#CityLIS Student Perspectives: Nancy Beckett-Jones at the CILIP Conference 2017, 5 – 6 July 2017.

Student Perspectives is our series of guest posts written by current #CityLIS students.

Current Library Science student Nancy Beckett-Jones write about her experiences this year’s CILIP Conference in Manchester.


Last week I attended the annual CILIP Conference held at the University of Manchester.  This year’s event promised to be a truly memorable one with an impressive line-up of keynote speakers set to inspire and spur us on; and it certainly lived up to expectations providing much food for thought and many opportunities to learn from others and make connections.  Given the political climate, the individual’s rightful access to information and library services naturally dominated the conversation throughout the 2 day long event.  Discussions centred on the opening up of collections for communities; responding to misinformation in the post-truth era; concerns for patron privacy in light of government agendas; and reflections on emerging library service models.  There were many examples of libraries tailoring services to different user groups that were showcased, and success stories rightly celebrated.

So much has happened since last year’s conference in Brighton when we were left reeling after the UK voted to leave the EU.  A year on and when democratic values and our way of life is being challenged more than ever, our shared mission seems even more pertinent.  It was fitting then that Carla Hayden the first black, female Librarian at the Library of Congress was invited to speak to us.  Her keynote was inspiring and hopeful as she stressed the important task we have as information professionals of working together to break down barriers to increase access to heritage collections for our children and future generations.  She spoke at length about her decision to go to the Library of Congress, and how it was fundamentally at odds with her past.  As a former children’s librarian, and then later as a library school educator, she questioned how she could serve the public at the LoC as historically research institutions have not been welcoming.  She asked us all to reflect on the barriers that are in place, and reconsider the hoops that we make people go through; and stressed that we need the skill set of the younger generation to add to the expertise of the profession to enable this to happen.

Neil MacInnes from Manchester Libraries and President of the Society of Chief Librarians, spoke to us about the transformation of Manchester Libraries, and how they connected the collection with the community and completely remodelled the service.  Prior to the regeneration Mancunians weren’t accessing the library, but by taking the archives out into the community and opening up these collections the library has a new relevance.  Manchester Libraries have now attained portfolio status, a recognition of the contribution that these libraries make to society.  On our first evening, we were treated to a tour around the recently remodelled Manchester Central Library; a truly inspiring library with a unique collection, and a building which has retained its period character whilst gaining new and engaging spaces for users.

We all held on tight as the philosopher and academic Luciano Floridi took us on a bitesize philosophical journey to consider equity in the infosphere!  It was however a cautionary reminder of the centrality of LIS and libraries as forces that serve to counterbalance inequalities.  For whilst democracy and access to information is far from universal, where there is democracy, without education and with commercial organizations largely controlling the answers, although we may theoretically be able to seek information, access to it will always be restricted both in terms of the formulation of questions and in the answers received.  At a time when democratic freedoms are being challenged globally, our roles as library and information professionals are more important than ever in ensuring this equity.

We heard from Salil Tripathi from the Institute for Human Rights and Business, warn of increasing security measures that are being used against us and our way of life and freedoms for our benefit.  He spoke of the worrying possibility of internet companies being forced to police online activity and the importance of distinguishing between hateful speech and dangerous speech; for with the removal of both our human right to express ourselves is undermined.  He spoke of libraries compliance with the Prevent Strategy which is counter to the ethical values that underpin librarianship.  These changes in legislation infringe upon our human right to freely access information, and the prospect of withdrawing from the European Convention of Human Rights is very frightening indeed.

David McMenemy, Lecturer and LIS course director from University of Strathclyde also spoke about changes that effect our right to access information.  He suggested that with new service models the founding principle of libraries, that we should all have equal access to information is threatened.  This universalist notion is challenged by an emerging idea of ‘community’; for with this understanding, charity/community replaces the individual’s claim to access information.  Volunteer supported and lead libraries actually in essence destroy the universalist notion or library faith.  Political groups are keen to push forward this in place of rightful government support, and the term ‘community’ re-appropriated for a right-wing ideology.  For when the community takes over a library who oversees the service?  There can be no objectivity here, for example if a church group steps into the role, where does that leave LGBT users?  The new service model that includes community based libraries, mutuals and charity trusts, in effect weakens equity and should be understood as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Patron privacy is another big issue moving forwards, for if we fail to ensure this then we inhibit what users choose to access.  Importantly we need to question our own practices in terms of internet filtering; uses of third parties in service delivery; and in using learner analytics.  For in trying to meet the needs of our users are we disregarding our duty to ensure their privacy?  McMenemy went on to suggest ways of responding to these crises: foremost we should debate issues that effect LIS, for not debating is unethical; and it is moreover anti-intellectual to surround ourselves with those who agree and do not challenge us.  He suggested that we might invite the naysayers along, and adopt a non-coterie approach at conferences.

