Become a librarian. See the world! (EBSLG 2014, Part 1)

On reflection, volunteering to become President of EBSLG (European Business Schools Librarians Group) on top of everything else I do may not have been the Wisest Move in the World, given small matters such as the ongoing Social Media Driving Licence course, the UXLib conference and book, and the fact that I’m also now chairing Cambridge University’s Faculty & Departmental Librarians Group. For one thing assuming this new presidential role (yes I admit I do like the sound of it) makes it feel more essential than ever that I blog about the annual EBSLG conference, which this year took place in glorious history-drenched St Petersburg a few weeks ago. I’m trying to write this post on Sunday morning before the 2014 Men’s Wimbledon Singles Final (sorry Edeltraud I’m backing Djokovic) so if it becomes disjointed further down it’s because I’ve failed and I’m simultaneously shouting at the television.

One of the main bridges across the River Neva

The annual EBSLG conference usually makes me feel very lucky to be in my job due to the promise of exotic climes, however, last year’s event was in Cambridge so being at home as its harassed organiser, I was feeling much less fortunate.  This year would be different, more ‘become a librarian and see the world.’ Hey, we should totally start using that slogan.

As you may have gathered from my previous post the defining moment for me was beholding the imperious Lenin statue at Finland Station, the site of his triumphant return from exile (I’m no communist but I found the weight of history at that place overwhelming, especially as I’d written about the event for a BBC drama series DVD release years ago and never thought I’d actually get to visit), however, there were many other highlights, some of them were even part of the conference itself (!). Here dear reader is the first half of my EBSLG 2014 Top Ten…

ebslg-stp-14 (1)
EBSLG delegates looking gorgeous

10. International delegates
One of the very best things about EBSLG is that you get to meet people from other European countries. That and the annual discovery that librarians everywhere are grappling with the same problems, for example, Lilian Luchi from Argentina (one of three delegates from beyond Europe) revealed in her presentation that 70% of Latin American academics don’t know what Open Access is yet. Meanwhile presentations from Bob Hebert (North Carolina), Nikolaus Berger (Vienna), and Irene Schumm (Mannheim, Germany) all demonstrated, and agreed upon, the demise of the printed book in our library spaces, and their increasing use simply as decoration. We even heard how they had battled architects to prevent them from putting far more books and shelves in newly designed libraries than are actually required. I was very pleased to hear Venkadesan Srinivasan – Venky for short – from the Indian School of Business tell us about his holistic and realistic approach to library services: allowing food and drink, mobiles, and offering a DVD collection for students that their partners and children can borrow from too. It’s a community approach that I’ve also been pursuing at Judge for some time. However, it’s not all parity and agreement, sometimes culture has a part to play. Take appraisals for instance, about which I had a fascinating discussion with Pascale Pajona (Head of Library at INSEAD, Paris) during the gala dinner at the Astoria Hotel (it featured in Goldeneye fact fans). I learned from Pascale that in contrast to my rather fulsome praising of my talented staff, over in France however hard one works, praise tends to be withheld.

Uwe explains geocaching
Uwe explains geocaching

9. Uwe on Geocaching
One of my favourite presentations at this year’s conference was given by Uwe Boettcher from the Otto Beisheim School of Management who talked about the use of geocaching as a library outreach tool (‘using satellite technology worth billions to search for Tupperware’). Uwe ably explained the appetite for gamification amongst today’s users, a point which I took as a further incentive for me to finally use LEGO Serious Play with our students. We almost went on a geocaching trip around the city, but as there was so much else to do and see there wasn’t time.

The VodkaRoom menu. There was a separate Vodka menu.

8. The Vodka Museum
At the start of The Vodka Museum Evening, as it shall always be known, all ten of us present regardless of nationality (Brits, Swiss, Spanish, German, Swedish) rather meekly asked for ‘vodka’ from our waiter. By the end of the evening accompanied by a rousing trio of traditional Russian musicians we were thrusting our glasses in the air shouting for ‘wodka’ like natives. Along the way we settled upon our Vodka names. All I remember is that Lorna was ‘Putinka Soft’ and I was ‘National Leader Classic’. Obvs. Later that evening, well actually morning, a group of us walked along the river and watched St Petersburg’s famous bridges rise as part of the ‘White Nights’ celebrations. During White Nights the sun doesn’t set until midnight or thereabouts, but the bridges didn’t do their thang until 1:25am. We got very cold and some people gave up waiting and returned to the hotel (may they be forgiven) but a few of us stuck it out and watched the spectacle.

Bridge rising in front of the Hermitage and yours truly with Lorna and Thorsten
Bridge rising in front of the Hermitage and yours truly with Lorna and Thorsten

7. Engaging with the audience at home
This is 2014 right? So why (WHY!) are presenters still surprised and indignant about delegates live-tweeting? ‘I wondered what you were doing’ said the British keynote to me in front of the entire audience, before he went on to ask me what I got out of it (with a definite tone of condescension). I explained that live-tweeting offered me a fuller experience of the event, especially given the engagement with the audience beyond, and also acted as an excellent record of the event for when I came to write up my blog. He didn’t seem at all convinced. Ironically, back home it was also live-tweeting week of the Social Media Driving Licence, a fact that encouraged me to fight my corner a little more strongly than I otherwise would have done.  My experience of live-tweeting in St Petersburg was one of the best I’ve had at any conference as over the three days librarians from all over the world had conversations with me, asked questions about the talks, made me laugh, and generally enriched the event. Thank you followers, you’re great.  Special mention here must go to Fabrizio Tinti (from Belgium) @fabtinti for tweeting almost as much as me and for sharing my content with a wider audience.

St Isaac's Cathedral
St Isaac’s Cathedral

 6. History of Russia(n libraries)
During the week I was especially interested to hear from residents of St Petersburg who had experienced life in Soviet Russia. One told me about listening to the Beatles on her radio as a child and learning English so she could understand the lyrics. I was surprised to learn that the jokes we made during the conference about Lennon and Lenin had previously been used widely in early 80s Russia, indeed after Lennon’s death, Russian schoolchildren replaced ‘Lenin’ in a repurposed Communist slogan: ‘Lennon lived, Lennon lives, Lennon will live.’ We also learned about libraries in Soviet Russia, through a fascinating keynote given by Irina Lynden. Interestingly of the 3200 libraries in St Petersburg in 1980 (Soviet era) only 1,100 remain now. Called ‘mass libraries’ in the Soviet era, apparently when the name changed to ‘public libraries’ it caused some blushes as ‘public’ meant brothels to them. My stay in Russia presented me with just the very tip of the iceberg in terms of the country’s history and society and I resolved to buy lots of books on my return. And I did.

Russian reading

The tennis is about to begin, plus this post is plenty long enough already. Next time my EBSLG 2014 countdown goes from 5 to 1 – as I recount inventing a business plan from scratch, the moment when everything went a bit Eurovision, and how I contracted CDF (Chronic Dome Fatigue).

Here’s my Flickr album with all of my St Petersburg photos

A railing beside the Church on the Spilled Blood
A railing beside the Church on the Spilled Blood

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