Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Library Camp SW: An Organiser’s Perspective

Library Camps have been popping up all over the UK over the last 3-5 years and in my opinion represent all that is good in networking and collaboration within the library and information profession. Unlike conferences such as Umbrella, library camps are un-conferences which are based on “Open Space Technology” (Harrison Owen) which has four main principles and one law:-

1. Whoever comes is the right people
2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
3. Whenever it starts is the right time
4. When it’s over, it’s over

Law of two feet: If, during the course of the gathering, any person finds him or herself in any situation where they are neither learning nor contributing, they must use their two feet and go to some more productive place.

Open Space Technology works best when the conditions are present:
1. A real issue of concern, that it is something worth talking about.
2. a high level of complexity, such that no single person or small group fully understands or can solve the issue
3. a high level of diversity, in terms of the skills and people required for a successful resolution
4. real or potential conflict[5], which implies that people genuinely care about the issue
5. a high level urgency, meaning the time for decisions and action was "yesterday"

This is the first time that I had both helped organise something on this scale and attended an un-conference although the basic concept is quite easy to grasp. I first found out about library camp SW through colleagues on Twitter (@deadlylibrarian and @idhunter22) who I had met at previous conferences and expressed an interest in helping out... it was literally as simple as that (bless the wonders of social media!). Organising the day took 4 months on and off but once a venue and day had been chosen the hardest part was over. The beauty of an un-conference is that so much rests on what happens on the day that there isn’t actually that much to plan. With this in mind we only met 3-4 times before the actually camp took place in July. There was a heavy use of Twitter, email, Google docs and other technologies to keep everyone updated as the months went on and I feel this was the easiest and most efficient way of managing the day. Funding was secured from CILIP SW and Library Camp UK for the venue, porter services and essential tea and coffee rations – we also had sponsors like Bowker give us canvas bags, pens etc for free giveaways.

From organisation to running the day Library Camp SW was a total group effort with a committee of approx twelve librarians from across the region. This team covered all sectors and brought a plethora of skills to the table from IT expertise, local information and a brilliance of understanding risk assessments! We all publicised the event through different channels, a percentage of tickets were held for school librarians and emails were sent out to all local authorities and university libraries ensuring a wide mix of delegates on the day.

Like most things these days, technology played a large part in organising the day from publicising on Twitter, to booking tickets via eventbrite and adding information and updates to the wiki – a totally collaborative space with sections for session proposals, lunch (an essential part of all library camps) and information on travelling to and from the camp. 

Feeling quite bad at this point that I had not contributed much I volunteered along with @jenfosterlib to take charge of pitching sessions on the day and finalising the timetable of sessions. We met up separately to discuss the itinerary for the day and how people would move between sessions. This included making sure all the housekeeping was in order, directing people between sessions and giving organisers and session leaders enough time to set up and pack away where necessary. A bonus in my opinion (although some may see it as a flaw) was that neither @jenfosterlib or myself had attended a library camp before (I was thwarted by rain and a dying car when trying to get to Exeter last year). This meant we had a blank canvas to work with and could put our own spin on the pitching sessions which worked differently in the morning and afternoon. 

Fast forward to the day and I think we were all quite anxious and excited to get going, with over 60% delegates accounted for on a sunny Saturday morning Library Camp SW was underway. There was a strong number of delegates from both the schools sector and academic libraries as tends to be at conferences but I was happy to see a few public library people too. Far too often I have been the only public sector employee at a conference and due to budget restrictions and time constraints I don’t see this changing anytime soon, although plans for a public library camp in the SW are afoot so keep your ears to the ground!

Pitching in the morning as in the afternoon was carried out via post it notes which were stuck to tables in the main foyer when delegates arrived. The various pitches were then announced via my dulcet tones and a count of hands was taken to work out how popular sessions were and which rooms to stage them in. This worked to a degree and was heavily dependent on how much detail had been added to the post it notes. We improved this in the afternoon pitching session by inviting delegates up to explain their ideas and then vote on sessions. This worked better as delegates got a far better understanding of what sessions would touch upon. Once sessions were voted on @jenfosterlib and I devised the timetable which was duplicated and displayed for everyone to plan their day. When delegates arrived they were given a bag with pens and a day planner in which they could use to plan their library camp experience.  

Popular sessions such as Information Literacy were repeated so delegates had the chance to attend but I imagine these sessions were completely different dependent on who was in the room. Sessions were pitched on current topics – apps, eBooks, the future of library services (a particularly heated session) and staples of the profession; information literacy and chartership along with quirky sessions that included attending a rhyme time (well attended by the organisers at the end of the day) and planning your “perfect library” if money wasn’t an option. Running around on the day I didn’t sit it on many full sessions but bounced between and heard some heated debates during the day but it is uplifting to be in a room with professionals so passionate about their professions... it fills you with a sense of hope for the future of the profession in all forms. The day ended with a speed networking session which gave delegates the opportunity to make contact with those they had met earlier in the day and establish partnerships that will go beyond the day.

The feedback received from the day has been mostly positive and I believe we can be proud of our achievement. There is talk of a public libraries library camp in the region which would be amazing in my eyes so hopefully this will get off the ground. The mix of organisers both on the run up to and on the day ensured a mix of delegates and a smooth running operation and I hope everyone had a productive day... the pub was definitely a highlight!

Bring on Library Camp SW 2014!


  1. This brilliant Laura, sounds like it was a great success. And make me really look forward to the Libcampeast next weekend! Oh and many congrats on so many views :)

  2. Thanks Emma I'm glad you enjoyed it... am sure lipcampeast will be awesome with you and the Walne in attendance! Look forward to hearing about it!