11 Jul 2024

Erasmus Library Staff Mobility Week 2024: My Experience in Ireland

This guest post is by Emma Persson who is an instructional librarian at Linnaeus University in Sweden. Emma took part in the fifth Irish Erasmus Staff Mobility week hosted by CONUL Libraries from the 24-28th June 2024. This week is targeted at professional library staff working in universities or other research orientated libraries with an interest in visiting Ireland. It gives participants the opportunity to engage with Irish librarians and visit many of Ireland's CONUL Libraries. Find out more about the Erasmus programme on the CONUL website

Sixteen people standing in a garden, facing the camera
The Erasmus participants in the garden at MOLI. Picture credit: Billy Kenrick
I was asked if I wanted to share a bit of my experience during my Erasmus exchange. And it was not a difficult question to answer. I had a wonderful time so of course I wanted to!

This was my first Erasmus exchange that I have been on. I applied at the end of winter and it was with a bit of anxiety and nervousness. One of the reasons for that was that you had to give a presentation to the other participants during the week. And even though I work as a teaching librarian, standing in front of other colleagues is not something I feel very comfortable with. But I've always wanted to go to Ireland and to be able to do it this way was something I simply couldn't pass up, presentation or not! After a while I got the message that I had been accepted and shortly afterwards I also received a very nice and welcoming email addressing the issue of speaking in front of others. In one place it said: Don't forget, you are among friends. And that is one of the things that characterised my stay in Ireland. All the friendly people, and all the interesting meetings and conversations!

I landed on Sunday and after some confusion about my bus journey to Dublin, I was immediately helped by a person who had moved to Dublin a couple of years ago and who made it easy for me to find my way. And then one day followed the other.

Picture of a bell tower and large gothic style building behind it
Trinity College, Dublin
Each day had a theme of its own and on day 1 we were at the Royal Irish Academy. Among other things, we heard about the work to create a digital archive, the Ordnance Survey Collection. It is an incredible collection that contains lots of detailed maps, letters, drawings and more that describe much of Ireland's history. We also listened to some of the participants' presentations, which this day included the use of social media in university libraries. The presentations were spread out during the week according to the theme of the day. In the evening we had a very nice guided tour around Dublin where we again heard a lot about Ireland's interesting history, the Easter Rising and the influence of the Vikings on Ireland and in Dublin.

8 people standing in a park
A walk in St Stephen's Green on day 1. Picture credit: Dimitrios Kasamatis 

The rest of the week continued in this way. Each day we visited a different university and interesting lectures were alternated with tours of different libraries. Something that was consistent was the work on accessibility for all, the creation of well thought out learning environments and adaptations for those with special needs. Almost every day there were also different very exciting guided tours of, among other things, the Book of Kells, the Museum of Literature Ireland and the exhibition on W.B Yeats. Of course, the week also consisted of many pleasant gatherings with the other participants. There was a great atmosphere in the group and I think many of us will continue to keep in touch with each other in one way or another!

Seven people seated at along table in a grand hall
Pugin Hall, St Patrick's College, Maynooth. 

My lasting impression is that I am so grateful to have had the privilege to go on this exchange and I am so glad that I dared to send in my application on that dark winter day. During my week I have seen so much and heard so many interesting stories! I have experienced the hustle and bustle of Dublin and the great atmosphere in the pubs.

So how did it go with my presentation, you might wonder? On Friday, the last day, it was time and I was so nervous as the minutes ticked by far too quickly. I had also managed to lose my voice for the first time in my life and I had to struggle to be heard at all. Not quite optimal conditions for a presentation. But when I walked up to the podium and everyone heard (or not... ūüėČ ) how I sounded, they quickly arranged a microphone. And somehow this took all the focus off my nervousness and then when I looked up and saw everyone's friendly and smiling faces it just disappeared and everything went as well as it could.

