Library Camp South West


On Saturday 27th July, I attended Library Camp South West (#libcampsw). This was my second library camp attendance and I whole-heartedly approve of the set up. I am often put off by the price of conferences, the travel involved, and the process of applying for funding to go to conferences, so to be able to go to a free conference (or unconference, as library camp is called), which throws up interesting discussions, is much appreciated.

I don’t want to criticise the traditional format of a conference having never been to one – that isn’t my intention. In fact, I’d love to go to a library conference. I simply want to praise the creation of library camp.

Library Camp South West was held in Bristol at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. This proved to be an excellent location with plenty of rooms for the different sessions available, with little noise disturbance from other groups.

I was the first person to turn up, which gave me time to sort out the visitor’s wi-fi connection on my phone. I only recently entered the world of smart phones, which has been a revelation for me. I could finally join in with fellow tweeters who were tweeting interesting things from their sessions. It offers the opportunity to interact with those who are in your session so you can see what points they are taking from the discussion, and also you can see what next door are talking about too. Keeping up with the Joneses, if you like.

Enough introductory spiel. I will now discuss the sessions I attended and what I got from them.

  • Session 1: Getting book returns

I thought that maybe this should be called ‘getting books returned’ but maybe that’s just me.

This session looked at more effective ways to get books returned on time, or returned at all in some cases. There was quite a heavy focus on public libraries and school libraries, which made it difficult to relate to the world of academic libraries (a theme that ran throughout the day). There were some interesting suggestions. Somebody proposed naming and shaming those people who had not returned their books. If somebody entered the library wanting a book that was still on loan, the librarian could point them to the wall of shame and say ‘well, if you can get the book back off them then you can use it. It’s because of them that you can’t consult it’. Somebody raised the point of data protection issues here. I’m not sure how effective this approach would be. I imagine it might encourage more complaints than anything.

My favourite suggestion was that, at the end of the year, the library adds up the total sum of fines for that year and put up a notice telling students how many pints of beer they could have bought with the money they spent on fines. I imagine this would be both amusing and possibly effective. There would certainly be no harm like the wall of shame might induce.

Somebody proposed paying a deposit for certain books, eg. those that are on reading lists. I don’t like this approach because where would you draw the line on the which books require a deposit? Also, libraries are offering a service where readers can borrow books for free. They may be deterred if they had to start paying for books they need for their research.

Another suggestion I liked, which applied to schools, was to create a reward system. A lot of schools have houses or teams which gain or lose points depending on their behaviour (ten points to Gryffindor!). If a pupil has no late books/fines, their house receives points. If another pupil returns a book late, their house loses points. This might encourage taunting from fellow pupils who are annoyed that you have lost them points, but didn’t that happen at school anyway? Class detentions because ONE pupil wouldn’t behave resulted in anger for those who really wanted to eat their lunch.

Conclusion: lots of excellent ideas. Most of them were difficult to apply to an academic setting but, from the sounds of it, school libraries suffer from late books far more than I have ever experienced in an academic setting.

  • Session 2: Tipping point

This could have been a potentially depressing session but fortunately was not. We discussed whether libraries are obsolete. After some talk about how librarians are still important, the proposer of the session intervened saying that they wanted to discuss whether the physical being of a library was obsolete, not the role.

I felt that the proposer was playing Devil’s advocate somewhat. I’m not sure whether that was because they were trying to stimulate debate or whether they truly believed libraries have had their day. If the former, discussion was heated. Many points were made about how libraries are still important but they are in a different setting now. They operate in a digital world. You can’t replace children’s story time in a public library with the internet. Part of the fun is the interaction with the story teller and other children. Parents don’t necessarily have the money to send children away over the school holiday. Libraries can offer them free and fun activities, and books to read, of course.

Somebody said that the people who are in charge of public libraries’ purse strings don’t understand libraries. They have a good wage and go home to broadband. They don’t relate to people who have little money, no computer or internet. There are people who still need to go outside of their home to use computers. As vocal a point this was, I’ don’t like to be so judgmental about the supposed lack of sympathy of the people in charge of the budget without meeting them.

Conclusion: there wasn’t really a conclusion and I’m not sure we could have expected there to be. I certainly hope libraries have a future. We discussed whether, if libraries didn’t exist now, would we create one? The answer was yes, we would. Maybe not based on the same model but we would have somewhere to house knowledge and resources, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to be the powerful society we are.

  • Session 3: Chartership

I have to admit, i didn’t find the afternoon sessions nearly so stimulating as the morning sessions. I attended the Chartership talk with the hope of finding some enthusiasm to start the Chartership process. I ended up becoming more confused. There was a lot of ‘I heard that …’ and ‘I thought that …’ going around with few facts about Chartership. There were lots of rumours going around, like you can’t Charter unless you’re in a professional job (this turns out not to be true).

I was hoping there would be people really fighting for Chartership, saying it’s an excellent idea, they enjoyed it, they’re better off for doing it but there was none of that. I have never heard anyone say good things about Chartering, very much like library school. I got the impression it’s a means to an end, which left me a little deflated.

Conclusion: not what I was expecting. I felt worse about Chartering than when I went in.

  • Session 4: Collaborative work

I ended up in this session because I went into the wrong room but it was my second choice so I thought I’d stay rather than embarrass myself by leaving. As I mentioned already, a lot of the sessions throughout the day had a public and school library theme and this session was no exception, which made it hard to relate to working in an academic library.

Something I hadn’t really thought about before is that by collaborating, you will be helping to promote the other person(s), whether they are an author coming into a public library, or a literary festival going to a school. You need to talk about what you both want so you can both benefit.

Most relevant to me was collaborating with your colleagues. Whether they are fellow librarians or work in the IT department, you can teach each other about your role, an aspect of your work they’re unfamiliar with. In one of my previous roles, we would use some of the staff meetings to give a presentation about a project we were working on or just elaborating on what our job really involved. Although we worked in the same room, we didn’t necessarily know what the other person did to contribute to the library

Conclusion: required thinking outside the box to relate to the academic library but gave me ideas to use in the future, or maybe even propose to the boss one day!

  • Session 5: Apps

I struggled with this session, probably because of my expectation which did not stem from the proposal but from what I imagined might happen. I thought we might talk about apps, how to implement their use into your library, pros and cons, experiences, and so on. The three quarters of an hour were spent naming apps, and that was about it. In fact, my notes read:

“Strange session. Seem to be discussing favourite apps with no relation to libraries. Issue with lib camp – goes off topic. Need someone to take control & bring back to topic. Lots of discussion about educational apps for lessons at school. Not about use of apps in library but actual apps.”

This could have been a really valuable session. I wonder whether anyone else felt the way I did about its content. Maybe in the future I could propose the session myself with the format I was expecting.

Overall: despite the public and school library theme that ran through the day and the slightly unstimulating sessions I attended in the afternoon, I enjoyed Library Camp SW and have been encouraged to attend more in the future. I have expressed my interest for the one in Birmingham later this year so I will have more opportunities to learn about current issues and trends in libraries.