EBLSG 2013 – A Personal Top Ten

So, I made it. I survived running the 2013 conference and am now back out at the other side. Thankfully I understand that the conference was very well received by its 40+ delegates. In fact, they made certain that I knew this both during and after the conference, and their thanks and appreciation have made the over-and-above efforts of the past 6 months very worthwhile. I do have high standards – which is probably why I spend quite a bit of my career feeling disappointed – but even I have to admit that last week almost went without a single hitch.

EBSLG delegates on the steps of the Fitzwilliam Museum

Rather than document the whole event here, I’ve instead decided to record some of my edited highlights. My ‘best bits’ if you like. Here, in no particular order, is my top ten of EBSLG 2013:

Tim Wales mid-sharing session
Tim Wales mid-sharing session

10. Sunny and Share
On the first full day of the conference, for which we were blessed with sunny, if very humid, weather, making the conference lecture theatre environment a bit of a challenge at times, six EBSLG members presented sharing sessions on projects and initiatives in which they’d recently been engaged.

A fascinatingly varied line-up saw presentations on: facebook student engagement at Moscow’s SKOLKOVO business school with posts about best-selling business books, yes books – who’da thunk it? (Helen Edwards); EQUIS evaluation in Stockholm (Marie-Louise Fendin); the repository at BI Norwegian Business School with a Star Wars film, complete with intro and music (Dagmar Langeggen); social media use by researchers in Germany (Thorsten Meyer); aerobics and space design at the Darden School, Virginia (presented by US conference guest Karen King); and for my money, the best of the six, a wonderfully wry presentation on the results of a survey about EBSLG members views on the future, and the proposed library models presented and chosen by London Business School’s senior management. This latter sharing session was the very last talk of the day so congrats to presenter Tim Wales for keeping us engaged and entertained.

Quizzing at the River Bar
Quizzing at the River Bar

9. Around Europe in 50 Questions
The first night of the conference saw Ange and I take to the floor at the River Bar restaurant with a European-flavoured quiz, largely penned by The Fitzpatrick (Ange) but presented as a tag-team by the two of us. It seems that all librarians regardless of nationality hotly contest a quiz and for fifty furious quickfire questions they were tested on their knowledge of  an eclectic range of subjects such as National Birds, Football, Geography,  Eurovision and Hungarian wine.

The River Bar’s Hungarian barman Gabor was keen to take the microphone to give his views on the latter topic and Ange and I found ourselves almost having to rugby tackle him to get the mic back! We’d been drinking so were quite prepared to wrestle him for it! A spot prize was offered for the delegate who could correctly guess the number of University libraries in Cambridge. The winner was Carolina of EADA, Spain, who won a mini-bottle of champers, while second place was awarded to keynote speaker Stephen Abram. I wont tell you what Stephen first thought the woollen Union Jack hand warmer he won was, as this is not that sort of blog. The quiz was great fun and a good conference icebreaker.

Lined up and ready to throw balls at each other

8. Roof Garden Invasion
One of my abiding memories of the conference will be the 20 or so minutes when the brilliant Andy Massey of The Pacific Institute took us out of the lecture theatre to invade the sun-bathed roof garden so we could throw balls at each other! OK So there was slightly more to it than that. We were tasked by him to, in turn, throw a ball to each other remembering both who we caught it off and who we threw it to. After a few complete circuits of the group we got much quicker at it, at which point more balls were added into the mix  for complexity.

Set a new task by Andy Massey (right) melee ensues…

The purpose of the exercise was to prove that with practice processes improve and become more streamlined and that this is also the result if we take responsibility and work as a team. Another learning point was that René is good at poaching balls and that Ange is a really lousy throw. Who knew?  Another illuminating exercise saw Andy divide us into two groups and ask us to organise ourselves in a line based on our birthdays. One group didn’t have a leader, the other did. Not hard to guess that the group without a leader completed in around two-thirds of the time of the led group!

A slide from my Info & Lib Services Judge intro PPT

7. Kick-Off
Returning to the very start of the conference, I really enjoyed the first hour when delegates arrived in the early evening sun and we loitered outside the business school entrance for a bit and caught up with each other. We’re a close group and this informal and very relaxed arrival period reminded me how lucky I am to be a part of it.

