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 Stiofán Carson who is the Comhordaitheoir Forbartha Acmhainní / 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, Stiofán 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. 


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