Warning – long blog alert!
The CILIP Wales Conference in 2017 was an excellent professional opportunity to meet fellow professionals, discover and engage with talking points, developments and ideas, all while enjoying the beautiful setting of the beach-side town of Llandudno. Here I’ll review my debut experience, highlighting the talks given, ideas developed and the value of such gatherings personally and professionally.* With thanks to MALD for providing me with a sponsored place on day one, and Cardiff University for supporting me being able to attend the full two days, and a nod to all those involved in putting on this conference, including the caterers! Food for all meals enjoyed throughout the two days was delicious.
An Adventure Begins
Having enjoyed a breezy and sunny morning walk along the promenade by the Venue Cymru I collected my welcome goodie bag from the reception area and was met by bright greetings from familiar faces from Cardiff – Helen Staffer and Tracey Stanley. Less familiar or – rather completely unfamiliar faces soon followed as I slowly mingled about the hall, whilst surveying the displays set up. They showcased all sorts of library related ideas. CILIP of course had their own stand, promoting membership, and skillset opportunities for development that come with it, not to mention parading many of the latest books from Facet Publishing.
Also present: thedesignconcept advertising their capability in library design, the Welsh Books Council / Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru– supported by the Welsh Government as a focus for publishing and provision of associated services in Wales, distributing grants to publishers. They also actively promote literacy and reading in Wales too.
There was also Digital Communities Wales / Cymunedau Digidol Cymru – a project helping organisations to support people engage with computers and the Internet through training staff and and volunteers, and setting up digital volunteering initiatives, and Borrow Box Bolinda – who I learned provide audiobooks to libraries. It was interesting to know how many books are available on this service, which seems to me to be targeting the headphone generation successfully: providing free access to the best storytellers in audio format. Time to get out the library card and log on!
Network, network, network! – Linda Tomos
Moving on to the key talking points of this conference, Linda Tomos – Chief Executive and Librarian at the National Library of Wales opened proceedings with a striking – and apposite speech emphasising the value of networking in the workplace. It’s centrality is exemplified in the success of campaigns that are able to reach out as widely as possible and to make all the right connections to allow us to not only understand who we’re serving but also to shout proudly about the success of libraries. Within this we have to remember to celebrate the many great achievements – such as the ‘Every child a member’ scheme.
Such achievements are built on developing relationships that can deliver these services, and not only is it good for professional confidence, it’s also a boon personally. Drawing on Lord Matthews’ ‘bullying’ of Tony Blair regarding The People’s Network in the nineties, Linda emphasised the forceful need for action – the networking power is hard but vital – change has to be made to happen. It has led to many millions invested in libraries in the past, and it will need similar levels of networking and hard work to support and sustain the future we want for Libraries.
Social media is a great megaphone for advocacy and elevating our voice into the airwaves, and we now need to work towards a People’s network for the 21st century that is fit for purpose. WHELF, CILIP and SCL already doing good work in this regard, and let’s build on this relating to information sharing and knowledge management. The current concerns over fake news only emphasises this necessity – borrowing a Neil Gaiman quote – where google gives you 100,000 results, a Librarian gives you one correct one. Creating visibility in the profession is what we need, and she praises Alyson Tyler’s Love Libraries blog as an example of this.
The main themes of the talk were an exhortation to get out there, give proper self regard to the achievements reached, and continually engage and come up with solutions. Everyone knows the problems, but what we need – and what politicians want to hear most – is what can we do about it? Let’s find the solution, get creative with resources, and maximise those opportunities by networking and bringing our collective talents together to bear fruit.
David Teague – Regional Manager ( Wales ) at the Information Commissioner’s Office
After Linda’s passionate opening, David Teague zeroed in on the fast paced change in information management rights, and the importance of having up to date policies to cope. He began by revealing a couple of indicative figures of penalties levied : £8,500,750 for breaches of the Data Protection Act, and a further £4,912,000 for nuisance callers. Not small change!
He then nodded to a speech by Elizabeth Denham on the relation between information rights and democracy that can be seen here; appending this by providing a potted history of information rights, – emerging from the reaction to 20th century despotism within the Declaration of Human Rights. Articles 8 and 10 – illustrate one of the challenges – marking the Right to a Private Life versus that of Freedom of Expression. The protecting of these Articles has also had to take place amid the increasingly rapid (r)evolution of technology and the pace at which data is processed has required ongoing legal maintenance – through the Data Protection Act of 1984 through to the 1998 Act. This latest version expires next year – May 2018 – to be replaced by the General Data Protection Regulations, an EU wide edict. The extent to which Brexit interferes with those plans is partially unknown, although the UK government has committed to have an Act that is at least equivalent to the EU provisions.
