CILIP Conference 2015 Review – Matthew Budd

This fortnight’s post is a review of the 2015 CILIP conference, written for us by Matthew Budd, Graduate Trainee at Lincoln’s Inn Library, London.

I would like to start my write-up of the conference by saying a massive thank you to the London Members Network for giving me the opportunity to attend the conference. I know I would not have been able to go if it weren’t for the bursary and I’m extremely glad that I did as the experience has been invaluable and the whole conference was well worth it.

To give a bit of background on myself, my name is Matt and I am currently a graduate trainee at Lincoln’s Inn Library and have been so since September. I have had a few other jobs since graduating in 2012 but my two other longest jobs have both been in libraries; in a sixth form college learning resource centre and a small university library. I am obviously not qualified yet and I was a bit wary of attending the conference for this reason as I wasn’t sure how much of it would go over my head but I’m glad to say only some of it did! My plan is, finances permitting, to start a master’s in Library and Information Studies next September so the idea of going to the conference was to gain some valuable pre library school experience and I definitely felt that I did.

The two days of the conference were full of talks and sessions (and, of course, the drinks reception) so in order to keep this write-up brief and readable, I’m not going to talk about everything I went to but give a summary. I have never been to a conference for anything before so the format was new to me but it didn’t take long to get used to. There were keynote talks interspersed with a number of breakout sessions on four different themes: information management; information literacy and digital inclusion; demonstrating value; and digital futures and technology. Within these themes there were a large number of different sessions with confusing names that didn’t mean much to me but I tried to pick ones that at least meant something to me and that I thought I might understand! On the whole I think I was pretty successful in my decisions on which sessions to go to but I will say that at this point in my career, some things still went over my head and I think it will take completing the qualification and a few more years in the profession for me to fully understand everything in the sessions.

I’ll first start with the keynote talks as I thought these were the highlight of the conference for me. One of the main bonuses of the keynotes was that they didn’t assume any prior knowledge so I could take everything in! Once again, to keep the write-up brief I won’t describe all the keynotes, just my three favourites, but I will say that they were all excellent and CILIP had done a brilliant job in getting such a good variety of speakers. In no particular order, my first favourite keynote was given by Cory Doctorow on Digital Rights Management and the freedom of access to information. Doctorow’s description of his ‘three laws’ was brilliant and has definitely given me food for thought. Then there was the keynote given by Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty. I have seen Chakrabarti talk on television before so I knew that she was a good speaker but to see her in person was even better and her ability to express her opinions in such a way and her passion for the subject show why she is in the job she is. Her impassioned defence of the Human Rights Act was brilliant and I fully agree with her that it is fundamentally important to not allow any more of our rights to be eroded. My final favourite keynote was from Erwin James, a former prisoner and writer for the Guardian. Although James has committed some terrible crimes he has turned his life around and he credits much of this to the reading of books and the provision of books by the prison library. His talk was emotive and inspiring and I think that if everyone who didn’t believe in the possibility of rehabilitation and the ability of prisoners to turn themselves around was to see James speak, the country as a whole would have a much different view of the prison system.

When I applied for the bursary I listed a number of breakout sessions that I was interested in attending and I have to say that when I got to the conference, I did change my mind on a few of them. I am really interested in technology so before going I thought that I would be attending mostly sessions on the digital futures theme. When I got there however I thought that it would be more valuable to give myself a more rounded experience so I tried to attend sessions on a number of themes. Like with the keynotes I am going to list my three favourite breakout sessions and like the keynote sessions, I thought that all of the breakout sessions that I attended were great and definitely worth attending. Again, in no particular order, my first favourite breakout session was ‘Enriching the List’ hosted by Martin Newman from Historic England. Martin is the Datasets Development Manager at Historic England and his role involves project managing their task of amalgamating the different lists of historic listed buildings, scheduled monuments, historic parks and gardens, and more. The task is made more complicated by the different ways the lists have been kept and the state of the records they have so the team have implemented crowdsourcing the enable them to tackle the mammoth task. It was interesting to hear about the job that Historic England do and the different ways they face the problems organisations like them have. My next favourite session was ‘Creative Workspaces in UK Libraries’ and was given by Todd Richter. Richter has just written his masters dissertation on ‘makerspaces’, which are spaces in places such as public libraries that house 3D printers to be used by the community. It was really interesting to hear how different people use the spaces and how their benefits include helping people overcome problems caused by learning difficulties as well giving people the opportunity to embrace the technology and create new business by creating and selling items. My last favourite session was ‘British Library: Living Knowledge’ hosted by Liz White and Jamie Andrews. I am a huge fan and regular user of the British Library so it was great to be able to hear about some of their plans for the future.

Aside from the programme of talks, there was obviously also the exhibition which was full of stands covering all areas of libraries and librarianship. Inevitably this was likely to be the part of the conference that was most out of my league as I have no decision making power in my role and without much experience of the profession, a lot of what the stands had to offer was a bit beyond me. Nevertheless, it was still a worthwhile experience going around and looking at the stands (and picking up freebies) and I am sure that as my career progresses, it will have been useful to scout out some of the businesses before.

An integral part of any conference is bound to be the drinks reception and this conference was no exception. I must admit that the first day of the conference was a bit daunting as I was completely on my own and was a bit of a rabbit in the headlights but the drinks reception helped ease me into things and made the second day a more social experience. Obviously the free bar was a massive bonus but the venue also played its part (it was in the fantastic Museum of Liverpool) and being able to chat with likeminded people in a relaxed setting made me once again realise how friendly and accommodating the profession is.

Overall, as it is probably plain to see, I really enjoyed the conference and I have definitely been able to take a lot out of it. It was a bit daunting to start with but I soon got into the swing of things and would certainly advise anyone else thinking of going to the conference to not be put off by its scale or scope. As to whether I thought that the conference was really useful for someone pre-qualification, that is more difficult to say. As I said before, it will take me a few more years in the profession to be in a situation to understand everything in the talks so in that respect it may be worthwhile waiting to attend the conference. The opportunity to network in a conference is also invaluable but I thought that being a graduate trainee from a law library hindered this a little. Most of the attendees that I spoke to either worked in academic or public libraries and I didn’t meet anyone else from a law library. I also didn’t meet any other graduate trainees and I certainly felt that I was in a tiny minority. I said at the beginning that I was extremely grateful for the London Members Network for the bursary as I know I wouldn’t have gone to the conference otherwise as the cost, if you have to pay out of pocket, is a bit prohibitive with transport, accommodation, and entry to the conference all adding up. If you can get a bursary however, and there is a wide array available, I would have to say you should go for it as you have nothing to lose and whatever you gain is a bonus. I hope this review has been at least a little useful for anyone thinking of attending the conference and that you haven’t been put off the idea. I have looked at it as part of my training so in that respect it has given me everything I thought it would and more.

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