29 Jun 2018

Reflections on CONUL Conference 2018 (Report number One)



Robert Alfis is a Library Assistant at Dublin Business School Library He was the winner of the CONUL Graduate Bursary to attend the 2018 CONUL Conference. These are his reflections on the conference.


I had the great privilege of receiving the graduate bursary to attend this year’s CONUL conference held on the 30th and 31st May in the Galway Bay Hotel, the theme of which was Transformative Experiences. This theme is particularly pertinent to the changes that the field of academic librarianship is undergoing especially surrounding new and evolving technologies, metrics for measuring library impact, and means of improving user experience. The many aspects of this theme were reflected in the variety of speakers, lightning talks and poster presentations. The full programme of events can be found online as well as the slides and video recordings of the presentations. With such a full and fantastic line-up, it is just not feasible to give a detailed account of every session I attended and so this report will provide an overview of some of the conference highlights.

The first of the keynote speakers, Jim Neal, served as the perfect start to the conference, wonderfully encapsulating all aspects of the theme, discussing a range of areas from the importance of preserving born digital content to the new and changing roles of the library such as the aggregated, publisher, consumer, educator and advocate.  He ended his talk by stating that libraries are perhaps undergoing a phyletic extinction; they are not disappearing but rather are evolving into something new.

There was a natural flow to the plenary presentations. Gobnait O’Riordan stated that even though many libraries are developing collaborative learning spaces, the demand for traditional study areas is huge. She ended her talk by saying that in designing libraries, you must align yourself with the goals of your institution. This segued into John Cox’s presentation, “Have Academic Libraries Transformed Their Position in the Institution?”, in which he discussed the misalignment of libraries’ strategic plans with those of their institution. He suggested that libraries are perhaps not doing enough to demonstrate their value, focusing more on service provision rather than on activities; as the second keynote speaker, Vivian Lewis, later said “We provide service but are not servile”.

The lightning talks, show-and-tell sessions, and parallel papers really highlighted the innovative nature of the speakers. Niamh Tumelty discussed embedding a librarian in a research project which provided more examples of new and changing roles. Danielle Cooper and Siobhán Dunne spoke on their evidence-based approach to a user centred library. Eliška Komárková really highlighted the need for specialised training for special collections librarians in Ireland.

Vivian Lewis, gave a fantastic talk titled “Building on strength: preparing the academic library workforce to support transformation” in which she advocated for library leaders to develop their own staff over hiring new members,  to support staff when developing new skills and going into new roles, and to celebrate staff success. She spoke from her own experience in developing new roles for new times in her own institution. She finished her talk on an inspiring note, calling for the audience to be confident, courageous and audacious.

The panel discussion “Disruptive Changes: Transforming to Meet New Opportunities” served as the perfect end to the conference. The panelists looked to the future, discussing various and potential threats and opportunities facing the profession. Leo Appleton called for library staff to develop a deeper rather than a broader skillset. Lucy Byrne was a great addition to the panel as a non-librarian. She discussed the need for open research and open data and the role the library can play in providing necessary information skills. Jim Neal rather amusingly named 2018 the “period of polygamy” in which libraries are looking to every possible partner.

The conference highlighted how the CONUL libraries position Ireland as a centre for scholarly activity, as well as contributing to pivotal developments on an international level. Listening to the talks over the two days really illustrated the role the library plays in both scholarly output and brand.

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