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Library Camp 2011 - A Big Thankyou Tags: libcamp conference unconference fun


And so it was that on the 8th day of October in the year of our Library 2011, a hundred or so librarians and library lovers convened in Birmingham, thanks to the organisational skills of @libraryjmac . It was only the second library event I’d ever been to, and I really can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it...however this blogpost is an attempt to try! Here are all the things we have to thank @libraryjmac for:

Super Saturday

Having just finished my MA dissertation, moved house and started a new job, I haven’t had acres of spare time recently. Therefore, I have to confess to feeling a little sceptical about giving up my Saturday as it was the first one in a while not being spent moving furniture or on hold to British Gas (other craptacular energy suppliers are available). I had originally signed up in July, A.K.A. P-DH-I (Pre-dissertation hand-in), and October seemed very far away. But I decided it was too good an opportunity to miss, and duly got up at 6.30 on a Saturday to go from East to West Midlands to join the other library campers.

And what a joy it was. From the moment I got there, the atmosphere was buzzing and I spent the whole day on a similar high. I attended sessions on Cataloguing and Classification, the future of libraries, breaking down barriers between different sectors, modernising public libraries/dealing with cuts and one on social media, specifically #uklibchat (which I actually helped run...).. I enjoyed all the sessions immensely and could have gone to many more. The place was full of smiling happy library people – including some I knew a lot about, but had not had the pleasure of meeting in person before. Which brings me to:

Meeting virtual friends and fellow professionals

I only really got into Twitter and blogging this year, but have found it a really useful, informative and above all enjoyable way to relate to other library folk and learn more about the library world in general. Library Camp was a great way of meeting some of the people who I’ve enjoyed interacting with online, specifically a couple of tweeters who got in touch with me after my WI talk on the Save Libraries Campaign, and the #uklibchat team. We’ve been running fortnightly Twitter chats about libraries for the past couple of months (quick plug: if this sounds like it interests you, please go to our website

I also however found it massively rewarding hearing from and talking to people I hadn’t known about before, such as Sara Batts (@BattyTowers). I do sometimes worry that Twitter can be a bit exclusive and cliquey but I found it just as easy talking to people who I didn’t know virtually.

Broadening Library Horizons

I work in a very niche sector as a librarian for a chartered organisation. Therefore it’s interesting to meet other library people from a variety of different sectors and circumstances. I personally think that there’s not enough of this going on, and it was great that some of the sessions during the day focussed on cross-sectoral understanding and working together.

On the day I met public librarians, HE librarians, FE librarians, commercial librarians, law librarians and even some non-librarians who were there just for the library love. Even at library school, we never got a chance to meet such a variety of library people. Library camp really reaffirmed how huge and various our profession is – but also by some kind of divine spell, had you going away with a warm fuzzy feeling of love and respect for the professional as a whole.

“That’s A Learning I Made”

The way that Library Camp worked meant you couldn’t go to all the sessions, but man, did my head get crammed with some awesome ideas and the smartness of a hundred or so library campers! Not only did I personally benefit from hearing feedback about #uklibchat, but I learnt about things I’d never dreamed of before the day. In some sessions, my main train of thought was simply “I must remember to look that up when I get home.” Really cool things like the Chicago Underground Librar

Going to the sessions also made me realise a few things about my own job and about libraries more generally. Like when you catalogue, don’t worry about getting the perfect number, and don’t think you are the only librarian not cataloguing “properly.” Or that whilst many of the “solutions” to the challenges libraries are facing have been proposed many times before, there are some genuinely exciting new ideas out there, like the teen librarians in San Francisco taking their Manga stock out on carts and wheeling it round the city streets.

So long and thanks for all the cake

So that was my Library Camp. Last but not least however, I should also say the chance to sample some excellent cake-based goodies was a major highlight of the day (Special mention must go to @deadlylibrarian ‘s brownies).Thanks to all those who made it such a satisfying day – for both my cake hungry-stomach, and my ideas-hungry brain.



LibCamp, CakeCamp, KnitCamp—Three For One In Birmingham Tags: libcamp conference unconference


Along with 174 other library people, I found myself in Birmingham at Library Camp UK last weekend.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a library “unconference”. I’d heard about the format before but there’s a difference between hearing vague stories about something and actually taking part in it.

I was thoroughly impressed in every way.

First off, I think the choice of location was great. There are librarians that I’ve been talking to on Twitter for as long as two years, but that I’d never actually met in person because they’re not in the South East and therefore not at London events. I think we need to have more events somewhere in the middle of the country so that people from everywhere have a chance to get to them. Also, the fact that it was a Saturday may have helped.

Secondly, the thing that everyone will tell you about: THE CAKE. It seems like everyone and their sister had baked something or other for the event. As a wheat-free person, I pretty much expected not to be able to eat anything, but the amount of, shall we call it “accessible cake” alone was astonishing (and enough to keep me going through the day—sorry, did someone say lunch?)

