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

Library badges  

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.)

Ridiculously excited to be interviewed in SLA Information Outlook

I love being a member of the SLA - although the word 'Special' in the title implies that it will be solely aimed at legal or business librarians, it actually has a large percentage of its membership coming from academic institutions like mine. Part of membership includes getting the magazine, Information Outlook. This is a really good trade mag - there's a lot of useful, intelligent, grown-up content there. My favourite part of it is the member interview section, 10 questions with... I've learned a lot from it (and loved reading Bethan Ruddock's one when she did it) so I was ridiculously excited to be asked to participate in it. I've done a few interviews now but, with the obvious exception of Circulating Ideas, they've all been via email. This one was a proper telephone conversation with Stuart Hales in Washington, which was taped and then transcribed. It was exciting doing it this way. I got a copy of the questions in advance, although we went off on different tangents in the conversation itself (Stuart told me a great wedding-crashing related tale which you should force me to tell you should we meet at a conference or in a pub...). I was a little bit apprehensive in the lead-up to it because the questions seemed slightly passive-agressive in a weird type of a way, but Stuart wasn't remotely like that in the actual conversation, so I think I just got an incorrect impression from them on paper!

We talk about marketing, the SLA itself (more on that below the interview), the Buy India a Library project, professional development, new technology, and taking a step back. (Whimsical tales of my ability to lead a walking tour of York are greatly exaggerated. :) ) Anyhow, here it is - it specifically says at the bottom of this page that it's for personal use only and not for reproduction, but I've got proper permission to use it, I promise...


Ned Potter Information Outlook Interview by thewikiman


If you're an SLA member you can read the whole July-August 2013 issue from which this came by logging-in here.

On the subject of the SLA, at the weekend I read this absolutely brilliant post about the organisation and the annual conference, by Penny Andrews. It articulated things I value about being a member which I didn't know I knew... It certainly seemed to chime with a lot of people judging by the Twitter response, so particularly if you're not an SLA member but have wondered about it, have a read.

I'm a member of both CILIP and SLA, and will continue to be so. I get different things from them - in some ways I feel that CILIP helped me more as I was growing up (which is partly why I'll keep paying my membership fees; I owe them) and SLA helps me more now I'm grown up. The SLA is / are a confident bunch, and very positive - perhaps this is partly because they are under less obligation to 'save libraries' than CILIP or the ALA, so there's a lot less hand-wringing. (Incidentally, I LOVE Penny's comments about MOOCs and gamification in that article!) There's a lot of money in the organisation (they work hard to build and maintain relationships with corporate sponsors) and quite honestly it's nice to be part of an organisation that can afford to do things with style and without an ever-present sense of worry about finances. The downside of this is that it is if you don't like wearing suits for work-related things, and aren't going to do so just to fit in (*raises hand*) you can feel under-dressed at the London SLA-Europe events! Penny talks about being treated as an equal at the conference in the US, regardless of the status of the person you're talking to - I'd agree with that, but if you start mixing with the sponsors in London, expect at least a couple of them to be baffled that dressing in a suit and schmoozing isn't your number one priority...

What the SLA does (in my view) is focus on making us into better, more effective information professionals. They can afford to focus on improving us, and let others worry about the Latest Big Library Crisis besetting the profession. Part of the way we can endure in libraries is to be really brilliant at our jobs - it feels like the SLA addresses making a practical impact in a very hands-on way, all of the time, rather than being side-tracked. The conference itself remains the greatest experience of my professional career - I'm over the moon to be going back, to Vancouver in 2014, to give a few talks and see everyone again, and generally drink up the atmosphere of niceness and happiness.

Here's the link if you're thinking of joining; I wish I'd done so earlier. I didn't sign up to the SLA previous to winning the ECCA which gave me a year of free membership, because of the cost. To spend a big chunk of money on something work related, especially after already paying for CILIP membership, is daunting. But it's based on a sliding-salary scale so you pay less if you earn less, and now as a proper fee-paying member from my point of view (and from that of all the members I've talked to), it's worth it.

Librarianship can be tough these days, but the SLA makes you feel good and gives you confidence - that's not a trivial thing.

Libraries and Alignment - it's vital, vital, vital


Moon and Sun aligned

Seth Godin (remember him?) has just written a blog post about alignment. It's well worth a look.

Alignment is very important to libraries (the SLA are devoting lots of resources to this subject). In particular we need to spend more time ensuring we align our language with those of our stakeholders - and that may mean seperate language for our customers, and for those who hold our purse-strings. So we must promote our services to customers in terms they understand and relate to, and we must demonstrate our value to internal stakeholders by using their language, their terminology, and by focusing on factors they see as vital for measuring success as well as the ones we traditionally use.

(This is a tricky issue because, for example, if the big bosses still see footfall as a good measure of a library's use then we have to balance the need to align our idea of success, with the need to educate them as to why footfall as a metric for library use is hopelessly outdated and no longer fit for purpose.)

Seth's post is about the alignment of expectations and, particularly interestingly for me, the negative aspects users will put up with if those expectations are met. Here's a quote:

The Walmart relationship: I want the cheapest possible prices and Walmart wants to (actually works hard to) give me the cheapest possible prices. That's why there's little pushback about customer service or employee respect... the goals are aligned.

