CILIP Conference 2020 Reimagined Report: Thoughts from a New Professional

As someone very new to our profession my first CILIP Conference was always going to be an interesting one, yet the pandemic would make the experience even more distinctive. There will be many people reading this who will have experienced some disappointment this year after seeing the pandemic cancel an event they were most looking forward to. However, if I was asked to pick one word to describe the most common characteristic in this profession it would be resilience. Despite the need for us to stay at home, we were still able to come together to discuss and share engaging ideas with professionals from across the country – and indeed from around the world.

I have always believed in encouraging students and new professionals to take every opportunity to participate in events that enhance our collective knowledge. I was therefore very excited when I saw a call go out for ‘new voices’ to present a lightning talk on a topic of their choice around the theme of ‘supporting the profession.’ At first the prospect of presenting at a large conference was nerve-wracking, but I was sure it was something I wanted to do. Indeed, Alison King – a school librarian and a fellow New Voice presenter – said ‘if anything terrifies you, you should absolutely do it.’ Well, aside from a few exceptions (such as wrestling with an alligator), I can fully endorse this advice to all who work in health libraries.

In my presentation, I used my experiences of being on placement in two healthcare libraries to argue that we need to do more to facilitate these placements for students in order to attract more people to our profession. Thankfully the typical presentation nerves were eased by that fact I was presenting to a webcam in my own bedroom, rather than a large auditorium. More so, we had numerous opportunities to rehearse our presentations with CILIP staff which was also a fantastic opportunity to get to know the other speakers.

The conference was organised around four themes: collaboration, raising voices, technical skills, and resilience. Of course, it was impossible to ignore the situation that we are in and not discuss our own experiences of this past year. Tracie D Hall, the President of the American Library Association, gave an impactful keynote talk on taking up her experience of taking up her role in the midst of the pandemic and the worrying rise of false information surrounding COVID-19. Additionally, speaking only two weeks after the US Presidential Election, Tracie emphasised the role of libraries in society by arguing that “libraries are the bridge to democratic engagement for so many.”

The technical skills sessions were particularly valuable too, and the Professional Registration Q&A was a very useful session in thinking about my own progress towards Chartership. This was a very interactive session, and the chat function to ask a question made it far easier for people to ask a question as it was much less intimidating than an open microphone in a large conference room.

The same applies to interacting with the exhibitors, of which there were many relevant to healthcare libraries. Delegates could join virtual exhibition booths where they could download brochures, attend live demos, and also join 1:1 calls with exhibitors to discuss their services more in detail. This made for a very interesting and engaging experience.

Perhaps the best part of an online conference was the fact that the interesting discussions and sharing of ideas does not end once people go home at the end of the day. Additionally, there is no longer the fear of missing out on a session because you had to pick between two equally-interesting sessions. All delegates retain access to PheedLoop until mid-2021 and can continue to have access to networking features in addition to replaying the proceedings. However, it should be noted that by the end of the day many of the attendees were suffering from serious bookshelf envy – particularly after seeing the spectacular home library of Richard Ovenden (Bodley’s Librarian).

While I sincerely hope that by this time next year we will be living in the ‘old normal’ again, I can say with confidence that the online conference experience was still one that shouldn’t be missed.

Conference content can be accessed via the PheedLoop platform

Luca Filippi, Assistant Librarian
Surrey & Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust

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