Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Share, inspire, lead: CILIP Cymru Wales annual conference 2016

Photo of shortbread bearing Shhh!, Quiet Please! and Swansea Library - created by the host venue, Marriott Hotel
Library shortbread. Created by The Marriott
Hotel, Swansea.
CILIP Cymru Wales annual conference (May 2016, Swansea) brought together a diverse range of practitioners and provided thought-provoking content to challenge, encourage learning and development and to inject renewed professional energy. Two themes appeared, to me, to encapsulate the conference: partnerships; and people / user community focus.

At this stage I'm not going to give detailed reports on the conference sessions that I attended. (All were excellent and would deserve more detailed record, but, alas, time prevents that action). Instead I'll focus on what appeared to me to be two recurrent themes within presentations, discussions and from the trade exhibition.

Many speakers and workshop / seminar leaders highlighted the benefits of partnership working.

  • Will achieve more / have greater impact. Manchester Libraries model of co-location, not only with local government, but with leisure centres, retail / commercial partners and others. Enterprise libraries (e.g. BL and Manchester libraries partnership) - serving the Manchester business communities.
  • Will enable progress / action that wouldn't otherwise be possible. The Hive working with university students to provide events, expertise, energy and ideas. AWHILES - partnership of health libraries in Wales, sharing development, ideas and problems. BL Newspaper digitisation using a commercial partner - short term paid for access, that will offer longer term gains for preservation and access. Manchester Libraries - opening their doors to local festivals to provide new footfall, diverse interests, expanded reach.
  • Will provide innovation and creativity - The Hive (as above); Welsh Government eDiscovery project - selecting a great eDiscovery tool and working with the supplier, enables new ways of working.
  • Will improve understanding / communication. The Hive use their direct work with students to understand their needs, but also to gain feedback from the wider range of users, and more successful understanding of community benefit. The Information Literacy Group and their support for the TeenTech project provide opportunities for school librarians to demonstrate the value they can add to projects through their improved liaison with teaching staff.
A focus on people and a focus on user communities was the second theme.

  • It's not about buildings or collections. It's about people. Know your user communities, and your non users - Denbighshire Libraries, AWHILES, Manchester Libraries.
  • Staff (and your pro-active supporters) are a vital, unique and a key asset - The Hive, Denbighshire, Manchester Libraries
  • Have a clear understanding of the benefits that your users receive from using your services - Denbighire Libraries, BL, AWHILES
  • Strand services for particular user. Enable users to easily recognise services that will be relevant to them - Manchester libraries, AWHILES.
  • We need good metrics to demonstrate the ways we support our organisations' aims and objectives.  Denbighshire Libraries, BL / Manchester Libraries Enterprise Libraries, AWHILES.
  • Career pathways - understand your skills, your strengths and where you would like to focus - Caroline Brazier (BL), Sioned Jacques (Cardiff Libraries).

So what?

1. My recent evaluation of a online contract viewed this strictly as a procurement arrangement. If I view the contract in terms of a partnership then there are a range of further metrics and benefits that I should include within the evaluation. A partnership view from the outset of a new contract may also change the dynamics, expectations and outcomes, with wider benefits for Welsh Government, our users and possibly also for the supplier. What other partnerships should we be considering?
2. Do Welsh Government staff understand how Libraries and Archive Services can help them? We haven't promoted our services recently for fear of not being able to cope with demand. However, could we stream some of our services more clearly as "self-service / help yourself" enabling a change of interaction with our users. Hence, a return to library marketing and promotion, and wider user engagement, but with a focus on self service?  Should we be promoting the library as a space, a venue for personal development and creativity, to a far greater extent? 
3. Libraries in all sectors and contexts are usually seen as trusted services, providing access to quality resources. Are we successful in getting this message across within Welsh Government, and could we cope with the additional demands on our service if we did promote these more widely? Again, aspects of self-service would need to feature highly in any response if this were pursued.
4. Metrics. A recent survey that I ran within Welsh Government demonstrated the ease that user feedback can be obtained, and how useful this information has been. What other areas should we be working on in order to improve our metrics?

What next?

1. To consider all of the above in the development of our annual plan. 
2. To re-commence a partnership project which has previously been stalled. Partnership working should now be seen with greater priority.

Some key quotes:

"The city's living room, study and brain" (Neil MacInnes, Manchester Libraries). Should we consider an amended statement for Welsh Government Library and Archive Services?
"Refresh every 6 years"  (Ditto). A timely reminder that in the retail world a service point and its services aren't allowed to remain the same for longer than 6 years. Should we all adopt this model?
"Libraries aren't dying; they are changing" (Nick Poole, CILIP)
"We can all do something. We all have the power to spread messages". Ian Anstice, Public Libraries News.

Thank you!
Grateful thanks to the CILIP Cymru Wales Committee members and Mandy Powell for providing such a fascinating and enjoyable conference. I do appreciate how much work goes into organising events like these! Your hard work has reaped many rewards! Thank you also to the speakers, workshop and seminar leaders for your time and expertise in crafting informative, entertaining and thought-provoking sessions.  And also to the trade exhibitors for your valued updates and contributions.