3 Jul 2018

Reflections on CONUL Conference 2018 (Report number Two)

Photo courtesy of Leanne Workman


Leanne Workman currently works at Royal Holloway, University of London as Acting Head of Academic Liaison and Information Consultant for Mathematics and Information Security. She has just started her 4th year of a distance-learning Masters at Aberystwyth University and is currently working on her dissertation.

Having recently moved to a new library at Royal Holloway, the CONUL Conference’s theme of “Transformative Experiences: Libraries Innovating and Changing” seemed particularly relevant and apt, so I was thrilled to be selected as the awardee for the CONUL student bursary. And upon seeing the packed conference agenda, I knew I was in for a treat! The breadth and diversity of talks, plenary sessions, lightening talks and posters on this theme over two days was truly incredible! It made it so difficult for me to decide which talks to attend, but one of the real perks of being a student bursary attendee at CONUL is that you get a conference mentor!

My conference mentor, Donna Ó Doibhlin from University College Cork, made sure I got around without a hitch, helped me pick the talks most relevant to my roles, ensured I thoroughly networked with lots of people and very importantly, always had a “refreshment” in hand at the networking event! Having a mentor to ease you into the full-on conference was such a lovely first for me. I did not know many librarians in Ireland, so having a mentor to ease me into things really set my mind at ease. Not that this should have caused any concern! Everyone was so welcoming and friendly; I truly have never been to a conference quite as warm, welcoming and inclusive as CONUL!

The content of CONUL conference was staggering from a series of talks on enhancing user engagement to lightening talks on measuring the impact and effectiveness of library services, the variety kept attendees engrossed across the two days (I ended up creating an entire Evernote Notebook to hold all my notes from CONUL!) The keynotes were particularly thought-provoking for me, particularly considering I am experiencing my first management and strategic planning role. The first keynote by Jim Neal from Colombia University really scoped the field of how libraries are evolving to meet the needs of their stakeholders. What I found particularly interesting was his thoughts on library strategy and how librarians can be guilty of never putting strategic thinking into action! The two messages I really took away from this talk were that we need to link libraries aims to institutional strategy and keep evolving library services and strategies to meet the demands of the sector.

The second keynote speaker, Vivian Lewis from McMaster University in Canada, kick-started the second day by talking about building a library workforce to support transformation. She argued that we need to transform ourselves to transform our libraries. The top three messages I took away from Vivian’s keynote were enlightening but practical:

  • We spend too much time in the library talking to each other; talk to our users more. 
  • Don’t be complacent in your role and professional development. 
  • Consider own staff’s development and create opportunities. 

The second day really seemed to focus on upskilling librarians to be able to enact the transformative experiences in our libraries and something that I am particularly passionate about. Mary Delaney continued on this theme of staff development and talked about aligning library staff’s continuing professional development to the National Professional Development Framework, which piqued my interest as a teaching academic librarian. Mary highlighted the need for librarians to be confident in delivering their teaching, continually upskilling and meeting the needs of their students. Tips like involving students in a steering group ensure that practice is matching what the student needs from the teaching is something I want to look into here at Royal Holloway! I particularly enjoyed Niamh Tumelty’s talk about how embedding a librarian in a research group at Cambridge University has not only aided the group’s research, but it has illustrated to the institution how useful our research skills are and provides another realm that librarians can tap into and show their worth.

As you can see from this short blog post, attendance at the CONUL conference in gloriously sunny Galway has really opened my eyes to what the library community are doing to transform experience and equipped me with ideas to implement in my own library at Royal Holloway. It has also given me a stronger connection to librarianship as a profession, something which can be really difficult to establish as a full-time working distance learner owing to lack of spare time.

I cannot emphasise enough how welcoming everyone was and I heartily encourage all students to apply for this bursary! Building connections, picking brains and generally opening your mind to a world beyond your own library experience is so useful and gives valuable insight not usually available to those at the beginning of their professional career. Take every opportunity, and as Vivian Lewis said in her keynote: transform yourself to be able to transform the library you are in.


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