On 5th March 2014, I headed up to Manchester with my lovely boss Andy to attend i2c2, a conference themed around Innovation, Inspiration and Creativity (‘conference’ is the second C) with the aim to use positive disruption to improve libraries. I am very fortunate to work where I do because I have been in libraries before that would have never have been able to send me on this conference due to budget constraints, but Cambridge Judge Business School takes staff development very seriously so I was able attend i2c2.
I know I often write up training sessions and conferences in a way that allows others to get a similar experience, even if they weren’t able to attend, but I fear this is impossible with i2c2 as it wasn’t like any other conference that I’ve ever been to. It was a very visual, engaging and collaborative conference with less sitting down and listening and more getting involved and networking. Instead I’ll give an overview of what I did and heard.
I arrived at the wonderful Studio Venues (lots of free tea, coffee, cookies and lots of other snacks, as well as fabulous breakout rooms) and got a fab conference pack and set about decorating my name badge.
Then we heard from keynote speaker Brendan Dawes who does lots of gorgeous work with data, mainly visualising it in ways I never thought was possible. We went from watching the Dr No. opening credits to hearing about printing data and music using a 3D printer and back again. While a lot of what he spoke about was really interesting and he showed us some really beautiful things, I wasn’t always seeing how it could directly applied to libraries. However, I think the biggest thing I took away from Brendan was DO MORE WITH YOUR DATA! We collect so much data and then put it in to an annual report that we know full well no-one will read (or worse we don’t do anything with the data!), so why not get a bit creative with it and represent your stats in different ways?
Then the first morning sessions started. I chose to sign up for the ‘LEGO Serious Play’ session as I didn’t really know much about using LEGO as a learning tool so was intrigued. Our team leader/facilitator was the great Matt Borg. We were given various scenarios to build something for and this was often with limited Lego pieces and in a short space of time so it really did test our creativity. We then built a conference mascot as a team for a conference competition which we ended up winning!
I was initially unsure about LEGO, even though I loved playing with it as a kid. However, after working through the session (with had been tailored for librarians: it is more often used as a team building tool) I could see the benefit of it because we were really challenged to visualise often quite abstract concepts about what we do as professionals and turn that into a LEGO diorama with limited ‘elements’ (those are the brick bits). Trying to interpret how users engage with electronic data and use the physical/non-physical library space in plastic brick form was really tricky but in a very positive way and I think we learned a lot from each other as well as learning a bit more about ourselves. We worked through current scenarios and then built solutions to existing barriers in our work and environments, so it was all very productive and gave us a lot to think about.
After a short break, we moved on to do the first of two group challenges. We discussed what was holding us back from innovating and doing new things in our respective workplaces and then drew/wrote these limitations and concerns on a big piece of paper. Then all the groups went round and looked at all the bits of paper and stuck suggestions and solutions by each point using post-its. We then came back to our groups and discussed what sessions we would aim to go to during the conference that might help us overcome, or at least have new ideas for overcoming, our identified problems. Again, as with other sessions, it was really interesting to hear from different people working in different libraries across the world and we realised that we all shared many of the same concerns and worries.
We had a break for lunch (really good food by the way which is a relief seeing as conference food can often be a bit rubbish) and then went in to afternoon sessions. I attended a session called ‘Innovation and ice-cream: pushing the boundaries of student/staff innovation and the University of Manchester Library’ where Nicholas Campbell and Lorraine Beard spoke to us about the Eureka! project which encouraged students to think of innovative and fresh ideas for their library spaces.
The winner of the 2013 competition was brilliant (booking system for desk spaces) but the show was hijacked a bit by the hilarious student who we named Fitness Guy. He had a real aversion to caffeine or even drinking water during study sessions, so he was pitching an idea to have a gym in the library space. He went on about bad caffeine and doing good push ups in the middle of a study period to keep his mind engaged, but it had us all in stitches. Funnily enough he didn’t win the competition but I think he won our hearts with his slightly odd perception of what studying and library spaces should be used for. Fitness Guy…you are brilliant.
Following on from this really interesting session was the fabulous Ginger Williams (from Georgia!). Her cheekily named ‘I mentor my d@mned self’ talk was based on some really mixed experiences of the mentoring system, some of which sounded downright awful! From creepy mentors to unengaged mentors, Ginger spoke at length about self-empowerment and gave us lots of ideas of how to better mentor yourself without relying on a potentially bad mentor who may lead you in the wrong direction, or in no direction at all! Ginger was a breath of fresh air to many of us, especially with respect to the sometimes clunky CILIP framework that we have in the UK, so it was really inspiring to see that you can actually do a lot of this sort of stuff for yourself if you equip yourself with some good tools and resources. Her mentorship toolkit is freely available online.