My time in Dublin ended the same way it started. With a meeting. But this time, on a Sunday evening at Trinity College, I was able to help an elderly woman, who grew up in Ireland but now lives in Canada, get back to her family. And again, an interesting conversation that I will carry with me through life.

Thank you Conul for a great week and I hope to have the opportunity to come back to Ireland again sometime!

A woman standing on a rooftop with her hands in the air
On the rooftop at TU Dublin

Posted on Thursday, July 11, 2024 | Categories:

9 Jul 2024

CONUL Conference 2024: Libraries as Changemakers: Recent LIS Graduate Bursary Report

Guest post by Kath Stevenson from Queen's University Belfast Library. Kath was awarded the CONUL Conference bursary for a recent LIS Graduate.

Conceiving a world in which libraries are active changemakers, solving social problems through empathy, creativity, and collaborative leadership: Reflections on CONUL 2024.

ICC Belfast from the CONUL website

29-30 May 2024 saw over 200 delegates from academic libraries across the island of Ireland gather for this year’s CONUL conference, which had the pertinent theme of “Libraries as Changemakers”. This was the first time since its inauguration in 2015 that the CONUL Conference had been held in Belfast, and the ICC provided a fabulous venue for proceedings, which included a packed programme of fascinating speakers, talks and presentations, optional tours of both Ulster University Library and the McClay Library, QUB, and a well-attended drinks reception and conference dinner at the Hilton Hotel.

This was my first time attending a CONUL Conference and I was delighted to have been awarded one of the three bursaries sponsored by UCD ICS in order to attend the conference. As a glance at the programme illustrates, it would be impossible to do justice to all the events in a single blog post, so I simply hope to offer a few snapshots of the conference based on the talks and sessions I attended. 

Day One:

On Wednesday morning delegates were warmly welcomed to the conference by Fiona Morley (Maynooth University) and Ciara McCaffrey (University of Limerick) and then the business of the conference proper kicked off with an engaging and thought-provoking keynote talk by Tony Ageh, titled 'Do Librarians Dream of Digital Books?'

AI generated image. Dall.E3 prompt "Please create a sci-fi cover with the title 'Do Librarians Dream of Electric Books?' and the author name Tony Ageh."

A central passion of Tony’s spectacular career has been ensuring that information remains accessible to diverse audiences worldwide and this mission informed his keynote talk, which considered the profound impact that the Digital Revolution is having on the role of libraries and librarianship and the power of technology to transform not just our sector but our entire society. 

In Tony's contemplation of the transition from physical to electronic resources, several profound questions arose. The proliferation of an e-first approach in research libraries, accelerated notably by the Covid-19 pandemic, brings with it both opportunities and risks. Chief among the latter is the potential loss of knowledge, posing a fundamental challenge to librarians' primary mission of preserving and providing access to information.

While e-books promise enhanced accessibility and flexibility, digital formats present a standardized solution that may not cater adequately to varied scholarly needs. Moreover, the shift from purchasing to licensing published materials raises significant concerns that demand careful consideration. Rather than merely replicating print, e-publications should leverage digital capabilities to offer functionalities that physical books cannot, thereby complementing rather than replacing traditional formats.

Tony warned that this digital shift could exacerbate inequalities and erode the democratic principles central to library services. Unlike the longevity assured by printed books, the commercial viability of e-publications introduces uncertainties regarding perpetual access to knowledge. The urgency to address these issues is immediate; as Tony aptly illustrated with the analogy of the Thames Barrier, proactive measures taken now are essential to safeguarding our intellectual heritage for future generations.

Next up was the conference plenary, 'Creative and collaborative change-making at Trinity College Dublin' delivered by Helen Shenton. Two highlights of Helen’s talk were her discussion of the Virtual Trinity Library and of the redevelopment of Trinity East.

