Tag Archives: Conferences

To Conference or to Un-Conference? That is the Question!

CPD, the VLE, the PKSB (and What it Means for Me)

In terms of professional development, we librarians have never had it so good. We have courses, conferences, paper and electronic journals, email discussion lists, and a plethora of other social media platforms, not to mention (of course), our own professional body’s Chartership programme, along with mentoring, revalidation, Fellowship, and underpinning it all, the CILIP Virtual Learning Environment and PKSB (Professional Knowledge and Skills Base).

Indeed, there’s so much happening that it would be impossible to fit it all in without either your work-life or your private life creaking at the seams. Some prioritisation is essential.

As a music librarian, I have two professional organisations – IAML (the International Association of Music Libraries, in which I’m more active in the UK and Ireland Branch) and CILIP. I also currently convene SALCTG, the Scottish Academic Libraries Cooperative Training Group. Does that sound like enough professional involvement? Believe me, you’ve only heard a half of it. Or should I say, 60 per cent?

I’m surprised I don’t sometimes wake up dizzily demanding to know who I am, because I’m also currently two-thirds through a three year part-time postdoctoral research secondment, which thrusts me (hardly unwillingly, I must confess) into a completely different conference circuit as well. That’s the reason I gave a paper about our research project, at the IAML (International Association of Music Libraries) conference in Antwerp this summer, and attended two separate musicology conferences in Newcastle one week in October – fitting in my three days’ library work between trips. A couple of weeks ago, I attended another conference, this time the ELIA cultural conference taking place in Glasgow. (ELIA stands for The European League of Institutes of the Arts; I was awarded one of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s free places.)  The week before that, however, I attended a different kind of conference at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library – Library Camp Glasgow 2.

To me, the very phrase ‘library camp’ makes me think of a Glastonbury-type music festival peopled by librarians in flowery dresses and wellingtons. Please don’t tell the organisers that! Wikipedia doesn’t even have an entry for “library camp”, although I now have enough information to draft at least a skeletal contribution (watch this space!), so maybe a bit of clarification won’t go amiss.[1]

In the beginning, there was an unconference – a professional gathering of XML developers in 1998. The emphasis was on informality. Wikipedia does provide an unverified entry on the Unconference, going on to explain that the format gained popularity after the 2003 unconference of Blogger.com.

Library camps and Teach Meets are both developments of the unconference idea. They have evolved with the advent of social media, which make it much easier to arrange informal meetings with a minimum of administration. This doesn’t mean there’s absolutely no formal planning, of course, because there has to be a suitable venue, a means of signing up for the event (even if it’s free), and some form of catering. Similarly, there is a need for a web presence, whether a wiki, blog or other forum, and then the event needs to be marketed by social media and/or electronic mailing lists.

Anyone can attend a library camp – they don’t have to be librarians – and although there are no timetabled presentations or keynote speakers, attendees can offer to read papers or make quick soapbox appearances. The planning is done on the day, by the organisers. A few freebies and prizes also add to the appeal of the event, of course.

The first library camps were in fact, in the USA – in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Darien, Connecticut, in 2006 – but the British camps began in Birmingham in 2011. The Glasgow one began last year in 2013, Library Camp Wales kicked off in Cardiff in April 2014, and there are now school library camps as well. It’s clearly a winning format! The informality is a great attraction, and it’s hoped that attendees returning for subsequent camps will be further emboldened to have their say about library topics which concern them, or ideas they’d like to run past a wider audience.

Library Camp Glasgow Karenmca
Library Camp badge 2013

So I spent a Saturday at the second Glasgow library camp. SALCTG, the training group that I Piano badge 2014currently convene – is subsidising the catering, which pleases me. I made my badge – how could I not make a badge when my entry last year was a tied prizewinner? And I did a presentation, too.

Although I’m a seasoned conference attendee, I can see the advantages of both the formal conference and the unconference approach. Whereas the formal academic conference is a good forum for formal academic discourse, perhaps resulting in published papers with all the paraphernalia of peer review, style sheets, abstracts and so on, it doesn’t really lend itself to the more egalitarian, relaxed kind of discussions that professional practitioners thrive on. Working librarians aren’t necessarily keen to write scholarly papers on library science, but this doesn’t mean we don’t have views and ideas to share.

The remark is often made that at formal conferences, some of the best discussions take place in the coffee-breaks. Therefore, if an unconference – such as a library camp – can make more space for coffee and chat, stripping away the formality that can be offputting to younger, less-experienced participants, then in theory, there should be benefits all round.

Mind you, I have to admit – quietly, but firmly – that by the end of November, I was “conferenced out”. I was hoping December would be a little quieter, in that regard at least, if only so I can finally update my PKSB! There’s certainly plenty to add.  However, with another encyclopedia article to author before I think about Christmas, that’s a rather faint hope!

[1] A library science postgraduate looking for an interesting dissertation topic could do worse than a study of the growth of library camps within the UK, particularly if they have a social sciences kind of background!


