This year I got to go to #C8A2C8 or LILAC (there I have got the attempt at humour out of the way) for the first time!
In the past when I have attended conferences I have tried to tweet or write notes throughout all the talks and workshops I went too, which often led to me missing key points (because I was busy writing down the last thing). This year, in my first time at LILAC – I decided NOT to tweet and to only make minimal notes. I wanted to make sure I was taking everything in and I did not want to get too tired. I do not care what anyone says conferences are hard!
I did succeed (mostly) with those goals – I hardly tweeted throughout the day, and if I did it was very brief. Check out #lilac15 for all the tweets, and the CILIP Information Literacy Group’s slideshare for all the presentations from the whole conference. I did still make a lot of notes but not as many as I usually would, but one thing I did was to try to relate what was being talked about to my role, and how I could use the information practically.
So, in order not to regurgitate the conference talks I went to, I going to write about what I learnt from the conference as a whole and the thoughts it inspired:
1. Threshold Concepts – this was discussed in two of the keynote speakers: Ray Land and Barbara Fister. It was also mentioned in a few other talks. Without going into too much detail I will try to explain what they’re all about. Threshold Concepts have grown from discussions about the development of learners and the education system as a whole. Students are often unsettled when they move to university/college and are scared by not knowing “stuff”, they hold onto existing knowledge and often do not have the courage to “let go” of previous studies. I hadn’t really heard of HE being talked about in this context before so it really stuck out in my mind. I forgot how lost I felt when I first went to uni, I will try to keep this in mind when working with students in the future.
2. Education should not be a tick-box exercise – it is a conversation. All throughout the education system in the UK students are trained to pass exams, although this is a marker of understanding it is not enabling learners to develop fully. Students need to learn how to think like professionals in their chosen field of study, not just how to regurgitate facts, for example biology students will need to think like biologists and history students will need to think like historians. Information Literacy skills help students to develop their inquiring minds and support their studies but I have noticed that we (LIS professionals) are often drafted into sessions to talk about how to do something, we are very rarely given the opportunity to discuss why.
For example, I consider myself to be very lucky that I have four timetabled sessions with first year Law students in their first term. Each of these sessions is one hour long and I have to do this with six separate groups of first years – that’s twenty four hours in total! The sessions have to cover – an introduction to the library service as a whole and train the students how to use LexisLibrary, Westlaw UK and JustCite. Because of the volume of sessions I make good use of the trainers from the databases and try to organize it so they can deliver some of the sessions for me. As most library staff are just parachuted in for a session or two we have to focus on how to access information, we have no time for contextualisation. I have tried in some sessions to create more of a dialogue with students in the groups e.g. why legal information is so expensive and why they have to go via databases and not via Google. But the academic staff have a very firm stance on what I can cover and have told students that they are only in the sessions to learn how to access the information and the time is too limited. I think this is the reason why I get A LOT of emails from students puzzled as to why you have to take eleventy million steps to get to something.
In the next academic year I’ll aim to reformulate the way I approach the sessions to try to answer some of the common “why” questions before they are asked and I will create a “legal information FAQs” document for students. I have thought about “flipping the classroom” with these training workshops to give me more time to discuss scholarly process but it is something the Law lecturers are not keen on. However, creating more guiding materials (e.g. a workbook) for the database training will give the students more practical time and also the chance to ask wider questions.
3. Librarians are not gatekeepers they are tour guides – everyone knows that the days when libraries were only places for books are long gone. Training is a key part of all LIS roles, whether that is showing users how to use an OPAC or running an information skills session. An interesting question got raised in one of the events I attended, it related to the education sector but it could be transferred to any:
“Do we really want students to learn how to think like a librarian?”
My gut reaction was NO – I’LL BE UNEMPLOYED! But after a second I realized that I was getting into the territory of “we’ve always done it like that” which I think is the most dangerous phrase in the workplace. Equipping students with the tools to fulfil their enquring minds is what I believe my role to be, if that means that by their second or third year that they no longer require support that’s fantastic – job done. In the HE sector there will always be a fresh batch or students, researchers and lecturers to support, so I will always be involved in training. However if I can aim to train users more efficiently to help them become more independent learners quicker then that gives me more time to get involved with project work or to look forward to develop the support the library provides. We need to evolve with students needs, if not a little bit before. I think being in such an innovative, forward-looking profession is really exciting and inspiring.
4. Reflection: a skills selfie – I have and I will continue to bang on about reflection until the cows come home. In my opinion it is THE most important thing to do at work:
plan – do – reflect – improve – repeat
Pretty much all the talks I went to at LILAC referred to reflective practice even though it wasn’t the focus of the talk, it just goes to show how embedded it is in our practices; and back up my personal view about how important it is.
Recently, whilst at work I have had a few students come to the enquiry desk asking for support in finding items to help them with their reflective assignments, one student was very confused by the concept so I decided to try to help them understand. In a moment of sheer brilliance (read: madness) I said “reflection is just a skills selfie, how many times do you check a picture before you share it? You go through a mini review process right?”. As you can imagine the student looked baffled for a minute, but it then it just clicked – they got it, just like that! In this case the students work was all about their skills; obviously reflection is not just about skills but you can substitute that word for whatever you’re reflecting on e.g. “project selfie”. It might be a bit basic and juvenile but it works for me! You will be pleased to know that I still directed the student to the best (in my opinion) book on the subject: Reflective Practice by G. Bolton
5. Don’t overload yourself at conferences – even if you have signed up to go to a session in every slot, make sure you take a break. Three days at a conference is harder than three days at work for me. This year I picked a brilliant morning to take a break, I took a lovely stroll down to Newcastle Quayside and had an ice cream. I then returned to conference with a sunny disposition and slightly sticky hands.
So that’s my (not so) brief look at my first LILAC experience.