12 Jun 2015

Reflections on inaugural CONUL Conference

CONUL (Consortium of National University Libraries) held their inaugural conference in Athlone on the 3/4 June. The conference theme was Innovation and Evolution: Challenges and Opportunities for 21st Century Academic and Research Libraries.
The general consensus was that there was very much to learn from and enjoy in the very packed, very organised, programme. Word back from the 136 delegates was that it was an excellent event full of interesting talks, ideas, networking, and as LAI president Philip Cohen put it, buzz, excitement and great 'fun'.

What follows are personal reflections on #conulconf15 by two of the delegates.

Sarah Moore’s keynote delivered plenty to think about – not just in terms of how we support teaching and learning – but the place of libraries in higher education more generally. At times perhaps we fall victim to an “under the radarness”, whilst many of our users either over-simplify or over-complicate our role. This idea that we need to work on communicating our message, service, and value in a way that our users and other stakeholders can connect with and understand, resonated with a number of the other presentations throughout the conference: Josh Clark’s (UCD) discussion of the emerging and growing need for a dedicated Outreach unit within an academic library; Fiona Tuohy’s (MU) examples of engaging users and enhancing visibility using online tools; and Bernadette Gardiner and Emma Boyce’s experience of using a blog to showcase the work of MU Library as part of the quality review process. Mary Delaney’s (IT Carlow) presentation on exploring information literacy from outside the LIS lens also served as a reminder that sometimes people see our work in very different ways than we might. In this context, the way that we communicate our role to others becomes all the more critical.

The importance of becoming more visible at the ‘top table’ does not just have implications for how we package and sell our existing and traditional services however, but also for how we must adapt our skills and structures to changing times and needs. In many ways, we are are only at the beginning of this journey. Some of these emerging opportunities include the potential for both libraries and librarians to become involved in growing areas such as medical humanities as showcased by Jane Burns (RCSI); innovative uses of library space like those highlighted by Frank Brady and Lorna Dodd (MU),  Peter Dudley (DCU) and Karen Latimer (QUB); bringing the world of makerspaces inside the doors of the library (Connell Cunningham, NUIG); and the potential for using open access books in a sector still dominated by traditional publishing models (Aine Lynch, ITB). As we know however, change is the only constant in life, and libraries and librarians must continuously look towards new opportunities to partner with, and deliver value to, our users.

Prior to the conference the stream I was most looking forward to was Emerging Roles and Services.  Josh Clarke's talk on UCD's outreach team and programme was of particular interest to me. It was great to see a library investing in a dedicated outreach team to promote the library and the work it does. His talk contained much detailed advice for any other libraries looking to invest in such a team and programme.  I enjoyed Monica Crump's paper on the evolution of a reading list programme. It was an excellent overview of the benefits, the pitfalls and the lessons learned at NUI Galway.  Mary Delaney, IT Carlow, provided a theoretical underpinning for Information Literacy programmes and though IL in libraries is in no way a new or emerging role her slant looking at the democratisation of information and the creation of literate digital citizens in an information overloaded world is something that library staff should be more involved in.

The big surprise for me was how interesting I found the Unique and Distinctive Collections papers. Sinead Keogh, UL,  pointed out in her paper how important UDCs are to Irish academic libraries in an IRElised age when one library collection can be pretty much similar to another. It is UDCs that will help to distinguish one library collection from another. I loved how UL are using the Armstrong collection to engage can with the wider world. They are creating a soap opera that makes you want to come back every day. Cronan O Doibhlin, UCC, explored how many library UDCs are now moving away from the traditional types of collections to more outlier or counter cultural collections. Elaine Harrington looked at how UCC are engaging in programmes that encourage undergraduate - a non traditional UDC user - to use UDCs in the course of their undergrad studies. Catch them young was her suggestion.

The Assessment and Evaluation thread - Michelle Dalton, UCD, Peter Corrigan, Ronan Kennedy (both NUIG) provided essential insights into how we can gain more substantial feedback from our users on the services we provide than many of us currently do.

For somebody who has spent most of his library life working in Information Services and teaching undergraduates the Information Skills slot - Elaine Bean, MU, Jack Hyland, DCU and Brian Gillespie, DIT, did not disappoint. A good mix of case study and theory. (As an aside, Jack is my joint winner of Introduction of the day as he said a very cute hello to his two kids as they watched the live stream from home)

The Staffing our Services session was: (1) scary - Joseph Green, UCD, talked about how he tracks down web bots in a quest to see how many views of items on the UCD repository are actually by 'real' people, (2) inspiring - Jane Burns talked about medical humanities in the Digital world and how these two worlds can be joined (3) food for much further deeper discussion - Debra McCann, UCD, talked about the use of non core staff - Students - to provide core services.

The Research and Communications session provided an insight into how MU is now communicating with their users (Fiona Turley  - my joint winner of best introduction as she asked us to ignore the thumping noise in the background - her heart - as she spoke). It provided an insight into how MU uses blogging as a way to raise the profile of the services they provide and to enhance the Quality Review process (Bernadette Gardiner, Emma Boyce) and how two separate departments in UCD - UCD Research and UCD Library are collaborating (Michael Ladisch)

And to finish this overview of speakers I cannot leave out the keynotes Marshall Breeding and Sarah Moore or the pre dinner speaker Mary O Rourke.

And to sum up I have concur with Sarah Moore's call for library staff to crash 'the party' and make ourselves visible at the top table. I would take it further and say we need to make ourselves visible at every table in the place. We need to be more vocal and loud about what we do. This conference showed that we do much great work, instigate exciting projects and provide an essential service to all our stakeholders. We need to be more vocal about it!!!

Plenary sessions talks will soon be posted on the Conul Conference YouTube Channel
Presentations will soon be available on Slideshare


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