Student Perspectives: CILIP Wales Conference – Knowledge and Information Literacies. Cardiff, 16 May 2019

Student Perspectives is our series of posts written by current CityLIS students. This review of the CILIP Wales Conference: Knowledge and Information Literacies, held in Cardiff on May 16th 2019, is written by Catherine Jenkins. Catherine is currently a part-time student on our Information Science course. Catherine is on Twitter: @CathLynneJ
I’m writing this on the train back from a sunny Cardiff, where I have just survived my first time speaking at a conference. I would like to sincerely thank all the organisers and the delegates of CILIP Wales 2019 for making me feel so welcome and for smoothly facilitating my session – I wouldn’t have had the guts to actually do it if it hadn’t been for their support and reassurance! I would also like to thank my manager (who encouraged me to present on our health literacy project and gave me the confidence to respond to the call for papers) and my long-suffering colleagues (who have patiently sat through various iterations of my presentation and given invaluable feedback). My mum – the first generation of information professional in my family, and therefore my inspiration for all this – was also a star by offering to spend time with me the night before, so that I didn’t end up overthinking everything in a hotel room at 2am!
So, fortified by a VERY hearty breakfast (bagels, pastries, cheese…all before the conference refreshments themselves!), I began what turned out to be an adrenaline-fuelled day full of learning and insights. It started by me falling into conversation with someone who, after the surreptitious badge-read, I realised was the same someone that I follow on Twitter. I love moments like that – meeting someone IRL adds an extra dimension to future interactions on social media. We also both knew CityLISers, so it’s a small and wonderful world.
After stocking up on the obligatory freebies from exhibiting vendors and sponsors, we were treated to the opening keynotes, including an address yn Gymraeg with a simultaneous interpreter and a stirring speech from Nick Poole (with whom I failed to get a selfie because I was so busy taking notes!).
The first session of the day was led by Simon Savidge, Commercial Manager at Liverpool Libraries (the beautiful Liverpool Central Library has now joined my must-see list). Simon’s presentation was full of innovations in how libraries can leverage their collections, spaces and expertise to create revenue and provide funding for service enhancements. Checking bookshop events schedules to see when authors are in the area anyway (and then enticing them over to the library with the promise of a rare manuscript/tea and cake for a video interview), and partnering up with transport companies to combine home deliveries of books with reading group roadtrips (while getting the best deal by instigating a sense of healthy competition between company A and company B’s CSR box-ticking), were just a few of the ideas discussed. Monetising tourist footfall and linking up with neighbouring businesses were also among the lightbulb moments.
A quick break (with edibles), and then it was time for the first of the breakout sessions. I attended a talk on the Reading Agency’s Books on Prescription scheme, and honestly I have writer’s cramp from trying to capture the wisdom on display in this wonderful hour. The talk presented statistics on the untapped potential of the BoP scheme: only 10% of GPs know about the scheme, and <5% actually prescribe from it. This is despite bibliotherapeutic interventions being vastly cheaper – a fiver versus thousands of pounds – compared to in-person mental health therapies if used effectively (i.e., the patient reads the book and reflects on it). Pharmaceutical advertising also exacerbates the problem: 100% of GPs know about antidepressants, for example, and there is more merchandise out there with the names of drugs printed on them than pens or stress balls promoting reading for health. Even if you take into account the fact that borrowers of the BoP titles embrace self-help as a synonym for helping themselves to library copies (these titles are frequently not returned to libraries), the case for further work on and research into an alternative to drug-based therapies that comes with no contraindications, no risk of an overdose, and that can be enjoyed whilst pregnant (and if you opt for audio, whilst doing many other things too!), is still a compelling one. A truly inspiring talk which, for me, spoke directly to why I do what I do and why I love doing it (and why I’m studying at City so that I can delve deeper into it!).
Post-lunch, I enjoyed a Welsh-medium session on the provision of original Welsh-language books for older children (as a Welsh learner, I have had great fun making my way through Harri Potter a Maen yr Athronydd, but we do need to rely less on translating English bestsellers and focus more on nurturing children’s literature that reflects the diverse experiences of young Welsh-speakers today, in their own terms. I was dismayed to realise how many Welsh books for children written in the past are now out of print. Published in an era before ebook files, these stories are now effectively irretrievable for the majority of their would-be readers. We need to do better on supporting the current and upcoming generations of children’s authors in Wales so that their legacy, unlike that of previous Tir na n-Og awardees, is protected and preserved for future readers.
After that, my time had come (I had indeed been ticking down the hours throughout the day, the prospect of my impending talk looming large in my mind). As with many anticipated ordeals in life, the actual brief span of my talk couldn’t have been less scary. The chair introduced me; I checked that my slides were actually being displayed behind me; and away I went, telling attendees – probably in a slightly hysterical tone at the start! – about the health literacy project at our NHS library, collaborations with public libraries on running health information drop-in sessions to raise awareness of the open access resources available to help people self-manage conditions digitally and in print (hello again, BoP!), the practical nuts-and-bolts of lobbying and relationship-building (and good old serendipity!), and finally some impact case studies of how our project has positively changed the lives of service users. The audience was lovely and kind, and afterwards I could relax and learn from a presentation by another NHS library (on how their service had helped to manage the roll-out of mobile working by making key hospital information databases and subscriptions available on personal devices, saving whole days of staff time by removing the need for workers to return to base to access resources and freeing up additional opportunities for them to see patients). It was very useful to chat with other health librarians afterwards, and I came away with fresh perspectives on information management within healthcare. It was also interesting to talk to delegates from different sectors who had chosen to attend the health libraries session to learn more about ways of working in this area.
After more delicious food (scones, with proper jam!), I chose to finish the day by choosing a workshop on impact (a session on international partnerships also sounded great, but I’ll have to browse the hashtag #CILIPW19 for that one). Intriguingly, there is no exact Welsh translation for ‘impact’ – the closest approximation might be gwneud gwahaniaeth, make a difference – and that is very much the spirit in which our group approached the task of applying the Impact Playbook strategies to information literacy activities. More heads are better than one and I very much welcomed the suggestions of delegates on measuring the impact of our public library drop-ins. In particular, the idea of including a comments bookmark for Reading Well titles, with space to write or a link to fill in a feedback survey online, struck me as absolutely ingenious and I would love to implement it!
The conference therefore inspired me on several fronts: it introduced me to new people (or put faces to Twitter handles, in the case of those I follow on social media!) and furnished me with new ideas; it gave me the opportunity to speak in a safe space to a knowledgeable, friendly and collegial audience; and it helped me to develop as an information professional. I would highly recommend the CILIP regional conferences, especially if you can’t attend the larger one. Speakers, even lightning-talk ones like me, often have their delegate fee waived and are welcome to attend all the sessions at which they’re not speaking. These conferences are ideal testbeds for trying things outside of your comfort zone (and, with all the scrumptious sweetmeats on offer, they take good care of the body as well as the mind!).

About lyn

Dr Lyn Robinson is Reader in Library & Information Science, and Head of Department at City, University of London. She established and directs the Library School, and co-directs the Centre for Information Science alongside Prof David Bawden. Contact: lyn@city.ac.uk
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