'Something special' at Library Camp SW

Claire Back was so inspired by attending a national library camp, she decided to put together a regional version.


The idea for Library Camp SW came from the national library camp held in Birmingham last year. The enthusiasm, energy and good ideas that came from that day inspired me to try and put together a smaller version for the (English) south west.

Library Camps are run in an unconference style.  The programme is decided by the participants at the beginning of the day. This is based on the principle that the collective knowledge, experience and expertise of the people in the room are probably greater than that of than those presenting at traditional conferences.

The idea is based on 'Open Space Technology' (Harrison Owen) which has four main principles:  

1. Whoever comes 'is the right people'

2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have

3. Whenever it starts is the right time

4. When it's over, it's over

And one law - the law of two feet:

If, during the course of the gathering, any person finds him or herself in any situation where they are neither learning nor contributing, they must use their two feet and go to some more productive place.

Organising the event

I managed to recruit a couple of willing volunteers and we set about finding a venue and sponsorship. Library Camps aim to be low cost or free to allow people to attend who may not normally get a chance to go to conferences. We were very lucky to receive funding from CILIP SW, the South West Regional Library Service (SWRLS), Arts Council South West and OCLC which meant we could hire the Xfi building at the University of Exeter for the day and provide lunch, all for free. All we asked for in return was that people came with ideas, and be willing to share their experiences.

British weather!

The day itself, Saturday 7 July, coincided with a red weather alert for the South West and travel chaos which meant that a few couldn't make it, but we had over 40 people who gave up a Saturday to talk about libraries. Most sectors were represented including academic, public and school. We even had a non-librarian which was great for an alternative perspective.

'Fantasy Library'

A wiki was set up at http://librarycampsw.wikispaces.com/ for people to pitch ideas in advance, but we still started the day with no programme and just had to hope that people would come forward.

It's one thing to pitch behind the relative anonymity of a computer screen and another to do it in front of forty strangers. We needn't have worried.  Pretty soon people were coming forward and we had plenty of brilliant session ideas ranging from book repairs at the Bodleian Library to eResource URL management, from engaging teens to using mobile devices in libraries. There was something for everyone and at times it was difficult to stop the conversations.

A favourite session of mine was the fantasy library. What would you do if money was no object? Ideas ranged from the radical - a self-renewing library, to the more achievable such as 3D printers. The full list of ideas can be found here

The whole day was a fantastic mix of people, ideas and discussion.  Something special happens when people are taken out of their usual environment, get together and are allowed to choose their own agenda, all with the aim of improving libraries for the people that use them.

Library Camp 2012 will take place in Birmingham in October. It's fully booked, but you can add yourself to the waiting list here: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/event/3931870330.

Claire Back is Information Services Librarian at Plymouth City Council.  You can follow her on Twitter @calire.