BLA Conference, Liverpool 2015: Innovation in libraries

I am writing up my notes from the conference over a week after the ever. I have therefore had some time to reflect on what I learnt and experiences, however I have forgotten things, and my notes for the most part look like this…

notes bla

I am therefore eternally grateful, once again, for social media. By using storify to look over the tweets from each section of the conference (though why is there no obvious function to create multiple storify lists at the same time from the same hashtag???) I was able to remind myself of the keys points and what my scrawls were actually related to. However, many people live tweeting were giving personal opinions, which may have influenced my own.

HOWEVER, when I came to writing this up it took a lot longer than I was first expecting and I had to go back and finish off storifying the last day’s speakers, only to find that these tweets would no longer load. So unfortuntaly I only have storifys for the first day, and a bit for Robert Farrell. This is very disappointing.

On reflection, I could have made more detailed notes; however that would have meant me missing parts of the talks or not being able to concentrate as much as I did. I would love to learn to do something like shorthand as I think that would really aid me to be able to take back lots of information from speakers whilst also listening and interacting appropriately with their presentations.

Keynote 1: Jan Molendijk, Utrecht University

Storify of tweets

Utrecht is one of Europe’s oldest and largest universities, with its library started from the collections of the former monasteries during the Reformation in Holland. The library is huge, and Jan Molendijk is part of the Innovation team within the library’s structure.

This, I believe, is how HE libraries should start to be structured. In my current role I spend a lot of my job thinking up innovative practice, trying out things along with my team, and scanning the wider library environment for what other Universities are doing that is innovative. I believe that by having ‘innovation’ as a team within the library, such as at the University of Utrecht, it allows the whole service to have new ideas and practices at the heart of its culture; to really embrace innovation as a library, rather than just do it because it is fun or something different. We have seen how more and more libraries now are including a ‘UX librarian’ within their structure, in order to really understand what students think of the services-why not have a librarian for innovative practice too?

Jan’s talk was themed around the idea of why re-inventing the wheel is often a good thing, especially when the roads are always changing. This simple metaphor showed how various practices Utrecht now do were in context of student expectations and experience changing over time.

Jan’s model for innovation was an ‘incubator’ idea (these are from my scribble notes but sort of make sense)

  • Identify a need within the service
  • Find a quick solution
  • Learn about what makes this a success
  • Find the best place for the service.

Jan’s advice comes from Eric Ries’ Lean Startup idea; fail early, fail cheap. By having a department that is allowed to make mistakes, to try new things without fear, and to get rid of practices that clearly don’t work, the university library as a whole can better enhance student experience.

One example Jan gave that really caused a buzz in the room was how Utrecht have got rid of their Discovery service, and are going to get rid of their OPAC. This was a result of students vastly preferring to use third party search engines instead. I’d agree with this; every academic I’ve spoken too over the last few weeks of doing Desktop Visits and inductions always goes straight to Google Scholar, so why not have a single sign up that automatically authenticates Athens when you log on to the computer within University (not sure how it would work from home) and do it that way?

This revelation really caused me to feel quite fearful at the time-I’ve only just got to grips with being in a library that HAS a Discovery service! Then I started thinking; why does this scare me? Is it because without something to demonstrate a mastery of I do not consider myself an expert? Do I NEED that barrier between sources and end users so I can step in and keep my job?

This prompted me to think a lot about how and why librarians are considered professionals, and how the PKSB especially shows the wider range of the competencies that LIS staff should aspire to-not just being able to manipulate and use a database. I am grateful to Jan for stirring my mind up about this and it is definitely something I think that UK librarians should be reflecting on.

Emma Thompson, University of Liverpool: Harnessing student innovation to improve library services

Storify of tweets

Next up was Emma Thompson from the University of Liverpool, who is a great speaker and had some really inspirational and motivating things to say about student partnership working and how we communicate with our end users.

Emma had us all contributing also to a padlet; an online message public message board/teaching tool that looks like a lot of fun and something I’m going to be looking into this summer. If you want to look at the padlet we created it is…

Emma’s main message was that libraries need fresh ideas and a kick up the a***. One of the projects she is now involved in is getting marketing students to come into the library and do some market research as a project for their course. Her challenge was to work with students as co-creators as well as champions; to give them REAL ownership of library practices.

