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Jonas Herriot – My day at YLG London Unconference

The YLG London Unconference was the first conference I have been to not just as an attendee, but as one of the organisers. As such my experience of the event started well before the actual day, with helping the other more experienced Committee members get the event ready, and giving my input where I could. Watching the event develop, seeing the session proposals get added to the event page, and talking to other students/colleagues/librarians about attending certainly got me in the mood for when the day actually came.

Turning up to the venue nice and early so that I could help set up and prepare the goody bags (and get a few cups of coffee in!) meant that I was well situated to watch as the hall turned into an event space, and then see as it slowly filled up with keen faces as my fellow librarians arrived. The actual unconference kicked off with a brief introduction from the committee, and then we were straight into getting peoples sessions proposed and sign up sheets created. Seeing all the great ideas that people wanted to talk about, and then watching as others displayed the same passion as they signed up for, and debated the sessions was very interesting mainly due to the fact that it showed that we all had very similar interests.

We then had an excellent introduction talk from James Dawson where he discussed his experience of growing up and using his school library as a place of refuge and calm. I have to admit that listening to that reminded me of my secondary school where I also spent as much time in the library as possible. Unfortunately I could only drift in and out of his talk, as we had to draft the days timetable, but what I heard was not only interesting, but also very inspiring.

The first session I attended was based on coding, minecraft and teaching kids. This session weaved in and out of various tech related subjects and the practical applications for libraries. The attendees was a lovely mix of experts and novices, and was for me probably the best session of the day. It allowed those with no experience of this subject to be given advice and ideas from those who had tried out games and tools which included: minecraft, raspberry pi’s, titanpad, coding basic fighting fantasy programs, gimp, smartphones as stop motion picture creation devices, scratch, linux, and using USB sticks to run external programs. Very interesting to hear how each of these had been used by libraries, and how they had surmounted the various problems they had encountered along the way.

The next session was the one I had proposed, dealing with graphic novels and the levels of access various libraries ascribed to them. We discussed what restrictions various services (both school and public) placed on this format of book, ranging from no age restriction, through to all but the most sanitised and tame being available only to over 15s. I have to admit that the main reason I ran this session was to help inform my upcoming dissertation project, and the responses I got will prove very helpful to me. While it was a relatively small session, the knowledge of those attending was good, and I came out of it keen to run more sessions in the future.

We then broke for lunch which as well as providing a chance for something to eat, also allowed us to mingle with others from different sessions and discuss what we had learnt, and pass on any helpful snippets we had gleamed to others. Following this we were back into session 3, which was how to successfully run teen reading groups. I chose this session as it is something I will be setting up this year, and listening to what had worked for others would prove invaluable. Ideas such as running Manga groups which didn’t just read the books, but which also did drawing is a good example of what was discussed here; the idea to make the groups about more than reading, and thereby keeping teens interested. Others ideas included using stupid activities to draw them in and break down barriers, as well as making your face known and accessible to them. The idea of rewards not bribes to keep them coming, and using your current readers as ambassadors to reach out to those who may not be current readers were also very good. Also mentioned was the amount of resources such as Carnegie/Greenaway which you can find, and how to build your sessions around you. Once again I was impressed with the passion, ideas, and resourcefulness of those who I was sat with.

The last session dealt with the afore mentioned Carnegie/Greenaway, and what went on behind the scenes, and how the award was ran and judged. This highlighted all the hard work which took place each year and left me impressed with those involved. Less interactive than other sessions but equally enjoyable, I left this session with a far greater understanding of the award, and a strange desire to one day be more involved. I should also mention that this session stood out as we got to try kangaroo, crocodile, buffalo, and ostrich meat, which is quite unusual for a conference. The reason for this though, was showcasing how you can take a book (in this case about cannibalism) and create activities you can then use with children to pique their interest, and create talking points.

The day then finished with everybody coming back into the big hall and a closing talk to end the day, before people started the journey home. As with all conferences I left feeling more involved in the profession, and more connected to the larger community we are in. There is also a tinge of regret about those sessions I couldn’t attend, but this is dealt with by speaking those who had attended and swapping stories and notes. I was very impressed with the professionalism and knowledge of my colleague who helped run the day and was grateful to be able to spend the time with them, and all of the delightful and interesting librarians who attended. We also started making plans for the next one, so watch this space…