Professional Engagement – Part of my Identity!

Piano badge
Conference badge (Library Camp Glasgow)

The past month has been something of a whirlwind!  I’ve been to four conferences, been to a seminar, convened a plenary, had a couple of pieces published in the IAML(UK and Ireland) Newsletter, and done the blogposts you see here.  What I haven’t done is update my CPD record on my professional association’s virtual learning network.  Not that I haven’t done any CPD (as you see, I’ve done plenty!), but because I’ve had no time to do the updating!

  • 20-21 October: Understanding Scotland Musically, AHRC-funded conference at the University of Newcastle.  I gave a paper: ‘Wynds, Vennels and Dual Carriageways: the Changing Nature of Scottish Music’.  Subsequently invited to submit abstract for proposed book.
  • 25 October (Saturday): Musical Life outside London, 1500-1800, University of Newcastle.
  • 29 October: Seminar at the University of St Andrews (as invited guest, not speaker).
  • 6 November: Convened SALCTG Plenary at Glasgow Caledonian University.
  • Glasgow Mitchell Library8 November (Saturday): Library Camp Glasgow, Mitchell Library.  Gave presentation, ‘Do you Practise what you Preach?’, and one-minute rant, ‘Diigo and Me’.
  • 11 November,  IAML (UK and Ireland) Newsletter: no.69, 2014, pp.14-16,  ‘Raising the Bar: a Targeted User Education Policy’; also my report of the IAML Conference in Antwerp this July: ‘Ian Ledsham Bursary Recipient Report, pp. 4-7.
  • 13-15 November: ELIA Biennial Conference (European League of Institutes of the Arts, at the Royal Concert Hall.NeuNow2014 henhouse exhibit

Clearly, I need to sit down and read through the notes and tweeted observations I made at this week’s big conference, not to mention updating my CV with the presentations I gave, and so on.  Right now my brain feels a bit like your stomach feels after Christmas dinner.  Lots of good stuff to digest, but in danger of indigestion!

Wrapping it up, without any string (the final conference paper)

Apple a day keeps the doctor away
An Apple a day keeps the doctor away …?

Writer's blockIs it professional death to admit to struggling with the conclusion of a conference paper?  Well, I’m not going to fall on my sword in public, but I do confess that this paper is resolutely refusing to come to a nice, tidy end.  I shall be giving it at the “graveyard slot” at the end of the conference, and although I certainly haven’t been given a brief to round off the proceedings – I wouldn’t be so vain as to imagine such a thing! – I do feel inhibited by the thought of so many as yet unheard papers before my own, final one.  What if they’re all much more brilliant than my own?   What if my arguments have already been expressed more coherently by numerous speakers before I speak?  What if they all express different views to mine? Worse, what if my arguments have effectively been shot down a dozen times before I stand up to speak?  And worst of all, what if there’s hardly anyone left to hear me at all?

This conference may attract a slightly different audience to those I’ve spoken at before, and that’s another factor to put me on my mettle.

Meanwhile, here I sit with 1,600 words and most of a PowerPoint presentation.  Stuck, with a cup of tea for company, and an apple in a vain attempt to avoid the biscuit barrel!

Teaching Artist Spurned, Rejected

Hours of preparation went into that presentation, but there was no audience.  A couple of drop-ins, one after the other, but a quick chat and off-the-cuff demonstration was more appropriate than giving the whole singing-and-dancing show.  I had blogged, emailed, sent a circular round … I guess the poor delegates were tired, even those who had said they would be there! Scott 14th birthday cakeSo, seriously, what does it take to get an audience for an e-resources presentation?! Cakes?  (If I’d known, I’d have baked some.)  Cleavage?  (I don’t have one.)  Tap-dancing?  (I have two left feet.  I can’t speak for my co-presenter!)   All we can do is turn to Plan B.  Watch this space!

Speaking and Being Spoken To

In the past fortnight, I’ve attended two one-day conferences, and given a presentation to my library colleagues.  I went to the National Library of Scotland a couple of weeks ago for the Reading and Identity Conference (26 August 2014).  Although the title of the conference was promising, I was a little disappointed in the content, not because of the presentations but because of the sheer diversity.  When I talk about reading and identity, I have in my mind eighteenth and nineteenth century Scottish song enthusiasts discussing their sense of identity, and how their songs expressed that identity.  To spend a day hearing about reading to babies, teens’ reading preferences, experimental verse and a transsexual interpretation of the New Testament was perhaps not the best use of my time.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d have been happy to sit and talk to any of the presenters – who came from libraries, academia, trusts and other backgrounds –  over a cup of coffee in my own time.  I might even have argued with one or two!  As a Christian, I was discomfited by a mock ‘prayer’ session during which all delegates were invited to close their eyes and hold hands.  I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been politically incorrect and simply ‘not done’ to have subjected any other faith to that treatment, but poor old Christians are supposed to smile bravely and put up with it.  (I sat with my eyes open and my hands in my lap, and I suspect that the brave smile would have been spotted as fake if anyone else was also looking!)  This was not my idea of a research conference!

