Tuesday, 17 July 2018

CILIP Conference 2018: Highlights by Distance Learning student Beth Jackson

This year’s CILIP Conference was held in Brighton and I was delighted to be able to represent the University of Sheffield at the Information School stand. This proved to be a really wonderful experience and afforded me plenty of opportunities to speak to current, former and prospective students and to chat with the myriad different information professionals who stopped by the stand throughout the duration of the conference.

The keynote speeches were really interesting and covered topics across different library and information sectors, from GDPR to children’s library services. I particularly enjoyed Penny Young’s talk about the scope of the House of Commons library service. In such a political turbulent time, much of what Penny discussed helped re-humanise MPs in the face of tabloid coverage and really emphasised the need for and use of evidence to inform our elected representatives. The work that the HOC library do is essential and extensive and it was fascinating to hear her experience of working in such a challenging environment.


I also enjoyed Samira Ahmed’s look at the important role that libraries and archives play in preserving important items that help to document our social history. She took us through a variety of examples that she had encountered through her career in journalism but my favourite was that of Paud’s Pins – a project unpicking the cultural significance of a collection of artefacts relating to the LGBT+ movement in the 1980s. I was aware of the project already, having stumbled across a Twitter thread that documented the discovery of the archive. I shared this on the conference hashtag which kicked off a number of really interesting discussions - you can read more about the discovery of this brilliant collection here. Samira also offered a word of caution about our role and offered some anecdotal evidence about how the biases of the information professional can impact how the social history of minority groups are described and recorded. I think this was an important take-away for every library and information worker; to critically analyse whether their working practices enforce structural inequalities.


I made a deliberate effort to attend break-out sessions that weren’t necessarily related to my current job role and I think this offered me a richer conference experience and a more comprehensive look at what different information professionals are doing in their sectors. Attending the ‘Preserving the past for the future’ seminar was an illuminating insight into a range of preservation projects, including the innovative use of heritage collections to support disadvantaged communities, the digitisation of Gulf history and Arabic science material at the British Library and the protection of our cultural property in the face of armed conflict or natural disasters. I was especially interested in Dr Nick Barratt’s example of using heritage collections to support reminiscence therapy for those suffering with dementia. The idea to open up recipe archives to help reproduce evocative smells and reignite lost memories was something I was particularly moved by and since this is a topic that is close to home for me, it was fantastic to hear of cultural history collections being used in such a meaningful way.

I also really enjoyed the ‘Voice and vision: the importance of diverse representation in literature for children and young people’ break-out session. The inclusive panel had a thoughtful, lively and spirited debate on the importance of intersectional diversity in children’s books. You can find my live tweets from this (and other sessions) here. One of the key themes that emerged from the discussion included the necessity for the literature to represent not only diverse backgrounds, but also to reflect a diversity of experience. Nadia Shireen cautioned that stories that have BAME protagonists don’t have to be intense or overly earnest tales – they can and should also be funny, sad or romantic. Juno Dawson also attested to this by suggested that books with LGBT characters don’t have to be ‘coming out stories’ - in an ideal world, a character’s sexuality could be incidental to their other characteristics. The panel also highlighted the important role that libraries play as allies to BAME authors, by demonstrating to publishers that there is a real demand for a breadth of different stories from more diverse backgrounds and there is commercial gain to be had from engaging with a more inclusive range of authors and illustrators.

I had a fantastic time at the conference and it was a real pleasure to meet so many fantastic people over the course of the two days - I was also able to meet some fellow distance-learners (and lecturers!) face-to-face for the first time. I know that balancing work and study can be challenging and isolating at times, so this experience was a great way of engaging with and staying connected to the University and I would wholeheartedly encourage other DL students to apply for future bursaries.

Beth Jackson
PGDip Library and Information Services Management (Distance Learning) student

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