Umbrella 2013

CILIP’s “Umbrella” Conference is held every two years with the purpose of bringing library and information professionals from different sectors together. Under one quite big, metaphorical umbrella, as it were. This year it was held at the University of Manchester and I was there. As were six hundred or so others.

Insert stock “Manchester weather” jibe here

It was an interesting couple of days. It’s not often that I get the opportunity to be in a room with librarians and information people working outside higher education. Not surprisingly, some of the topics for discussion seemed more obviously related to my own experience than others although I often found that even sessions that seemed less relevant turned up the odd nugget which could be applied more generally.

A number of common themes seemed to establish themselves, the same ideas often cropping up in sessions not obviously related to one another. One of these was the ways in which libraries are increasingly using their digital presence in order to engage and support their users.

Roly Keating (the new Chief Executive of the British Library, not the ex-Boyzone singer) spoke about the major part which digital content now plays across the institution. On the one hand this facilitates access to historical material, both recent (as with the UK Web Archive project collecting material on the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics) and not so recent (like the BL/Europeana collaboration which will contribute to the upcoming World War I commemorations). On the other hand, new resources like the News Media Research Room, soon to open in London, will stake an important place for BL as a creator and disseminator of new information.

Various speakers talked about the way in which the internet represents both a threat and an opportunity for us as information professionals . Picking up the news theme again, producer Geoff White spoke about how Channel 4 uses the web to offset competition from on-the-spot amateurs posting up-to-the-minute stories on social networks. Channel 4’s experienced and highly regarded correspondents now supplement their reporting work with blogs in which they write about their areas of expertise in greater depth, explaining more about the context of the day’s news. There’s also the Channel 4 “Factcheck” blog in which the facts behind the main stories are examined in detail.

NOT the British Library Chief Executive

There was more in another presentation about the ways libraries are engaging their users remotely as well as within the building itself. The new flagship Library of Birmingham (due to open in September), for example, plans to use library games like Information Overlord (!!) where remote users become the boss of their own libraries via an app on their mobile device.

Another topic which got a good airing, perhaps not surprisingly given the recent CILIP rebranding discussions, was the Future of the Profession (Is there one? What is it?) Or, maybe less cynically, to what extent do we as library and information professionals need to reinvent ourselves in order to stake a place for ourselves in the current job marketplace?

In a keynote speech Janice Lachance, Chief Executive of the US-based Special Libraries Association but also (and, I would argue, more interestingly) an ex-member of Bill Clinton’s presidential cabinet, spoke about changing job roles. Do we need to be LIBRARIANS or should we be casting our nets further afield by adapting our skills and experience to other less traditional information contexts? (One resourceful delegate tweeted that she had roughly worked out that out of the 600 Umbrella attendees, only 231 had the words “library” or “librarian” in their job title. Or is that more than you’d expect? [1])

This all got a rather mixed reception on Twitter. Some people seemed genuinely threatened by not having the “L word” in their job title. Others seemed to equate the idea of Being a Librarian with some kind of ethical code as if one could not exist without the other. Janice Lachance’s idea was that, far from enhancing your reputation, the “L word” actually holds you back. Controversial stuff maybe. Or not. There’s a summary of her address on the CILIP website. See what you think.

There were other discussions which I found equally interesting which you can follow up online should you be so inclined, particularly:

…and there’s a full set of the smaller-scale presentations on the CILIP website.

And to finish with, a couple of sound bites I picked up:

  • “Success is 30% skills and experience and 70% visibility” (Steve Bowman, University of Chichester, quoting, he said, Maggie Wallace)
  • (Couldn’t resist this, putting my copyright head back on): “If the PPTs this morning are anything to go by, I daresay librarians aren’t aware enough of copyright and licensing” (via Twitter [2]). Cuh eh?

Images both Creative Commons licences: Yellow umbrella via solidether; Ronan Keating via Eva Rinaldi.

Twitter acknowledgements: [1] Bethan Ruddock, @bethanar, [2] Simon Barron, @SimonXIX


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