The Northern Collaboration Conference 2017: Part 1

This years NCC was subtitled: ‘Digital Transformation: responding to the challenge in academic libraries.’ 

The conference was held at York University. It was an amazing day and got me thinking about all the different ways libraries use all things digital. I’ve split the day into two blog posts as there was just too much to cover!

The conference was held at the Ron Cooke Hub, which is part of York University’s campus outside of the city centre. It was a beautiful location with a lake (pond?) right outside the building complete with ducks and geese and what looks like a black swan! (see pic below – probably just a teenage swan)


I arrived super early, was given a NCC bag with useful stuff like a pen and post-its in, grabbed a cup of tea and sat myself down in their foyer. Slowly other people filtered in and I chatted with my other colleagues from work who were also attending the conference.

Liz Waller, the Deputy Director of Information Services and Head of Library and Archives at York University, welcomed us to the site and the conference. Then
Liz Jolly, the NCC chair, opened the conference.

The opening Keynote was given by Eric Stoller; an education consultant and speaker with a focus on social media and digital engagement. He was very funny, open and honest about how digital tech is used by us, both in our personal and professional lives, and how we use it in our institutions. Eric highlighted something I think is a key aim in libraries (and HE and well every job you’re in) and that is to continue to learn new things. Keep learning. Keep doing. Keep on top. Digital technology, as we know, is constantly evolving and changing and we need to keep up. We, well librarians and info professionals, are outnumbered by our students. Using digital tech, everything from emails, lecture capture to social media, can allow you to reach more students. Eric mentioned an article (or a book?) a few years ago that stated that social media had no place in higher education. We can all see how that hasn’t been the case.

Eric went on to focus on social media use in HE institutions. The digital products we use are always evolving. In addition to this even if there are ‘bad’ or ‘not so good’ apps and social media platforms that don’t always catch on this aids in the development overall of what we use and how we use it. Eric put forward the importance of working with your marketing teams and your communications teams within your institution so you can work together using social media.

Seeing social media for your institution as building a community was also important in the success in reaching your target audience and wider audiences. Each library has it’s own personality and two excellent  examples Eric used were: Bodleian Libraries and The University of Liverpool Library. Using channels such as these makes your library more open and more accessible. Moving on from this it was mentioned to not get hung up on new apps or new social media and to use what is relevant now and to ignore thoughts of longevity (e.g ‘How long will *insert new social media app* stick around before it gets forgotten?’) Use what’s ‘hot’ and what reaches your audience.

A really important point that was also made in this key note aside from the focus on social media was that if you are going to teach digital literacy you need to know about digital literacy. Writing that sounds very obvious! But you do – you need to have the skills to teach the skills!

I thought Eric’s talk was great and though he didn’t focus on one specific point, or make it too niche, I liked the humour and the overview of reaching out, using digital tech, apps and social media as a whole.

The sessions you could sign up to for the day were ‘parallel’ sessions so you technically signed up to two. This allowed me to get some extra variety into my day as there were some sessions paired with others I may not have picked by myself.

The first session of the day was:
Working collaboratively to enhance student’s digital literacies‘ presented by Stephanie Jesper and Alison Kaye from York University.

They started their session by explaining how teams had been moved and changed around within their library and a brand new ‘Teaching and Learning Team’ was born. This team, of which both speakers were/are a part of, was included in the development of a central project where every BA programme was redesigned. Can you imagine? Every programme was redesigned! The work and assignments for each of the 3 years had to link together clearly and meet key aims. So when digital skills were taught in the first year, these had to link with the second and third and show a development e.g. it had to get more indepth as the years progressed. One thing this did help to show was that a lot of the students had no trouble finding information to do with their course, but it was knowing what was the right information for them to use. The best sources, the most reliable and useful for their study or piece of work.

Stephanie and Alison mentioned that they had set up a ‘Digital Wednesday’ where every Wednesday afternoon a drop in session on a different aspect of digital literacy would be covered. I thought this was a really great idea and something I definitely would have used as a student if it had been available to me.

The parallel to this session was:
Using technology to enhance referencing support at Sheffield Hallam‘ presented by Alison Lahlafi and Karen Dolman.

They mentioned that technology was the key driver in looking at their current referencing system. Hallam used to have it’s own referencing system, a mix of Hallam-Harvard-SHU style, but due to this being an in-house style much of the referencing software that was out there ( Endnote, RefWorks, etc.) could not be used to help students with their referencing. Hallam then opted for APA referencing.  This allowed students to use the variety of referencing software that was available without struggling with a unique in-house referencing system which was not very adaptable.

