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LILAC 2018 Student Blog - Laura Palmer

MA Library and Information Services Management (Distance Learning) student Laura Palmer attended the LILAC Conference 2018 in Liverpool, along with other staff and students from the Information School. Here are her thoughts on the conference.

LILAC 2018 from a distance learning LIS student perspective

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to attend LILAC 2018, a conference all about information literacy and librarianship, which I have wanted to attend since starting out in librarianship. In September 2016 I began studying for the MA in Library and Information Services Management by distance at the Information School, and at the same time began teaching IL in my previous job role in the HE in FE sector. My experience was that of being ‘thrown in at the deep end’; my enthusiasm for all things library and learning ‘accidentally’ landed me the role of coordinating and designing the Library’s IL provision. Since then I have been keen to learn all I can about excellence in IL teaching from the experts!

For a distance learner, promoting the Information School on their LILAC conference stand was a great experience. I’ve only met a handful of students and staff since I began studying, so to finally meet and spend some time people I have been working with virtually for almost two years was in itself worthwhile. I also got to chat to several prospective PhD and MA distance learners, helping them to build a picture of the joys and challenges of being an iSchool distance learner (it’s tough juggling the work-study-life balance, but also incredibly satisfying!) and met many, many alumni who had plenty of helpful tips about surviving MA life. Number one suggestion - make the most of bursary opportunities like this if you possibly can! They can help you to keep up with the latest developments in the field and meet helpful contacts from whom to seek expert advice on different areas when needed.

So to the sessions, and the first keynote from Barbara Band (@bcb567) got underway with a very enthusiastic ‘hush’ of librarians (Sarah Pittaway @dr_sarah_p handily informing us of the appropriate collective noun!), gathered not-so-quietly (the sound of keyboards tweeting en masse can be surprisingly loud!). Barbara questioned whether misuse of the terms ‘library’ and ‘librarian’, and acceptance of alternative terms such as ‘Learning Lounge’ may be contributing to de-professionalism, before speaking about the need to advocate for IL in schools, which suffers from not being a mandatory requirement. She highlighted how many students’ first experience of IL education comes at university, and considered the ‘elephant in the room’ - why is it not on the schools’ curriculum when it would give students a better start at university and work? This particularly resonated with me, as my experience in HE in FE was of supporting students who had never used a library, written an academic essay, or referenced before. When I reflected on where I had learned most of my information skills, it was at university, rather than at school.

Following on from this I attended the parallel session on one practical solution to this issue: ‘Bridging the gap: should we reach out to schools to prepare ‘research ready’ students? ‘ by Carolyn Benny and Pauline Smith of LJMU. It was great to hear a successful example of academic libraries working with schools to support information literacy and prepare students for university. I then changed topic to scholarly communications to hear about how UK Copyright Literacy have created ‘The Publishing Trap’ board game to help early-career researchers get to grips with Open Access and scholarly communications, which provided some helpful insights for my academic libraries module coursework!

On day 2, I attended sessions on embedding, flipping and actively teaching IL, discovering lots of new ways to extend IL learning into the curriculum beyond the library induction. The keynote Ola Pilerot provided a thought-provoking talk about how different information literacies are developed by people for their own purposes, warning against predefining IL as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ practices. In the final keynote Dave Wight reminded us of the problems presented by our dataselves - the trails we leave behind when using digital media. Our dataselves are used to tailor online content to our existing views - and can leave us with a skewed picture of the world and polarised public opinion. He left us with the advice: “don’t fear complexity”, a good message in this age of soundbites and increasing news by twitter.

My first ‘residential conference’ experience also provided my first conference ‘formal social’ events, and huge congratulations to the LILAC organising committee for their superb choices! The Networking Evening was a true Night at the Museum - with the unique opportunity of a private viewing of the Terracotta Warriors exhibition. Going to a museum with a group (sorry, hush!) of librarians is so satisfying - everyone suitably awed by the artefacts and making proper use of the provided ‘metadata’. I didn’t last long as my first day had worn me out, and the next evening held the exciting prospect of Conference Dinner.

Another ‘wow’ moment - dinner at the atmospheric Metropolitan Cathedral, or as Dave Wight (@daveowight) put it “in a crypt with about 300 librarians”. Excellent food (particularly the crowd-pleaser sticky toffee pudding), a bit of wine, good company, and, in the spirit of LILAC, there were of course plenty of games, including an origami challenge (I failed miserably), and a book raffle, in which I won an informational book about cow breeds. Someone asked to swap (didn’t catch her name - networking fail!) for their winning copy of ‘Ted Rules the World’ by Frankie Cottrell-Boyce. Of course I obliged - FCB is after all a CILIP Carnegie Medal winner!

Despite returning to the reality of catching-up with coursework (particularly my dissertation proposal), and feeling guilty about how I’d largely spent my time having ‘fun’, I would recommend any LIS student to apply for a conference bursary, and to allow yourself time to attend any CPD events which interest you. What you get out of the experience is much more than the knowledge shared at the sessions - it’s a renewed sense of enthusiasm for what professional librarians do (particularly important when the coursework is piling up!) and a sense of being part of the wider, and very supportive, library community. You’ll go home with a longer reading and wish-list for your practice than you will have time to achieve - but you’ll also know who to ask for help putting the ideas into practice!

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