It was the quatercentenary of our national poet’s death, Mrs R was at work, the racing wasn’t up to much, and the cats were asleep on beds, so, having nothing better to do, last Saturday I took myself to London, to City University for the HASLibcamp, my first unconference.
The idea is intriguing, but I wonder precisely how abandoning the trapping of the traditional scientific conference helps. Most of the sessions I attended were not that different to workshop sessions at a conventional conference, indeed one was more or less a lecture with interpolated questions from the floor. One of the principles of unconferences is that if a participant isn’t interested in a session, they should feel free to get up and go to another one. In practice, I think we were all too well brought up and courteous to do so; I saw very little moving around, except if another session had finished early.
At the beginning everyone can pitch an idea for sessions. Kieran Lamb, until recently doyen of the FADE current awareness and grey literature services in the North West, and I chatted idly about the recent report from the Knowledge for Healthcare Task and Finish Group on Current Awareness services[pdf]. We both felt that the mountains had laboured and brought forth a mouse, and so I thought I’d pitch a session on current awareness, which had also been the topic of the #ukmedlibs chat earlier in the week. Much to my surprise, a reasonable number of people expressed an interest in it, and I found myself with a room to fill, though fortunately not until one of the afternoon sessions.
The first session I attended was pitched by Sarah Rudd, Clinical Librarian at Kingston Hospital, on the role of Clinical Librarians. Sarah’s original pitch was about the role of Clinical Librarians in promoting use of library and knowledge resources, though we ranged far and wide, in a group that contained some clinical librarians, some who were from medical libraries, but not in embedded roles, and others from higher education libraries and beyond. I didn’t tweet this session, and was too busy participating to keep decent notes. While we didn’t solve the central problems of showing clinical library impact, we had a good exchange of views.
After that, I headed for a session led by Gary Green, the sole public librarian at the event, talking about public libraries and health. Gary mentioned Shelf LIFE , an initiative for young people with mental health problems, and the Society of Chief Librarians health ‘offer’. Some esprit de l’escalier: I forgot to mention in the discussion, and no one else referred to it either, the work of the Patient and Public Information Task and Finish Group. Interesting questions were asked, particularly about the availability of health texts through public libraries. My hunch that, with the collapse of regional inter-lending systems, and the imposition of higher and higher charges for reservations, the picture is bleak. We still seem to be a long way from providing, either in dead tree or digital form
Lunch was provided by us all. I’m afraid to say my contribution came from a certain supermarket at Victoria. I don’t know who made the splendid focaccia, but I very much enjoyed it. There seemed to be lots left over
Then came the current awareness workshop. As I was leading it, I failed to tweet, and, though I have some notes, they are by no means full. It was a great asset to have someone from a business information service in the room, which was able to tell us about their approach – they make considerable use of RSS, and suggested some useful tools for managing and manipulating feed output. I outlined the position in the NHS, the growth of the KnowledgeShare service and the report of the Task and Finish Group. We talked about new ways of keeping up to date, for example in emergency medicine with the rise of #FOAMed (Free Open Access Meducation —see this exegesis from the LifeintheFastLane site). Other sound advice from the group included the suggestion, based on bitter experience of services being withdrawn at very short notice, such as Google Reader, that one should regularly back feeds to OPML, and on analytics. We also asked how we ourselves keep up: Twitter was mentioned, TOCs from the LIS literature and conferences and meetings and Newslet, which was news to me.
I may have chosen badly for my last session. Called Software in research, I thought it might be helpful for our project to try to manage the institutional research output of one of the trusts we serve. Instead, it was aimed more at librarians who curate collections of data. I should have listened to the pitch. Nevertheless, it sparked an interesting conversation with @ggnewed about software emulators.
The tweets from the day have archived and made accessible on Storify which contains ‘more or less’ everything from the day: https://storify.com/lynrobinson/haslibcamp. Other accounts of the day are available at https://haslibcamp16.wordpress.com/event-write-up/
Would I go to an unconference again? Perhaps. I wasn’t thrilled by the format. One thing I did not see the point of was the ‘safer spaces policy‘. If a professional gathering is going to make participants think, it probably shouldn’t try to be safe at the same time.