12 Apr 2018

A&SL 2018 Conference and Exhibition - Fail Better: Lessons Lived; Lessons Learnt

Guest post by Colleen Ballard. Colleen Ballard is studying MLIS at UCD. Special interests include books, manuscripts and ephemera. @cballard_biblio

A&SL programme
A&SL Conference Brochure

I had the pleasure of attending the A&SL Conference 2018 on Friday 9th March at the National Gallery of Ireland. Borrowing from Beckett, the theme, Fail Better: Lessons Lived; Lessons Learnt, endeavoured to prompt a shift from failure as negative to failure as a valuable learning pivot in a progressive profession. This resonated personally. I knew I could benefit from a positive approach to failure, and I felt both reassured and buoyed up to tackle my faulty perceptions.

Speakers candidly revealed failures. It was reassuring to discover in various levels of library and information service, failure is experienced. Colleen Burgess (HUC) stated how in the US regular events to discuss failure had resulted in a supportive culture of experimentation. John McManus (TCD) noted it is easy for a cataloguer to make mistakes, and, no escaping it, they are visible to all as illustrated by exposure of his own mistakes. He observed some difficulties within cataloguing could be addressed if the desire for perfection is challenged. Áine Carey (MU) highlighted how the best attempts to improve teaching provision can disappoint and not develop as expected. The importance of continuing in the discovery process and implementing plans to find what works was emphasised.

I particularly anticipated the keynote from Duncan Chappell (Glasgow School of Art) on the loss and restoration of the art noveau library designed by Mackintosh, and he did not disappoint. Happy to extract himself from the “disaster circuit” and into the calm of the NGI and A&SL Conference, he guided the audience through devastation, aftermath, recovery, and the value of a disaster plan. Residue of grief was palpable but so was excitement at the new incarnation in progress, a testimony to lessons learnt that will better facilitate user friendly engagement with a beautiful new space. Gauging audience response, many hope to visit when the library reopens in September 2019.

From tweaking titles to boosting blogs; papers, panels, and three posters conveyed failure as a formative learning process. The final presentation by Jane Burns (IHF) and Niamh O’Sullivan (ITB) – a duo which delighted many according to Twitter responses – addressed workshop woes with WOW’s (workshop on workshops), sharing a tried and tested checklist for success. Overall, specific words stood out emphasising the value of acknowledging and using failure to advantage: experiment, change, improvement, trying, growth. Or, drawing from the eclectic quotes displayed at the conference, as Yoda puts it, “the greatest teacher, failure is”.

Tweets confirm that the pleasing space of the National Gallery of Ireland was an appreciated new venue. The facilities were comfortable and conducive to concentration, and the atrium used for breaks beautifully enhanced the generous hospitality of the NGI and facilitated perfectly the chance to form new acquaintances. Andrea Lydon informed us the NGI has plans of its own and it is hoped, lessons lived and learnt, all their library dreams come true.

A quick directive how to move slides on would have avoided hitches – apparently it was not the usual arrow. Taking notes in the dark was a challenge!

This conference opened the conversation on failure, and suggests there is much more to discuss, indeed continue discussing, now and in the future. #ASL2018.

My personal gratitude to Bibliotheca for the bursary I received to attend this enjoyable event and A&SL for this opportunity.

Note: There will be a second review of the A&SL Conference published in the October issue of An Leabharlann.


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