Radical Library Camp

© is the copyright symbol in a copyright notice

© is the copyright symbol in a copyright notice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I attended Radical Library Camp in Bradford last month. The organizers were a mix of radicals from different library backgrounds, and the same could be said for the attendees! While I wouldn’t have considered myself ‘radical’ before, after going on the camp I think I am! There was a lively Twitter feed (#radlibcamp) on the day and I believe someone is archiving the tweets; in addition there is the Wiki for more information.

In the tradition of other library camps and un-conferences, the day was very chilled out and no frills. Everyone brought food to share and about 10 or so people gave pitches on sessions they wanted to run. All the sessions I went to were very much discussions rather than formal presentations. Yes, there was a bit of ranting about this or that institution or professional body, but discussions did come back to how to make a practical difference and impact on issues we cared about.

Here are some thoughts about the sessions I attended (apologies for the length!):

  • Library Spaces/Design

This session started with everyone creating their ideal library space on paper, either with pictures or words. A big discussion ensued when we were going around sharing what we’d put down:  the pros and cons of desks. The point was raised that users being forced to communicate with librarians sat behind desks reinforced inequality and outdated power relationships. It was suggested that users are loath to ‘interrupt’ a librarian working at a desk, and that the desk is seen as a barrier. A new ‘desk-less’ model that’s been adopted at a university library is the idea of ‘roving’ librarians. The librarians walk around and are (and are seen to be) accessible to students. They also carry iPads for searching the catalogue, etc. However in my school library, sitting behind the desk means I can look at the Year 7s at eye level, whereas standing up I loom over them…Clearly the roving solution isn’t for everyone, but it is good food for thought.

Another thread was the importance of consulting users when building or renovating a library space. And also, how you consult is important, i.e. types of questions asked has a big impact on results.

A final issue raised was future-proofing your library when you have a transient population (such as students) and when technology is constantly changing. Two solutions were offered:  investing in the basics (like desks) and investing in power and data (e.g. the cloud) is always worthwhile.

  • Radical Management

I went to this session because I’ve noticed that managing and managerial experience has been a theme throughout the library job world. There were only a handful of people there who were actually in managerial posts, but it was an interesting discussion nonetheless. Opening questions asked included: Can you become a manager without selling out? How do you make the leap to management?

Some of discussion points were:

You can effect change either from within an organisation or from the outside (and obviously managing allows you more opportunities to do that from inside).

One should have good management practice regardless of your politics.

Fairness is not about being liked.

Authentic leadership means staying true to your values, as much as you can whilst working within ‘the system’. Ideally you should work in an organisation whose mission and values match up with your own. However the point was raised that we need to eat, therefore might have to take a less than ideal job just to put food on the table…

The barrier between professional and non-professional staff and the idea of ‘selling out’ if you move up.

  • Copyright

The consensus beginning this session was that copyright law is broken, therefore the discussion began with asking what constuctive ways are open to us to challenge/protest copyright as librarians. The Creative Commons licensing scheme was mentioned and somehow the discussion became a bit of a rant against a certain professional body at which point, @Mariacotera kindly stood up and enlightened us as to the efforts that various organisations and government bodies are making to lobby for changes to copyright law.

The Copyright and other Legal Matters (CLM) committee of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) is lobbying for the library community on this issue and working with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to get clarity on and change copyright law. They recently won a victory (and set legal precedent) with the Marrakesh Treaty, which addresses the rights of blind and print-disabled people.

The conclusion was that lobbying personally and supporting the lobbying efforts of bodies such as CLM and IFLA is an important way to effect change in copyright.

  • International Perspectives on Radical Librarianship

This session looked broadly at the organisation IFLA and a recent report they commissioned on trends in society. General awareness of IFLA and their work was slim at Radical Library Camp so this session was well worth it, though there was a small turn out (but all of us internationals at camp were there!). IFLA, in short, is the global voice for librarians. CILIP is an IFLA member, so if you’re a CILIP member then you also have member benefits with IFLA. The IFLA Trend Report  was commissioned in 2012 and the process culminated in the identification of five high level societal trends which impact the library and information world. This year is given over to discussion of the report amongst the library and information community and at the next IFLA conference policies will begin to be nailed down. The trends are:

  1. New technologies will both expand and limit who has access to information.
  2. Online education will democratise and disrupt global learning.
  3. The boundaries of privacy and data protection will be redefined.
  4. Hyper-connected societies will listen to and empower new voices and groups.
  5. The global information economy will be transformed by new technologies.

