3 Lessons About Collaboration Learned at CONUL

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The theme of the CONUL Annual Conference this year was collaboration and it was fascinating to see the breadth of presentations that centred around this one topic. Collaboration means different things to different people and is often heavily influenced by circumstance. It was clear from the speakers at CONUL that collaboration isn’t just the tools we use, it’s a mindset we adopt to help us achieve our goals. So, with that in mind here are three takes on collaboration that were seen at CONUL.

Collaboration is Sharing

Sharing Space

“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.” Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Space may be vast but it’s also increasingly expensive. Ivy Anderson (Director of Collections at the California Digital Library) gave the first keynote of the conference and spoke about libraries pooling collections to save space, money and to reduce duplication. This is certainly not a new phenomenon and has been going on for decades. She emphasised that the narrative of shared print is not about reducing collections but about collaborating and expanding access to a wider audience through shared repositories or inter-library loans. Later, Michelle Agar (Trinity College Library) introduced the Australian library consortium CAVAL (Cooperative Action by Victorian Academic Libraries). CAVAL provides collaborative storage for print and non-print collections in impressive climate-controlled secure repositories. CAVAL began with CARM1, which reached capacity within ten years. CAVAL have now built CARM2 to store low-use print material1. The topic proved popular with delegates and it will be interesting to see whether a similar shared print repository is established in Ireland.

Sharing Knowledge

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Collaboration is also about sharing knowledge. We can use expertise in our discipline to help others as well as learning from other disciplines. CONUL featured many projects about supporting teaching & learning in new and interesting ways.

Ursula Byrne (UCD) spoke about launching the Irish Poetry Reading Archive, a permanent repository of readings by Irish poets. These videos are now built into the curriculum of the School of English Drama & Film and provide an authentic experience for students studying modern Irish poetry.

Hugh Murphy and Barbara McCormack (Maynooth University) collaborate with the Department of History on a Master’s Degree in Historical Archives. This degree is accredited by the Archives and Records Association (UK and Ireland) and library staff contribute to over half of the modules offered. The ARA Qualification Accreditation Team were impressed with the diversity of the staff of the course, saying they “bring a breadth of skills and experience to the programme which will be of great benefit to the students”.

Elsewhere Maynooth University, librarians are collaborating on the new Critical Skills course for first year undergraduates. Lorna Dodd and Brian McKenzie presented on this course, which has an impressive range of topics and highlighted the intrinsic link to information literacy. This is a fantastic and robust example of collaboration to support student learning in the long-term.

Collaboration is Partnership

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The first plenary began with a brilliant presentation by Siobhán Dunne (DCU) about an ethnographic research project she carried out to investigate the undergraduate research process. This project is a great example of using the library as a lab, echoing Jeffrey Schnapp at the Library Futures Symposium. This project required Siobhán to collaborate with the students to establish a mutually trusting relationship. The collaboration was two-fold, as there is also collaboration with the academic staff to discuss and implement the findings of the study. Among other things, Siobhán spoke about a phenomenon familiar to many students, abject fear of “The Word Count”. The nature of the research enabled Siobhán to assess the students’ abilities and compare her assessment to their own reflections on their skills. You can read more about this project in the New Review of Academic Librarianship here.

Collaborative partnerships are happening at an institutional level too. In the last few years many small colleges have merged with larger institutions including Froebel College, now part of Maynooth University. This merger and the collaboration required to complete it was the subject of Marie Cullen’s prize-winning poster.

Partnerships can also be more unexpected. Elizabeth Kirwan (National Library of Ireland) spoke about how the National Photographic Archive collaborated with photographer Jeanette Lowe and Pearse House Flats to curate and house an exhibition about the local community. This imaginative project engaged a new audience and created a new collaborative online community on the Pearse House Facebook page, where users can share photos and stories of their family and friends. Even though this project began three years ago the facebook page is still active with people interacting regularly. 

Collaboration is Virtual

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One of the things I was struck by most over the course of the two days was when Stephanie Ronan (The Marine Institute) said that the whole committee of Rudaí 23 has never been in the same place and the same time. Collaboration is happening more and more online, often beginning with a tweet! Virtual collaboration, or online collaboration is easier now than ever before with free and easy to use collaborative tools like Google Drive & Docs, Dropbox, instant messaging, Skype etc. But that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging in its own way. Virtual collaboration is often par for the course in University as students move home for the summer or increasingly have to work part-time. Scheduling in-person meetings can be unfeasible so we rely on tools like Whatsapp and Skype. At SLIP we want to collaborate with students in Ireland using an online platform and we are curious about how the future of virtual collaboration will unfold. 


One of the most inspiring moments at CONUL was when Valerie King (UCC) spoke about building the new Creative Zone in the library. Once again referencing Jeffrey Schnapp, the Library as Lab element of the space was an emergent process. The plans for this space were drawn up before funding was available and the delegates loved the positivity of the presentation; “design the library space you want, the money will come”. And it did! I loved the challenge in this message, asking what can you do now? And saying don’t wait for it to happen, make it happen.

If you have an idea for a project you would like to collaborate on why not tell us in the comments or on Twitter using #SLIPIreland. You can also send us a message here.

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” George Bernard Shaw

References

  1. Jilovsky, C. The CARM2 print repository: from planning to operations. Library Management Vol. 34 No. 4/5, 2013 p. 281-289. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/01435121311328627
  2. Header image credit http://conference.conul.ie

 

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