Thursday, 1 August 2019

CILIP Conference 2019, by Librarianship student Emily Pulsford

Thanks to the iSchool bursary, in July I attended the CILIP Conference 2019, my first large professional conference. As a full-time MA Librarianship student weighing up career options, I hoped to hear about new ideas and the latest developments in my areas of interest (academic and school librarianship) within the current wider professional context.

The set-up of the conference maximised opportunities to hear about projects and to network with other delegates. All delegates could attend the thought-provoking keynotes on a range of topics, from the ethical development of artificial intelligence to the role of the book in society, and designing public library spaces, while a varied programme of parallel break-out seminars and workshops ran throughout the two days of the conference. More than once it was difficult to decide which session to attend as they all sounded so interesting. Helping on the iSchool stand during breaks also meant chatting to professionals interested in doing a Masters at Sheffield, as well as iSchool alumni who dropped by to say hello. The evening social was also was a great opportunity to network in a more informal setting, and to find out what Library Twitter’s stars are like in real life.

A major theme running through the conference was diversity and inclusion, a pressing topic considering librarianship as a profession is very much majority white and therefore not reflective of wider society or the communities that libraries serve. Issues around bias and prejudice came up in Kriti Sharma’s keynote about AI, as work needs to be done to stop existing biases being adopted by AI or machine learning programmes working with biased training data. The effects of everyday bias and microaggressions were forefronted in a candid diversity panel where LIS professionals shared their lived experiences of being marginalised in work and life.

Highlights for me from the perspective of my future career were sessions on Media and information literacy, and the Diversity, books and reading panel chaired by Reading Development and Children’s Book Consultant, Jake Hope. In the latter, Dr Melanie Bold from UCL opened with an overview of her research into BAME representation in children’s literature between 2007 and 2017, highlighting that fewer than 2% of children’s book creators (authors and illustrators) published in that time were British people of colour. She emphasised that this situation can create a vicious circle where underrepresentation, as well as other issues such as lack of financial security for authors, deters others from becoming creators, entrenching the problem. To counteract this, she described positive steps that can be taken, such as author visits to school, which have been shown to improve literacy outcomes and provide inspiration, and the increasing popularity of alternative routes into publishing such as self-publishing.

Building on this introduction, panellists from Speaking Volumes and BookTrust talked about schemes they have been involved in to increase access to BAME children’s writing and change the shape of publishing to enable more creators to be published and reach their audience. Then the audience was treated to a reading by author Sita Bramachari from some of her work on the theme of storytelling. Author Onjali Q Rauf was also a great advert for how engaging authors can be and why author visits can be powerful for schoolchildren. After the session, her book about a refugee joining a new school called The Boy at the Back of the Class was swiftly moved up my to-be-read pile. Audience members also came away with a publication summarising the research highlighted during the talk and a useful list of BAME authors and illustrators, which may be of practical use in the future if developing a library collection for young people as part of my career.

Overall, the conference provided a great combination of practical takeaways, inspiring case studies and a sense of belonging to the wider profession, all of which I will carry with me when I graduate and start my first professional librarian post (all being well). Once again, I am grateful for the opportunity to make the most of the experience!

Emily Pulsford
MA Librarianship student

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