Screenshot from the Virtual Trinity Library webpage
The Virtual Trinity Library initiative is an ambitious, multi-year effort which aims to catalogue, conserve, digitise, and research the library's distinctive holdings, which hold national significance. By undertaking these efforts, the initiative seeks to ensure that these iconic treasures are safeguarded for future generations while also making them widely accessible to a global audience, ranging from schoolchildren to academic researchers. 

As Helen explained, through comprehensive cataloguing, the initiative will provide detailed documentation of each item, enhancing scholarly research opportunities and facilitating deeper exploration of cultural and historical artifacts. Whilst conservation efforts will ensure the physical longevity of these materials, digitization plays a pivotal role in the initiative, enabling remote access to the collections and democratizing knowledge dissemination. 

Running in parallel with this impressive digital initiative is the equally aspirational Trinity East project. This campus initiative brings together researchers from all disciplines of Trinity College Dublin alongside aligned entrepreneurs, industry partners, cultural practitioners, and the local community. Together, they collaborate on innovative projects and innovation activities, underpinned by a shared commitment to sustainability. 

Central to this ambitious vision for Trinity East, Helen stressed, is the concept of open access, both physically and intellectually. The campus aims to open up previously underutilized city spaces, creating dynamic hubs for collaboration and knowledge exchange.

Screenshot from TCD's Trinity East webpage
Next on my conference agenda was the first Lightning Talks session, themed Collaboration, Culture, and Digital Makers. Four engaging speakers showcased innovative projects and collaborations from their respective institutions, highlighting how these efforts are driving change and fostering creativity in the library sector.

Eileen Kennedy from the University of Galway explored the transformative impact of MakerSpaces driven by student-led 3D printing initiatives, sharing a heartwarming story of how a custom-made mobility aid was created for an academic’s dog, allowing it to run with its owner. Grace O’Connor from DCU discussed the collaborative efforts between DCU Library and the Cultural Arts Office, highlighting synergies that enrich both academic and cultural experiences.

Kathryn Briggs from ATU shared insights into merging disparate library teams, emphasizing strategies to foster collaboration and unity within Atlantic Technological University. Finally, Se√°n Harnett from ATU detailed the implementation of a design science research project within an Irish academic library, discussing the challenges, opportunities, and limitations encountered along the way.

After lunch and a perusal of the sponsor exhibitions (thanks to whom I am fully stocked with notebooks for the rest of the year), it was time for Breakout Session Two. Delegates had a choice of formats and topics, including lightning talks on the themes of Learning, Development and Culture, and Open Research and Community Transformation, and a workshop on 'Collaboration as a Strategy for Change: Participatory-led Research Informed by Intersectionality and Inclusion', led by Alessia Cargnelli from the National Irish Visual Arts Library. This was followed by the first of two poster exhibition slots, where, along with my co-authors Iain McCool and Laura Milliken, I had the chance to present our poster, 'Navigating Change: A Survey-Based Exploration of AI Transition and Training for Library Staff,' and to engage with other poster presenters.

Iain McCool, Kath Stevenson and Laura Milliken. Photo credit: Andrew Jones, TCD.
For the final breakout session of the day, I chose to attend the highly relevant session on AI, featuring insightful presentations from Johanna Archbold (Atlantic Technological University) and Helen Farrell (Maynooth University).

Johanna’s talk, 'Charting the AI Frontier in Academic Libraries: A Multiyear Vision,' emphasized the crucial role librarians play in AI literacy within educational institutions. She highlighted that librarians, accustomed as they are to interrogating and unpacking queries and assessing the validity of information, are among the professionals best suited for effective prompt engineering. Johanna challenged delegates to consider how AI developments should be incorporated into library strategies at all levels. She encouraged us to reflect on what aspects of AI we should own, what knowledge we need, what collaborations are essential, and what advocacy is required. Additionally, she underscored the importance of sectoral engagement in assessing AI tools to enhance service quality and innovation.

