Become a librarian. See the world! (EBSLG 2014, Part 2)

Hello again, it’s now Monday evening. After the penultimate session of our Social Media Driving Licence tomorrow, I’m off to Leicester for BLA 2014, so I’d better get this second EBSLG post out now. You may remember that we got halfway through my Top Ten of my recent week in beautiful St Petersburg…

The Russian flag with the Hermitage behind (taken from the middle of the River Neva)
Me winging it at the front. Photo: Fabrizio Tinti
Me winging it at the front. Photo: Fabrizio Tinti

5. Inventing a business plan (on the spot)
I regularly fail to listen to instructions carefully (or indeed at all). Most of the time the consequences of my lack of attention aren’t that serious. Let’s just agree not to talk about my A-Level Geography exam paper. Anyway, on the second day of the conference we had a session on business models and were tasked to model a library service for the next user generation. In other words ‘go a bit mad’ and come up with some crazee stuff. Trouble was everyone in our group, and I mean everyone, didn’t really hear that last bit, and we modelled our plan on existing users. Oops. Nominated individuals from each group were required to come up and present collective findings, and as they started to do so it quickly became clear that we’d messed up. It was our group’s turn all too quickly and guess who has to go and present at the front? I decided there and then to ditch our notes altogether and come up with some wacky stuff on the spot. Describing brain implants, technology so cool and unimaginable that even if you squint you can’t see it (I actually made all the delegates squint!), a new Twitter with more limited characters called Quikker (I bet it already exists), and various other bits of hokum, I somehow got through the presentation unscathed. Before I finished I asked my group from the front if there was anything I missed as if what I said was at all representative of our discussion. They played along, nodding their agreement that I had covered everything. As I returned to my seat I resolved once again to listen to instructions more. I won’t though.

Delegate coffee break. Jeff Wilensky is far right talking to Elke Parrez

4. Gin and kittens
Lunch on the second day. I’m talking to a vendor, Jeff Wilensky (see above photo) Vice President of Product Management at ProQuest, about the World Cup. I know little but manage to hold my own. It’s a running theme of my life. Jeff suddenly asks me what librarians typically like to see in a presentation. ‘Kittens and gin’ I reply almost without thinking. ‘Really?’ asks Jeff not believing me and knowing of old my propensity for mischievousness. ‘Yes’ I confirm. An hour or so later I’m sat watching Jeff present his first slide adorned with a kitten and a gin bottle. You have to applaud that. This is the sort of stuff that vendors don’t do enough of – listen to their customers, even when they’re being trivial. He even quoted my recent vendors blogpost on his final slide and although this was him being cheeky about what I’d said (I don’t remember which quote he used) it still showed that he’d read it. The rest of the presentation was pleasingly realistic too – a use case of an esoteric market research question, exactly the sort of weird enquiry we regularly get. All in all, nice work Jeff. One of the other vendors conversely decided to talk about Second Life rather than their product. I won’t embarrass them by telling you who it was.


3. River boat cruise
The last night saw a cruise along the River Neva which was less of a highlight because of the sights we passed, we’d seen most of them already at closer quarters earlier in the week, but because of the camaraderie of the delegates. With only around 50 delegates at every conference, by the end of the week we’re all very relaxed with each other and there were selfies, jokes and raucousness galore. A new face from the UK was heard to remark that ‘business librarians are much more fun than law librarians.’ I won’t show you photos I took of some of the delegates swigging direct from a champagne bottle you’ll just have to imagine them.

Voting cards. Not Labour, Lib Dem, Tory though.
Voting cards. Not Labour, Lib Dem, Tory though.

2. Europe, can we have your votes?
Probably the best session at the entire conference was not delivered by librarians but students. The students in question had been invited to present new library ideas. The three pairs of presenters were all Russian but spoke excellent English and presented confidently on: a more personalised library catalogue; a library mobile app; and a library space designed to be more conducive to study called CALM (Convenient Accommodative Library Model). The CALM duo had bags of enthusiasm and charm, and also benefited from a 3D layout video. It may have been style over content but I voted for them. Ah yes, the voting. It all briefly went a bit Eurovision, especially as our Russian host detailed the voting protocol. CALM ended up the winners, but all the students were quite rightly thanked for presenting so intelligently and professionally.

1. A Very Long Walk or ‘Domes and Death’
On our very first night in Russia a group of us decided that the next day would consist of sightseeing around the centre of the city under the heading ‘Domes and Death’. There’s an awful lot of both in St Petersburg (the murders per acre would give TV’s Midsomer a run for its money) and enough sights for another blogpost in its own right.

Church on the Spilled Blood

Despite the fact that our Very Long Walk was the highlight of the week and comes in at No 1, I will restrain myself (four blogposts about EBSLG would be just silly). Our Grand Tour took in a multi-domed church near the hotel that looked completely amazing but wasn’t recommended in any tourist guide because it ‘wasn’t important’, St Isaac’s Cathedral, the Hermitage, the spectacular Church on the Spilled Blood (great name as well as dazzling to look at), the Underground, Finland Station, the Aurora battleship; and finally St Peter and Paul Fortress.

Fellow travellers - Mary, Lorna, Deborah
Fellow travellers – Mary, Lorna, Deborah

I think we walked around 5 miles in total, perhaps more.  Fellow travellers included Lorna McNally (with whom I effortlessly navigated the Underground with the motto ‘Never Primorskaya, always Rubetskoye. Nyet’), Mary Betts-Gray (who had to leave the tour early for an EBSLG Council meeting – that’ll be me next year) and Deborah Morrison (who had to taxi back to the hotel two-thirds of the way round). We had a fantastic time, but by the time we reached the Fortress, with Lorna and I the only two left-standing, we suddenly realised that we were just taking photographs of domes through force of habit having contracted what we dubbed ‘CDF’ – Chronic Dome Fatigue.

The Aurora battleship. A blank shot from the ship started the Russian Revolution.

It was also at the Fortress where I gamely tried on a Russian hat. I tweeted the photo later and got some unexpected attention.

It HAS to be recorded that Lorna has the worst sense of direction of anyone I’ve ever met. Anyone! I’m sure the poor thing regularly gets lost in her own house. Nevertheless, she’s great company and far wittier than me. My favourite Lorna line of the week came while we were traversing a road. In St Petersburg traffic lights have what we nicknamed a ‘Countdown to Death’ with green neon numbers displaying how long you have left to cross before the traffic callously mows you down and this particular crossing was going to be a close call. Lorna

: ‘So Meester Bond it is time for you to die?!’

Many, many thanks go to Elena Kosareva and her team at the St Petersburg Graduate School of Management for putting on such a great conference. Next year the EBSLG conference will be in St Gallen Switzerland with Edeltraud Haas as our host. Can’t wait.

It’s true what they say you know. Become a librarian, see the world!

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

St Peter and Paul Fortress from the Neva

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