CILIP Conference 2020 – Reimagined, by Charlotte Cole

Whilst looking through the CILIP website in September, I noticed that I had a message from SLG about the conference that was to be held in November. SLG were offering one member the opportunity of a bursary to attend this event, and whilst I never in a million years thought that it could be me, I did match some of the criteria that they were looking for. These were; to be a serving school librarian, someone that had not previously attended the conference before and someone that would not normally be able to attend. As I ticked all of the boxes, I thought it would be worth applying, but I really didn’t think that I would be successful.

I was both surprised and delighted to receive an email in October from Caroline Roche – Chair of SLG – confirming that I had been successful in my application and that I had been awarded the bursary to attend the CILIP conference 2020. I was really excited at the prospect of attending . Knowing that I would be able to network and engage with other colleagues as well as broadening my knowledge of the wider profession were all aspects that I looked forward too, especially as I am currently undertaking my chartership. 

Prior to the conference, I had already taken the time to familiarise myself with the pheedloop platform that was hosting the conference. I had created my profile, had a look at the exhibition hall, CILIP showcase and networking area and looked through the sessions to create my own personal schedule. I found creating my schedule quite tricky as I wanted to attend all of the sessions, but I tried to pick ones in different areas, so as to diversify the experience as much as possible.

As I knew that the conference was going to be intensive, I asked if I could work from home for the day, to avoid any disruptions and to be able to concentrate fully on the experience. With a fruit tea and my new notebook at the ready, I was excited to see what the day had instore.The day started with a welcome message from CILIP CEO, Nick Poole, during which he praised the entire sector for their hard work during the Coronavirus pandemic and how everyone had “stepped up” during an incredibly difficult time. Nick asked attendees of the conference to take a moment’s peace to reflect on the year and to remember colleagues that had passed during the pandemic. Nick then introduced the first keynote speaker of the day, Richard Ovendon

Richard discussed his book, Burning the Books, which looks at knowledge and the lengths that librarians have and will go to, to preserve knowledge. Richard gave examples of where libraries had been under attack such as The Library of Congress being burnt in 1814 as a means to weaken the state. Richard also talked about the Holocaust, where it is thought thatover a million books were burnt to censor information that was ‘un-German’ and the warriors in this disaster, that risked their lives to preserve knowledge known as the paper brigade. Richard then talked about knowledge in the digital age, posing the question, who controls the digital information that we all submit on a daily basis, whether we realise it or not, and who is going to preserve this information for the future? This was an absolutely fascinating presentation and I imagine Richard’s book was added to a lot of ‘to be read’ lists. It’s certainly on mine.

We then went straight into our next session, I had chosen New voices, Big ideas, which gave those who are new to the profession the opportunity to give a 5-minute talk on the theme of how they can support it. There were 5 speakers ranging from school librarians discussing collaboration and isolation, how LGBTQ+, BAME and disabled LKI workers are only asked to speak because of their labels and not their knowledge, a healthcare library assistant talking about the value of library placements and how they can develop an understanding of modern librarianship and an apprenticeships tutor explaining what the apprentices have learnt, how they have adapted this to their workplace and where they want to progress to next in their careers. Another great session that offered some useful tips and ideas that went straight into the notebook and I contacted two of the speakers via the private messaging feature for further discussion on their topics and for possible future collaboration. 

Jo Cornish was the second keynote speaker delivering her talk on ‘Professional Registration – A revised approach’. Jo spoke about how CILIP is the community for members, the member network, and how it is connecting learning with opportunity. Jo also spoke about the PKSB and how it connects the whole sector and that we are all underpinned by the same framework. At the closing of her speech, Jo stated that all of CILIP’s members must defend, protect and champion CILIP and that we can all walk forward together. I found this talk very inspirational and motivating and with being an independent worker, it gave me the sense of being part of something bigger. 

The next session I’d chosen was ‘The Digital Pivot – the role of librarians and knowledge specialists in moving teaching and learning online’. This session looked at how those working in HE had to adapt their teaching for learning to be able to continue during lockdown one. The speakers investigated the challenges faced by learning from home, including student engagement, technical difficulties and digital literacy issues and also the opportunities that it offered such as flexibility, reaching greater numbers and developing online teaching skills. Hossam Kassem, learning and teaching librarian at the OU, pointed out the importance of accessibility during online teaching and that this should be implemented from the start, to ensure inclusivity of all candidates. I liked how this session didn’t focus on the negativity that has at times been associated with learning during lockdown but looked at the advantages of teaching online and how it is something that can work beyond the pandemic.