Helen Farrell’s presentation, 'Something Old, Something New: Mitigating Inappropriate Student AI-Use by Promoting Digital Primary Sources and Positive, Appropriate AI-Use in the Classroom,' began with a striking reference to Elon Musk’s prediction that AI might “surpass human intelligence by next year” and could potentially be “smarter than all humans combined” by 2029.

For me, one of the most valuable aspects of Helen’s talk was her introduction of the newly developed Maynooth Libguide on Digital Primary Sources. This guide offers an overview of available digital primary sources and support for academic staff at Maynooth, including module alignment reports from database providers. These reports map MU's modules to relevant digital content, aiding academics in seamlessly integrating these resources into their courses.

In light of advancing AI, the guide also emphasizes designing assignments to prevent inappropriate AI use by students. Primary sources, both digital and physical, are invaluable in this context as they are typically not used as AI training data, are unique to students, and require thoughtful analysis. Furthermore, the guide provides advice on locating and interpreting primary sources and highlights thematic, multidisciplinary databases available at MU. As Helen explained, strategically using primary sources fosters critical thinking, an understanding of diverse perspectives, and enhanced student engagement.

The final event of the day at the ICC was a lively panel discussion featuring keynote speakers Tony Ageh and Dr Pauline McBride; Fiona Quigg (VP Education) Ulster University Student Union, and Stiofán Carson, Comhordaitheoir Forbartha Acmhainní / Capacity Building Co-ordinator, East Belfast Mission.

Afterwards, delegates enjoyed a drinks reception at the Hilton (where I overheard one aghast bartender whisper to another “who knew librarians could be this noisy?!”) followed by the conference dinner (in which the assembled attendees demonstrated the glamour of GLAM) and which included a very entertaining talk from speaker and personal brand consultant Billy Dixon.

Lesley Sands, Isobel O'Kelly and Maire Bradley (Queen's University Belfast) at the drinks reception. Photo credit: Kath Stevenson.

Day Two:

The closing day of the conference kicked off in style with Pauline McBride’s Keynote, ‘Change-making: Agency and Resilience in the Age of AI.’ A distinguished researcher and Scottish solicitor specializing in the ethical use of AI in policing and justice, Pauline is currently based at Northumbria University, where she collaborates with VUB on the COHUBICOL project, exploring AI's legal implications. Her research interests relate to the intersection of law and technology, theories of legal interpretation, and the impact of artificial intelligence on law and legal practice and this formed the context for another fascinating keynote in which she drew attention to the parallels between law and librarianship as professions with common concerns on the authenticity and the reliability of information.

In her erudite and wide-ranging talk, Pauline stressed the importance of pushing back on the techno-determinism which dominates so much of the discourse surrounding AI, reminding us that choices about whether, how, and why to deploy AI are in our hands. Underscoring the importance of professional and personal values in assessing recent technologies, her talk emphasized the need for collaboration between legal and library professionals and AI technologists. Her keynote highlighted the fact that digital tools used in data analysis are not neutral and that libraries will play a vital role in educating about the capabilities and limitations of AI, as well as stressing the need for critical voices from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives to be involved in the conversations around AI, including philosophers and ethicists.

Breakout session four again offered delegates a choice of formats and topics, with a workshop 'Creating Our Future Together' allowing attendees to have their input into CONUL’s Future Direction and Strategic Plan 2025-2029; four lightning talks on Learning and Developmental Change, and parallel papers on Change, Collaboration and Organisational Culture. Another opportunity was offered for delegates to discuss the 15 poster presentations on display and to chat with the conference exhibitors.