This latest development has come amid the age of The Internet of Things, the explosive rise of social media. The aims will be to focus on giving back control to the individuals. The key points include providing some statutory good practice regulations that will reduce the need for judgement calls to be made, and firming up accountability about what precisely will be done with the information – no more vague references to third parties. Fess for subject access to their data will be removed, whilst the act is also aiming to address the concerns over profiling – targeted ads, social profile algorithms, key in an age where we know so little about where our information goes – and more on the dangers of this were highlighted by Paul Pedley in Friday’s discussion on privacy – ( more on this in part 2! ) .
It is worth checking out the 12 steps to prepare for the GDPR published by the ICO last August. They are accessible here (pdf ). It was a very well received talk ( as they all were it must be said! ) and provided plenty to think on during a tea break!
After the break – there were various sessions to choose from, including one on Marketing, and another in Disaster Manager which both sounded really interesting and were very well received – but I can only reflect on what I chose to see – and that was Alli Cingi, Library Manager Awen Cultural Trust and Rob Jones’ Library Assistant at Pencoed Library energetically enthusiastic presentation, ‘Makerspace’ a scheme developed in their local library .
It’s an excellent idea with fantastic advantages for kids ( and adults! ) that helps with their problem solving, numeracy and literacy skills and articulating expression through creative means. A personal visual connection to coding, that can light the imagination fires within youngsters, critical given our desperate need for STEM graduates.
Starting young with projects and schemes such as these, provides a firm boost to the children – not only for those longer term employability skills, but on a more immediate level it teaches them the social skills – working collaboratively and engaging with others for these little projects. In their library this has proved to be a really impressive scheme, positively received by the kids and the adults who help out!
Alli and Rob highlighted a plethora of support and creative options available online. Codecluborg.uk, Scratch, BBC Microbits, virtual pets, photo-editing tools such as Photofunia all provide these windows into personalising, manipulating ( in it’s most literal sense ) tools for creative exploration, including being a great option for story-telling too. Accessible and entertaining, it is schemes like this that can really help energise young people and give local libraries a further role to play in the supporting of a well-skilled community. Further suggestions include more graphic design options, and it seems stop motion animation is another option that Rob was looking forward to trying too! We await more positive success stories in the future.
Lunch allowed for more mingling as I gradually got to meet more faces in the profession – all lovely of course – ( how can you not like someone who’s into libraries?! ) before the afternoon continued in the same vein as before with really fascinating talks.
Professor Neil Frude – Bibliotherapy – Reading back to health – ‘Shelf Help!’
Any thoughts of a post-prandial slumber, were -ironically – put to bed with another call to arms from Professor Neil Frude whose keynote speech advocated with energy and facts that matter – for the value of Bibliotherapy in it’s usefulness at intervening at a low intensity level at relieving mild to moderate sufferers of mental illness’. This is a key area where libraries can point to their role – or potential role – in providing some really effective ‘2nd step’ line of support to their communities, and help extol our worth – connecting to Linda Tomos’ message – we need to shout about this!
Prof. Frude was instrumental in establishing the Books on Prescription Scheme in Cardiff in 2003, and the subsequent history has been one of unanimous success, but only of late in England. It has fallen away in Wales and this – to everyone’s agreement! – is a situation well worth reversing when you consider the numbers of sufferers – approximately 1 in 6 of us have a diagnosable mental illness, and the limited numbers of therapists – the ratio is roughly 1 therapist per 1000 patients, and that doesn’t include the estimated 55,000 children who suffer too.
Less than 1% of those who could benefit from Bibliotherapy ( and other psycho-social interventions ) do. There is an over-dependence on the pharmacological approach with Wales being the most medicated country in the UK, but it is often the ‘easiest’ solution when faced with limited therapist contact opportunities.
This requires remedying and help. Manualised self help is supported by strong scientific evidence for it’s effectiveness for those who use it but what we need to improve is the impact. Noting the ‘impact factor’- as the product of effectiveness x reach – there is clearly the potential for far more effective relief of symptoms among sufferers to be achieved. Prof. Frude illustrated the success of the programme through it’s global mimesis. It has been copied and expanded across the world, with the books being recommended from a pool of 50 professionals to ensure the wheat is sorted from the chaff ( consider the many thousands of books available under the ‘self-help’ banner.