It was then time for a lunch break, which gave me the opportunity to update my Twitter feed, to get back to some of the private messages that I had received during the morning and to visit the CILIP showcase. I made some enquiries at some of the different CILIP stands, and of course dropped into the SLG stand where I had a chat with Barbara Band. 

After lunch, it was the presidential address by Judy Broady-Preston, which was ‘Professionalism: Identity and Behaviours in a Changing Cultural Context’. This was such an interesting talk and one that I will go back and watch again because it was fast paced, and I fear I may have missed some of the information whilst frantically trying to write notes. During her presentation, Judy explained that we all have multiple identities and roles and that we are different things to different people in different circumstances and that certain roles have expected behaviours. For example, you would expect a Prime Minister to act in a certain way. Judy then went on to explore the role of culture and how we all have the desire to identify with the social system that we are part of and that we are constantly looking for the ‘fit’, where our behaviours and identity fit with our culture. Lastly Judy talked about professionalism and that it is not a category in a box but a process and explained that focusing on a specialism can lead to fragmentation and where we may become too small to survive. This is where CILIP as a body comes into play. 

Once we had heard from Judy, it was the turn of our final keynote speaker, Tracie D Hall. Tracie’s presentation was called ‘Information Red Lining: The urgency to close the socioeconomic divide and the role of librarians as key interveners’. Tracie started by talking about the funding restrictions that libraries are facing, and that there is a worry that the pandemic will further erode barriers to libraries and knowledge when they are needed most by the public. Tracie also stated that when libraries are closed, it leads to disinvestment in the community and can take the whole community completely offline. Tracie then explained that the United Nations has identified that getting 90% of the world’s population online as a central goal and that experts argue that it will take at least 30 years for this to be achieved. However, Tracie argues that having access to the internet should be a human right as there is so much available information that affects our day to day lives such as healthcare, housing and job opportunities. Tracie discussed information poverty which has been described as a situation in which individuals and communities do not have the skills, abilities or material means to obtain efficient access to information, interpret it and apply it appropriately. She then explained that redlining is denying or limiting financial services to specific neighbourhoods because its residents are a particular group or colour. Information redlining is the denial of equitable access to information, information services and information retrieval methods. Tracie finished her address by saying ‘The fight against information poverty is one of the key fights of our time………We must rise to this occasion’. And then left with a very sobering question, ‘Are libraries for the masses or for the classes?’

Tracie’s speech was incredibly passionate, powerful and thought provoking and knowing that across the entire sector we can all make a difference to people’s lives by giving them the opportunity to access knowledge was very inspirational. Another session that I would love to revisit.

My final session of the day was my last chosen session which was: ‘International – The roles of libraries in crisis and recovery’. During this session, librarians from India, Africa, Germany and from the president of the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Association (EBLIDA) discussed how they adapted during the pandemic. This was another really absorbing session that provided some great insights into the changes that had been made in these different countries, and to compare the similarities and differences in what I had been doing in my own library.

The conference was closed by Nick Poole with his final words being that we must do more as everyday activists, we must rise to the occasion. We have risen to the occasion and will continue to rise. 

The CILIP Reimagined Conference 2020 was my first conference, and it certainly did not disappoint. There was so much information and so many ideas and opportunities to take on board, by the end of the day my mind was completely buzzing. I created a Wakelet of all of the information that I collated during the day, so that I could go back to it and to share with others.  I would like to thank CILIP SLG once again for their generosity, in granting me the bursary and giving me the opportunity to attend the conference.  Would I recommend the CILIP conference to others? Absolutely – and I hope to be able to attend again myself in the future.


1 thought on “CILIP Conference 2020 – Reimagined, by Charlotte Cole

  1. Prity Shah

    Some fantastic penned thoughts of the visit to the CILIP Conference – your article made me believe I was present at the Conference – great summary of the speakers messages.



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