The Apple relationship: I want Apple to be cool. Apple wants to be cool. That's why there's little pushback on pricing or obsolence or disappointing developers.

The search engine relationship (when it's working): I want to find what I'm looking for. You want me to find what I'm looking for, regardless of the short-term income possibilities.

Compare these to the ultimately doomed relationships (if not doomed, then tense) in which goals don't align, relationships where the brand took advantage of an opening but then grows out of the initial deal and wants to change it:

The Dell relationship: I want a cheap, boring, reliable computer. You want to make more profit.

The hip designer relationship: I want the new thing no one else has yet. You want to be around for years.

The search engine relationship (when it doesn't work): I want to find what I'm looking for. You want to distract me and take money to send me places I actually don't want to go.

The typical media relationship: I want to see the shows, you want to interrupt with ads.

Alignment isn't something you say. It's something you do. Alignment is demonstrated when you make the tough calls, when you see if the thing that matters the most to you is also the thing that matters the most to the other person.

So - you can guess where I'm going with this. What is the library relationship now, what should it be, and what will users put up with (with very little 'pushback') if their expectations are met? Think of this as an open thread - I'd be really interested to hear your views in the comments.

- thewikiman

Escaping the Echo Chamber (but not, sadly, the traffic) with SLA Europe

Last night Geraldine Clement-Stoneham and the rest of her SLA Europe team hosted an event, at the City Business Library in London, all about escaping the echo chamber. It's about a year since Laura and I started talking about echolib and trying to raise awareness of the issue, so to go from a speculative tweet to a fully fledged event aimed at addressing the problem, in 12 months or so, is fantastic. Cheers so much to Geraldine for putting this on! We roped Voices for the Library in to present also - the idea was that we'd explain the echo chamber phenomenon, and then they'd show what can be done when you escape it. However...

VftL had to go on first, because I was late. No just a bit late, but arriving an hour and 20 minutes after the event had started, late. I'd set off from my house in York at 8am, with baby and wife. The idea was to get to Brighton by around 2pm, get the train up to London, have a meeting about something really exciting, then head to the City Business Library for 5:30pm. Due to a series of road-based disasters (stationary traffic for 7 miles on the M1, and the A1 closed you say? Good news!) I was still driving ELEVEN HOURS LATER, having abandoned going to Brighton entirely, trying to get to a car park near the library. My wife described this whole thing as the most stressful day of her life (keep in mind she gave birth less than 4 months ago...) and I have to say, I was absolutely frantic for most of the day. We were acutely aware that it didn't REALLY matter in the grand scheme of things (by which I mean, we could have been in the accidents that caused the delays, so it's all relative) but it did seem, as we inched forward 200 yards every hour and a half, desperate for the loo most of the time, the whole car smelling of burned clutch, fighting with other London drivers during rush-hour as we took the final 6 miles of our journey in a mere 3 hours, like the end of the world was nigh. Emily, the baby, was just incredible - by far the best behaved of all of us. She was so patient, so smiley, and hardly cried at all. When we got to London, I ran off to try and take part in the event, while Emily and my wife were met by my in-laws, who'd incredibly kindly come up from Brighton to help ease the stress, and they all got the train back down to Brighton. This is a library blog so I don't want to spend too much time harping on about family - but Robert, Susan, Alice, and especially Emily - thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. :)

Thank you also to Bethan and JoBo for changing the order and going on first, and for Laura for taking over and doing a lot of the presentation solo. By all accounts, Laura was ace at the bits she doesn't normally do, despite having no script or notes to work from, and no time to prepare! I got there in time to do two of the parts I normally do, which I enjoyed, but I really really wished I'd been there from the start. I'd so been looking forward to this event, it was so important to me to do it well, and there were so many people going I wanted to meet. So once again, to everyone who attended, thank you so much for your patience!

Although I was slightly distracted by not knowing what had been said already, and felt I couldn't get into a proper ranty stride regarding Seth Godin etc, I think it still went well and lots of people said positive things. The networking afterwards was my favourite networking experience ever. The previous day in Newcastle at the New Professionals Information Day I'd felt uncharacteristically unconfident and uncomfortable for some reason, so this was a really nice antidote to that. I met so many people for the first time (either having interacted with them previously on Twitter or not having any previous knowledge of them) and they were all absolutely lovely. I had a great time. But, I also had the travel-cot etc in my car, so sadly I have to make the drive back to Brighton earlier than I'd wanted to. However, the pain of this was mitigated by giving Neil Infield a lift home! He navigated superbly (it was great to see some parts of London a second time :) ) and we had a great chat, about libraries of course, in the car...

Anyway, here is the Prezi from last night - it's a re-configured, updated and improved version of the previous one. As with all embeded content it will change on here as we change it on Prezi, so have a look now, before we start mucking about with it to change it for the Libraries@Cambridge event in January.

Final thing - thanks so much to everyone who came. A friend of mine who has lived in London, likens trying to get Londoners to come back into the middle of London for something in the evening, to asking Frodo Baggins to go through all he goes through in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and then when he finally makes it back to the safety of the Shire, asking him if he fancies a pint at Mount Doom.

So, cheers for coming along folks!