I think this is brilliant, and something I would love to see more of. The idea of partnership working was furthered hammed home to be a week later at the Jisc #connectmore event, which was promoting the Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change. The talk I went to on this highlighted how partnerships between universities and students can add immense value to the wider student experience. In Emma’s case, it also led to higher NSS scores with the group she was working with.

This is obviously THE hot topic for libraries this year and I hope we end up doing more of this in my workplace. One thing I am going to do is suggest stronger links with the Student’s Union at our next team meeting. Emma’s mantra of ‘ask for forgiveness, not permission’ again scared me, and shook me up a bit. As someone at the beginning of their career in a new sector, the idea working autonomously, making mistakes and then grovelling afterwards is a scary one, but something that, reflectively, I really need to start doing!

Member papers; Suzanne Griffiths and Samantha Halford, Ned Potter, Jack Hyland, Paula Evans

The four competing member papers were short half hour presentations of new ideas and innovations that the presenters were trying out in their libraries. These included online learning platforms: using TEL within classes (the TEL demonstrated was, which I would have probably got a lot more out of had my 24 hour wifi access not cut out half way through…): promoting library resources through a better more consistent use of the VLE and designing Action Plans for the library in conjunction with academic staff.

Of these, I found the work done by York University on action plans to be the most inspiring to me personally, as Ned was speaking about being respectful towards academics as co-workers, rather than deferential. I tend to be far too eager to please within my role, and although this is a good thing in terms of providing a prompt customer service, I would be much better taking my time and working WITH academics on a longer journey of partnership. I think I need to remember I’m no longer waitressing, and they aren’t my customers!

York University have developed their action plans so that they reflect the findings of library student library survey. This means they put them together in January. The initial action plans are then shared with academics who can contribute to the final version. By sharing what the library has done staff are able to increase respect for the library and also make themselves appear professional-and the response has been for the most part positive.

Keynote 2: Robert Farrell, Lehman College, City University of New York

Storify (limited as it appears I broke storify…)

I’d got chatting to Robert on the first day of the conference, and found him to be lovely, interesting and interested, and full of good ideas. I’ve followed a lot of New York librarians on Twitter for many years now and always found their ways of viewing librarianship as a public good to be really powerful and motivating. Robert works in Lehman College, City University of New York in the Bronx, serving that community. Perhaps being an American Robert is definitely a lot less reserved than I believe quite a lot of English librarians are, especially about things such as asking for money, or seeing themselves as ‘entrepreneurs’.

Robert talked about how we need to stop seeing entrepreneurs as ‘icons’ who miraculously invented things or plugged gaps in markets. Instead, he says, entrepreneurs are people who take risks with other people’s money, seeking ‘market anomalies’ in order to create more capital.  This doesn’t always have to be monetary capital, it could be social capital, or time, or skills development.

Robert had loads of good ideas on how libraries can be more entrepreneaurial, including collaborating with other partners such as the Schools/Faculties in bids for monies and getting in on other people’s grant proposals. Working in partnerships not only generates grassroots support for your library, but also means a greater scope for investment opportunities is developed. On my notes it just says ‘LINK WITH SU’ in all caps-which is becoming the theme of my findings from this conference!

The biggest thing I personally took from Robert’s talk, which was really interactive and involved me and my neighbours identifying potential innovative projects (which we really could have done with more time allocated for), was that, again, us librarians need to be tougher. We need to start demanding more, applying for more funds, being a bit more ‘shark’ in our approach-whilst also maintaining our ethos of helping others and providing essential services in an ethical and open way. It is only by changing individual minds that you over time change an organisation’s overall culture, however, and I think it is good to see examples of individual librarians, like Emma Thompson earlier in the conference, going out and making almost radical decisions about how their libraries work with others which leads to a better perception of the library overall.

I enjoyed Robert’s talk immensely, mostly because he is an excellent speaker, and I would look forward to seeing what innovations come from his ideas.

Andrew Barker, University of Liverpool: The Library as Publisher

This talk was about developing a relationship with your University Press in order to publish textbooks and other resources that end up cheaper for your students/the library. Within my organisation, the University Press falls under the remit of my Service. Learning about the history of the University Press was really interesting and made me think about how academic libraries have their place in the wider university/academia spectrum.

