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LILAC 2022: Amongst one's own

Manchester bound

LILAC, the Information Literacy conference, took part in Manchester this year and I was fortunate enough to attend because of a generous bursary I won from Sheffield's Information School. The iSchool is where I am currently studying for the part-time, long-distance MA in Library and Information Services Management (LISM). So yes, this was the first time I had the chance to meet fellow students and my lecturers in person; at my first librarianship conference.

LILAC is a unique experience and with more than 60 parallel sessions to choose from this year, the diversity of cutting-edge information literacy research and practice was well represented. One of the panels I attended (and more on that a bit further down) discussed whether and in what way information literacy is its own discipline of Library Science and - to put if flippantly - one look at the programme bears much of the answer.

There is a certain nervousness that comes with attending your first big conference (am I even a real librarian yet?, who will want to talk to me?) but it was almost immediately dispelled after Pam, Emmy, and I had set up the Information School stand. We were greeted with open arms by a near constant stream of alumni and other friends-we-haven't-met-yet [strangers] that came to the stand to talk about either the fond memories they had made in their time with the Information School or their plans for the future.

Day 1

Day 1 started off fantastically with this purple notebook we were handed at the door. The paper quality is excellent and most of the notes that were the raw materials for this blog are in this notebook. I also live tweeted every session I attended so will try my best not to bore you with every single detail of the sessions I attended (if you are really interested you can read up on them on my Twitter under #lilac22). Instead, I will focus on the key learning I took from every session.

I sadly had to miss most of my first session due to some confusion with the programme - so the first key learning I took away from the conference was to double check the latest version of the conference programme right after registration. Then, note down any changes to the session you have booked.

Luckily, I didn't have to be sad for long because session 2 was one of the ones I had been looking forward to the most: "Introducing Information Literacy in the House of Commons" with Anne-Lise Harding, the newly appointed Senior Liaison Librarian at the House of Commons Library. She works with one of the most important information literacy audiences in the country: reseachers for House of Commons Select Committees. There are currently 171 of these committees that are live and just in the period from 2017-2019 these committees saw a combined 7419 witnesses, held 3121 meetings, and produced 757 reports based on the works these researchers do.

Now, these people already know how to research and Anne-Lise was aware of that so the key learning I took from this session was that in order to produce info lit modules that are valuable for your audience in a new job it is okay and even good to take a step back to research that audience in order to find where you as the librarian can add value. If you would like to see how that research is now being leveraged to create bespoke modules, I highly recommend Anne-Lise's posts on the CILIP Information Literacy Group blog.

After that, it was time for the first of three conference keynotes, which all took a flipped approach. This means that we had to watch a video before the conference began and jumped straight into Q&As with presubmitted questions, based on these lectures. This first keynote consisted of a panel of 4 LIS students from our host institution Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and I can only admire the bravery and guts it took to be that panel. They had to speak in front of hundreds of librarians and an audience that included some of the biggest name in our field like ALA President-Elect Emily Drabinski (current Twitter follower count: 19,060). The key learning here was that it is never to early to engage with your community, young voices matter as well.

But also, please speak into the microphone if you want it to be heard.

They keynote was followed by lunch.

The third session, I attended on Day 1 was "Moving forward as one university" by our very own University of Sheffield librarians. They outlined how they were able to get prestige and recognition for their work by changing their language and visual identity to align with university priorities under a flexible one university approach. They managed to do so without sacrificing on content. They changed only module names away from "information literacy" to "research skills" and "critical thinking" since consultation had shown that these terms were more meaningful to other university stakeholders. My key learning here was how a simple change in language can bring more engagement with your content. This in turn can open up new opportunities to embed one's service offer deeper into our communities.

My final session for the day was "Teaching Data Literacy and Data Visualization as a One-Credit Course" by Tatiana Usova, whose paper I had cited in one of my INF6553 Information Literacy courseworks. I strongly believe that adding data literacy teaching to our service models is in our future and it was nice to see that I am not alone in that belief. My key learnings from this session was that it is okay to start small as well as that going to university alumni meetings can be an important venue to spark ideas for new additions to the service.

After that it was time for networking and well-earned drinks. Seeing a non-alcoholic fizz option was particularly appreciated.

Day 2

Day 2 opened with a keynote by Marilyn Clarke on her decolonising work as Director of Library Services at Goldsmiths University. It was flipped as well so once again almost entirely questions and answers. This prompted a fantastically wide-ranging discussion and left me with the key learning that if we want to bring our decolonisation wins into the future we need to teach more people how to catalogue and work metadata. Local contexts will be lost if people do not know how to use the magic of MARC21 500 fields to make them visible to every browser on the catalogue. This needs to be part of doing the work.

Next, I had the chance to learn about the LibSmart series of modules that the Library Academic Support unit at the University of Edinburgh libraries run. Their session was delivered by Christine Love-Rodgers and SarahLouise McDonald and titled "Catapulted by Covid-19: hitting new information literacy targets at the University of Edinburgh". Their unit supports 45,615 students across 11 library sites and Covid saw them bringing back and updating online courses they had previously dropped due to low interest. I really liked what they do with digital badges (every module comes with it's own badge) and my key learning from their session was how important it is to have a thorough comms strategy when launching a new service - one that has "lines to take" both internally aimed at frontline staff as well as externally aimed at getting allied student services to promote the new service.

