A little while before Christmas, Voices for the Library were invited to deliver a talk at the YLG, SLA, SLG joint conference, Lighting the Future. Despite having very little experience (or, perhaps, because I have little experience) I volunteered to represent the organisation on the day and deliver a talk on how we as an organisation have managed to communicate outside our normal spheres of influence. We were very privileged to be asked to contribute to the conference and share some of the things that we have learnt over the past two years.
For a long time, it seemed that the conference itself was a lifetime away. Even more so for me as, between Christmas and April I was still working on completion of my Masters dissertation. With that occupying so much of my mind, I didn’t really have much of a chance to consider the event itself, let alone how I was going to structure it. However, once my dissertation was out-of-the-way, it was time to concentrate on putting together something that I hoped would be of interest to those attending the week-end course.
I guess I had two main aims when putting together the presentation itself. First, I wanted to talk through the Voices for the Library story from how we started out to where we are now. It was a pretty tough job trying to cram all the things that have happened in the past two years into one presentation, but I was determined to cover as much as I could. In actual fact, it was a good opportunity to fully ‘reflect’ on the things that we had achieved. The problem with an organisation such as ours is that there is a tendency to get a bit bogged down in the things that are going on around us, meaning we never really get a chance to actually pat ourselves on the back for what we have done. Or, indeed, work out what went wrong. Sitting down and conducting the research certainly made me appreciate the things that we had managed to achieve.
The second thing I wanted to achieve was to inspire delegates into action. It is one of my bugbears that people grumble about things without actually getting up and doing something about it. I am not just talking about librarians here, it is a peculiarly English (British?) trait…the “mustn’t grumble” approach to life. Me? I say you should grumble and grumble loudly. And not just grumble, actually try to do something about it. Of course, this isn’t always possible within library land. Public librarians, for example, cannot speak out about their authority. Indeed, librarians in other sectors are often restricted by what they can do. But not everyone is so constrained. Some of us are in a position to do something. As well as showing delegates that there are tools that we have used in VftL that may benefit them in their day jobs, I hoped that I might be able to convince some that they have the tools at their disposal to help make a difference. Whether I succeeded or not is another matter.
So, with that in mind, I set about producing a script and locating suitable images to use in the presentation. The latter is most certainly my favourite bit (although I do enjoy writing a script too!). Whilst time-consuming and, occasionally frustrating, I quite enjoy digging around to find a CC image that I think captures what it is I am trying to say at a particular moment. I don’t always get it right, but I like to think that most of the time the images used do neatly tie in with the points I am making.
After checking the script and presentation with a few colleagues (thanks Gary, Simon and Ian!), I was pretty much good to go. I rehearsed the talk a few times, made the odd tweak here and there to the script to help with the flow of the talk and played around with some of the slides, re-arranging where necessary, discarding where it was clear that it was not useful. Eventually, whilst nervous, I was pretty much ready for the day itself.
Now, as I said before, I had very little experience of delivering talks in front of large audiences but that is not to say I have had none at all. I have previously delivered a short ten minute presentation on VftL for an event and had delivered a speech at the recent Speak up for Libraries rally earlier this year. Even further back, however, I also had some experience of teaching English Literature in secondary schools. Even though these were only classes of around thirty pupils, I like to think if you can handle that you can handle anything. Besides, I tend to find that librarians are less likely to hurl insults at you whilst you are talking to them. Note, I tend to find…
I was fortunate to know a few people in attendance who, I had hoped, would give me some moral support and help to kill my nerves. And, to be fair, they did (although I did wonder if this was the intention…). By the time it came to ‘mic up’ and get ready, I was pretty relaxed and primed for the big moment. Primed until I discovered that this joint conference was actually the largest one that had been held for ten years by the organisers *gulp*. There were, I am reliably informed, around 200 delegates. Suddenly 30 teenage boys wrestling with their hormones didn’t seem quite so bad (I taught at an all boys grammar school – don’t start me off on that).
The talk itself seemed to go pretty well. I was pretty blown away by the response to what I was saying and felt more than a little embarrassed (which is not hard with me to be fair). I did, however, get one particularly tricky question after my presentation which I should have expected (it’s one that always crops up) but completely failed to anticipate. I think I covered all the bases in my answer so I hope I did not look like I was floundering (it certainly felt like I was). But, yeah, I was glad I put myself forwards to deliver the talk and I am very grateful for the opportunity to share some of the things we have learnt. I hope that it inspired at least a handful of people in the audience to either engage in social media or to go out and try to wrestle the narrative back.
As for the rest of the conference…
As I had also booked to stay at the hotel that night, I decided it would be a good opportunity to attend some workshops and learn a bit more about the world of school libraries because it is not an environment I am familiar with (apart from my own personal experiences at school of course!). So I gatecrashed a session on partnership working between school libraries and public libraries which was fascinating and, I believe, particularly important. There certainly needs to be greater co-operation between libraries across pretty much all sectors in my view. For public libraries in particular, there are certainly plenty of advantages in building those links (which makes some of Kent’s recent decisions particular depressing).
I have to say as well that I felt completely out of my depth surrounded by these skilled, highly talented school librarians. I came away with the feeling that I am nowhere near as good at my job as they are at theirs. Passionate, knowledgeable, enthusiastic…you wonder why school librarians are often overlooked by many both inside and outside the profession. I certainly think that they probably play the most important role in the library field. They lay the foundations and the building blocks for the library users of the future. They should be appreciated for what they do, not disparaged with low wages and the absurdity of being a non-statutory service.
The following day I decided to stick around and attend an intriguing session:
Access and Opportunities through Libraries – panel discussion with Tony Durcan (Newcastle City Council), Helen Boothroyd (Suffolk County Council)
I was particularly interested in hearing what comments would come out of this discussion. Tony is a CILIP councillor who is also chair of the Society of Chief Librarian’s books and reading group. Helen, meanwhile, is the Schools Library Service Manager in Suffolk, an authority that will be outsourcing all of its libraries from 1st August. Some of the stuff that came out of this session was a bit disturbing and I know provoked some concern amongst many in the audience. For brevity (I am aware this post is getting very long…), I’ll just pick out a few tweets posted during the discussion that highlighted my concerns. First, in response to Tony’s contributions:
And in response to Helen’s contributions:
I am really not sure what the practical implications of being “governed” actually are and it’s fair to say the details were a little hazy. It certainly doesn’t fill me full of confidence.
After the panel discussion we also heard from author Kevin Crossley-Holland who gave a really inspiring and passionate speech in defence of both libraries and librarians. My particular favourite quotes were:
I couldn’t argue with either of those points.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the event. School librarians are doing fantastic work in our schools and they have a substantial impact on children coming through both primary school and secondary school. It is a crime that they are so often sidelined and overlooked by many and that their service is not even given the dignity of the statutory position it deserves. Often the focus has been on public libraries and librarians, but school libraries and librarians must not be overlooked. I would argue, in fact, that they have the most important role in encouraging library use. They have far more influence than public librarians or academic librarians. They lay the foundations upon which other librarians build. They are fundamental and it is about time they were treated as such.