Sarah recently braved getting in a car in Kent with 4 strangers and driving all the way up to Huddersfield to talk radical librarianship with members of RLC from across the UK. Here’s her round up of the weekend.
So I survived the Radical Road Trip (although an insane van driver almost ensured we didn’t) and arrived in Huddersfield in the evening. We headed more or less straight to the pub to socialise and I spent most of the evening going ‘oh yes, I know you I follow you on twitter!’. Mildly stalkerish introductions aside I found everyone incredibly welcoming and had a lovely evening at two of Huddersfield’s finest establishments. The Grove, which I would recommend to people into beer, and Bar Maroc, which I would recommend to people, full stop.
Feeling slightly fragile in the morning, I made my way from my hotel to the venue to help set things up. This mostly involved moving chairs around and such and drinking a copious amount of coffee. By around 10:30 the majority of people had turned up so we kicked things off with a welcome and a discussion of the safer spaces policy to set the tone for the day. The floor was then opened for pitching and the loose running order for sessions was established. As some sessions ran parallel to others I wasn’t able to attend everything, and so will only talk about those which I did attend. In this post I will focus on what happened up until lunch, and will post about the afternoon beyond in a second post. For more information on all sessions, please see the RLC archive here.
Session 1: Communication!
The theme of this session was looking at how we can best communicate with our users when sometimes we may only see them for a single half an hour induction at the start of the year. This is especially problematic in larger academic libraries where the student intake is constantly changing and growing. Some really interesting discussion on information literacy came up, especially pertaining to students in this day and age because many have the attitude that if they read it on the internet it must be true. If something is talked about enough and by different people, it gains legitimacy and this is why we need to emphasise the importance of evaluating information sources in both an academic and real world context. One practical idea brought up was using information literacy sessions to make students question their beliefs by having them use information skills to debunk a conspiracy theory, which sounds like a really engaging way of emphasisng the importance of thinking carefully about the information you find and use. Overall this session gave me a great deal of food for thought on how I might practically think about engaging with students.
Session 2: Radical Research.
This session was inspired by a project some of us associated with RLC are working on to research website filtering/content blocking in UK Libraries (across all sectors). It involves sending FOI requests to public authorities to determine if and what they are blocking and some of the results so far have been incredibly interesting (and a little concerning). The idea of the session was that there needs to be greater scope for both LIS students and independent LIS researchers to be able to engage with radical librarianship from a research persepctive. I found this session useful because I will be doing my MA in Librarianship soon which will require me to write a dissertation, so it felt good to know there are others out there interested in engaging with more critical/radical research enquiries. One idea pitched was creating a bank of radical research topics to inspire postgraduate students into pursuing a more critical approach to their study. For a much better explanation of this session and where we might go next with this, see here.
Session 3: Team working and the ‘Professional Divide’.
This session aimed to think critically about teams and how they are structured as well as the ‘professional divide’ in librarianship surrounding what exactly allows a person to be defined as a ‘librarian’. This was an incredibly eye opening experience for me and a really useful session because it showed me that clearly I have been incredibly fortunate and privileged to work in some very horizontalist teams where I feel very much treated as an equal despite being so early on in my career! It raised a lot of questions about organisational structures – can you have a radical team? Can managers be radical? Does a team have to have a hierarchy? Is it important to make professional distinctions between librarians and library assistants? Considering the non-hierarchical nature of RLC I think this was a really interesting discussion to have and definitely worth raising at future Oxford meetings to try and inform best practice if people want to try and encourage more openness and horizontal team-working in their jobs. In my experience I’ve found that my managers generally shun the professional divide and refer to all their staff as librarians which we also do to each other. I’ve never been referred to (except jokingly) as ‘just the trainee’ or in any other way that may have made me feel inadequate for being early on in my career but this is obviously an issue that affects other people and worth discussing further.
I’m not actually going to discuss the details of lunch, other than do a small humblebrag about the fact my vegan cake got quite a few compliments! I really enjoyed the morning sessions and felt that some really important discussions took place which I’m looking forward to bringing up at a future RLC Oxford meeting to see what folk down here have to say on the matter. Look out for my write up of the afternoon coming soon!