Thursday, 6 January 2011

Together We're Better: Libraries@Cambridge 2011

Today was the Libraries@Cambridge annual conference (#lac11 and on Twapper Keeper) for University of Cambridge library staff, which this year had a record 240-or-so attendees and a general theme of 'Working Together'. I haven't managed to come up with any coherently unified thoughts about the day yet, but there are a few ideas and suggestions from various sessions that made a particular impact.

We started off we the keynote paper from Alex Wade, Director for Scholarly Communication in Microsoft's External Research division. Alex had a lot to say about, seemingly, all the new products and services the MS External Research division are developing, and I confess that I didn't keep up with it all. His main point was, however, that there's a lot of data out there; researchers produce not only publications, but datasets, workfolws, source code, lectures, algorithms, 3D models which all need managing, organising and preserving, both for current and future research. He pointed out that the problem for modern libraries is not that there are no opportunities, but there are too many opportunities. It's hard to know how and where to start in the management of all that information.
'European Starling, flock 1.' by etgeek (Eric) on Flickr
Flocking to the library

The highlight of the day was Ned Potter and Laura Woods' (sadly Laura couldn't be there because of ill health) presentation 'Escaping the Echo Chamber: Libraries, marketing and advocacy' (also see Ned's Netvibes page for more echolib information and resources). Ned is a really great speaker - engaging, motivating, persuasive - so even though I'd read various iterations of the presentation before, it was well worth hearing it in person. The one phrase I'm going to bear in mind from it: 'If libraries were invented tomorrow, people would FLOCK to them'.

In the 'From our sponsors' slot, I was surprised to hear that more than 10% of traffic to Cambridge Journals Online comes from smartphones, and delighted to learn that ProQuest are developing Early European Books, a sister database to the much-loved Early English Books Online.

In the parallel session 'From the Beagle to the Bulldog: Working together to promote Cambridge's special collection' the reminders of the intricacies of copyright, both to everyday work, and when undertaking major digitisation projects like the forthcoming digitisation of the Churchill Papers, was most welcome.  I was particularly struck though, by Alison Pearn's paper about the Darwin Correspondence Project, and the radical ways in which they've had to change the way they provide interpretation of the letters for their changing audiences.  This was particularly interesting in the case of this project, as the transcription and publication of Darwin's letters started in 1974, and they've had to move from paper publication for the benefit of advanced scholars, to web-based publication for a range of curriculum areas in schools and colleges.

'Ants on a branch' by tompagenet on Flickr
Working together

The afternoon session of the conference was a 'celebration' of working together in Cambridge. In an homage to TeachMeet-style events, each speaker had but 8, or 3 minutes to say a bit about a project or event.

Libby Tilley talked about her efforts to improve learning within the English Faculty (Library) by applying ideas of 'co-agency'.  She said that we (librarians, fellows, students) are all learners, and we can all be teachers too, and she's trying to integrate herself into Faculty teaching, and Faculty and students into Library training.

Celine Carty summed up 23 Things Cambridge wonderfully well: 'cam23 put the social into social media' and enjoined us all to 'just do it', whatever we think needs doing.

I was amazed to learn that the Janus archival catalogue has cost just £18,000 over 10 years of existence.  It's astonishing what you can do with enthusiasm, goodwill and a shoestring.

The loose-knit team that organised the Libraries@Cambridge presence at this year's Freshers' Fair extolled the benefits of two ways of keeping organising something simple: have just one objective (theirs was 'to be at the fair and to hand stuff out') and stay 'always in beta' (that way it doesn't matter if it's not perfect!).

What else? Ah yes! I gabbled through a brief intro to Open Libraries in Open Cambridge, and Isla gave a rundown on Cambridge Librarians TeachMeet, and (most excitingly) announced that camlibtm2 will happen on 29 March 2011, at the Schlumberger Research Centre in West Cambridge.  There's also a new website:, and we're @camlibtm on Twitter, and camlibtm2 will be even bigger and better than the first one.

It was an exhausting day, and this has been an exhausting post.

ETA: other people have written about the day in rather more interesting and thought-provoking ways.

1 comment:

  1. Great summary. I'm very much looking forward to the TeachMeet, I missed out on the first one as it was fairly soon after I came to Cambridge and I didn't know what was going on with anything!