Having outlined the history of Books on Prescription, Prof. Frude noted that the scheme had worked so well it had expanded into other areas. The Reading Agency in England intervened to promote it with three recent schemes – Adult Mental Health (2014), Dementia (2015), Young People Mental Health, ( 2016) and to come this year ‘Self-Management of Chronic Physical Conditions’.
Early talks are under-way to get this back in business in Wales, and fingers are crossed. This is ultimately something we all can benefit from personally and professionally. We often are charged with looking after the shelves, so let’s now let the shelves look after us.
Breakout Sessions 2
The afternoon sessions continued in the spirit of before – and whilst Katrina Hall was unable to attend, the remaining sessions made up for this absence. Rob Owain – Wikimedia UK Manager (Wales) and Jason Evans – Wikipedian in Residence at the National Library of Wales gave a talk that focused on the advantages that working with Wikimedia can bring to libraries and their users, whilst Dr Andrew Eynon led a fascinating sessions exploring how FE librarians in Wales are devising impact indicators to help evaluate their library services. This involved a healthy amount of group work brainstorming various performance indicators. I must confess to being in LIS student sponge mode here – I sat and absorbed as much information as I could manage from the vastly more experienced attendees!
Dr. Einir Young: The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act – is it a blessing or a curse?
So after the final round of coffee breaks to digest this veritable information tsunami of ideas, proceedings were brought to a close by Dr. Einir Young, Director of Sustainability at Bangor University, who spoke to us on the question of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015.
The Act, demands longer term holistic thinking from certain public bodies in Wales to ensure a sustainable future. Discussing this through the University prism, Dr Young asked us – in an interactive fashion! – what we understood by sustainability: and as many different adjectives and short descriptors were thrown up as there were audience members. The point being, like many abstract concepts it can mean many different things according to your perspective, and thus it helps if we focus on clarifying what we all understand by the term when we consider it in our own work places.
Einir drawing on her experience with Bangor, invited us to think differently: in terms of people, the planet, and resources. Economically, environmentally, socially – there are serious issues of inequality abounding and the question is how do we face them?
Joined up, interconnected thinking is vital to ensure coordinated activity -be it in corporate, social, or environmental outlooks. Drawing on the essentials of the Act – Dr Young framed the outlook from the libraries approach – deploying a memorable 1,4,5,7 approach:
One – sustainable development idea – our one future.
Four – pillars – economic, social, environmental and cultural well being
Five ways of working:
- Long term thinking balancing the needs of now with the future;
- Prevention is better than cure – how can we ensure future changes avoids errors?
- Integration – how does library / university fit into wider community picture
- Collaboration – can we be better, sharing resources, time, money
- Involvement – all key stakeholders should be included that are relevant
Seven well being goals:
- A prosperous library
- A resilient library
- A healthier library – i.e. working with students to improve health and stress levels
- A more equal library – improving access to information and technology, creating social safe spaces
- A library of cohesive communities
- A library of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language
- A globally responsible library – developing international links – i.e. Bangor and Uganda where peer to peer learning helps level the access where the cost is higher.
It is a platform for libraries to work with, and aim towards. Let’s start local but look outwards and help create the library, community, country and world that we want. We need to ask ourselves at work – what do we need to do? Do we have the right support? And what support would we like to see going forward? Its time to put on the hard hat and get to work!
It was an ambitious and grand sentiment to close the conference for the day on, but fully in keeping with the spirit throughout – the value of networking, advocacy and action are essential attributes of a vibrant profession.
I found the whole day to be a really enjoyable affair, hearing a range of ideas, meeting plenty of professionals with a wealth of experience to draw on, and after a long day taking notes, it was a pleasure to be able to relax in the evening with a lovely evening meal featuring amusing poetic entertainment from Peter Reid and included some useful personal discussion of the Aberystwyth LIS course with fellow students. However normal my initial apprehension at ALL THE STRANGERS may have been, by the end, I’d met some truly spiffing and friendly characters, who’d really helped engender a sense of belonging at the conference: the benefits of networking immediately felt! Fittingly for a day that began with an exhortation to celebrate CILIP’s achievements – it ended with individual recognition of the professional talents with the awarding of the Welsh Librarian of the Year Award – congratulations to Wendy Foster, and a lifetime achievement award to Thomas Hywel James – awards very warmly applauded and deserved.
All told – a busy old day – and more to enjoy on Friday – which will be posted in part 2.
* The slides from these presentations are available online. If you’re on Twitter I would direct you to @CILIPinWales for more details.