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CILIP Conference 2018: importance of ongoing reflection

Posted By Annelies Allcock, 03 August 2018

CILIP Conference 2018: importance of ongoing reflection

Annelies Allcock
Information Specialist
Evidence Search and Summary Service
IRISS (Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services), Glasgow 


The CILIP Conference is the annual flagship event for the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. The two-day programme provided broad coverage of the different library and information sectors. 


I won an attendance bursary from CILIP’s Community, Diversity and Equality Group and it was my first experience attending a professional conference in the UK. In my bursary application, I identified a number of personal outcomes I wanted to achieve, including boosting my skills base, ideas and confidence, and the opportunity to network with other professionals. There was overlap in the programme, so I wasn’t able to attend all of the sessions I’d initially hoped to, and I also found the set-up of the venue wasn’t conducive to the type networking I’d envisioned. However, I was happy with my choice of sessions, and found using Twitter was a good way to engage with other professionals in conversation. I feel the biggest benefit of attending the conference was coming away with a better understanding of the library and information profession in the UK. 


With the exception of the keynote from Samira Ahmed, I found the keynote speeches to be somewhat disappointing. Penny Young made some interesting points around the political nature of information, and how MPs can manipulate it for either “noble” (i.e. background knowledge, to form an opinion, or for scrutiny of policy) or “tactical” (i.e. scoring political points, making themselves look better) ends. I found it interesting how she implicitly separated information professionals from this process, even though the information that her team provide can have a direct impact on decisions made in parliament. While not addressed in the keynote itself, this did raise issues around the idea of library “neutrality” as a way to avoid consequences of sharing potentially harmful information.

The following keynote given by Sally Walker made a few points that resonated with myself and - judging from the Twitter response - the other conference delegates, such as feelings of imposter syndrome and the value of reflection. However, her talk mainly covered the ways in which she has had to adapt to increasingly difficult working conditions, such as seeking external donations for materials to run children’s workshops. While her Professional of the Year award was well-deserved, I wondered whether we should celebrating a culture that relies upon the extra labour and goodwill of its employees to deliver core services, rather than advocating for necessary funding? In a similar vein, the keynote from EveryLibrary placed responsibility for library fundraising on “passionate librarians”, and I was disappointed to see the individualisation of a wider, systemic issue.  


Overall I felt that if the content presented in the programme was subject to the critical evaluation that is the supposed cornerstone of the information profession, much of it would have been dismissed. For example, I attended the 'Preserving the past for the future' session in the hope of broadening my knowledge outside of my sector. While I found it interesting to hear the ways in which my peers are increasing engagement with special collections, claims that a genealogy programme at a prison had an impact on the reoffending rate of participants weren’t backed by used of rigorous research methods. As highlighted in the session on evidence based practice, research evidence in library and information science isn’t "how we done it good", opinions, or committee meeting decisions, and I hope that our flagship conference will reflect this in future programming. 

While I feel that the conference was undoubtedly good for the morale of those who attended (although perhaps less so for those left behind in understaffed libraries), I would’ve liked to have seen more space for discussion, innovation and critical thought. One of the opportunities identified in the IFLA Global Vision session I attended was to "challenge current structures and behaviours", however I didn’t feel this conference offered the space for this to happen. 


As well as giving me a clearer picture of the library and information profession in the UK, this conference highlighted to me the importance of ongoing reflection. In addition to this, I saw the need for more diverse voices in the profession, as well as an acknowledgement that criticism is not always equal to cynicism. I was saddened that the past decade of UK library activism wasn’t acknowledged by the keynote speakers from EveryLibrary, but that it was instead brought to my attention via Twitter, and this too broadened my view. I was also given the opportunity to reflect on library neutrality, and whether that is what we actually think it is. Overall, I got the sense that there is a disconnect between CILIP and the professionals it purports to support. 

Action Plan:

Following this event, I will read more about library neutrality, find ways to integrate reflection into my day-to-day work, and increase my use of Twitter to maintain the links I made with other professionals at the conference. 

*In the photo: Annelies Allcock at CILIP exhibition stand


Tags:  cilipconf18 diversity CDEG critical reflection new 

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