Val Stevenson, Liverpool John Moores University: Research support at LJMU

To be honest I didn’t take any notes during this presentation (that I could find) so I don’t feel comfortable writing it up-however if I can find anyone with a good write-up I will include links to them in the section at a later date.

On reflection, am rubbish note taker!

The sponsors, stands and Bla-opoly

I’ve always been a bit scared of sponsors and vendor stands at conferences. Not having much in the way of budgetary control I feel really bad walking past for freebies and having some poor soul talk at me for five minutes about their wonderful sounding product I have no control over buying with my organisation’s money.

With this conference however I felt a lot more capable of conversing with vendors and sponsors. I put this down to two reasons

  1. I had business cards with me and honestly they gave me such a ridiculous boost in confidence. I know it’s ridiculous, and a bit American-Psycho, but being able to give a card out really made me feel almost worthy of being talked to. I tried not to use them as a fobbing off tool, but actually see it as the start of building a relationship with someone-and it has worked! I’ve had two really good offers of demos of products come through to my inbox this week. It also makes things so much easier, giving someone a card rather than writing scrappy notes on things.
  2. BLA-opoly was SUCH a good idea. Each vendor stand had a sticker and you had a sheet made up like a monopoly board which you then filled in with stickers. I’ve seen this before in my institution with stamps, but theming it made it so much fun, and it was something to joke about with the vendors.

Also, can we just have a moment to talk about the freebies? I came away with so much SWAG. Two t-shirts, two  flashdrives, too much chocolate, trolley coin keyrings (the MOST useful thing), the most beautiful notebook and pens galore. All much appreciated, thank you.

Networking, Liverpool and Other Thoughts

Photo credit Robert Elves
Photo credit Robert Elves BLA delegates at the University of Liverpool, pre-conference dinner. I’m the one in orange.

Although the trips to various cultural locations looked really fun, and I would have enjoyed seeing Antony Gormley’s sculptures or the Liverpool Cathedral, by the end of the second day my mind was whirling and I needed some time out. So I took my mentor’s advice (and Penny’s advice from LILAC) and had some Time Out. I went for a wander down the waterfront on my own, had a (ridiculously overpriced, but necessary) ice cream, popped into the Tate, and then went round John Lewis and bought a Cath Kidston bag because I’m a professional librarian at a conference in a HILTON and I want a Cath Kidston bag.

Honestly, this was the best idea. I got to re-group a bit, see some more of the city, have some fresh air, and come back to the evening do feeling calm and ready to talk to people again. I’d recommend people who are OK being by themselves to take some time for this during the conference-three days with relative strangers is tough when you’re new to the librarian conference scene, even when everyone is as lovely and supportive as the BLA are. Also, Liverpool is such a beautiful city and we don’t have a Lewis’ in Leeds yet so I felt justified!

One of my favourite parts of going to any conference or library related event is the networking-or ‘talking to other people’ as we humans like to call it. Going to the conference dinners, and fun activities like the quiz, really helped with this. I sat with different people at each dinner and had a really different experience on each night accordingly.

All in all I really enjoyed my first ‘full conference’ experience, and think it has been a really good development opportunity for me. As well as meeting some really great people and making professional contacts, I also came away feeling inspired, and really part of a larger HE Business Library Family.


2 thoughts on “BLA Conference, Liverpool 2015: Innovation in libraries

  1. Hey Jess this is a great write-up! Particularly useful for me as I could only stay for Day 1.

    On the subject of being eager to please, I think that’s completely natural when you’re new in the role. If you went in from the outset with your mindset too much the other way it would come across as confrontational or rude. So don’t worry that you’re not doing it right! It’s a process rather than a switch to flick between overly deferential and not, if that makes any sense…

    I think what really matters is not bending over backwards for people because that sets a pattern it’s very difficult to get out of later without (totally unfairly) coming across badly. If you go out of your way to help someone (and making exceptions is, generally, a positive thing to do) the important thing is they understand that. Not in a ‘look at me and how helpful I am! You owe me!’ type of way, but just in a ‘we can do this once but you have to know I can’t sustain it’ type of way.

    I suppose (and I’m thinking this through as I type the comment, it’s not something I’ve put my finger on previously) it’s not about NOT being accomodating. It’s good to please. But it’s about in addition to that, expecting the academics and departments to give a lot back, to work WITH you to achieve stuff which is mututally beneficial.


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