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CILIPS 2019 Conference – Day One Sessions

Category: Blog

This is a guest blog from Adeline Tournier, Information Assistant at the City of Glasgow College Library, who has written about some of the keynotes and breakout sessions which she attended on day one of the CILIPS Conference 2019. 


CILIPS Conference – 03/06/2019

Theme: “Courage, laughter and innovation – A resilient profession”

Keynote 1 – Women on the shelf: Bravery and the making of a Women’s Library

Sue John, senior management team, Glasgow Women’s Library

Sue John delivered a passionate speech about the beginnings and evolution of the GWL. Multiple funding phases and ongoing projects made it possible for the “tiny corner shop” (in Sue’s words) to become a holistic museum exclusively dedicated to women which currently employs 23 staff members. It is the only one of its kind in the UK, and it is visited by people from all around the world.

In 1990, Glasgow was the European City of Culture and the GWL project emerged as a push for open-mindedness and respect towards women. Until then, history had mainly been approached from an almost exclusively male perspective and many women’s achievements had been cancelled out from history.

The project started in 1991, located at 50 Hill Street. At the time, the library was entirely run by volunteers only, and the book collection was, and remains to this day, based on donations.

In 1994, GWL moved to new premises, at 109 Trongate, and received funding for the first time for a literacy project. GWL employed their first librarian in 2005 and their first archivist in 2009. In 2007, the library moved again, to Parnie Street.

In 2010, GWL moved to self-contained premises at the Mitchell’s for three years but it became evident that the ever-expanding women’s library lacked space. That is why in 2014, GWL moved to 23 Landressy Street in Bridgeton, its current home.

GWL is a unique institution, both a library and a museum, and promotes diversity, inclusivity, tolerance and respect and broad-mindedness. Its goal is not only to change people’s perspectives on women, but also to be close to and cater for the entire community. According to Sue, the idea is to become accessible to everyone, especially to what people call “the hard to reach”, but who in fact, are “the easy to ignore”. Hence, GWL is renowned for its activism against social exclusion.

GWL has worked with over 300 artists, holds approximately 160 events a year and sells its own merchandising. Six geographical women’s walks dedicated to women’s history in Glasgow are offered and guided by volunteers. The museum part of GWL is a permanent collection made up of objects retracing women’s history. GWL uses its own feminist classification system for its book collection and this has recently been extended to the museum and the archive.

Its eclecticism, dynamism, innovation and creativity has ensured GWL’s growth and sustainability over the past 25 years. Its objectives for the future are to keep striving to redress the gender equality balance and to involve future generations in this effort too.

Breakout session 1 – Libraries on the Move – A report on Scotland’s mobile libraries

Dr. Alyson Tyler, independent researcher

This study was initiated by the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) and conducted over two months by Dr. Alyson Tyler who joined a Stirling mobile library for her research.

The aim was to appraise the current panorama of mobile libraries throughout Scotland and to evaluate the difference it makes to peoples’ lives. This survey includes quantitative results given by library services but also the participation and testimonies of around 340 users.

Mobile libraries have existed for almost a century. Perthshire is reported to have launched the first one in 1921. The number of mobile libraries reached its peak in the early 1990s with 719 mobile libraries in the UK, but their number has been declining ever since.

The coverage pattern in Scotland is very mixed nowadays. Out of 32 local authorities, 22 provide a mobile library service, with a total of 49 library vans. These vans cover more than 3,000 stops and cater for around 37,000 library users, i.e. about 8% of the active borrowers of these 22 local authorities.

Although the life of a library van does not usually exceed 10 years, Scottish mobile libraries are between two months and 18 years old. Most of these vans are designed to cater for everyone, but a few “schoolmobiles” are designed to cater for children only.