As for the actual sessions, the principle “pitch a session once you get there, then make a timetable” worked surprisingly well. Basically, the whole thing worked as a self-organising conference. And the sessions were about dialogue and sharing what we do rather than, as is often the case in traditional conferences, just venues for one person to stand on a stage and the rest being listeners. And there was ample time to relax and have some down time as well—there was a “poet-in-residence” who provided a little island of relaxed conversation (and free hugs). I could have done without the “introductions” from 175 people at the start though, and maybe we could have pitched the morning sessions in the morning and the afternoon sessions after/during lunch? Also, we were given these paper cutouts shape like feet, to write on why we were there, but it was’t clear what the point of them was. Same with the “evaluation wall” that appeared at the end—what was that all about?

Jo Alcock’s session on transliteracy was probably most relevant to my personal interests and my job at the moment. The transition between FE and HE is not easy and one thing that I took away from this session is that both universities and FE institutions/Sixth Forms could do much more to collaborate and make that transition easier for the students involved. Most people in the session were FE or school librarians, which was really interesting for me personally because I haven’t had much interaction from people from that sector at all.

Provision of library services to non-native speakers of English was a tiny, but very rewarding session with a public librarian from an ethnically diverse community and an International School librarian. Not only do they have exciting jobs, they were also willing to share their experience, asking for people’s ideas and thoughts in a very informal way.

In the lunch break, after inhaling a sandwich, I let myself be immortalised by Gaz Johnson and his WeaselEveryDay project. You can see myself, Katie from Girl in the Moon, and Sarah Nicholas braving the Weasel’s questions on libraries here, here, here, and here!

As for the afternoon sessions, I’m sure they were great—I sat in on part of one on Open Source library management software—but there seemed to be a Knitcamp/Crochetcamp forming. Which sounds like skiving, but in fact, it was an opportunity to have some nice in-depth conversations with fellow new professionals. I also found it amusing that I had to go all the way to Birmingham to meet a libarian who lives in the same town as I, and there was a spontaneous tweetup on the train to round off the day. I’m a bit gutted because I completely forgot to take pictures, but if you have a look around, you’ll see that other people took plenty! All in all, it was a successful day, and I feel like I learned and took away a lot.
Library Camp UK: an enthusiastic review Tags: conference unconference libcampuk11

Last weekend--Saturday 8 October to be precise--over 150 librarians descended on a conference venue in Birmingham for the first ever Library Camp UK. Library Camp is an unconference: a gathering of people with most of the (obvious) organisation and planning taken out, leaving the day’s plan open to the whims and fancies of those attending. (You can read up more about the unconference ethic on the Library Camp UK site.) The unstructured format didn’t mean though that a lot work wasn’t put in by the organising team, to whom an enormous thank you.

There are lots and lots of write-ups of the event as a whole and of individual sessions already available, so I’m not going to use this post to go over it in minute detail. Instead, a few days after the event, I’ll reflect on what made it for me such a great day.


People came to Library Camp from all over the UK and beyond and pretty much every area of librarianship and allied fields were represented, with attendance from ‘shambrarians’ and other techie types too. There were people from other fields entirely, including, for example, a theatre outreach officer looking to better understand partner institutions. The mix of people ensured that a really varied mix of topics were pitched as sessions, including special collections, cataloguing/open data/OPACs, a range of public library topics, cross-sectoral exchanges, information literacy, marketing, and philosophy. And those are just the ones that stick in my mind.

Because everyone had come from such varied backgrounds, and because there was no pre-determined theme for the event, there was no feeling that any given interest was odd or out of place. Even the knitting/crocheting/cross stitch interests were well catered for in an impromptu knitcamp towards the end of the day!

And speaking of catering, mention has to be made of the extremely generous (and also helpful - never before have I seen such a well-labelled and allergen-free cake selection) nature of attendees. I think the explosion of baked offerings just goes to show how enthusiastic we are about the profession and the people that work in it.

 Photograph of several cakes and boxes of biscuits. 


I’ve been to a couple of conferences earlier this year at which I was expecting to meet lots of people I knew from Twitter. To be honest, although I had a good time at them, the meeting people bit was still pretty hard work, what with the effort of matching real people to their online identities and the palaver that is trying to introduce yourself concisely, usefully and in a way that doesn’t leave the conversation floundering...

There was none of that at Library Camp. Everyone I spoke to was relaxed and enthusiastic about what was going on: there were, I think, a lot of positive feedback loops helping us be more than usually sociable. Inside and outside sessions it seemed like we were all willing to listen to each other, to learn from each other, and to teach each other: the balance of active to passive participants was much higher than at a ‘sit and listen to someone reading slides’ conference. There was also little sense of hierarchy or of ego--it was difficult to determine who the ‘important’ people were--and therefore not so much trepidation about asking a ‘stupid’ question.

I think this is demonstrated in the quantity of subsequent write ups and wiki additions. Not only have a lot of people troubled to write the day up, but they all find interesting things to say.

Two people sit on the floor, smiling and looking at their phones.


Ultimately, I think the best effect for me of attending Library Camp UK is having gained the personal motivation, knowledge and contacts to start investigating areas that I’ve been interested in for a while and haven’t previously attacked with vigour. (It’s techie open data type stuff things (you can see that I haven’t learnt the lingo yet), if anyone’s interested...)


So you want to organise an event that people enthuse about this much? My advice would be to trust your attendees to make it great if you give them the room to do so: allow them some freedom to choose what to talk about and what to go to. The more you ‘organise’ them, the harder it is to relax and to think!

A room full of people.

Image credits


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