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Bobbie Winter-Burke from the Glasgow School of Art reports back from CILIPS Conference in Dundee 2018

Category: Blog, Branches and Groups, Uncategorized

This year’s CILIPS conference theme was “Collaborative communities: connecting with our networks”. Despite the clue being in the name, I was still impressed with the number of talks that focused on cross-sectoral collaboration. The conference was a welcome departure from the higher education focus of so many conferences and training days  I have attended in the past.

There were a number of sessions that really stood out for me. The first session provided an interesting account of libraries in the prison system. Peter White from the charity Positive Prison  works towards improving the lives of the many people in and out of the prison system by providing positive opportunities for learning. James King from the Scottish Prison Service spoke next with a focus on setting the bar higher for education in prisons; providing an engaging curriculum, setting reading challenges, providing access to MOOCs and collaborating with universities to provide distance learning degrees.

Following on from prisons was a session on bibliotherapy services in Midlothian libraries. Jane Milne and Fiona Bailey gave us an overview of the bibliotherapy services on offer at Midlothian libraries. The initiative is a partnership between local councils, NHS Scotland and libraries in order to align strategies and improve the mental and physical wellbeing of users across all services. There are a variety of services on offer, including improving mental health through reading groups, books on prescription, reading through chemotherapy, and a health information pathway to improve health literacy. Fiona also emphasised the importance of using creative literature rather than self-help materials, as well as clinical volunteers rather than library staff. The cross-cutting service has been successful in bringing in new audiences and an evaluation of the service can be found here.

Sara Thomas, Delphine Dallison and Alana Ward spoke about Wikimedia and public libraries. Sara introduced Wikimedia in Scotland and gave an overview of some of the ways their projects have been successful in connecting people, engaging new communities (including staff and volunteers) and increasing literacy. She argues that there is an opportunity cost in not engaging with Wiki. Alana asserted that the collections held in all the other institutions across Scotland make up its “other” national library and the potential for opening up these collections with Wikimedia is endless. She even described a pop up library in a supermarket. She spoke of the importance of choosing collections that reflect the communities the libraries serve. Delphine highlighted some of the many ways libraries can engage with Wiki, including collections surveys, offering backstage passes to look at special collections and create content for Wikipedia, and WikiData as a tool to map data on libraries – including the geo-spread of libraries, closures, funding and other important information.

Graeme Hawley from National Library of Scotland spoke about projects he has been involved in that aim to reach new audiences. Inviting people to re-sit geometry exams was one such project. After a bursary callout the previous year, a selection of creative individuals were  invited to produce artworks, music, essays and dance in response to the papers. During the talk we were given a sneak preview of a beautiful piece of choreography by Robbie Synge, entitled ‘Proof’. You can see the video and other responses on the NLS website. Graeme explained that collections take on a new currency if kept long enough. The challenge is finding ways of drawing out the potential within these collections by using ‘serving suggestions’, i.e. setting strict parameters in order to have a ‘micro-’ or ‘macro-focus’ to elevate hidden content.

The conference ended with a talk by Darren McGarvey aka Loki, promoting his book Poverty Safari. His chapter on libraries drew on his own experience of the barriers to entry of libraries. Other speakers had touched on this subject throughout the conference; however Loki’s account was hard-hitting as it came from his own perspective as a frustrated user. Frustrations heightened by budget cuts and the closure of local services. The connections we have with our networks can only be successful if we can actively work to remove these barriers. I think it’s really important the library sector in Scotland aspires to be more inclusive, with a workforce that better reflects the communities and networks they represent and policies and frameworks that promote difference. I think that is the only way that barriers will start to be overcome. Discussions around diversity and inclusion may be uncomfortable, but we should be having them – both in the workplace, and at our conferences.

It was a full and fascinating programme with many things to take away with me and I would like to thank ARLGS for funding my place at the conference.

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