The mobile library service is highly appreciated by its users. 98% are extremely positive about it and staff members are described by customers as “friendly, helpful, knowledgeable and kind”. Nevertheless, as pointed out by Alyson, it is not an easy job and mobile library staff need to be resilient. They have to drive a van over long distances, on sometimes very narrow roads. They have to be customer-oriented and remember the tastes of all their service users in order to be able to recommend suitable books.

The main issues with the service are the lack of ICT equipment on board and the lack of connectivity in certain areas which make it difficult to provide users with digital access. Besides, mobile library stops usually last between 15 and 30 minutes which is not sufficient for digital engagement.

Alyson pointed out that the trend to cut down on mobile library services in Scotland is also reflected in most countries around the world. However, Alyson noted that Finland has kept most of its mobile libraries. This can be put into perspective with Finnish high literacy levels. She visited “Netti Nysse”, a library van with an impressive amount of digital equipment fitted inside, a model to follow.

After conducting this survey, Alyson concluded that mobile libraries in Scotland are a “lifeline” for people.

1) They help reduce loneliness and social isolation because they are a social service and connect people.

2) They enhance people’s health and wellbeing. As a matter of fact, in some local authorities, mobile libraries also deliver health items to users, such as blood pressure tests or hearing aids, for instance.

3) They benefit learning and development.

4) They support children and their families and have been named “treasure troves” by some. It is key for children to learn how to select their own books and to interact with adults. An example of good practice was given where children had been borrowing bilingual books to read with their parents, whose mother tongue was not English, and had helped them improve their English literacy.

5) They support culture and leisure.

In spite of the global positive impact of the service, the model could be improved in some aspects. Alyson suggests that it should be better marketed and strategic partnerships should be developed. ICT facilities on vans should be increased and Alyson also considers economies of scope, due to an increasingly diverse service offered aboard mobile libraries, rather than economies of scale since further reductions in the mobile library service would be disastrous, both for young and older users.

Let’s conclude on the testimony of one of the mobile library users, enhancing “the magic of mobile libraries”: “I wait to see the yellow van wind its way down the s-bend hill and know it is full of treats. It lifts my spirits and makes me smile.” (Western Isles, 60s, F)

Breakout session 2 – Libraries and the campaign to end loneliness

Anne Callaghan, Campaign Manager, Scotland

Approximately 10% of the British population is reported to suffer from chronic loneliness, i.e. over four million people experience it in the whole UK and about 100,000 in Scotland. However, it is estimated that at any time, as many as nine million people in the UK might experience loneliness. On average, British people spend 29% of their leisure time alone.

Loneliness should not be mistaken for social isolation. We can be surrounded by people, have an intense social life and still feel lonely. Anne Callaghan defined loneliness as “the gap between the social connections we have and the ones we would like to have”.

Because it is a public health issue, it needs to be addressed more actively. The negative health impacts of loneliness are indeed reported to be as detrimental as the effects of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness increases the risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, high blood pressure and stroke.

According to Anne, both internal factors and external factors are at work. Loneliness may be linked to individuals’ introvert personalities, but may also be caused by a range of “wider society contributory factors”, such as lack of transportation, living far from one’s family, poor housing, fear of crime and distrust of others, discrimination and low income.

Anne has identified three main groups of people at higher risk of experiencing loneliness:

1) widowed senior homeowners;

2) middle-aged individuals with a long history of health problems;

3) young renters who have moved to a new area and don’t feel they belong.

Then, Anne explained that libraries are brilliant spaces to fight loneliness, because they act as the glue which connects the community. They provide people with a local, safe space and users can engage in conversation with staff. Most important of all is that there is no commercial expectation from users which makes libraries a unique and accessible environment.

Anne then looked at libraries’ different impacts on people’s lives.

1) They help people maintain existing relationships through the technology they offer.

2) They help people build new connections, through buddying and the provision of one-to-one conversations if users feel too intimidated to talk in front of a group, for instance, and through “ad-hock communications.

3) They help people change their thinking through the wide range of books they offer, especially books about mindfulness and psychological approaches and through talks and events organized by libraries.