A selection of the posters on display at the conference: Top l-r: Exploring the Intersection of Researcher Profiles, Metrics, and Responsible Practice (Mareike Wehner); Implementing Persistent Identifiers: Addressing Barriers to Enable Change (Christopher Loughnane); For Your Pages, For Our Practices: Crafting a For-You-Page for UP Diliman University Library Services (E. Cruz, E. Chua, C. Bonifacio, Y. Arce, & D. Viray)

Bottom l-r: Triaging E-resource Queries at RCSI Library (Anne Gregg); Navigating Change: A Survey-Based Exploration of AI Transition and Training for Library Staff (Laura Milliken, Iain McCool, Kath Stevenson); Libraries as Changemakers: Fostering Value in Learning Space (Ajeni Ari, Siobhan Dennehy)

During the fifth and final breakout session, I had the pleasure of chairing the Collaboration, Collections, and Culture session. The first presentation was by Della Keating (National Library of Ireland) and Maria Butler (IRC-funded PhD student, University College Cork), titled 'Keyes for Change: Collaboration between Libraries and Academics to Promote Intersectional Research in the Digital Age.' They discussed the processes and challenges of researching the National Library of Ireland’s first born-digital pilot project, following the donation of Marian Keyes’ Mystery of Mercy Close collection in October 2019. Their account of this innovative collaboration provided valuable insights into digital humanities research and processing workflows.

Collaboration, Collections and Culture session. Speakers (seated l-r): Della Keating, Maria Butler, Katherine McSharry, Evelyn Flanagan Photo Credit: Rebecca McCoy 

Next, Katherine McSharry and Evelyn Flanagan (both from UCD) presented 'Ink, Imagination, and Inclusion: An Exhibition Partnership between UCD Library and the Museum of Literature Ireland.' They explored the background and aims of the exhibition ‘Ink and Imagination: Treasures from UCD Library’s Special Collections,’ which opened at the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) in October 2023 and runs through 2024. This partnership showcases UCD's heritage collections to new audiences, demonstrating how sharing expertise and exploring new venues can change the perception and reach of library collections.

Both presentations emphasized the benefits of cross-organizational collaboration in enhancing library collections' reach and perception. They highlighted how these partnerships support EDI commitments and democratize access to cultural heritage, enhancing community and public engagement.

The conference was formally closed by Fiona Morley, Maynooth University, Chair of the CONUL Conference Committee, and John McDonough, Dublin City University, Secretary of the CONUL Board, before delegates enjoyed lunch and, for those not at the mercy of train timetables, an optional tour of the McClay Library at QUB.


The 2024 CONUL conference offered a packed programme of thought-provoking speakers and discussions that this blog can hardly capture. I left the conference feeling challenged, inspired, and with a renewed appreciation for the vital role of librarianship in the Digital Revolution.

Attending the conference allowed me to meet a diverse array of librarians at different career stages and with various specialist interests from all over Ireland. I found my first CONUL conference to be a very friendly and welcoming experience and would thoroughly encourage anyone thinking about attending next year’s conference to do so.

As part of the bursary that enabled my attendance, I was paired with a conference mentor, the wonderful Michelle Breen from the University of Limerick. Participating in this mentorship programme significantly enhanced my experience at CONUL. After a brief introduction over email, I met Michelle at the start of the conference, where she immediately put me at ease. We discussed my role and identified who at the conference might be working in similar areas. Michelle encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and chat with delegates I hadn’t previously met. One tangible outcome of the networking facilitated through this mentorship was being encouraged to attend the upcoming DPASSH conference, where I look forward to reconnecting with some of the delegates I met at CONUL and exploring potential collaborations in digital scholarship.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to Michelle for volunteering as a mentor and for her invaluable support: the experience was incredibly useful for a me as a recent library studies graduate. My thanks also go to everyone involved in the meticulous planning and smooth running of the conference, as well as to the speakers and delegates.

I look forward to next year’s CONUL conference!

Kath Stevenson, Digital Scholarship Librarian, QUB

Posted on Tuesday, July 09, 2024 | Categories:

8 Jul 2024

CONUL Conference 2024: Libraries as Changemakers: Bursary report

Guest post by Mave Shanahan from Glucksman Library, University of Limerick. Maeve was awarded the CONUL Conference bursary for someone working in the library sector who does not hold a LIS qualification.

