Never having been to a Library Camp before, I was very excited to hear about Library Camp East and I put my name down faster than I could roll out my camping mat and get the billycans on the stove. But even when I realised it wasn't that sort of camping, I was really excited and also a little nervous to see how an unconference would work in reality.
The day came when I was very kindly collected from Cambridge train station and given a lift out to Harlow. I'll admit, as we approached Harlow College, I nervously anticipated what the day would be like. Would we be doing trust exercises on the lawn? Building our own issue desks out of macrame? Turns out, it was not a bit like that. Not at all.
I had the most liberated networking experience during that Saturday in Harlow. It was liberated precisely because it was not confined to the usual codes and etiquettes of conferences. Now I'm not saying that Library Camps are a substitute for full organised conferences; in fact, the good thing about conferences proper is the level of research being shared. Having returned just last month from IFLA's WLIC2013, I can state with confidence how important it is to have the opportunity to attend professional conferences with formal research presentations. However, Library Camps act in my opinion as the companions of formal conferences, the invaluable less formal setting where hierarchies leave the building and we can share ideas on a flat level structure.
And flat level it certainly was! It was liberating in the extreme to walk into the main hall and sit on the floor with information professionals at all levels of their careers. People then pitched their session ideas and we could just informally choose which ones to attend. Something that I've never been able to do is to walk out of a session if it doesn't work for me and go to another one, but we were encouraged to do this to get the most out of the day. The first session I chose was about creative CPD on a low budget which was really interesting and I got some useful tips including webinars and MOOCs. I then went to a session on fines where we considered whether or not we should even charge them. Debating with very senior people within a flat non-hierarchical environment was refreshing and liberating.
A big thank you to everyone who brought food for the lunch table; it was amazing. And my savoury muffins seemed to go down well as well!
After lunch, I couldn't decide which session to go to and ended up in an inspired write-in with several of my fellow librarian writers. Having the time to plan out my novel was great and having the chance to share my ideas in a supportive atmosphere was invaluable. I always find it hard to talk about my writing, so thank you Rachel for making this possible.
My final session was about silence. Librarians have a funny relationship with silence, often being accused of liking it too much by the public and yet needing to uphold it in certain circumstances in order to facilitate learning within a space. To confront this relationship head-on, we had a positive experience with silence as we sat in a silent room. For 45 minutes, I sat and watched the trees moving in the breeze, sunlight dappling their leaves. The funny thing about silence is that the more you listen, the noisier it gets. I started to hear the traffic swishing on the main roads in town; I jumped when a crow cawed overhead. After almost an hour, I felt relaxed and rested, and it made me realise that we need to make time in this hectic world just to be.
Library Camp for me was a wonderful developmental experience that sits in partnership with formal conferences. Each session that I went to was facilitated by one person, but the feeling was very much one of collaboration. Everyone's views were shared and debated equally. There is something very liberating about that. As I trundled back to Cambridge via Helen's generous lift, I realised that I'd had a very unique experience that day. One thing that I'd change though; next time, I'm bringing my tent and we're doing this camping thing for real!