Anne then moved on to see how libraries can make a difference and presented a list of strategies, such as:

– welcoming new and existing members:

  • asking them what their interests are in order to introduce them to other people with similar interests and spark a connection;
  • using trigger points to start a conversation, such as enquiring about their health, because according to 88% people, all interactions, though small, matter and help reduce loneliness;

– volunteering;

– Chatty Cafes ( – a recent initiative endorsed by companies such as Costa and Sainsbury’s:

  • these companies provide people with a dedicated space to talk (usually dedicated tables);
  • people can go and sit at these tables to indicate that they are open to start a conversation with new people;

– buddy systems to help build people’s confidence;

– linking with community groups, i.e. “Contact the Elderly”;

– making the facilities and the service accessible for all;

– organizing a Day of Action.

Keynote 2 – Hope, Opportunity and Redemption: What books bring to our prisons

Erwin James, Editor in Chief of Inside Time and Guardian Columnist and contributor

A powerful testimony retracing a heart-breaking story, but also full of hope. Erwin told us about how liberating books had been for him throughout his life, since his childhood when he enjoyed reading “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” so much. At school, he soon discovered he was doing well in English and later on in prison, he was given the opportunity to do an English degree. All throughout his speech, he kept emphasizing how books had saved him and kept being life-saviours for incarcerated people.

Breakout session 3 – Diversity and inclusion in the profession

Heena Karavadra, University of Leicester and member of CILIP BAME Steering Group

Heena Karavadra’s speech drew upon the Equality Act 2010 which outlines the principles of equality and inclusivity for all, especially for the nine protected characteristics (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation) and reminded us that in reality, this is not always the case, especially in the workplace.

She invited us to consider situations where people are treated differently by their colleagues, based on the protected characteristics mentioned in the Act:

1) Unconscious bias is a phenomenon affecting everybody. Due to our background, we are naturally prejudiced and the only remedy is to learn how to become aware of those prejudices. Online tests and training are available to fight against unconscious bias.

2) Micro-aggression is defined as “indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination”. It is a form of passive-aggressive behaviour which may seem quite insubstantial, but frequently repeated may cause harm and loss of self-confidence.

Heena then moved onto the practices which can be developed for better inclusion in our profession and at that stage, we started a series of workshops in small groups to exchange ideas and examples of good practice.

She introduced the concept of “allyship” which is about making a real effort at inclusion, by learning from mistakes and building relationships based on trust. According to Heena, people can be active allies by sharing good practice and striving to understand the issues minority groups may be faced with in the workplace, by putting ourselves in their shoes.

In order to do so, more input is also needed from minority groups. Their experiences are invaluable to understand the issues and tackle them in order to ensure wellbeing for all in the workplace.

Keynote 3 – Creating a more tolerant, informed and democratic society through open

Lucy Crompton-Reid, Chief Executive of Wikimedia UK

Lucy Crompton-Reid’s speech mainly covered Wikimedia, in particular the “Wikimedia 2030” project.

It is based on Wikidata, a database which libraries from all around the world contribute to. One of its great contributors is the Library of Congress.

The National Library of Scotland was the first Scottish institution to hold a “Wikimedia resident centre”, which is basically a partnership between both organizations.

It is meant to be a service people can constantly engage with, by creating and editing it. The project is underpinned by the belief in knowledge equity and that access to information is a human right. That is why one of Wikimedia’s goals is to fight against misinformation and fake news and to explore the concept of “digital citizenship”.

Lucy played a video which evidenced how crucial Wikimedia had been to enhance Welsh language learning in a primary school in Wales. Throughout the video, the pupils explained how they had created a page about their village in Welsh and insisted on how crucial it had been to make sure the information supplied was correct.

As a result, Wikimedia is also a way to promote minority languages, and as Lucy pointed out, is involved in a wide range of other projects, which amongst other things, tackle gender and inequality issues.

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