2017 CILIP Conference report by Clara Panozzo
I was looking for one single word to describe the CILIP Conference in Manchester at the beginning of July. One word that could put inspiring and stimulating and enlightening and encouraging together. I didn’t succeed, so I am going to use all those four words, which apply mainly to the three keynotes but also the seminars, briefings and workshops that I managed to attend (I sometimes wished I could be ubiquitous).
Carla Hayden’s speech was inspiring, stimulating, enlightening and encouraging, almost to tears (yes, a few colleagues and myself confessed this). Her call for major research libraries to engage with the wider public resonated broadly. As someone who works for such an institution, I can clearly see the need of this, particularly when talking about younger audiences, the “researchers” of the future. And I can also see that many of the initiatives now taking place in my Library (such the numerous digitisation and outreach projects) are somehow going in this direction.
Her keynote also made me think about what a great position we cataloguers are in when it comes to act as bridge between our collections and audiences. Cataloguers KNOW the stuff, cataloguers can bring out the value and knowledge of the collections out to the world. We can, and should be given the chances and tools to, promote, engage and involve. We also have the right mind-set to do this, we are used to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and think about what information might be relevant to others and then put it out there. Cataloguers could also be viewed as “value enhancers and promoters”. Part of my current position as a Special Collections Cataloguer is also about such activities, and while now I can see their importance from a broader perspective, I can say that they are also highly rewarding. Just to give an example, interacting with people on Facebook about a wonderful discovery you have just posted a picture about, is very stimulating and can lead to further enriching discussions. In the words of Carla Hayden, “this is the time”, this is the time to connect.
The “Using data and information” seminar also gave me the chance to reflect on the role of cataloguers, but this time to think about cataloguers outside libraries. Quite an unusual thought, at least for me! We heard about the importance of big amounts of data put together to make something tangible, as Caroline Carruthers put it , and the need to organise and declutter data so that information can be, simply and fundamentally, retrieved. This is something cataloguers normally do but could potentially do in other contexts as well, working with data other than from books. And although I am not planning to leave “my” lovely books at the moment, it is interesting indeed to know that cataloguers are a desirable workforce. Probably this is also somehow reassuring, considering all those rumours about our jobs being automatized in the -near?- future. Nothing further from the truth, apparently. We have sought-after skills such as logical thinking, the ability to communicate within both the “data cloud” and the real world and therefore we could become a bridge between business and designers. We supposedly also have expertise in handling lots of data. Now, I personally do not have any experience in handling “lots” of data. So after this seminar my curiosity was triggered and I am now considering what chances I could get to gain some more knowledge about handling “big data”. My library is currently undergoing a major critical change: the implementation of a new library management system. Lots and lots of data being matched, mismatched, converted and moved around. Could this be an opportunity for me to have a look at how lots of data are managed? Could I get involved in this somehow? Definitely something to explore and which I would not have considered had I not attended the conference.
Many of the other contributions at the conference gave much food for thought too. I found Luciano Floridi’s keynote particularly engaging. The flow of ideas that lead him to maintain that libraries have a “socio-political role in counterbalancing Power and its ability to control and influence people’s behaviour” were eye-opening. Indeed, libraries can and should offer the possibility to “free and effective questioning”. This is, I believe, true both for public and research libraries. And this makes me go back to Carla Hayden: librarians (and libraries!) are the original search engine, with a huge role to play in the information society.
Finally, I also attended the seminars on information literacy and engaging audiences, and two career development workshops on how to be a good communicator and the “insider’s guide to Professional Registration”. The first two I chose because they would give more insights about things I feel I don’t know enough about. The second two just because they were very useful!
As I said at the beginning, I felt the conference was inspiring, stimulating, enlightening and encouraging. But I also left Manchester with an underlying feeling of pride. I was proud to be a librarian, proud to be a cataloguer and proud to be a member of CILIP.
Special Collections Cataloguer
(in secondment) – Rare Books
Cambridge University Library