass to Umbrella, CILIP's biennial conference which takes place in July this year. We're working with CILIP on this competition so thank you very much to CEO Annie Mauger for agreeing to be part of this - the prize is worth up to £500 (based on what the pass would cost to buy; it'd be slightly cheaper if you are a CILIP member already) and includes refreshments, social activities and the Gala Dinner. Attendance at such a conference is usually out of the reach of New Professionals due to the cost, so we're really hoping the competition sparks loads of interest and is entered by people who would love to attend but couldn't normally. Not only that but there is a second prize of attendance at the New Professionals Conference this year! This has kindly been donated by the Career Development Group. Full details of this year's NPC are still to be decided, but it'll take place in June, somewhere other than London. You can read about last year's conference here to get an idea of what it's all about.

We'd really encourage as many people as possible to enter, whether it will be your first attempts at library advocacy, or if you're a veteran. You can read the full Terms and Conditions on LISNPN. (And thank you muchly to the LISNPN admin team for spending ages with me working those out!)

Apart from the great prize, and it being another step forward for the network, there's another reason I'm thrilled about this. Every single entry should benefit the library community, whether it wins or not. Many competition entries are inward-facing rather than out-ward facing - an essay about why you want to win, only ever seen by the judges, for example. That's fine, but this is different. Because every single entry to this competition will be a little piece of library advocacy, a small effort to raise awareness about the profession and the industry. The beauty of a competition format like this is that one prize inspires multiple efforts - to actually commission 10 or 20 or 50 people to create advocacy would cost a fortune, whereas here we only 'pay out' once, or rather twice as we have a second prize. So lots of innovation is (hopefully) catalysed. When this happened in the air-travel industry, with the Orteig prize in 1927, it moved things on by years in a single leap! Not saying that will happen here, but I'm still excited at the prospects of what we can do.

You can read more about the Orteig Prize and how we can use the method to advance the library profession, in the unofficial part 2 of this blog post, here. It's a really interesting story!

- thewikiman