Immediately after the arrival of delegates I presented my take on the information and library services we offer here from one of the large screens in our Information Centre. I was determined to counteract the potential disappointment of our physical space with some ‘wow’ full-screen image slides and the message that for us the physical space is a small part of our service and our wider service strategy and activities beyond the library walls are much more important. I think I succeeded in this.

Abram and mouse friend
Abram and mouse friend

6. The Abram
Stephen Abram’s contribution to the conference deserves a blogpost in its own right, suffice to say I very much enjoyed his challenging session even if in my case he was preaching to the converted. Stephen has some great ideas and equally good ways of expressing them. It was for this reason that he was right at the top of my keynote speakers wishlist. I was amazed and thrilled when I secured him and even more pleased when it transpired that he had cleared his week to spend the whole conference with us so he could take part in the whole event. The many many elements in his session that really struck a chord with me, 25 in all – some of which had me mentally punching the air – were as follows:

  • ‘Our challenge is to be able to talk about our business without saying the ‘L’ word’;
  • ‘The value of libraries is in librarians who promote themselves and network‘;
  • ‘Library websites have too many nouns: e.g., ‘books,’ ‘databases,”;
  • ‘Need more pics of librarians, links to services and social media’;
  • ‘Number one fault of librarians is that we’re not timely enough. Need to be faster’;
  • ‘Google is a piece of crap – as a search engine.  And we are Google’s product not their customer’;
  • ‘We must be service professionals, not servants; must offer value, not just fetch-it services’;
  • ‘Do enough librarians check how their site looks on multiple devices?’;
  • ‘Library staff competencies need to ramp up: we must be better at consultations, educating and building relations’;
  • ‘Librarians value their time at zero’;
  • ‘Where is the librarian at lesson level? ‘Where are the learning objects?’;
  • ‘Scale learning and make it repeatable’;
  • ‘Libraries core skill is not delivering information. Libraries improve the quality of the question & the user experience’;
  • ‘Librarians are not in the business of information, but of intelligence.’;
  • ‘We must add to the quality of the user experience’;
  • ‘Librarians need to be friendly but also the shark in the tank. We must be more assertive about the value we deliver’;
  • ‘Think deeply about: scalability, sustainability, depth of relationships, daily and future priorities’;
  • ‘We’re frickin brilliant’ so why don’t we tell people? Brand yourself, put your name and your photo out there, claim your place ‘;
  • ‘All learning is distance learning, unless they are standing in front of you at your library desk’;
  • ‘Do you like change? Doesn’t matter. Get over it. Breathe. Find a rhythm. Don’t resist. Don’t react. Go explore. Commit.’;
  • ‘Stop negativity. Negativity is contagious. Learn. Change. You can do it. Change is an attitude. Create a personal vision’;
  • ‘Focus on what you *can* do, not what you can’t. Learn to love ambiguity’;
  • ‘There is nothing wrong with attracting attention’;
  • ‘Be playful. Create a playful environment. Be inspirational and have some fun. Tell your story. Admit it, you’re a change agent.’;
  • ‘The future is NOT going to NOT happen – so get ready for it!’
Stephen with Lego facilitator Helen Murphy
Stephen with Lego facilitator Helen Murphy

What really struck me about Stephen, the more I spent time with him at sessions and dinners (and in various drinking establishments) was his genuine passion. I’m sure he’s unfairly dismissed by some as ‘know-it-all’ but he really does know his stuff (if not it all) and his motivation is absolutely all about turning the profession around. Many thanks for making the time for us Stephen. Slideshare of Stephen’s EBSLG talk

Uwe, Jeff and Keith just before we spotted Stephen Hawking
Uwe, Jeff and Keith just before we spotted Stephen Hawking

5. Punting and Hawking
The first night of the conference saw us partake in a truly Cambridge experience: punting down the Cam. Enhanced not only by many bottles of Champagne, but by Chinese lanterns and decorations adorning the length of the river due to the fact that we were in May Week. In Cambridge, May Week is in June. I know.

One further stroke of luck which added to the Cambridge magic – that had Jeff Wilensky of ProQuest open-mouthed – was the sudden arrival, mid-punt, of Stephen Hawking trundling along the riverbank – laid on especially by myself and Ange of course. We treat our overseas guests very well here.

