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 EilĂ­s 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. 


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