Mark Sutcliffe, Oxfordshire County Council
In July, I was lucky enough to be given a bursary by the Information Services Group to attend the 2016 CILIP Conference in Brighton. As I travelled to the Conference, and public figures in the media were declaring that ‘people have had enough of experts’, I wondered where the information professional finds him or herself. Thankfully, the Conference suggested that the information professional is one expert the public still needs, and I returned inspired and enthused by the discussions, networking, and sessions I attended.
The Conference opened with an inspiring opening speech from Ferguson Library’s Scott Bonner, who kept his library open during the unrest following the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014. He showed that in times of crisis, communities turn to libraries as trusted, safe places, providing access to traditional, and non-traditional needs as other institutions such as schools closed. This concept of a safe place was further demonstrated by poet and educator Becci Louise, who talked and performed poetry on how libraries and poetry are important places to help those with mental illness.
Professor Nigel Shadbolt’s keynote speech on Open Data and his work at the Open Data Institute, demonstrated that Open Data leads to great economic and cultural benefits, and that institutions should not guard their data, but instead share it with society. As an example, transport data in London has led to an emerging economy in apps for helping citizens navigate the city. Sharing information and making sense of big data is a key role that professionals can play.
The trust that people put in libraries as places to access information has been well-earned, but Alison Macrina (Library Freedom Project) argued that we must help our communities defend their digital rights in a new era of surveillance. She provided guides to technologies that libraries can adopt to assist communities and ways we can help users become more aware of the issues.
Brian Ashley (Arts Council England) and Ben Lee (Shared Intelligence) discussed the implementation of Wi-Fi in every public library in the UK. They showed how professionals across the country are helping give access to skills the public needs and innovating to provide information to new library users. Innovations included Manchester Library’s LibraryBox, providing digital content for customers to access in environments outside the library, and Rotherham Libraries bringing in groups of blind or partially sighted users for targeted computer help. The message was that it is not enough to simply make Wi-Fi available – professionals must add value for their customers. Elsewhere, talks on Fab Labs (Charlotte Collyer – Devon Libraries) and Maker Spaces (Kate Lomax – Artefacto, and Carlos Izsak – Makercart) showed how libraries are providing opportunities for users and staff to try out Maker technology and gain new skill sets.
The conference ended with an impassioned keynote address from Lauren Smith (University of Strathclyde, Voices for the Library) who reminded us how the fight for our libraries continues, and the importance of speaking out about the challenges they face. As demonstrated throughout the Conference, libraries and information professionals are crucial in this post-truth era.
Refer 32 (3) Autumn 2016