I was only twenty four hours in Korsør. Onlyyyy, one day away from my work
I saw a welcoming light and stopped to rest for the night…
Last week I enjoyed a lightning trip to Denmark, a country that these days probably puts us more in mind of achingly cool drama than bacon. The purpose of the visit was to present a conference keynote at the annual Vinterinternat (Winter conference) of the Danmarks Forskningsbiblioteksforening (Danish Research Library Association). I’d been invited to present along with my co-author Libby Tilley on the topic of our personalising library services book. While I was going to focus on the need for librarians to communicate differently to today’s users and to offer higher levels of customer service, Libby was going to square up to the criticism that a ’boutique’ approach to libraries is not cost-effective. However, before we could do either we had to get there.
To say Libby and I were relaxed as we travelled by plane and two trains to our destination is something of an understatement. Both of us were far too busy chatting and having a good time to worry about the fact that our Danish was non-existent (tak meaning thank you being one of the very few words in our vocabulary) or that we had to travel half way across Denmark – well across the Danish island of Zealand anyway – after we flew in to Copenhagen. In fact this latter fact had rather passed us by. However, despite this huge state of unpreparedness, we only had one moment of true indecision during the journey, when we found ourselves wandering aimlessly along a rather seedy underpass at Copenhagen Central Station mixing up platforms with tracks, and wagons with seat numbers. Utterly confused we reacted in true British fashion by stopping and finding the funny side of the situation – laughing at ourselves and our complete unsuitability for foreign travel. As I wiped the tears away, a friendly local took pity on us and we were soon headed in the right direction for a restorative coffee and a kanelsnegle.
The train journey from Copenhagen to Korsør (location of the oldest cinema in the wolrd fact-fans) was remarkably comfortable and once we got some inevitable tweets about Sarah Lund and chunky-knit jumpers out of the way, we sat back and put libraryland to rights and then the world at large. As we passed swiftly through the pitch-black Danish countryside I was already regretting that we were going to return to the UK pretty much straight after our presentation, having only seen of Denmark, the inside of an airport, train stations and a conference centre. Ah well.
I enjoyed the names of the places we passed en route, particularly Slagelse, presumably named after a Danish woman of ill repute? We were put in mind of The Killing once again when, after arriving in Korsør, our gruff taxi driver appeared to be taking us deep into the forest to kill us both in interesting ways. As it turned out, our venue, Konferencenter Klarskovgaard, was nestled between said forest and the sea, The Great Belt, between Zealand and the other major Danish island: Funen. Yes I’ve checked out the geography since I got home.
We were warmly greeted by our Danish hosts, including two old librarian friends of mine from the European Business Schools Librarians Group – Rene Steffensen and Gert Poulsen -around 9pm, having set off from Cambridge at 11:30am. The remainder of the evening was spent perfectly, drinking ale at the bar, well my evening anyway, Libby sensibly went to bed. I noted the relaxed dress code around me and asked if everyone was going to be in jeans tomorrow? Gert told me that ‘some would’, but weighing it up quickly, I told him that I thought I might be more convincing in formal trousers!
My hotel room was very ‘Scandi’ with a design classic chair and mood lighting. It was cosy too, a good job as the wind was howling outside all night. As usual, I had a few nerves about presenting before I nodded off – How much would I need my notes? Would I get my message over to Danish librarians? Would the interactive elements work? But I slept very well. Thank you ale.
The next morning we were very impressed by our first sight of the conference auditorium – very posh with summit-like furniture (with mics that lit up when delegates wanted to speak) and after a quick equipment check and a check on the Twitter hashtag #dfvinter13 the 120 or so Danish librarians who had travelled to be there from all over their country filed in. We were first up after an introduction to the conference from a very cool librarian Christian Lauersen of the Danish Royal Library which he very kindly opted to give in English rather than Danish for mine and Libby’s benefit.
Our presentations, for which I wore formal trousers not jeans (and definitely not just my pants – a running twitter joke that morning), went smoothly and as usual I found myself surprised at just how passionate I get when speaking, although I hoped my tendency to say ‘we must do this’ or ‘we must do that’, didn’t feel too much like browbeating. I was told during our first break – much needed as we were on for 2 hours – that we were going at a good speed and that it was only the occasional colloquial word such as ‘maverick’ that was not being understood.
I think the most successful element of the session was an interactive exercise for which I needed three volunteers from the audience to read a long rambling library email I’d written, which they’d each get different amounts of time to read, on which they were then tested. The results were amusing and just as poor as they’d been when I’d carried out the exercise with my team. I also enjoyed asking the audience for their most recent excellent customer service experiences. Thank you Liv for the story about how a salesman tried to sell your tomboy daughter a pink bike, before another salesman in a different shop bothered to talk to her to find out her preferences, which completely and utterly sold my key point that we must not assume what our users need but talk to them (a few hundred kroner in the post to you). I should say that Libby’s presentation went very well too. We were once again – getting used to this – asked for a clearer definiton of a boutique service which we provided and I also tweeted.
I was pleased to be told afterwards – over a great lunch at which I tried everything – by several delegates that they preferred ’boutique’ to ‘personalising’ as it better encapsulates the approach we’re describing and, besides, they already felt they’d ‘done’ personalising and that it was passe, so maybe there is life in the term yet?
All too quickly our time at the conference was over, but not before Libby and I ran like children from the conference centre down to the sea (bleak, if atmospheric – see below) in order to feel as though we had seen at least some of the country before our taxi arrived to whisk us back to the train station. Our hosts had been wonderful and as we bid goodbye we promised to return for a longer visit in the near future. I didn’t see much of Denmark this time around, but enough to know I definitely want to go back for more.