As far as propositions go, spending a no expenses spared* night at a plush Manchester hotel with your employer picking up the tab isn’t the worst. But throw in the phrase ‘networking opportunity’ and all of a sudden a shiver runs down my spine, all of my neck muscles tense and I quickly reach for a brown paper bag to begin inhaling as much CO2 as possible. Conferences are for serious people. Professionals. People who know what they’re doing, take a wider interest in their field and look forward to engaging with people across their sector. Adults. Who talk to each other. Not sit in a corner refusing to make eye contact with people, or going to extreme lengths to avoid excruciating small-talk based scenarios.
Me? Go to a conference? Eeek!
Well, the truth is I have been to a conference before, although that was with two other people who I could hold hands with and use as an exit strategy in case the going got too tough. But I won’t lie, I was extremely relieved to discover someone I already knew in the ILLs world was also going. So at silly-o-clock on a Monday morning I set off up north in search of Interlending affirmation and revelation. Was it an excruti-a-thon of dodgy social interactions, buttock-achingly mundane presentations and moment after moment of feeling insecure about the work I do?
No. No it wasn’t.
I enjoyed a really positive experience at Interlend 2015. I met some lovely people, listened to some interesting talks and came away feeling pretty good about the work we’ve been doing, as well as pondering the possibilities of things we could do in the future to enhance the service we provide at City. The conference itself was really well organised, and for a niche organisation they managed to assemble a decent line-up of guest speakers including the ubiquitous Ned Potter (keynote day 1) and Mike McGrath, the editor of Interlending and Document Supply (keynote day 2). The event sponsors included OCLC, and on arrival we each received an Oscars-style goody bag full of free stuff, including a very cool green mug.
My favourite presentation came near the end of the two-day event and was a Copyright workshop given by Lisa Redlinski from the University of Brighton. The session was interactive and involved Lisa using a Copyright ‘game’ (activity really) to demonstrate how learning about a topic that’s fairly important in the Interlending (and library) world can be fun. She also talked enthusiastically about what can be a dry subject and was particularly keen to encourage everyone in the room to think positively about engaging with, and learning to teach, Copyright to others.
There were other highlights too including a tour of Manchester Central Library (public) which was just across the road from our hotel. The local authority have done a fantastic job of opening up the building to make better use of it as an interactive learning space, whilst retaining its historical character. I particularly liked the fact that the Music Library has actual instruments including pianos, a drum kit and mixing table, so as we passed through we encountered the sounds of user engagement.
But what of the ‘networking’ horror?!
It wasn’t a nightmare after all. Yes, I think I would have felt a lot more uncomfortable if I hadn’t known anyone else in attendance, but most people were friendly and happy to chat a little in between sessions. The conference dinner was slightly more formal than I had anticipated with a wedding style seating plan and waiters who folded your napkin for you (uncomfortable, much); but the food and company was fine, and a few of us even continued to the bar afterwards to talk about ILLs, Libraries, careers and gossip. Which is networking. Honestly, experienced colleagues have reassured me as much.
*This was not a no-expenses spared trip. Every penny was accounted for and assessed rigorously in terms of value for money. That’s one of the reasons I caught a train at 6.30 am to Manchester and why I will reflect very carefully before deciding whether to request to attend next year. (Phew!)