Or to give it it’s full title: “Attending, presenting at and organising seminars, conferences and other events.”
I’ve lost count of the number of library events I’ve attended over the last thirty years – I’ve been lucky in having employers with reasonable training budgets. Some events have been better than others, but I’ve always paid close attention, if only because I would be expected to present a report to colleagues on what I had learned that could be useful to the library. There’s always been something. When I was an officer with SALCTG, I also had the added bonus of participating in events I wouldn’t normally have gone to because I was there as an organiser. In terms of the future, what I attend will depend on what direction my “retirement” takes (I start a temporary job on Monday) and what contacts, skills and interests I need to develop.
I’ve never run a big conference, but after 10 years of running events for SALCTG I feel I am something of an expert. Only once have I had a sleepless night over it, when someone who was organising the catering unexpectedly became incommunicado a few days beforehand – but we got fed, it was all under control and I should have been more trusting. Recently, I’ve also been organising informal events under the GLTU banner for Glasgow’s library tweeters, which is great fun and I’ve met a lot of new people through it. When I finished my last job, I applied for a part-time post administering courses for another library group and, although I was unsuccessful, this is definitely an area where I feel I have skills to offer.
As far as presenting goes, well you can’t be an academic librarian without having to speak in public. User education sessions, from a handful of students to a few hundred in a lecture theatre, library training sessions and addressing staff in other parts of the university are all par for the course. However, presenting at events, beyond introducing speakers and votes of thanks, is not something I’ve done much of. I’m filled with admiration for the younger professionals I follow on Twitter who seem to do it regularly. When I first started out, I think there were far fewer conferences and seminars, and it tended more to be the great and the good who spoke at them, so it never occured to me that it might be something I might do. Later, I suppose I never felt I had anything distinctive enough to say. However, this June I had two opportunities to speak from which I learned a few things.
I wrote in Thing 11 about the talk on being a mentor that I gave to a Chartership Workshop. I prepared my material well, and tried to have a balance between covering the facts and conveying the spirit of the mentorship relationship, mixed in with a little humour (and a picture of a cute baby near the beginning to break the ice. There was a point to that, honest.) I was confident in my subject matter, but less confident about my delivery. When I rehearsed, I could hardly get the words out. This was at the time when the Library had closed and I was about to leave so, emotionally, I was all over the place. In the end, I just had to hope for the best – and it worked. I still stumbled a bit, but people seemed appreciative, they laughed in the right places and two of the audience later asked me to mentor them, so I must have said something right. My conclusion is that if you prepare well enough, adrenalin will help you through.
In the picture above, I am making a speech after my leaving presentation in Jordanhill Library. This doesn’t really fall within the scope of this post, but it does have a bearing on how I think of myself as a speaker. I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve – to say thank you, obviously, but also to reminisce about my time in the library and celebrate what we had achieved as a team. Most staff were transferring to the main library, and I knew some had anxieties, so I wanted to boost their confidence and make the point that, although the team was breaking up, they would take those achievements and experiences with them and use them to enhance their new teams. In this case, I had very few notes and hadn’t rehearsed: I had been working through it in my head for days and wanted to be as spontaneous as possible. This is easy, of course, when you are talking about a subject you know so well – yourself! What I didn’t know till later was that one friend had videoed me, so I was able to see how I did: I hoped to be inspiring and I think it worked. I sounded confident, didn’t look at my notes much, apart from once when I was reading a direct quote, there were murmurs of appreciation, laughter and, I’m told, not a dry eye in the house at the end. I’m obviously a better speaker than I think.
Overall, events are an important way of learning and making connections with people, whether you are an organiser, a speaker or simply part of the audience. On a personal level, I hope to continue attending library events, but at the moment my life is going through such a period of change that it is difficult to know which ones, and in which capacity, but I’m confident about my ability to do all three.