Report of CONUL Conference 2024: Libraries as Changemakers

“Librarians are the crucial safe guarders of knowledge,” keynote speaker Tony Ageh said in his address to the 2024 CONUL Conference. Ageh said that because librarians respect scholarship, ensure knowledge is authentic, and have no financial incentive to provide information, libraries help protect democracy and promote truth. His keynote, ‘Do Librarians Dream of Digital Books?’ centred around references to the Philip K. Dick dystopian science fiction novel, 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' 

While comparing digital and physical libraries, Ageh drew on the electric sheep metaphor featured in the novel. While not real, the animatronic sheep are programmed to act the same as a living sheep. As Ageh and the novel’s main character Rick Deckard put it, “Yeah, but it’s not the same.” All librarians are familiar with this idea, as the transition to e-books and digital spaces has accelerated due to the COVID pandemic. Our digital libraries are not the same as physical ones, but we have embraced the change and lead the charge for other sectors.

Attending the first lightning talks 'Collaboration, Culture and Digital Makers,' four presenters discussed changes within their organisation and collaborations with new groups. These talks centred around the University of Galway’s MakerSpace, Dublin City University Library’s partnership with their Cultural Arts Office, and two different aspects of the Atlantic Technological University, Galway merger of three IT campuses into one.

In the second breakout session, 'Learning, Development & Culture,' two talks focused on learning and development, while the others explored new aspects of their library’s collections. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland installed LibKey Discovery and Primo VE to streamline students' searching on their catalogue. Jeanie Parris from Ulster University discussed the changes made to UU’s library induction for incoming students by training their Library Assistants to provide it. Maynooth University’s Special Collections had an exhibition about women working in the book trade, while the University of College Cork Library’s Special Collections have begun re-evaluating their collections to realign with their Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion strategy.

During the break and Poster Exhibition, I was able to meet with my mentor Gwen Ryan, the Librarian of Shannon College Library, University of Galway. We discussed the presentations we’d attended and some of the sponsor exhibitors.

The third (and final) session of the first day, 'Community & Culture,' featured talks delivered by Pamela Louderback of Northeastern State University, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and Evelyn Flanagan from University College Dublin. As an American living in Ireland, it was an honour to hear from Pamela and learn more about the Indigenous People of my home country. She discussed projects at the college’s main campus in Tahlequah, Oklahoma to establish culturally respectful language in students' learning and teaching. The communications provided by the library created a database of images, teaching notes, and curriculum information that was culturally sensitive towards the Cherokee community, including use of the Cherokee language and respecting their pedagogical approach of listening and sharing stories.

Following this, Evelyn Flanagan discussed the ‘Poetry as Commemoration Project,’ which offered creative writing workshops throughout the country, to discover more about the 1916 Rising using primary resources available in UCD’s Special Collections.

The first day ended with a panel discussion, featuring our two keynote speakers, Tony Ageh and Dr Pauline McBride, Fiona Quigg from Ulster University Student Union and Stiof√°n Carson who is the Comhordaitheoir Forbartha Acmhainn√≠ / Capacity Building Co-ordinator of the East Belfast Mission. The thought-provoking discussion covered changes each speaker brought to their own roles, and what libraries could do to stay relevant for younger generations. 

An audience of people sitting face a person speaking from a lectern to the left of four people sitting at a table on stage. A large digital screen behind them reads Conul Conference 2024.
Panel discussion hosted by Sandra Collins with (Left to right): Tony Ageh, Dr Pauline McBride, Stiof√°n Carson and Fiona Quigg. Picture credit: Maeve Shanahan. 

Our second day kicked off with the keynote speaker Dr Pauline McBride, speaking about ‘Change-making: Agency and Resilience in the Age of AI.’ McBride provided five points for librarians to build resilience going forward when using AI. McBride suggested revisiting and reflecting on your values; figuring out the affordance of technologies; establishing collaboration with AI technologists; developing guidance and protocols on the use of AI; and sharing and amplifying good practice of AI use.