4. Bricking it
I certainly wasn’t ‘bricking it’ when it came to facilitating my Lego workshop having done quite a few now (my fees are very reasonable), although the presence of Stephen Abram and that well-known Kiwi troublemaker Phill Hall, of Summon fame, in my group certainly concentrated my mind somewhat. Six other workshops took place at the very same time led by Ange (far right), Meg (on my right) and 4 other recently Lego-trained Cambridge-based facilitators, Libby, Hélène, Isla and Helen.

Me and my fab Lego facilitators
Me and my fab fellow Lego facilitators

Thanks to Rachel Marsh we have some great photos of us all in our specially purchased Lego font t-shirts posing with our brick kits. By all accounts the session was the most popular of the entire event – making all the prep and Lego-related efforts worthwhile. A huge thank you to my excellent Lego facilitators. Some comments from attendees included: ‘I just loved the Lego session since my thoughts flows better while my hands are working’; ‘I was not very keen on the idea, however, it proved to be real fun, there was really no stress, everybody was friendly and relaxed…’; and ‘a nice way to bring out experiences, ideas and emotions in a playful way.’

Mary explains her model to Fiona, Chris, Onno, Christine and Libby
Mary explains her Lego model to Fiona, Chris, Onno, Christine and Libby
Arnaud, Dominic and Phill at the Fitz

3. A Night at the (Fitzwilliam) Museum
When Ange and I discovered that we could book the Impressionists Gallery at the Fitzwilliam Museum and have our delegates sip wine beside a Monet, a Cezanne or a Renoir before a fine dining experience elsewhere in the museum, we booked it with a tangible degree of excitement.

In the event, the venue delivered absolutely. The art historian gave just the right length of talk, the food was very special indeed – possibly one of the best meals I’ve ever had –  and it quickly became clear that the following night’s Gala Dinner had a lot to compete with.

Liz Waller giving her views on the future of library space

2. Question Time
In my experience most conference panel discussions fail for one of three reasons: 1. They overrun; 2. Certain panel members take too much airtime; and 3. The audience doesn’t get a look-in. I was determined to avoid all of the above and roved with a mic throughout and kept everyone on track as we discussed whether we needed library spaces anymore, Discovery software and Bring-Your-Own-Device.

The panel which consisted of Stephen Abram, Jeff Wilensky, Liz Waller (who also gave us a pictorial take on library spaces elsewhere in the schedule) and Tim Wales, representing the EBSLG Anglophone Group, did a uniformly excellent job, as did the highly-contributing audience. Valuable panel discussion? Tick!

1. A King at Christ’s
This isn’t me being arrogant about my experience of the final night Gala Dinner, but simply relates to how it felt to dine at centre top table at Christ’s College, especially when delegates gave me thunderous applause for my conference organisation – a very special moment for which I’m very grateful. Like most people I do need praise and it was pretty magical receiving it in that setting. The ‘King’ bit also relates to a delegate comment that, myself and my dinner partner for the evening – Dagmar Langeggen of BI Norwegian Business School, looked like, and I quote: ‘A thin Henry VIII with Queen Dagmar of Norway at his side’!

King Andy and Queen Dagmar with their loyal subjects
Per (left) and Christine (right)
Per (left) and Christine (right)

The Gala Dinner was also memorable because it gave me a chance to acknowledge the massive efforts of Ange and the rest of my team as probably for the first time I described her  as ‘amazing’ rather than using my tongue-in-cheek more typical refrain – ‘she’s quite good’, but also because we all said a fond and tearful farewell to the wonderful Christine Reid of Strathclyde who described EBSLG as ‘her family’. It was also Mannheim’s Per Knudsen’s final conference with us – acknowledged at the AGM the next morning. Per too has been a fantastic colleague. Both of them are as entertaining as they are  knowledgeable and I will miss them very much.

So that about wraps up #EBSLG13 up for me. An occasionally stressful, but undoubtedly rewarding experience, which most importantly for me offered the opportunity to strengthen my relationships with other European Business School Library Directors.

Until we meet again in St. Petersburg…

N.B. I will be sharing a very large Flickr photo album and a Storify containing all the conference tweets very soon.

Andre, Chris, Steve, Mary, Costas, Lorraine, Yours Truly, Isabelle, at Christ’s


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