Misinformation in the post-truth age was another key theme at the conference, and Pauline Paterson from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, spoke to us about the very real consequences of misinformation, and how low vaccine confidence was due to the spread of misinformation though social media.  CILIP’s ‘Facts Matter’ campaign which champions an evidence based approach to legitimise information, received a lot of positive social media coverage throughout the conference too.

There were plenty of opportunities to group-think at workshops and to network throughout the conference.  I attended Arup’s ‘Rethinking libraries’ session where we were asked to rank key focuses for libraries moving forward, certainly no easy task!  CILIP are also rewriting their Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Practice to make them more meaningful and a more useful tool for practitioners, and we had the opportunity to contribute to this whilst at the conference.

The conference also provided support and suggested new approaches to adopt.  Ian Anstice, editor of Public Library News, armed us with solutions as to how to best support public libraries from closure and negative press.  Stephen Wyber from the International Federation of Library Associations explained the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which form part of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and how they can be used as tools for advocacy.

I particularly enjoyed listening to Emma Coonan, Information Skills Librarian from University of East Anglia on the subject of library inductions.  With the new academic year not long away, and thinking about how new students initially interact with the library and how they attain literacy skills, it is interesting to consider how the library is instrumental in this journey.

It is understood that academic libraries take a remedial approach to education and yet our goal should go beyond teaching technical literacies such as keyword searching and the mastery of a set of library skills; we need to encourage self-directed learning and critical thinking from the outset.  Students need to learn how to learn themselves, so rather than induction perhaps we should assist with transition.  According to Coonan we must give them the clue, not the whole ball of string and invite them into the labyrinth of learning.  Rather than an induction, let them come to the library on their own accord and observe behaviours rather than instruct.  Here students are asked to construct knowledge, and the teaching directional; for we must empower students to be critical, to talk back and to ask questions, this is after all the goal of education to develop a critical stance, and as educators we must also support this.  UEA have engaged with this idea and created learning tools to encourage this transition and allow the students to encounter the library.

There was also a real acknowledgement of the emerging workforce throughout the conference, which was very pleasing from my student perspective.  After Carla Hayden had been welcomed by the delegates, she in turn welcomed the students who were present, and she addressed us directly stating that conferences are for LIS students their survival kit, a lifeline, stressing the importance of networking and building strong working connections.  There was also a whole session devoted to supporting new professionals and innovation, outlining the government’s agenda with the Public Library Skills Strategy.  There was also support for a bottom up approach to management and we were introduced to Librarycamp and the value of unconferences for innovative library services.

It was a packed itinerary, and for every seminar I attended there were 4 more that I would have enjoyed and got something out of.  That the challenges we face across the sector are shared ones, and our preoccupations universal means that we can learn from each other and that is what makes the CILIP Conference quite a special event in the LIS calendar and one that I was very pleased to attend.  I’ve come away feeling inspired and supported, with so many references I’d like to follow up on and with a whole bunch of new people to follow on Twitter.  Whilst looking forward to #CILIPConf18, I think I’d like to attend an unconference next.

by Nancy Beckett-Jones,

Library Support Services @UniSotonLibrary and #citylis student, twitter: @beckett_nancy

The hashtag for the conference was #CILIPConf17


Badke, W., 2010, ‘Why information literacy is invisible’, Communications in information literacy, (4:2), pp. 129-141, available at: http://0-web.b.ebscohost.com.wam.city.ac.uk/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=dda60582-45b1-4663-ad73-ccfd524062ff%40sessionmgr101 [accessed on 11 July 2017].

CILIP, 2017, Facts Matter, [blog], available at: https://www.cilip.org.uk/advocacy-awards/advocacy-campaigns/facts-matter [accessed on 11 July 2017].

Elgot, J., 2017, May and Macron plan joint crackdown on online terror, 12 June 2017, [online], available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jun/12/may-macron-online-terror-radicalisation [accessed on 11 July 2017].

IFLA, 2017, Sustainable development goals, [online], available at: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs [accessed on 11 July 2017].

Librarycamp, 2017, Librarycamp, [blog], available at: http://www.librarycamp.co.uk/ [accessed on 11 July 2017].

McMenemy, D., 2017, Sustaining our common values the pressures at play and to come, [online], available at: https://www.slideshare.net/dmcmenemy/sustaining-our-common-values-the-pressures-at-play-and-to-come-77505705?qid=1d56ac3e-f25a-471e-b165-d8f908db5edf&v=&b=&from_search=2 [accessed on 11 July 2017].

About James

Information Assistant (Academic Services) in the Library at City, University of London.
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