Report from CILIP Conference 2018, Brighton

As per the experience of Laura Cagnazzo

Twitter: @LauraFCagnazzo

Winning a bursary from the Cataloguing & Indexing Group was such a thrill! I would have not been otherwise able to attend my first CILIP Conference. Seen from the perspective of a newly-qualified information professional (that I am), CILIP Brighton 2018 was a triumph of positivity, inspiration and passion for the profession. For those who were not able to attend, I would recommend to flick through the Conference pictures, visit the Conference website, check out the related tweets on Twitter (@CILIPConf18, #CILIPConf18) and listen to the special episode of the podcast “Librarians with Lives” by Jo Wood. I hope that reading this report will also give a taste of what attending the conference felt like.

Brighton welcomed us with its lovely summer attire. The Conference venue was appropriately set up to host all the seminars, panels, workshops and talks. Alongside the unmissable exhibitors’ hall, a new successful feature was the Welcome Zone: a relaxed area where people could get together and chat while doing some colouring or playing with play-doh and board games.

I was happy to bump into some known faces, but even happier to meet new people: networking can be daunting, but every time I make the effort of overcoming my shyness, I am rewarded with useful advice, enriched knowledge, enlightening views and lots of encouragement!

The keynote speakers provided a compelling and heart-warming start to the Conference: the audience was enlightened on the prestigious and crucial role of the House of Commons Library in supporting the MPs’ work (and ultimately, the Parliamentary democracy), through the provision of knowledge and research services, as illustrated by the House of Commons Librarian, Penny Young; and uplifted by the journey of Sally Walker, Children’s Librarian at Orkney Library & Archive and Scotland’s Library and Information Professional of the Year 2017, towards professional recognition – when Sally mentioned the “impostor syndrome” I felt understood and no longer alone! – and how life-changing receiving the award was for her.

More keynotes were scattered over the two days of the Conference. Of particular impact was the talk delivered by John Chrastka and Patrick Sweeney of EveryLibrary: recognising the “transformational” power of libraries, they offered the audience an eye-opening, persuasive argument to support activism over advocacy. Libraries may be reluctant to get involved into politics, but they are running on the “librarian party”. Libraries should demonstrate people how they invest the money that are allocated to them. It was surprising to realise that it is often non-library users who financially support libraries, rather than library users. A call for in-depth analysis of data, in order to understand audience segmentation, and thus designing more effective marketing campaigns, was launched.

Samira Ahmed, journalist and broadcaster, highlighted the importance of preserving our heritage and identity, by taking care of our archives, which are treasures of social history and portals to the past. According to the journalist, they should be accessible to everyone, rather than being locked away, accumulating dust.

Helen Dodd, Head of Data Governance at Cancer Research UK, provided an alternative view of GDPR, as an opportunity to bring information professionals closer to their audiences: tackling GDPR is the first step to reduce risks related to privacy and confidentiality and raise awareness among users in relation to what their rights are. Furthermore, it gives us the chance to evaluate how we store and use information, identify weaknesses and improve practice, in order to guarantee accountability and transparency.

Having to choose between various options at each session was not easy. I made my decisions based on personal interests, curiosity and willingness to expand my knowledge, as well as on the intent of taking ideas back to possibly improve the services offered at my workplace.

The ambitious aim of the IFLA Global Vision workshop attracted my curiosity: it is the first initiative that gives every single librarian in the world the chance to contribute, with the ultimate goal of creating an inclusive and united library environment. This workshop and the Breakfast seminar that ran on Thursday morning (to attend which I decided to skip the run along the waterfront!) both aimed at making an impact internationally: whilst the IFLA workshop focused on identifying which matters need prioritised, looking at the development of the field; the seminar intended to point out what areas CILIP should focus on, to develop its international policy and improve its presence on the international scene. An element that I would have personally selected as key for enhancing CILIP’s international policy, is supporting the advancement of standards and innovation. Ignoring this implies the risk of being unable to reach interoperability and of missing out on primary technological advancements (e.g., linked data), ultimately, of being left adrift and isolated. It is an issue this, that I know the CIG understands well. On the other side, enabling and encouraging communication and facilitating engagement, even remotely, are essential to foster collaboration.

I need to spend at least a line to praise the lovely evening at the Brighton Pier, where all the delegates enjoyed a tasty fish and chips, a drink (or two!) and a ride on the rollercoaster for the bravest, all accompanied by a spectacular sunset.

The most coveted session for me was the metadata workshop, which included talks by David Haynes, Chair of ISKO UK, Catherine Cook, from Book Industry Communication, and Dr Deborah Lee, Senior Cataloguer at the Courtauld Institute of Art. David Haynes’ presentation discussed the ethical side of Knowledge Organisation (KO). Issues like fake news and threats to privacy can be addressed by improving KO policies. Metadata have the potential of enabling wider access to information, thus to empower people. The engaging talk by Dr Lee gave a well-needed refresh of what cataloguing is and what cataloguers do: this is something that is often forgotten across the information profession, although cataloguing enables primary tasks such as information retrieval. Whilst the general tendency is, rightly, to move towards standardisation at international level, Dr Lee stressed the importance for cataloguers to be aware of what the users want and need: in this sense cataloguing needs to be “local”, since it has to adapt to the information needs of each organisation. I particularly liked when Dr Lee stated that cataloguing is creative and requires good problem-solving skills, which is something that I gathered from my own experience. This may also be something alarming, since it implies that, regardless the adhesion to standards, there is always an element of subjectivity in cataloguing.

The seminar on “Corporate libraries and information services” provided a revisited viewpoint on the information profession: whilst we tend to think at information professionals exclusively as librarians, the reality is much more varied. Dr Katherine Schopflin, Information Governance Lead at the London Borough of Hackney, highlighted the role of the information professionals in corporate settings, which are often neglected. Every organisation needs high-quality information. Our skills can assist companies in designing and executing policies and strategies for Knowledge and Information Management (KIM). The session ended with some useful career tips from Lee Seymour and Neil Currams, Senior Consultants at TFPL Limited: although factors such as the swift technological turnover (e.g., AI, digitisation) are challenging the profession, surveys conducted by TFPL demonstrated that KIM is highly valued within most companies. What is needed is better advocacy: we ought to show the organisations we work for that we are passionate about our role and that our contribution is essential.

The concluding session I attended, investigated the concept of “evidence-based practice”, providing some case studies. Although we are inclined to think that research is exclusively the duty of researchers and academics, every information professional should take on research, to help decision-making in the field. Dr Diane Rasmussen Pennington, Lecturer in Information Science and Course Director at the University of Strathclyde, outlined various research methods and aims, stressing the existing gap between research and practice. Research should not be done purposelessly. It should instead aim at evaluating current practice and identifying opportunity for improvement and development.

The Conference made me realise the variety and diversity of the sector: professionals with different backgrounds and different roles were gathered in one place to discuss matters and issues common to all of them, and learn something new on specific topics. I believe that there is still lots more to do: more research, more marketing campaigns, more outreach and so on. However, it was so uplifting to see how much library and information professionals are already doing.

I left Brighton with this quote by Sally Walker echoing through my head: “I am exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I should be doing. That is peace.”

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