It was interesting to hear from Alison and Karen that even though they had changed to APA this still presented problems. One particular problem was different referencing tools gave different results! Leading on from this the staff discovered not all staff marked referencing in the same way! It was absolutely excellent to hear that the library went out and gave guidance to staff for marking references and told them not to get hung up if a student had used a comma instead of a full stop or visa versa. I loved this! Mainly because as someone who used to always try ridiculously hard to get referencing right I would always mess up the punctuation somewhere some how or put a full stop or a comma in the wrong place. The librarians wanted staff to realise as long as things were referenced clearly, mostly consistently, that they really shouldn’t be worrying about the punctuation too much.

Alison and Karen also mentioned a really important point which was skills development for library staff also had to occur for all this information to keep being passed through the right channels. I’m not a ‘proper’ librarian yet and even though I’ve been a student I don’t feel like my referencing knowledge is anywhere near good enough to tell someone else how to do it. I found this session really helpful and interesting as I imagine this may be something I cover in my Masters. And if not at least I’m thinking about it now!

The next session I went to was:
The Digital First programme – bringing about service improvement through back-office digital transformation‘ presented by Andy Land from the University of Manchester.

Andy started by telling us all about his 6 areas of focus: Services, Process and Workflow, Digital Skills for Staff, Technology available to staff, Document management and collaboration, Communication methods used and Information and Data.

For the first item in the list above Andy identified customer service points. At what point and in what process was a student interacting with the library and in what ways could tech be used to help this and work flows improved.

Next Andy mentioned the importance of providing staff with up to date equipment that they need to successfully do their job. When we think about the ‘digital’ I think most of us, well I do, imagine the digital as the invisible, but the physical tech we use has just as much importance. Andy looked at how people worked, realising a large amount of staff members preferred working on a laptop rather than a desk top computer. Being able to work anywhere and take their work with them where ever they go. I really liked this idea. I’m imagining not all staff can do this, but sometimes in my job I think how great it would be to have a change of scene, to take my work somewhere else. Andy spent a lot of time listening to how people like to work. This then led to a bank of staff laptops that could be borrowed. Ran almost exactly the same was as loaning student laptops, but a select amount for just staff. Again this a great idea!

Andy also mentioned they now had a pool of social media supported devices. Again great idea to get people tweeting. Give people a tablet to go to conferences with, workshops, events at their own institution. Again a fantastic idea!

I won’t go into all the 6 points here and now, but it definitely made me think about the wider reaches of the ‘digital’ and more about the equipment side of things.

Next up was:
Transforming spaces to empower digital learning‘ by Anne Llewellyn from Teeside University.

Anne started by telling us all about the introduction of a mixed method approach to the library. Flexible working spaces for students, and spaces that provided different environments for different needs, were all very important.

Anne talked to use about conducting student research and asking the students what they wanted. Not surprisingly the top request was more computers! In terms of space over half said they wanted more collaborative space. Libraries, stereotypically, are quiet places and there is a huge need for this, but also if we think about the work students are doing now, such as presentations and group work, these types of study also have to be catered for.

Some key words that came out top for a study environment were: lighting, ambience, technology, and comfort.

Anne also mentioned the importance of having low tech areas as well as high tech. I hadn’t really thought about this before, but having spaces where you can ‘switch off’ and do work in different ways is so important. For example, I was one of maybe only a few people at the conference taking notes with a pen and paper. I really enjoy taking notes and writing ideas with a pen and paper because I feel it sticks in my head more and makes me think about what I’m writing. Tech free spaces would make that easier for me to focus on one thing.

After this was a well needed lunch break. I mainly ended up chatting to a lovely woman called Lucy who worked at Durham University’s library in Stockton. She was, I think, a frontline customer services manager (sorry if you’re reading this Lucy and I’ve got your title wrong!) Lucy was so friendly and we talked throughout lunch and sat by the lovely lake. We talked about work, what we were doing now, what we wanted to do in the future, everything! Meeting people at these events is so beneficial. I love hearing how other places work, what other people do in their jobs and also I’m just nosy and like to know people’s interests, hobbies and ambitions!

If you’ve managed to read all of the above thank you!
Part 2 coming shortly!

2 thoughts on “The Northern Collaboration Conference 2017: Part 1

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