Session 6 of my conference was "Supersize (and digitize) my session!" with Chris Thorpe from City University library detailing he and his team's mad scramble to fulfil ever increasing expectations from their academic departments mid-pandemic. Trust in each other was essential in this and my key learning from the session is best summed up in these two quotes:

  • "We are trying our best and that is all you can ask."
  • "Perfection is the enemy of done and good-enough."
    They will be my mantra in the next crisis situation.

After lunch, I had the privilege to be in the most fascinating discussion I had all conference. This was sparked by Geoff Walton's "Mainstreaming information literacy: analysing Educational Preventing Violent Extremism programmes (EPVEs)" which detailed his work with the Home Office on evaluating programmes he could not give us more details off. The discussion covered approaches to EPVEs in Austria, the US, and the UK.

The paper on this work is a fascinating read and I cannot recommend it highly enough. This session taught me using a concrete example how information literacy work can and has a role to play in improving lives in an acute and emerging public policy area. I don't think I can overstate, how important this session was to me and my learning journey. It was the kind of thing, you hope to encounter at every conference, where the entire room brought in interesting points of view on the topic and that gave all the theory you have been looking at a concrete edge. I can only hope that the next bursary winners also get a session like it.

All heady, I headed to "Wikipedia, Student Activism, and the Ivory Tower" by Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian-In-Residence at the University of Edinburgh. He showed us the work they are doing with students there in an attempt to make the case to us for resetting the relationship between academia and Wikipedia. My key learning from his session was how important it is to give space to allied non-librarians at library conferences. He left us with some key Wikipedia principles to bring to our students:

  • use it to orient yourself, don't cite it.
  • write it, don't cite it.
  • cite the sources it cites.

I finished day 2, with some heavy theory in a session that was a short introductory lecture followed by a workshop. Dr Karen F. Kaufmann introduced a work-in-progress project she is doing with Dr Clarence Maybe. Her session was titled: "Information Literacy: Elements of a Maturing Discipline" and contained the discussion I mentioned at the very beginning of this blog. It was difficult stuff and I cannot claim to have understood it all but I was deeply impressed with the fierceness with which the assembled room argued for why it is important to see information literacy as its own discipline - it makes conferences and spaces for idea generation like the one we were at right now possible in the first place.

Having learned how rightfully proud librarians are of their chosen discipline it was time to close the conference for the day and head to the legendary LILAC dinner.

The room went OFF when the DJ put Mr Brightside on and I knew then that I was amongst my own.

Day 3

The final day.

I started it by heading to "Exploring how university lecturers construct their knowledge of information and digital literacy" held by Paul Cannon of the University of West Scotland. He presented work from his ongoing PhD and together with Geoff Walton's session it was for me the most valuable stuff I was able to attend at LILAC 2022. Lecturers are one of - if not the key stakeholder for us in academic libraries so I was fascinated to hear what they make of our concepts. The results were sobering.

Paul found little evidence of them mapping their idea of digital competencies onto existing information literacy frameworks in any coherent way. Everyone disagrees about what words mean what things. Their understanding of digital competence is really still at an embryonic stage. I came away thinking that there is a real potential for a longitudinal study here, where the same lecturers Paul had already interviewed could be shown these frameworks again and again as we are moving into a post-covid, post-digital only world. My key learning here was more roundabout: it was learning that I had already learned enough about information literacy (a discipline, I had not been exposed to before taking on this MA) to understand where Paul's critique of different information literacy frameworks were coming from.

After a quick coffee, it was then time for our third and final keynote with (as she found out later that day) President-elect of ALA Emily Drabinski. This was another super wide-ranging discussion about power and the library that I struggled a lot to reproduce on Twitter. The thing I took away however was that adding an analytical argument to your teaching ("these are the structural reasons why you are struggling with this database") can make your session more fun not just for your students but also yourself - because you would aim to have them leave your sessions smarter, not just better skilled. And to achieve that, you have to learn and examine systems.

 I finished my time at LILAC with a workshop aimed at refining the work of MILA, the Media and Information Literacy Alliance, as well as what I would describe as a "fun" talk. It was about the island of St Helena and an ongoing research project that aims to map how the information landscape on the island will change after the arrival of highspeed internet. My key learning from these last two sessions was that to end your conference on a high do something active that is centred right in the middle of the discussion you were having over the last three days as well as something that is related to your work but so off the wall, it will never come up in your practice. "Information in isolation: the arrival of high-speed internet in a very remote community" by Andrew Whitworth fulfilled that need.

#lilac22 Final stats

Number of days attended: 3
Number of sessions attended: 16
Number of tweets posted: 328
Number of complementary pastries eaten: 8
Number of complementary biscuits eaten: 12
Number of things learned: uncountable

And to end, I would just like to express my heartfelt thanks to the conference organising committee, the volunteers that attended to our every need throughout the three days, as well as the Information School here at Sheffield for making this opportunity available.

I think you can tell I had fun.

- Arved Kirschbaum

MA Library & Information Services Management student


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