9 Aug 2022

CONUL Conference 2022: three short reports...

Below we have three short reports from the recent CONUL Conference held in Limerick. These reports are written by the CONUL Conference Bursary Winners for this year., Catherine Gallagher, Eilish McLaughlin, and Niamh O'Brien.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Gallagher

Report one is from Catherine Gallagher, Senior Library Assistant, Reader Services, TUS Midlands 

Reflections on Library Futures: My experience of CONUL 2022.

When I received the news that I had been selected as the awardee for one of the CONUL Conference’s bursaries, I was absolutely delighted! At the time I was working in the Library at Carlow College, St Patrick’s, and put simply, the bursary was the difference in being able to attend the conference or not. Little did I, nor anybody else know, the global crisis that was just around the corner that would change not only how libraries would have to rapidly transform their services to meet the needs of their stakeholders, but indeed the world at large. As the world began to shut down and ‘remote learning’ for all students became the new business of the day, it became apparent fairly soon that the conference wouldn’t happen. I would be omitting a truth if I didn’t say that for a few moments I had the small, it’s-all-about-me thought: typical this would have to happen when I win a bursary to go to CONUL….

Fast forward to 2022 and the e-mail from Nicola Smith that I still had the bursary from 2019, well there may have been a silent whipeeeee at my work desk!  Much had changed, including my role, as I had moved from Carlow College to what is now a thriving and expanding University, TUS: Midlands Midwest. 

Where to begin? This was my first library conference and I have nothing but good things to say! It was tough to decide which talks to go to and in terms of planning which talks to go to and where, I found the CONUL app very useful for organising this. Many of the talks focused on the rapid pivot libraries had to make due to COVID-19 in terms of rolling out supports and services from largely on-site to online and libraries demonstrated their ‘capacity for agility’ as Emma Goode from NUIG aptly described it. I also found interesting her comment that libraries are like the ‘wall paper of institutions’; we are often not noticed but badly missed if we weren’t around. COVID-19 certainly had the effect of demonstrating to students and all stakeholders alike, the important role libraries play in providing not only spaces for student learning, but providing students with the skills and access to quality scholarly information. We are all now only too familiar with the concept of ‘fake news’ and as Ciara McCaffrey from UL and Emma Goode from NUIG noted in their talks, it has become just as important to teach students how to deal with all information, not just scholarly information.

Open and equitable scholarship was another key theme present in many of the talks. Keynote speaker Chris Bourg from MIT highlighted this in her talk where she discussed MIT Libraries’ urgent mission statement in response to the pandemic. Top of the list on Chris’s ‘urgency principles’ was the concept of ‘Digital First’ and where digital is certainly not new, the accelerated pace at which libraries have had to provide digital resources and equip students with digital literacy skills is. Ciara McCaffrey in her talk likewise posed interesting questions around the future of print collections and the impact of eBooks on libraries.

As my passion is for Teaching & Learning, I thoroughly enjoyed Michelle Breen’s talk on digital literacy for students. I came away with some great tips that are worth sharing:

  1. Teach what students want to learn
  2. Use succinct messaging on relevant channels, e.g. Social media
  3. Tweak, refine, adjust and have another go
  4. Make academics your advocates
  5. Use multiple formats

On the topic of using multiple formats, Kathryn Briggs from ATU gave a great talk on applying the principles of UDL to information and digital literacy. The key message I took from this to apply to my own teaching role is to minimise barriers for student learning and offer them flexibility. This is essential, and it was inspiring to see how other libraries are incorporating the UDL principles into library instruction.

I could go on and on, I really could. I found Martha Bustillo’s from UCD’s talk particularly inspiring. In her discussion on her role as the Digital Learning Librarian, she provided some excellent tips on how librarians can develop successful intra-campus social interoperability and it reminded me of Emma Goode’s comment I mentioned earlier on how the library can often be like the wallpaper of institutions, often not noticed but badly missed if it wasn’t there. They were all excellent but the 3 main takeaways that resonated or me were:

  • Speak their language.
  • Timing is essential.
  • Be confident in your value.

