This year the LAI and CILIP Ireland Joint Conference and Exhibition headed southwards after last year’s successful northern venture in the Canal Court Hotel and Spa in Newry, Co. Down. Hosted in the Killashee Hotel in Naas, Co. Kildare from 10th to 11th April it attracted a phenomenal c.170 delegates from across the island of Ireland and offered a great mix of speakers from both the public and academic library sectors. The conference was sponsored by no less than 22 different organisations, many of whom exhibited at the event itself, thus enabling delegates to learn more about their products. The theme this year was on “Inclusive Libraries” and the conference programme was packed with thought-provoking papers which inspired conversations that will hopefully continue long after the event itself.
The proceedings opened with a reminder from keynote speaker Erik Boekestejin of the importance of conversation and how good library design can in fact engender and foster just that. Interestingly, this idea of the role of libraries in aiding conversation, and enabling communities to preserve and tell their stories, became a recurring theme throughout the two days.
The awe-inspiring Rosie Jones opened her keynote session on Day 2 with a look at the new CILIP definition of Information Literacy. She highlighted the crucial role libraries must play in educating the public on how to differentiate between fact and fiction/ real and fake news. She provided an insight into the shining example of true inclusivity demonstrated by the Open University through the support they offer to members, the openness of courses to all levels in education and walks of life, and, in its sharing of module resources to the world at large via Open Learn. She also demonstrated how true engagement with library users comes from the art of active listening and how effective library design is aided by actively involving users in decision making from the outset.
This was a theme echoed by the third and final keynote speaker, Traci Engel Lesneski, who also taught delegates the difference between equity and inclusion (think no stairs – travelators/ lifts only for example) and demonstrated to them the importance of the built environments role in inclusion by drawing on examples of library spaces throughout the United States.
Throughout the conference delegates were pushed to consider how inclusive libraries truly are. Indeed, David Dalton (Principal Officer, Department of Rural and Community Development, Public Library Strategy) suggested that libraries need to do more than simply offer inclusive services and must proactively reach out to all of society; empowering communities with the knowledge that such services exist and are designed for all to participate in and avail of. In this way, libraries can truly benefit the societies and communities they seek to serve.
Elaine Chapman and Sarah Anne Kennedy’s break-out session pushed this theme even further; asking libraries to empower disabled members of staff. They postulated that “visibility of staff disability” in libraries would foster an even more welcoming environment for disabled users and would provide greater insight into the difficulties encountered by them when frequenting the library environment and using library resources. They also noted that many designs for accessible library services and structures does not in fact originate from those with disabilities and asked for “nothing about us without us.”
Mark Ward also drew attention to the lack of research on libraries and the LGBTQ+ community and asked delegates to ensure that all members of this community are considered when thinking about library environments and services.
Many of the break-out sessions then introduced us to some of the many inspiring initiatives currently underway in our public and academic libraries throughout Ireland and beyond. Sally Bridge highlighted the many services and supports offered by Queen’s University Belfast Library to a multitude of library user groups, e.g. international students, LGBTQ+ patrons, and those with both hidden and physical disabilities. Johanna Archbold showcased how effective staff training can bring true library expertise to the front line in academic libraries thereby making the two-way process of library user learning and library staff teaching more accessible to all. Evelyn Cooley and Laura Larkin highlighted how public libraries can truly foster inclusion by offering services to all members of the community, even pets! Aine Carey and Catherine Ahearne demonstrated how the simple act of including roving user assistance separate from the main instructor in information literacy training sessions can solve technical or confidence issues for attendees, enabling them to keep up with training instruction and empowering them to ask questions. Heritage librarian, Dr. Robert Whan, also presented us with a snapshot into the inspirational work of the Armagh Robinson Library in supporting parents of under 5's and those caring for, or suffering with, dementia.
The poster presentations this year were equally inspiring with Mary Mulryan's poster: AIT Library Facilities: Engaging and Informing Students with Disabilities: Inclusiveness and Information, taking home a very well-deserved first prize.
The theme for the conference was “Inclusive Libraries” and it would be impossible here to cover all that was learned, or to share all the many wonderful examples of truly inspirational work on inclusion that is being conducted in the libraries that were represented. We can only advise you to look out for the presentations which will shortly be made available on the LAI and CILIP Ireland websites, and to think about signing up for next year’s conference when it is launched.
Claire McCartan (Queen’s University Belfast)