#camlibs18 – Thoughts from the Cambridge Libraries Conference 2018

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

This post is written by Bethany Sherwood and concerns her participation in the Cambridge Libraries Conference, whose theme this year was Breakthrough the Library. Bethany was on the organizing committee with responsibilities for running social media.  


The 2018 Cambridge Libraries Conference took place at the Cambridge Judge Business School on the 11th of January. It was the 5th annual gathering of librarians and library staff from across the university’s libraries. This year’s conference theme was ‘breakthrough the library’, with speakers invited to consider disruptions and developments in a LIS context.

This year I had the particular good fortune of being on the organising committee and responsible for social media. Previously the conference’s social media was mostly organic, with already keen Twitter users live-tweeting on a generic hashtag, so I was keen to get my hands on the a Twitter account and add some more organised elements.

Coming up with a social media strategy from scratch for this year was a really interesting experience. Our main aim was to provide a visible and official online presence; building momentum in the lead up to the day itself and facilitating discussion. The community already does a great job of live-tweeting and sharing thoughts and ideas throughout the conference so my aim was just to help this along through additional hashtags for parallel sessions (to avoid overcrowding and confusion on the main hashtag, see #CLP1A and #CLP2B for examples) and scheduled tweets with speaker names, twitter handles, and talk titles. We also had to reduce delgate numbers this year due to venue space constraints so we wanted to provide an an avenue for virtual attendance for those following remotely.

The conference keynote was delivered by Meredith Evans, Vice President & President Elect of the Society of American Archivists and Director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. Meredith’s talk reflected on the complexities of documenting the digital media created and disseminated following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, August 9th 2014.

Meredith’s involvement in the Documenting Ferguson project, working at the time at Washington University, led to some really valuable insights into the nature of collecting in real-time; dealing with digital documents, digital ephemerality, publicly sourced metadata, and the difficulties and richness of community based collecting.

It was actually the second time I’ve heard Meredith talk about Documenting Ferguson and it was no less affecting the second time around. What I like most about hearing Meredith speak is her ability to see connections between collections and the people and communities who create them and whose lives they document.

Parallel Sessions 1
The first parallel session I attended was Dr James Baker’s session on Library Carpentry. You can watch the recording of the session here:

I’d really recommend watching if you’ve heard of Library Carpentry but don’t know much more about it. I have to admit the first time I heard someone mention it I legitimately thought they were talking about building bookshelves.

Library Carpentry began at City, University of London in 2015 and has since expanded to run over 50 workshops in 12 countries, training over 1000 librarians in software and data skills.

A big thing I took away from James’ talk was the attitude that Library Carpentry exemplifies. Any situation where you have to admit ignorance is daunting, and starting from scratch with software skills (as most people who didn’t do a computer science degree are) can feel like a bit of a leap in the dark. I loved the idea of sticking a post-it on the back your computer screen in a session to indicate you need some help and the “ignorance amnesty” to fess-up and face-up to knowledge gaps at the start.

If you’re interested in Library Carpentry you can check out the lessons here, or read more here: Baker, J. et al., (2016). Library Carpentry: software skills training for library professionals. LIBER Quarterly. 26(3), pp.141–162. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/lq.10176

Lightning Talks
Next up were Lightning Talks ⚡, which this year were divided into two sets between the parallel sessions. Lightning talks are PechaKucha-style 5 minute speed presentations from the Cambridge library community. The lightning talks are always a highlight of the conference for sheer diversity of content and speakers, and for hearing about all the incredible things quietly going on in the many libraries in Cambridge. This year the talks featured celebrity cats, systematic review advent calendars, Cambridge Apollo breaking the internet, and a really excellent talk from Hannah Smith, one of the graduate trainees, on starting out in a library career.

We were also really excitingly introduced to the recently relaunched Parker Library on the Web and a live demonstration of its use of the International Image Interoperability Framework protocols and APIs to allow viewers to view and compare manuscripts from disparate collections side-by-side in the Mirador image viewing platform.

You can watch the lighting talks here.

Parallel Sessions 2
The second parallel session I attended was Digital data and professional practices: New accountabilities, stewardship, and literacies by Dr Terrie Lynn Thompson from the University of Stirling.

Terrie’s talk was another highlight of the conference for me. It cut through a lot of the hype and mis-information around digital tools, objects, and their ethical consequences. I’d not really thought about datafication, (seeing the world through data) a kind of data-as-world-view, before but found it particularly helpful to see how pervasive datafication has become in teaching and research through learning analytics.

I especially appreciated the call to interrogate our digital tools, and to question how we conceive of them: as rivals or co-workers? Do we interview the algorithms we work with like digital co-workers? Do we trust them?

The session really succeeded in getting the attendees to reflect on their own practices, and brought up so many great questions (so many I sadly had to cut short the discussion at the end because we ran into the tea break). I’d really recommend having a look at Terrie’s session slides in the conference repository for more: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.18147.

More slides from other sessions I didn’t make it to are also in the repository. As well as recordings of some of the sessions on our Youtube channel.


About Joseph Dunne-Howrie

I am artist in residence in the MA/MSc Library and Information Science department at City, University of London and module year coordinator for MA/MFA Performative Writing/Vade Mecum at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.My research interests include intermediality, live performance in digital culture, participatory and immersive theatre, performance documentation, archives, and performative writing.
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