The conference was rounded up with lively panel discussion on day 2, and I found it particularly heartening to hear Dr. Patrick Ryan from UL’s words of praise and commendation for the stalwart role academic libraries have played in not only keeping the show on the road, so to speak, during COVID-19, but indeed to reflect on and transform library services and supports to meet the needs of our ever diversifying and expanding student population. I was reminded of one of Michelle Breen’s tips referred to earlier, and of two more of Martha Bustillo takeaways: make academics your advocates, secure buy in, and know your audience. If we are to take Dr. Patrick’s sentiments as a guide, we are clearly on the right track. 

So if in doubt, apply for the bursary!! Like me, you may not think you’ll get it, but you might, and if you do you are in for a fantastic experience! Lots to learn and lots of people to meet!

Report two is from Eilish McLaughlin

My name is Eilish McLaughlin and when I won the student bursary in 2020, I worked as a cataloguing library assistant at Queens University Belfast and acted as the students and new professionals officer for CILIP Ireland. I have also previously worked as a graduate trainee in the library at the University of Bradford and at Shrewsbury International school’s library in Bangkok. I have just recently completed my Master's Degree in Library and Information Management with the University of Ulster. Since winning the bursary, much has changed (to say the least!) I’ve moved from Belfast to Portsmouth, began a new post as a Sales and Marketing Consultant for PTFS Europe, and finished my studies. 

I had seen the bursary advertised on Twitter and thought it’d be a great way to engage with other students and new professionals in attendance and gain insight into the sector and its future outlook. It was also my first real-life conference I’d be attending after two years of virtual events. While I’d learned a lot from taking part in virtual events, which proved to be something of a professional lifeline during the pandemic, I was excited to have the full 3D, in-person experience in Limerick! 

After a year of living and working out of the country, I was also excited to be back and in touch with the academic library sector in Ireland. Upon my arrival at the Limerick Strand hotel, I was delighted to run into two former Queens University colleagues who were presenting a lightning talk that morning on creating video training materials for staff. This followed an excellent Keynote by Chris Bourg, Director of Libraries at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who, despite having begun their talk with a disclaimer about being a bit rusty on presenting, delivered a compelling talk on MIT libraries and their concept of the future of libraries—which is indeed now!

Much of the discussion focused on how library and information professionals navigated the physical limitations brought about by the pandemic and how this operational context could be balanced alongside the need to provide in-person support for students and colleagues. Speakers presented much scope for innovation in the areas of blended learning, hybrid working, and flexible library spaces to name but a few key topics. I was particularly interested in Day 2’s keynote from Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal for Online Learning and Director of Learning, Teaching, and Web Services at the University of Edinburgh. I studied for my undergraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh and also completed my master's degree via online learning so I enjoyed hearing Melissa talk about the University’s continued success with online modes of learning and her advice for supporting those studying and working in this way. 

PTFS Europe, the company I currently work for, is dedicated to providing Open Source solutions for libraries. Since I began working for PTFS Europe last year, I have become extremely invested in the Open Source movement and its analogues; Open Science, Access, Education, etc. One of the aspects that I most enjoyed about CONUL was the positive conversation around these Open Movements and the changing scholarly communication landscape. I also enjoyed catching up with colleagues from Interleaf, PTFS Europe’s Irish equivalent, who had a lot of Open Source Wisdom to share! It was encouraging to see that in a programme that looked to the future of libraries, Open Source was very much part of that vision. 

I had a wonderful time and was so glad to attend. I’m very grateful to CONUL for awarding me the student bursary and would recommend that any current MLIS students apply for the chance to take part in a brilliant opportunity for professional development. 

