Simon Barron, E-resources Co-ordinator at Durham University Library has kindly provided us with a post on the recent LibraryCamp 2012, held in Birmingham
On Sunday 14th October 2012, I sat in the least commercial café that I could find around Birmingham New Street Station hunched over a cup of coffee and a panini feeling completely drained – physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted – and I wanted nothing more than to go home. Though I was so tired and drained that I could barely make the notes for this blog post, I’m not sure I’d have it any other way. Library Camp UK 2012 pushed me to the edge of exhaustion and it was by no means perfect but it was nonetheless one of the best library-related events in my recent memory.
Library Camps are unconference events in which a date and venue is decided upon, library folk congregate on that venue, and then semi-spontaneously set the agenda for the day’s proceedings. To date, there have been two national Library Camps and a number of smaller Library Camp-ettes in various locations across England (1). From http://www.librarycamp.co.uk/ :
Unconferences are events with a number of things in common:
* Free to attend
* No set, pre-defined agenda
* A strong focus on attendee participation
* Relentlessly positive, constructive and creative (via @bluelightcamp)
On the 13th October, I went to Library Camp UK 2012 held in Birmingham at the Signing Tree Conference Centre. This was the second national Library Camp in the UK and it attracted, according to one of the organisers, between 150 and 200 people. And their cakes.
Attendees chose sessions to attend from a spontaneously-generated matrix of 6 time-slots and 4 rooms. As with other Library Camps, the sessions presented a variety of topic areas unimaginable for any other event. I attended a mix of presentations and discussion workshops covering: what public libraries are for; open source software and cultural change; the philosophy of classification; ‘living libraries’ projects in Scandinavia; the use of volunteers in libraries; Open Access in academic libraries. The quality of the sessions and their content was somewhat hit-and-miss which is only to be expected at these kinds of events: to some extent it’s the attendees who drive the direction of a session. While there may not be cutting-edge research results or groundbreaking peer-reviewed ideas, it’s great to discuss these issues.
Because Library Camp is not an event of ideas but an event of people: it’s not the ideas you take away but the people with whom you discuss them. The moments that stand out in my memory all do so because of the people I was with. Liz Jolly challenging a fellow from Red Quadrant and delivering an impassioned defence of public services; Andrew Preater channelling Richard Stallman when talking about ‘free software’; a group of library knitters sitting outside and accusing Sarah Nicholas of stealing the sun; meeting a stranger and having recognition and connection flow into the vacuum between you both when you realise that you’ve been Twitter friends for ages; sharing pizza and wine with Travelodge buddies on the Friday evening before. A Library Camp isn’t a conference for learning serious new things and reporting back to one’s workplace (2): it’s an event for meeting people. Most importantly, for meeting people who care.
I’ve never been good at professional detachment: keeping a distance between ‘career’ and ‘life’, ‘colleagues’ and ‘friends’, ‘work’ and ‘fun’. Though my online identity may manifest the kind of postmodern, self-referential, world-wearily cynical irony that is fashionable among the overeducated and disaffected of my generation, the truth is that I care. I care deeply about libraries, about this profession, and about the men and women who work in it. And so I throw myself into work, I get emotionally involved with librarianship, I “stretch [my]self until [I] snap.” (3) For me, the boundary between the professional and the personal has always been blurred to the point of near non-existence.
The beauty of the Library Camp group of unconference events is that they are the profersonal’s conference – events almost spontaneously generated by people’s care for the profession. On a chilly Saturday in October in a venue on the outskirts of Birmingham, hundreds of library folk from all across the UK gathered to meet people, talk about libraries, and eat cake. Several people mentioned the typical surprised response of their colleagues to talk of attending Library Camp (4): “You’re going to a work event on a weekend?! And paying for everything yourself?!” The people who attended Library Camp were happy to do it. Because they care. They care about the profession; they care about discussing these issues; they care about their peers – and friends. For that weekend, I was surrounded by people who care so much and who take their profession personally. (5)
Library Camp UK 2012 wasn’t perfect. And I left Birmingham drained and bone-tired from my experiences. But in that café in Birmingham New Street, I felt… human. A Library Camp is a uniquely human event – emotionally involved, dependent on a community of people, ever-so-slightly mad – and nothing that human can ever be perfect. And that’s kind of beautiful.
(1) Explanation of a semi-contentious point: For an event which attracts people who organise and classify for a living, the classification of a ‘Library Camp’ is a somewhat tangled matter. There have been ‘library camps’ in other places across the world (notably France, Australia, and the USA) but they appear to be of a different ‘brand’ and are not organised by the same group of people as ‘Library Camp’. But then again surely that doesn’t matter since the identity of the organisers of a ‘library camp’ is immaterial? For semantic purposes, my mental Venn diagram says that every ‘Library Camp’ is necessarily an unconference but not every unconference is necessarily a ‘Library Camp’ or even a ‘library camp’.
(2) More explanation: At least not necessarily. It may be so incidentally and/or tangentially.
(3) Reference: From the incredibly apt song ‘Love What You Do’ by The Divine Comedy.
(4) Other than “Does it actually involve camping?”
(5) Rejoinder to imagined criticism: I’m not saying that anyone who didn’t attend Library Camp doesn’t care because that would be an absurd statement. For one thing, there were only a limited number of tickets which were distributed in a – personal opinion – idiosyncratic way.