Monday, 24 August 2015

Thing 12 - Attending conferences

LibCamp2015 - Image copyright Caroline RowanAttending conferences and seminars is a key part of the professional development of any librarian. However it can be difficult to convey the value of attendance at such events to managers and financial controllers who may have to approve requests for attendance, particularly where there is no formal training involved. So what are the benefits of attending a conference?

The benefits
Conferences are like marketing billboards.  They advise us of what is happening in library environments outside our own organisation. They draw our attention to new innovations and new technology.  No-one ever knew they wanted/needed an iphone until Apple created one. Similarly, we as librarians can't know about innovations taking place in libraries unless someone lets us know about it. Some might argue that a Google alert or other online mechanism would serve the same purpose. But how can you set an alert for something which you don't yet know exists?

Conferences and seminars are time-saving opportunities, providing you with access to a large amount of information in a short space of time. For example, at the WRSLAI seminar this year we had presentations on:
  • How to set up in business as a consultant or freelance librarian
  • Google Chromebooks
  • The role of a pharmaceutical librarian
  • Using a blog to showcase the diversity of the work of academic librarians
  • The creation of an online learning course
  • Developing and running a historical exhibition online
  • Toastmasters and developing your public speaking skills
  • CILIP chartership
  • Career progression
  • William Butler Yeats and his time in Gort, Co. Galway.

It might be argued that it is possible to find out about all of these things by searching online. That is certainly true. However, would it be possible to track down detailed Irish case studies for each of these topics and to find and to read them all on the same day?

Attending diverse conferences and seminars is a way  to see demonstrations of new technology which might not normally cross your path, be that the latest databases or software being offered by vendors or a demonstration of 3D printing. This is even more true if you work in a specialist library. The expectation might be that I, a health librarian, would only attend health related conferences. However, if I did that, I would  have missed out on learning about interactive technology such as QR codes and Layar technology at LIR HEAnet  and of 3D printing at an NPD Ireland event.

Attending conferences is a way to see the changes taking place in librarianship as a whole and to identify tools and resources which could help your personal and professional growth. It encourages you to lift your head up from the daily tasks and immediate focus that is your work life and allows you to scan the horizon, thereby helping you strategically plan for the changes which may be coming over the coming months or years.

3D printing - Image copyright Caroline Rowan
3D printing anyone?
Conferences and seminars are a great way to mix and mingle with others in your profession and also with those outside your immediate specialty. You can reconnect with former classmates or colleagues. You can make first contact with people you only know virtually - “Oh, so that’s what @flexlibris looks like” and so on.

The first time I went to the Academic & Special Libraries conference I deliberately forced myself to sit close to the front, beside people I didn’t know. Then when people sat down I just said “Hi, I’m Caroline” to the people sitting on either side of me. With one of them the conversation was very brief. The other person was very chatty and on realising that I was a newbie librarian kindly took me under her wing and introduced me to several people at the coffee break and at lunch which really helped make the event for me. That has continued to be my experience of conferences. There are always people who are generous with their time and knowledge and who will gently introduce you to someone else, so that you aren’t left standing alone like a spare. For those of you who are shy about meeting people, Careerrealism has a few tips for getting through those awkward moments as does David Lurie  Well worth a read if you dread the thought of having to get out there and actually talk to a room full of people you don’t know. (Hint: you don’t actually have to talk to the whole room!)

I recommend taking a notebook to conferences to write down the names of the people you meet and where they are from. That way before you go to your next event, you can refresh your memory as to who you met and where, so that if you meet again you can reintroduce yourself “Hi, I’m Caroline, we met at the Academic & Special Libraries conference in February”.

Some might argue that the day of business cards is long gone but I think they are a good idea, particularly if you are job-hunting, or may be doing so in future. While, with the best will in the world, we may intend to find someone on LinkedIn or Twitter, when you meet a lot of people it can be hard to remember their details (unless of course you immediately wrote them down in the little notebook I suggested previously). This is where a business card is a winner. If you have given a business card, the recipient will view it later and hopefully remember your face and what you talked about. If you received a business card, you immediately have contact details for the person you talked to and a refresher as to what their area of interest/expertise is. You can print up your own business cards at kiosks or order them online from the likes of Vistaprint or Snap Printing If you are a blogger, or on Twitter or LinkedIn, why not include those details on your business card too?

Tablet and notebook - Public domain image sourced from
Keep notes - your memory is not as good as you think it is!
The presentations
What about the actual presentations themselves? Usually you will have received a list of speakers and their presentation titles in advance. I recommend keeping a copy of this even after the event is over. It is a useful CPD record. After all, with so much learning going on in our lives every day, it can be easy to forget the multitude of different things you learned at a conference.

I used to take notebooks to conferences to take down key messages from speakers but I can’t write anywhere near as fast as I type (and my handwriting gets very messy when I’m writing fast anyway) so now I take a laptop or tablet. That way I can type up my notes as the speakers are delivering their content. This is useful regardless of whether or not the speakers’ slides are made available later on. If the slides are made available then you have further information to flesh out the slides. If the slides aren’t made available then your notes will be your record of what you learned. The notes are also useful if you want some blogging practice, as you can use them to help you write a blogpost about the conference itself.

Hands typing on keyboard - image sourced from

The task
Your task for this Thing is to write about a conference you have attended. Write about:
  • What event you attended (name, date, theme of the event etc?)
  • What you had to do in order to attend e.g. application for approval from line manager, applying for funding support.
  • The networking you did (and if you have any hints/tips for how to meet people you don’t know).
  • The records or notes you made, if any. What methods did you use (notebook/computer)?  If you didn’t take notes, how much of the content can you actually remember now?
  • Reflect on what you would do differently at the next event you attend.

If you have never attended a library event, because you are new to the profession or because your budget or work commitments don’t allow it, your task is different. Identify a conference or seminar which you would like to attend over the coming months and write about:
  • How you sourced information on and identified the conference you want to attend.
  • The challenges you anticipate in attending (funding, travel issues, time to attend etc and how you will resolve these in order to allow you attend).
  • Your expectations about what the event will give you.
  • Your fears about attending an event like this for the first time.

I look forward to reading all your blogposts!

1 comment:

  1. You have a real ability for writing unique content. I like how you think and the way you represent your views in this article. I agree with your way of thinking. Thank you for sharing.


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