IFLA have published a short report called Riding the Waves or Caught in the Tide? Insights from the IFLA Trend Report, which is the starter for digging deeper into the trends. I found the trends resonated with issues raised in the New Librarianship MOOC I completed recently, and also it is a great way of articulating the big information issues of today.

  • Wrap-up

A final plenary session wrapped up the day and revolved around how to take the Radical Library Camp idea further. The current social media platforms will be continued and there was definitely universal consensus for another camp. I found the day very useful, interesting and a launching pad for learning more about issues that interest me. It was great hearing non-mainstream opinions and views from library radicals, and seeing how others address problems and issues we’re all concerned about. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next one!

Visit to Sheffield Hallam Adsetts Learning Centre

I recently went on a visit to Sheffield Hallam University’s Adsetts Learning Centre organised by CILIP Academic and Research Libraries Group (Yorkshire & Humberside division).  I wanted to write a post and include some pictures to share (with their permission) because they had an interesting story to tell!  Hallam have been refurbishing the library in stages for the past few years and had the good fortune of being able to incorporate in-depth research some of the staff had just done on student usage/likes/dislikes/wishes into the planning and redevelopment process.

Central stair well

Central stair well

It was a merry bunch, about 15 of us total and all new faces for me!  The group was mostly other academic librarians, but I didn’t get to meet everyone.  We started the visit with lunch (mmm…) and then were treated to presentations about the history of the university library and the research staff had done, and also tours of the special collections and library itself.  Since my husband is from Sheffield, some of the names in Sandy Buchanan’s history talk rang a bell…The main library (Adsetts) developed over time as various collegiate and other collections were combined.  The current facility was built in 1996, but they’ve been redeveloping it since 2007-8.  Sandy said it’s been a manageable process to work around for students and staff since the redevelopment was done in stages, basically by floor.

Bea Turpin and Deborah Harrop gave a presentation of their research on ‘What makes a successful informal learning space?’  This was excellent; their research included qualitative and quantitive research, and in the process debunked or adjusted various preconceptions they/we have about what students want in a learning space and how they actually use it.   Their research included ‘observational sweeps’ at various times and locations (which consisted of student questionnaires) and also coordinates and photographic mapping exercises (which pinpointed how/when spaces were being used).  They developed a typology of attributes based on their data and if you want to know more, their work is being published in the New Review of Academic Librarianship (2013) 19.

Some of the conclusions and results I found most interesting were:

  • The variety of types of spaces students valued, i.e. dedicated silent study space, group work areas and also a kind of middle ground where students wanted individual study space but where they could still ‘study together’ with their friend next door.  This translated into the redevelopment mainly through a wide range of desk and partition types. Some desks were actually movable where you could create a bigger space.  Some had high partitions between study spaces, whereas others had small ones or none.  They also had super cool bookable meeting rooms and booths with built-in dry erase boards!

    Super cool, bookable booths with dry erase/marker boards and IT stuff.

    Super cool, bookable booths with dry erase/marker boards and IT stuff.

  • Requirements of the environment, i.e. lighting, privacy, access to IT/power outlets, ergonomics, easy access to refreshments.  Some of the other librarians were raving about some tables in a casual group space near the cafe that had the power plugs installed right on the table top!  This was both convenient for students and prevented health and safety risks of trailing power cords.  The natural light was limited in the building, but the redevelopment has maximised that and their new lighting system is meant to mimic natural light since students preferred it.  They also took decibel readings to see how quiet or noisy spaces were since this was an important learner preference (i.e. silent spaces really should be silent!).

    Casual space with plug points

    Casual space with plug points on the table.

  • Inclusion and display of student artwork and other projects.  This was a brilliant idea since it raises awareness of student’s work, uses those random little niches in the building and adds to the vibrant atmosphere.  I really liked a wall that doubled as a partition to a chill out area which had several TV screens showing student’s animation and computer graphics projects.

    Wall with integrated TVs displaying student animation work.

    Wall with integrated TVs displaying student animation work.

  • The main conclusion was that their aim of ‘evidence-based means for change’ was highly effective in planning study spaces that met students needs and that used the space most efficiently.   Thanks for a great, informative day out!

    Self-service laptops station, students need their technology!

    Self-service laptops station, students need their technology!