An audience of seated people face a person speaking from a lectern. A project screen behind the speaker reads Conul Conference 2024.
Dr Pauline McBride on stage during her keynote. Picture credit: Maeve Shanahan.
In our first breakout session, I attended the lightning talks following the theme of 'Learning and Developmental Change.' The presentations centred around two colleges changing their online systems. Technological University Dublin has begun integrating multiple campuses into one system for loans, ID cards and e-resources, while Dublin City University has recently moved to the ALMA/ExLibris system.

My colleagues from the University of Limerick, Ailish Larkin and Margaret Phelan, presented on their Assignment Toolkit and its integration into college courses, created to be used in our university’s virtual learning environment by students and lecturers alike. The final presentation was given by The University of the Philippines, discussing their new roles as content creators on social media to provide library promotions to students in a new way.

The final talks I attended were about the collaboration between libraries and museums. The National Library of Ireland co-presented with a PhD student, Maria Butler from the University College Cork, about writing her dissertation on the Marian Keyes digital collection during COVID. University College Dublin collaborated with the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) to host an exhibition with UCD’s Special Collections to amplify the college’s collections to a wider audience.

CONUL was a wonderful experience, unlike anything I’ve done before. I have worked for the Glucksman Library for three years and I’ve now become more aware of the rapid change libraries are going through. It was an enlightening experience, and I am so glad I was able to attend. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the UCD School of Information & Communication Studies (ICS) for providing me with the CONUL bursary as someone working in a library without a qualification.

A group of eleven people face the camera. Behind them is a shimmering golden backdrop.
The University of Limerick Glucksman Library team at the Gala dinner. Picture credit: Evelyn Bohan. 

Posted on Monday, July 08, 2024 | Categories:

5 Jul 2024

CONUL Conference 2024: Libraries as Changemakers: LIS Student Bursary Blog

Guest post by Zara Little-Campbell from Galway Public Libraries who was awarded the LIS Student Bursary to attend the 2024 CONUL Conference in May

Libraries as Changemakers

I was delighted to be awarded the LIS Student Bursary to attend the 2024 CONUL Conference, kindly sponsored by Frontiers. I am currently enrolled on the PgDip Library and Information Management course with the University of Ulster. I am wholeheartedly enjoying the course, from its engaging modules, dynamic lecturers and online learning flexibility, it is a superb course to undertake whilst also working fulltime. It was through a college email that I had first seen the call-out to apply for a bursary award to attend CONUL. 

As soon as I read this year’s theme – ‘Libraries as Changemakers’ – I just knew that I would love to attend. The application process was very straightforward and allowed me the opportunity to really think about why I wanted to attend the conference and what I hoped to get out of it. ‘Libraries as Changemakers’ is a theme that really spoke to me. In my current role in Galway Public Libraries, we are always looking for new ways to engage with our communities and I felt that this conference would be an excellent opportunity to see what other libraries are doing to reach their communities.  

An audience of seated people face a woman speaking from a lectern. Behind her is a large screen with text that reads 'CONUL Conference 2024'
Dr Pauline McBride address conference attendees at CONUL 2024

When I arrived at the CONUL conference in Belfast, I had a niggling thought that, coming from Public Libraries, I was a bit of an interloper and perhaps this conference wasn’t for me. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Indeed, Tony Ageh’s keynote speech made direct reference to public libraries and the great strides they have been making in championing change. From the outset, I felt I would get so much from this experience. 

Ageh’s presentation, whilst advocating to keep abreast of technology in the ever-evolving field of Librarianship, also warned about preservation, particularly in terms of the shift to digital resources. Whilst the digital demand is there, it also needs to be noted that the shift to digital can worsen inequality within our communities. There is the risk that commercial providers of digital resources may bypass the library and go straight for the customer. Ageh affirms that you should ‘never outsource your primary purpose'. I found this interesting, because it often feels that libraries are caught between a rock and a hard place with the publishers and the prices and terms that they set. Academic Libraries have had digital thrust upon them and there needs to be more done in terms of preservation and access. This opening speech really set the tone to what would be a thought-provoking couple of days. 

