In this Guest Post, #citylis PhD Candidate and Co-Organiser of HASLibCamp, Ludi Price reflects on the importance of sharing experiences before sharing her experience of Unconferences and looks ahead to the forthcoming HASLibCamp, which will hosted by City University London on April 23rd.
I have always thought it important for library and information professionals to get together, share their experiences, and bounce ideas off each other. As providers of information to the user and community at large, it’s doubly important that we don’t neglect to share these ideas with one another. It can be all too easy to fall into the dreaded silo mentality, and begin to take for granted the way we do things in our teams, departments or institutions. For all of us in the GLAM sector, we have a unique knowledge of how to pass on and share knowledge. It is vital that we use this unique skill to help develop and explore our own discipline.
I have found that the unconference is a really fantastic way of facilitating this. Its informal, unstructured arrangement takes all the best bits from a training day, to a workshop, to a conference proper, creating an egalitarian forum for ideas without the formal atmosphere that can be so daunting to some. The idea of the unconference is for attendees to be as participative or passive as they choose; to pitch a discussion on issues that are of importance to them; and to open up discussion to members of the public who may not necessarily be involved in your sector, but who may have an interest in it.
I attended my first unconference just over a year ago, and whilst at first the format was bewildering, its benefits were soon apparent. The power was fully in the hands of the attendees, who could set the subject for a talk, come and go from the session freely, network when appropriate, and even change topic, if discussion was not forthcoming. It was not a format I was used to, but that I found to be very empowering and enjoyable.
Last summer I was able to help organise #citylis’ own unconference, #citymash, which took place last June. The idea of the conference was to bring together library and information professionals to discuss new, interesting and innovative aspects of our field. The event was hugely successful, and I found it to be a richly rewarding experience, as it brought to my attention the fact that organising an unconference is actually not so far apart from participating in one. Not only did I help organise, but I delivered my own session at #citymash, and being on both sides of the ‘divide’ (with many of the other organisers), helped me to realise that as an organiser of an unconference, you are more of a facilitator than anything else. You still get stuck in with the participants on the ground level, and they can add as much to the event – or more – than you yourself have.
I was very happy then, when I was asked to be on the organisation team for the #haslibcamp16 unconference. Frank Norman and Ka Ming Pang (who has much experience with the unconference format) had approached #citylis to host an unconference on health and science libraries, and after the success of #citymash, we were happy to oblige. The unconference format has been such a positive and stimulating one for me that I was really excited to be a part of one again.
One thing I would say if you’re organising an unconference – be prepared to wing it to some extent, and be prepared to slum it on the other hand. There is little funding for this type of event, and #haslibcamp is bolstered by the generous donations from several quarters – but you mustn’t be afraid to ask and cast your net out. Also, be aware of the generosity and enthusiasm of your attendees. For example, we’re doing a pot luck lunch to save money, but in previous events, such as Pi and Mash, this has been so hugely successful that our supply of delicious, attendee-provided, food has far exceeded anything we could have sourced through other channels!
Lastly, don’t be afraid to let attendees take over if they wish – within reason of course. Unconferences are supposed to stimulate conversation and creativity. Its strength lies within the participants themselves – and it’s one of the few formats where best-laid plans can actually be counterproductive sometimes. Be open to taking a back seat, let others take the reins – and you’ll probably be more likely to get the best out of the day.
You can read more about #haslibcamp16 at our blog post here, and at the website. All are welcome and tickets are free. To pitch a session, or make suggestions for ideas you’d like to talk about, please add to our interactive Google Doc. For the culinary-minded, an optional lunch doc is here. Limited travel bursaries are also available.
Ludi Price is on Twitter, @LudiPrice.