Faced with the incipits of 20 digitized Scottish fiddle collections to transcribe, of which only two are currently completed, I couldn’t help feeling a touch resentful that I was being unfaithful to my tunes by neglecting them for a whole research day. The lesson, I suppose, is to think carefully about how a conference theme might be interpreted by other delegates!  On the positive side, I learned about a digital Ossian text project which certainly warranted my attendance at the afternoon session, so all was certainly not lost.  The organisation and technology worked impeccably, apart from my phone being unable to access the wi-fi using the password I was given.

Yesterday (12 September 2014), I was back in Edinburgh for a digital humanities workshop: Research and/as Engagement.  This was as engaging for me as the earlier one was not!  Each speaker was interesting, and all the projects were fascinating.  It was much more my scene.  I tweeted away merrily, took copious notes, and came back invigorated and keen to get on with the research project.

Between these two events, I and a colleague did a dry-run of a presentation that we’re delivering ‘for real’ to our academic colleagues next week; our drama opposite number did his session the following morning.  It’s easy to be critical of other people’s talks, so it was good to have the boot on the other foot as we practised explaining how various subscription databases worked, and what benefits they offered.

And I have yet to finish off the paper I’m writing for the ‘Understanding Scotland Musically’ conference in Newcastle in October.  (See my previous post.)  Mind you, I’ve got the Greenock roundabout to photograph tomorrow morning, Cecil Sharp’s biography and a compilation of Hamish Henderson’s writings to read yet, so things are certainly humming along!

Wynds, Vennels and Dual Carriageways: the Changing Nature of Scottish Music

I’m writing what I hope will be a controversial conference paper for the forthcoming Understanding Scotland Musically AHRC-funded two-day conference in Newcastle, 20th-21st October.  I’ll be making the point that pinning down what Scottish music actually IS, is pretty much like going to look for the place where your ancestors come from, and wondering why it doesn’t look the same.  You can’t compare what people thought Scottish music was, 200 years ago, with what people think it is now.  Indeed, if you try to compare what I think Scottish music is, with what you think Scottish music is, or what my son, or your granny, think Scottish music is, you’ll get as many different answers. 

WherGreenock Dalrymple Street Car parke do the wynds, vennels and dual carriageways come into it?  Ah, that would be telling! Though I can tell you that if you see a small, middle-aged personage taking photographs in the middle of a roundabout in Greenock with a perplexed look on her furrowed brow, then you can be fairly sure that’ll be me.

The abstract for my paper can be found under the “Musicologist” tab on this blog.

Too Tired to Type?

Today, I’ve admitted to myself I’m overtired, something I very seldom admit to.  I should explain that in the past fortnight I’ve given a paper and two quickfire sessions at the IAML (UK and Ireland) music librarians’ annual study weekend in Cambridge; attended my first IAML Exec meeting at the British Library in London (also fitting in a trip to the Tate, for the RuinLust exhibition); and given a scholarly paper at Musica Scotica in Aberdeen, finishing up with playing at a church dedication service this morning.  Oh, and I’ve spent a few days at work in both my library and research capacities too.  So finally, on Sunday evening, I find I can’t think straight – not a good time to tackle the Teaching Artist backlog of reading.

Karen has met the new Tate Britain

However, I have been reflecting about giving research papers.  In March I gave a talk, with absolutely minimal notes, at an RMA (Royal Musical Society) Colloquium. I was pleased with it, and peer comments were very favourable.  And yet yesterday’s talk, written a full three months earlier and revised this week, was so densely packed with facts and figures that there was no way I’d be able to stand and just “speak” the paper. I was talking about a number of 18th century music books, precise dates (down to the day and the month), and commentary from the late 19th and early 20th centuries – it was very detailed!  I looked up at different areas of the audience, a lot. But I freely admit I “read” much of it.  I’d marked it with highlighter pen, gone over it several times – but I didn’t have time to reduce it to skeletal form, which is the only way I’d have stood a chance of a freer, less constrained delivery.

This Teaching Artist course has made me much more aware of good pedagogical practice.  I suppose it’s fair to point out that giving a research paper at a conference is NOT teaching in the conventionally accepted way.  Sharing research findings is a different activity from preparing to teach a class, involving them, getting feedback and monitoring whether they’ve learned what you set out to teach them.  But I’m now rather perturbed.  Because my delivery of yesterday’s paper, which my research Principal Investigator says was good, and which received favourable comments from several delegates, leaves me feeling flat and disappointed.  There was nothing wrong with the content, or the structure of what I said.  But I was deeply envious of a colleague who just stood, and delivered, seemingly without notes at all.  What is WRONG with me?!

I wondered if perhaps the answer was that the paper would have been better as a publication – something that might yet happen – and maybe I need to produce something more discursive for research presentations.  At the same time, what do scientists do?  They quite possibly have even more detailed, fact-and-figure-heavy findings than my own.  And what about mathematicians, or statisticians?