Accentuating the Positives: Umbrella 2011 Conference Report
Accentuating the positives – a report on Umbrella 2011
Umbrella 2011 was my first experience of such a large library conference, and I was more
than a little daunted at the prospect. I shouldn’t have worried as people were welcoming and
eager to discuss the latest developments. There seemed to be a real ‘can do’ attitude at the
conference, which makes a welcome change from some of the defeatist talk about the
information profession that I have been hearing.
EBLIDA president Gerald Leither’s opening session focused on libraries in a European
context. Leither acknowledged that there was no cohesive library policy for Europe and that
now was the time to start working together to fight for the profession. His conclusion was
that librarians should be more proactive than reactive, a statement that set the tone for the
The promotion of libraries was discussed in many sessions. This subject takes on a sense of
urgency as everyone knows that these are uncertain times for libraries. Ned Potter and Laura
Woods discussed the need to take talk of promotion out of the ‘echo chamber’ in order to
reach a broader audience, which is an excellent point. There are many excellent promotional
efforts happening and these need to be broadcast to a much wider audience than the one we
currently seem to be reaching.
The growing use of social media to both provide and promote services was another theme.
Going beyond the traditional approaches to social media was the theme of presentations made
by Dave Puplett and David Gill. The first highlighted the fact that the social web should be
about interaction with users rather than merely a distribution of content. People who do not
use traditional communication channels such as comments boxes are using social media to
communicate, enabling libraries to rectify problems they are unaware they are having. David
Gill went on to reinforce the message about interaction by showing that just because users
‘like’ you on social media sites, it doesn’t mean that you have achieved a relationship with
them. Through several innovative projects Solihull Central Library was able to turn online
interaction into real-life interactions, a great way to use social media to build relationships.
Much was also discussed about the need to demonstrate the impact that libraries have.
Christine Rockey-Browne’s literature review into methods for demonstrating value gave
examples from both the UK and abroad. The main conclusion from this extensive review
was that there is a definite need to go beyond the economic and show the social value of
libraries. Lucy Gildersleeves and David Streetfield followed this by outlining two studies
which assessed school libraries from a student perspective. The most interesting finding for
me was the importance that students place on the library as a physical space. They want a
place to study in peace and meet with friends, things that are becoming increasingly hard to
find in today’s hectic world.
Kathryn Mckee and Ryan Cronin talked about outreach efforts at St. John’s College in
Cambridge. Most of the activity discussed was aimed at using the collection to teach school
children in relation to various parts of the curriculum. Not only is outreach a chance to
mould young minds but it has several benefits for staff, such as enhanced knowledge of the
collection and a new skill set. Above all it was emphasised that having fun and thinking
outside the box were the best ways to reach out to external audiences. The popularity of
these outreach sessions shows that the college library is having a definite impact in the larger
community, somewhat dispelling the ‘Town vs. Gown’ myth. Each of these sessions showed
very effectively that librarians need to convince others of what we all know – that libraries
really do make a difference.
Two of the sessions associated with social media and professional development presented
interesting counterpoints. Phil Bradley led a workshop which gave ideas on how to develop a
professional presence online and keep up to date with the latest developments. He
highlighted the importance of using social media to share ideas and showed that it was
important to get involved in the conversations that our users are having about us, otherwise
we run the risk of not existing in their sphere. In contrast to this, Meg Silver and Sue
Fordham hosted a thought provoking session which focused on the problems brought about
through a lack of access to technology, focusing especially on prison libraries. It was
certainly eye-opening to hear of the problems with the digital divide in the information
sector. The session offered practical tips on how to stay up to date such as reading the
professional print literature and borrowing teenagers to teach you!
The conference gala dinner featured a touching after dinner speech by author Bonnie Greer.
She talked about how libraries had influenced her personally and the fond memories she has
of trips to the library with her father. She also pledged her support in doing whatever she can
to aid in the ‘Save Our Libraries’ campaign. The conference concluded with the presentation
of the Libraries Change Lives Award which was given to Kent Libraries and Archives.
“Making a Difference” is a project which encourages adults with learning disabilities to use
libraries as a way of leading more active lives in the community. All of the projects were
really inspiring and showed that libraries really are an important part of society.
Everyone that I spoke to from across a range of library sectors had such positive things to say
about the conference and the future of libraries in general. The presentations given at the
conference proved to be a good inspiration and I am sure that many people came away as
keen as I am. The main message that I personally will take away from the conference is that
libraries really can make a difference and now is definitely the time to act to show people
what a difference that can be.
Cambridge University Library