6 Mar 2017

Review: Academic & Special Libraries Annual Conference, The sociable Librarian: connecting and creating communities

Guest post by Emma Barthes, student Masters of Library and Information Studies,UCD. Previously: Bachelor of Arts in English language and literature and classical archaeology in the University of Geneva.

I was fortunate enough to attend both days of the Academic and Special Libraries (A&SL) 2017 conference as a student conference assistant.  Not only was I able to see behind the scenes, I also got the opportunity to attend most of the talks. From the warmth and excitement of the people attending, it is fair to say that the A&SL conference is a much anticipated event in the library community.

This short article will focus on the second day of the conference, Friday 17th of February 2017.

The conference took place in the Radisson Blue hotel in Dublin. As I entered the main conference hall, I was struck by the spacious room, and how professional it all looked. Cameras and audio were also being prepared while power points were being tested. The atmosphere was full of anticipation as the second day of this year’s conference – focusing on the Sociable Librarian: connecting and creating communities – was about to start. 

The excited atmosphere soon changed to being very attentive and emotional for our keynote speaker of the day: Scott Bonner , Director of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library. He travelled from the United States to share his experience about his response to Ferguson’s dramatic events last August. Scott depicted how he and his staff reacted during the time of the incident in August as well as the weeks following the announcement of the Grand Jury in November. His presentation touched upon points involving safety and the decisions that needed to be taken in such a short time and the issues that could arise. I have to say that, at the end of Scott’s very personal and honest segment, everybody in the conference room seemed really moved. Having talked to some of the people who attended Scott’s talk, many told me that they admired Scott for what he did and even teared up at the end of his presentation.  

Following Scott’s Bonner’s poignant presentation, the conference continued with two lightening talks. The first one was given by Frank Brady – faculty librarian for science and engineering and also faculty librarian for theology - and Pauline Murray – faculty librarian for arts, Celtic studies and philosophy - both from the University of Maynooth. The talks focused on how to improve libraries for users and students in particular. Solutions like a pop-up library were addressed in order to raise the profile of subject librarians and their resources. The second lightening talk was given by Simon Perry – systems librarian for computing and science at the institute of Carlow – and Sue Ramsbottom – member of the Irish Defence Forces and Defence Forces librarian in Co Kildare. They introduced us to their project on online tutorials to enhance the information literacy needs of students of the Defence Forces through IT Carlow.

Maria Ryan – web archivist with National Library of Ireland - was up next and gave us an introduction about building and promoting the Irish web archive. Maria highlighted the various positive aspects and the novelty of web archiving as well as the services it can provide for all Irish people living in Ireland and abroad. Maria encouraged us to think about web archives by reflecting on questions such as: “Where do all the deleted tweets, posts or webpages go?”

After this very interesting presentation, people had to choose between three different parallel sessions. I listened to Lorna Dodd  – senior librarian at Maynooth University - who talked about the important role of a librarian in the development of a critical skills community of practice at Maynooth University. Issues such as understanding ethical responsibility in regards to plagiarism are essential for students and one of the many skills that a new “community of practice” would be able to develop and support.  

After a delicious lunch - which surely put everybody in a receptive mood – the second and last part of the parallel sessions took place. I attended Mark Ward’s - from South Dublin Libraries – presentation on Coderdojo and the pros of implementing this club in your library. It was really informative as he went on to describe his own experience of starting this program and highlighting the issues to avoid. The main takeaway of Mark’s talk is that libraries are the ideal setting for running a program such as Coderdojo.

People then gathered again in the main conference room for two lightning talks. The first one focused on how using an online tool can inform students about the location of the library. It was presented by Sarah-Anne Kennedy – subject librarian for media and law at the Dublin Institute of Technology. Sarah told us about the benefits for both students and staff that the “library learning” project has had. It consists of sending 10 mailouts to the students during the academic year which helps the library to have a bigger reach to students. The second lightening talk was given by Laura Rooney-Ferris – information and library manager of the Irish Hospice Foundation - and Michael Ferris – library assistant at the Bar Council of Ireland law libraries - on their personal experience of creating podcasts. The aim of their “Librarians aloud” podcasts lies in expanding the reach of information professionals with interviews that are released on Soundcloud which provides a worldwide outreach and helps amplify librarian voices.

The last talk was given by Liam Wylie – curator at RTE Archivespresenting his ways of engaging with a wide audience through social media. Twitter has to be one of the greatest ways that Liam managed to do so by creating daily posts (#WeirdandWonderful) in which he published three new stories about Ireland and its people found and retrieved from the RTE archives, demonstrating that social media can be a great way to reach people.

Since most of the conference was recorded, I can only recommend that you go to the recordings on the Academic and Special Libraries website if you did not get the chance to attend this year’s conference or did and just want to listen to it again! Lastly, I would like to mention the A&SL committee, they not only did an amazing job at organising these two very informative and very pleasant days but keep libraries - and their great variety of professions – very much alive! From my own perspective as a student, I must say that the A&SL conference was really eye opening on how various the professions in libraries are.

Assisting the A&SL conference for the first time, I must say that it was a fantastic experience and opportunity. From the setting and the food – delicious – to the quality of the speakers, A&SL is an outstanding event and is already worth putting in next year’s diary!


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