We rounded the day off with a really nice evening buffet/meal at the Portico Library. While I was initially hesitant about a buffet (cue lots of awkward standing around and balancing/dropping food and drink everywhere), this was completely different because we found a lovely sitting room and I had the pleasure of talking to lots of wonderful people and having a thoroughly lovely evening (while sitting down in comfort and consuming far too many mini pavlovas). So, a mini-shout-out to all those people who made my evening rather brilliant. You’re all lovely!
I suspect that by this point a lot of people were beginning to flag, I know I certainly was especially after a second bad night’s sleep in my hotel, but I was excited to see what the second day brought. The key note for Day Two was Dave White who spoke at length about how students search for information and how we can assist them with doing this better. Google came up a lot which is no great surprise because it is the reality of the student research process. Wikipedia also came up with the interesting point that when students are told not to use Wikipedia, they hear ‘don’t cite Wikipedia’ which isn’t really helping anyone. I personally found the discussion of Wikipedia really interesting because I find the Edit-a-Thon and Resident Wikipedians projects that seem to be happening a lot in the US, and also a bit in the UK, really cool and as far as I’m concerned, students are going to use Wikipedia anyway so why not make sure that the information there is as good as it can be by getting involved! Besides, Wikipedia isn’t as bad as it used to be and it can be a chaining tool if people are taught to use things like the citations at the bottom of articles pages.
Dave also spoke about how students need to be equipped with the tools and knowledge of how to determine if a resource is credible. I tweeted his slide: Provenance, author, expertise, format, citations: checklist for verifying credibility of a resource or source of information. Of course, credibility and expertise are very fluid in a world of self-publishing, especially through the Internet. While my blog for example isn’t a peer-reviewed journal, I would be happy for people to cite me as someone who is credible as a librarian because I write about real-life experience. But is that how a student would view it? Dave went on to talk about memes, how students engage with the Web outside of the classroom and the importance of effective information literacy being taught in different ways, with an emphasis on helping people critically evaluate and locate information rather than directing them to one or two “approved” places. Tons of really interesting things were discussed, not least the Jisc funded project looking at the Digital Student, but the main point to take away is that we need to educate and facilitate our students’ information discovery process in different ways to how we’ve been doing up until this point. Basically.
After this I went to a session called ‘No Politics Allowed: Inspired Teaching and Lifelong Learning’ which focused on contemplative pedagogy and how to implement mindfulness into teaching. I had to make the choice between three sessions at this point and while I really enjoyed the teaching session, I had a serious case of FoMo when I saw the tweets coming out of some of the other sessions.
We went on to the second of our group challenges sessions. In the same group, we discussed what we had learned during the conference and how we were going to overcome our various challenges. We wrote down various points and suggested solutions to our team mates and then presented what we found to the room. The biggest thing I think I learned was that failure isn’t a bad thing. Every result is a result and if a project fails, you learn from it. This helps overcome fear of failure and realistically, not doing anything at all is far worse than trying and perhaps not succeeding in the way you thought you would.
We broke for lunch and then moved on to the afternoon session, one of which was a short talk session that I presented at! It was fun and even though not everyone had seen Star Wars, I think a lot of my points made sense regardless of pop culture references. I also had a shout out from another speaker, Isa, whose session I couldn’t attend but we’ve shared info post-conference which is lovely!
We had another break and then moved into the plenary session which I had to dive out of midway through to get my train home. That train journey then turned into a 7 hour epic so the less said about that the better.
In conclusion, apart from the talks and great themes, the thing that really made this conference a huge success was the people! I met so many wonderful and inspiring professionals who are all engaged and committed to doing new and exciting things within their respective libraries. It was refreshing and actually slightly intimidating to be at a conference where pretty much everyone who attended embodied a progressive profession rather than the awfully tedious conferences where at least a good chunk of attendees don’t like change and aren’t engaged in making their services better. I realise I’m being very generalistic but it was a real breath of fresh air to be surrounded by so many fabulous people, and many from outside of the UK which added an extra level of newness and variety. So, all I can say is thank you! Thank you for all being brilliant and inspiring people and I can only hope that the next i2c2 is as brilliant as this one was!