CONUL 2024 was a welcoming hub, it was clear to see that the attendees were keen to get to know each other and to hear what is happening in other areas of the Library and Information sector. For this conference I was assigned a mentor – Sarah-Anne Kennedy from TUD. Sarah-Anne really helped me to settle my nerves and ease into the conference. It was great to have a friendly face and point of reference for the two days. It was a jam-packed agenda with a wide variety of topics and interests covered. From community engagement, how to manage mergers, effective partnerships and A.I. – there was something for everyone. 

A poster with the title: Navigating change - Survey-based exploration of AI transition
Example of poster display CONUL 2024: Poster by Kath Stevenson, Iain McCool and Laura Milliken, MCClay Library QUB. 

Perhaps my biggest take-away from the conference was the need to really understand your organisation's values, so that you can actively seek out and engage with meaningful collaborations. The papers really showed the positive impact of successful collaborations and how this dialogue between partners yielded incredible results. Among the presentations, there was also a strong theme of resilience and the need for librarians to build policies of endurance, to not only ride out difficult times, but also to weather the storm of A.I. and find unique ways to harness this in a positive manner. 

The conference has given me plenty to mull over and some interesting projects I would like to engage in within my own library service. I was particularly struck with Katherine McSharry and Evelyn Flanagan’s presentation ‘Ink & Imagination: An Exhibition Partnership Between UCD Library and the Museum of Literature Ireland’ and Eil√≠s O’Neill’s ‘The DCU History in Your Hands Project’. Both presentations really brought home the idea of leveraging your collections in a different way to reach new audiences. 

Alessia Cargnelli gave a fascinating introduction to the National Irish Visual Arts Library (NIVAL), which I had never heard of before this conference, but I am keen to research. Cargnelli’s workshop focussed on the idea that ‘we all have right to belong.’ We looked at collaborative processes as methodologies for change with a focus on inclusion, equality and diversity in libraries. This was of particular interest to me as my library is situated in an area that has a diverse and ever-growing community demographic. This workshop allowed me to work with my peers and troubleshoot some issues that have arisen in my library. It was a beneficial experience listening to issues and concerns that my peers have encountered in their roles and rewarding to hear suggestions from attendees from other library sectors.

A seated audience looking at a projector screen with a slide that shows three books in a pile and the heading: 19th Century Cataloguing Style
Niamh Harte and Joe Nankivell's presentation on 'Converting Trinity's Printed Catalogue for the 21st Century',Trinity College Dublin. 

On the evening of the first day, we were treated to a drinks reception, followed by a lovely dinner. I was enraptured by Billy Dixon’s conference dinner speech. Dixon was witty, entertaining and passionate. I particularly enjoyed his tales of working with disadvantaged youths as he helped them to help themselves to change their lives. Again, with the view of the community my library serves, I found his words to be uplifting and encouraging, giving me fresh motivation to find ways to engage with our potential patrons. 

The most rewarding part of CONUL 2024 was having the opportunity to meet and talk to people working in all sectors of Library and Information. Some individuals were at the start of their journey, whilst others were leaders in their field. It was brilliant to see how passionate individuals in this sector are and fascinating to get an insight into their roles. I am very grateful for all of those whom I had a chance to chat to and it was a pleasure listening to your experiences, advice and recommendations.

For anyone considering applying for a CONUL bursary, my advice is to take a chance, you never know where it could lead you or who you could meet. 

Zara Little-Campbell

Galway Public Libraries

A special thank you to Rebecca McCoy from Queen’s University Belfast and Tim Nerney from Conference Organisers Limited for all their assistance in the lead up to the conference. 

Posted on Friday, July 05, 2024 | Categories: