Conversations with Cataloguers in Wales: organising a mini-conference
In this guest post, Karen Pierce describes what was involved in organising a recent mini-conference, Conversations with Cataloguers in Wales, which she originally wrote a guest post about when it was in the planning stages. The Welsh event was very successful, anyone else inspired to hold a local event for cataloguers? We’d be happy to help with promotion here at High Visibility Cataloguers, we love to see cataloguers in conversation!
A few years ago I was travelling back from the annual WHELF/HEWIT conference in Gregynog (Newtown, Wales) with a (site librarian) colleague, we’d been on the organising committee and were returning on a high at our successful venture, and thus started bouncing lots of other ideas off one another. One of these ideas was to have an event for cataloguers in Wales as the Gregynog conference doesn’t tend to cover topics in the main that are directly relevant to cataloguers. Fired up with the idea I duly mentioned it at my annual appraisal, and my line manager was very supportive. Eighteen months later I was still just talking about it, but other work issues had got in the way (too busy!), then I embarked on cpd23. Whilst exploring and blogging about the various professional development tools and ideas covered by cpd23 I made a promise to myself, (and publicly on my blog), to actually get this conference organised once and for all. Fast forward seven or eight months, and the ‘Conversations with Cataloguers in Wales’ event became a reality on 6th March 2012.
Most cataloguers tend to be hidden away in the back office; where I work we are actually hidden away in an admin block nowhere near a library. Although there are plenty of librarianship conferences and seminars, aside from events organised by CILIP CIG, these events mostly don’t include a great deal that is directly relevant to cataloguers. I went to my first CIG conference in Exeter two years ago, and it was great to be in a room with lots of other cataloguers – these people were talking my language! I wanted to recreate that on a smaller scale, in Wales; give people locally the chance to get together to talk about ‘cataloguing stuff’.
For the most part I organised this conference on my own, I thought it would be small enough for me to keep a handle on it – which it was, but there were times when it would have been nice to have a team to help me out and take some of the tasks off me (though I did have plenty of help on the day).
Obviously I wanted speakers for the event, so I started by blogging about it, and then mentioning it on Twitter. My tweets were re-tweeted, and I think this was the way in which I got my first offer of a presentation. But not everyone is on Twitter – and certainly most cataloguers in Wales are not on Twitter. I sent emails out to any contacts I had, and someone picked up on my message and sent it out on various email lists. This was a great help and certainly spread the word further than I had managed so far on my own. Posts also went up on the CIG and HVCats blogs. I was curious at this point though, just how do you ensure you reach all your potential audience? (Still don’t have the answer, though a variety of mediums helps!)
I did end up with a list of speakers and potential attendees from all over Wales – predominantly South Wales which is where I was based and where the event took place, but we still had people come from Wrexham, Aberystwyth, Lampeter and Carmarthen, as well as closer to Cardiff. I am sure I did not reach all the cataloguers in Wales with my advertising, (and I’m guessing there are plenty in North Wales I didn’t get to) but as around 45 people signed up to the event I was more than pleased.
We had a variety of talks, three of which looked at reclassification projects and covered the whole range of ‘still in the planning stages’, ‘well under way, but a lot yet to do’ and ‘completed within the time scale’. For anyone planning a reclassification project these three presentations certainly gave a great oversight into the different stages and various procedures involved.
Other presentations looked at some more specialised collections; a Rare books collection, an art book collection at a museum, and Welsh government publications (at the Welsh Government Library). We also had a presentation from a terminologist – which led to plenty of thoughts about controlled vocabularies. [For a more detailed summary of the talks please see my own blog]
Whilst getting in contact with interested people a few of them mentioned that they would like the chance to talk about setting up some kind of all-Wales cataloguing group; thus I set aside a session at the end of the day to enable a discussion on this topic, and asked Stuart Hunt the chair of CIG if he would facilitate it. It was really good to have the opportunity to think about the creation of an all-Wales group, however, get a bunch of cataloguers in a room and ask them to join in a public discussion, and the majority of us do conform to stereotype and aren’t terribly vocal in front of others. It seems in general there is the desire for some kind of all-Wales group or forum, but pinning down the details (and getting people actively contributing) is another matter. I am hopeful that we will start small and grow proportionally as time goes by; and perhaps focus on organising some practical training sessions.
Overall the conference was a success, I had some great speakers, and numbers attending exceeded my expectations. Thanks to Twitter, people the other side of the country knew what was going on; although somehow my internal advertising slipped up, as in the weeks following the conference I had conversations with librarians at my institution who had been unaware of the event but would have otherwise come. I’m pretty sure they were all emailed about it – but whether they switched off at the first mention of ‘cataloguing’ I don’t know. Next time (if there is a next time) I will push things internally in a different way. That was one lesson learned.
I also learned that no matter how organised you are there will always be an unforeseen problem (or multiple problems!) that will crop up. However, if for the most part you have done all the preparation properly you should be able to cope. For example I had some IT problems, but had ensured I had an IT Support Assistant from the library up-stairs on call, so she was able to sort them for me.
Be nice to the porters/security guys – they will probably know the answers to lots of room/building related stuff (especially if you are operating in a room that isn’t where you usually work) – they also managed to give me a bin bag when the rather small bin was overflowing with lunchtime detritus. And don’t forget a Tupperware box to take home the leftovers!
As the stress fades into the background, I start to feel the urges to organise something similar again; maybe not annually but perhaps once every two years or so. It was great to have a room full of cataloguers, and I hope there were plenty of useful informal conversations at lunchtime – another reason for getting together, aside from the presentations, was just to meet each other. I now also have a great list of contacts, and am hoping some kind of all-Wales group or forum will emerge. In these uncertain times it’s encouraging to know who is out there, and what challenges they are facing, and to be able to share our experiences and knowledge, and hopefully help one another.