Photo Courtesy of Niamh O'Brien

Report three is from Niamh O'Brien, ICT Support, Library Assistant, TUS Midlands

Pandemic delays, posters, and prizes: reflections on my first in-person conference  #CONUL2022

I was sitting in the UCD library with my head stuck in my laptop trying to finish my assignment at the end of the first semester of my MLIS when I received the news that I had won the student bursary for CONUL2020.

Fast forward a couple of months and I had moved back in with my parents, was studying from my childhood bedroom, stuck in lockdown and found out CONUL would not go ahead in 2020. It feels like a lifetime ago now. 


I’d just received a job offer for my first library assistant job position in December 2021, when the conference organisers got back in contact with me to let me know they would honour the bursary I originally received in 2019 for CONUL2022 in Limerick.  Five months later I packed my suitcase and headed to Limerick with my conference poster and coffee in hand. 

Once I got my poster up, I headed for the free stuff. I love free stuff, and you know what online conferences don’t have? Free stuff. I started gathering souvenirs to bring back to my co-workers immediately but was quickly side tracked when I bumped into some familiar faces from Galway who showed me the ropes in the Hardiman library when I did my pre-MLIS work placement. Soon I was chatting with former colleagues and classmates that I hadn’t seen in over two years, and meeting twitter mutuals in person for the first time. 

I also had the pleasure of meeting Ellen Breen who was my conference mentor. A lovely bonus for receiving the student bursary was that I was assigned a conference mentor. It was great to have someone to touch base with throughout the conference and someone to ask for some advice before the conference. Although I had attended plenty online conferences, I had a feeling I couldn’t wear pyjama pants to CONUL so I reached out to Ellen beforehand for some dress code insights!

CONUL opened with (well the official opening but after that) a keynote from Chris Bourg from MIT who talked about how libraries have had to focus on a digital first (but not digital only) approach to providing resources, especially since the pandemic. 

After the keynote I scurried upstairs for the first session Technology and Innovation in Libraries. The first presentation in this session starred David Carlos Rinehart who went on to win an award for his ability to hold it together and stay calm despite a myriad of technical difficulties. David wrote a hilarious blogpost about that here (Link: https://www.libfocus.com/2022/06/keeping-calm-in-face-of-technological.html). At the time I assumed he was very calm but I’ve come to learn he’s a great actor! 

During lunch, I took up my position beside my poster to present the Laptop on Loan scheme at TUS Midlands, answer questions from the other delegates, and pass out the bookmarks I had made about the scheme. 

The second session of the day centred around the very important subject of library services at the heart of EDI. To close the conference-y part of day one, there was a fantastic panel focused on the future of libraries, sustainability, and the key external influences for academic libraries. Then I wandered back to my room, drank more coffee, and got myself ready for dinner. After dinner I went back to my room at a very reasonable hour and got loads of sleep so I would be refreshed for day two. Okay that’s a lie. I stayed up all night chatting with all the lovely librarians I had met during the day. 

Dr Melissa Highton kicked off day two with her keynote where she spoke about her role as digital technologist at University of Edinburgh and how they meet the challenges and demands that arose from the sudden university wide pivot to online learning.

Later that morning Molly Twomey from UCC presented on Using Social Media and Humour to Engage with Students. I found out later that Molly is a poet, so I ordered her poetry collection and found out she’s very talented. I think I’ll be a bit start stuck if I meet her again. 

In the second session of day two, the OER team from NUIG discussed their OER project. Having previously attended a longer, half day workshop on creating OERs in Galway I was seriously impressed at the amount of information these guys fit into their 20-minute presentation slot. 

In the final session of the day I regrouped with all the gang from TUS Midlands to cheer on our colleague Assumpta who presented with the Library Carpenters.

Before the final panel discussion and conference close, the winning conference posters were announced. My colleagues Emmet and Catherine came joint third place, and I came second! This was a great thrill and a great way to end what was a very enjoyable conference. 

I’d rate my CONUL experience very highly and look forward to next year! 

Photo courtesy of Niamh O'Brien


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