I must say I felt really lucky to win the first LIS student bursary to attend the Cambridge Libraries Conference this year! It was such a great opportunity to meet lots of Cambridge Librarians and hear fantastic and varied talks, whilst basking in the lovely surroundings of the University! Coming from a smaller university, Royal Holloway, it was really interesting to get a flavour of all the events and projects undertaken by the different department, college and subject libraries at Cambridge.

Cambridge Conference DinnerThe whole event was kick-started by a cracking conference dinner the evening before in gorgeous surroundings of the Senior Combination Room of St. Catharine’s college (cue a wooden-panelled room with an ambient soft light from the candles – with some rather stern on-looking 17th-century portraiture – and a lovely three course meal with accompanying wine and conversation).

Cambridge Libraries Conference - Judge Business School staircase
Judge Business School’s colourful (Harry Potter-esque) staircases!

 

The conference itself was held in the fantastically different and modern Judge Business School and seemed to fit the conference theme of “breakthrough the library”. The variety of talks on this theme sought to explore how we can reach out beyond our libraries and challenge our “traditional” library roles. It really opened my eyes to what the library community are doing and equipped me with ideas to implement in my own library!

The keynote by Meredith Evans (@mre1920) was a phenomenal way to open the conference [1]. A few of us, who gathered afterwards, said how much we wanted to be an inspirational and passionate speaker like Meredith! Seriously, she was a powerhouse speaker and the hashtag #camlibs18 was afire throughout her talk, which was peppered with great one-liners and really thought-provoking statements.

Radical librarianship - black lioves matter keynote
Meredith Evans explaining the importance of capturing the digitally ephemeral “stuff” of events happening now to support & empower our communities…

The campaign Meredith was involved in sought to capture and document the ephemera of Ferguson protests in 2014 following the death of Michael Brown. Meredith and her colleagues from Washington University, just a few miles away from where the protests were taking place, created a web resource that allowed participants and witnesses to the protests to upload slogans, posters, banners, tweets, music and anything else you can name that documented what was going on. The public directly contributed the material and they were also responsible for the metadata they applied to what they uploaded, folksonomy in action! Whilst our librarian hearts might be all-aquiver at the fact that the resource was untidy, non-standard and inconsistently catalogued making it difficult to find items, it sought to capture the diverse perspectives of the participants of this protest with no librarian interference. The user-generated content is democratic and allows a better understanding of the feeling of the community affected. This talk was a perfect example of how libraries can “breakthrough” and support their wider community and empower them.

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Antony Brewerton from Warwick explaining their outreach and community engagement work.

The other stand out talk for me was from Warwick University on supporting students and increasing community engagement. Student wellbeing is the responsibility of everyone at university and libraries should reach out beyond “traditional” services to help support students pastorally. As I help look after the postgraduate researcher space at Royal Holloway, it was quite shocking to see from HE surveys that PhD students were one of the most stressed and isolated groups. Antony explained how Warwick have gone about increasing student engagement, creating a community centred round the library and developed students’ “belongingness” to the university. From blogs about how to deal with British food to running cultural events to help students feel less homesick and part of a community, I came away with some great ideas, so watch this space, Royal Holloway!

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This is an example of an event run my Warwick, which celebrated the Mexican festival of the dead (cue a student running round in a Mexican wrestling mask and a sombrero encouraging other students to join in!)

I have taken away so many ideas, so it is now a matter for me to digest and spring into action! The insights and experiences discussed at this conference are invaluable to any aspiring and enthusiastic librarian just starting out in the profession, so I thoroughly encourage others to apply and attend next year! Plus Cambridge Librarians are just lovely and welcoming, so that the nice extended refreshment breaks whizzed by full of chatter and enthusiasm!

 

CONFERENCE TALK REFERENCES:

[1] Meredith Evans (VP/President Elect, Society of American Archivist and Director of Jimmy Carter Presidential Library), “Let the People Speak:  Documenting Beyond the Library Norm”. The keynote address for the 2018 Cambridge Libraries Conference.

[2] Antony Brewerton (Head of Academic Services, University of Warwick), ‘I felt really overwhelmed …I’m worried’: How (and why) libraries are a key resource in supporting student wellbeing in Higher Education. Parallel Session 1A from the 2018 Cambridge Libraries Conference.

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