Saturday, 5 July 2014

SW Library Camp 2014

So I'm going to be honest. Despite booking my ticket weeks ago I wasn't really sure about library camp. After helping to organise the SW one last year I had found that I really hadn't enjoyed the event. Part of this could be put down to the stress of running the schedule on the day. However a lot of it was down to the lack of focus during sessions. Library Camp, by it's nature, is more like a conversation than a training session and for some reason I find this aspect slightly unsettling, and certainly unsatisfying. 

Couple this with the fact that, after recently going through the selection process for a new job, I am exhausted. And by this I mean achy in the morning, bone weary, struggling to string sentences together, tired. So the last thing I wanted to do on my first free Saturday for weeks was get up early and head into the depths of Devon. Especially carrying a bag full of CILIP portfolios for the professional qualifications session I had pitched. 

But I had pitched it, and therefore committed myself, at least in my mind. There was also the added incentive of seeing the Devon Fablab in operation along with a working 3d printer. If I'm honest, it was this which got me out of bed in the morning and nothing else. And this aspect at least was worth the trip. 

At the end of today I'm afraid I don't feel very different about Library Camps. I'm glad I went. I think those people who attended my session on CILIP Qualifications got something out of it and I enjoyed leading the session. I also sort of enjoyed the discussion around Libraries as Community Hubs. But it was all a bit...... unsatisfying. In some ways covering the same ground, with the same problems and sticking points raising their heads. Maybe I expect too much of these events but I always feel that we should be challenging the status quo a little more. Certainly I don't like the lack of direction or conclusion to the discussions..

What today felt like was a string of showcases, first for the library itself, and then for a series of ideas and projects being led by individuals. I also felt that some of the community aspect of the camp was lost, that it was little too organised, a little too formulaic. For example, I had pitched two ideas briefly on the wiki. I wasn't given the opportunity, as I had expected, to explain these brief descriptions or pitch them myself. And to be honest, I found this slightly odd. But Library Camp is like that, anything goes. And I know from experience that you can't please everyone and that logistically the day is a nightmare. So, you, know. Whatever works.  Just because it doesn't suit me doesn't mean that everyone else didn't have a great time. Or that it didn't have value. One thing I did enjoy was reconnecting with my Public Library roots and finding out about what is happening in that sector, beyond the dire situation around 'community' libraries and volunteers.

What was brilliant about the day was seeing the refurbished Exeter Library. And most of all the Fablab and the Raspberry Pi Jam that was happening in the adjourning meeting room in the morning. Because I'm pulling together information on Making in Libraries I nipped down and had a chat before the organised tours. It was lovely to be made welcome and taken into the fold. I had no doubt that had I decided to stay one of the guys there would have happily walked me through what was going on and let me have a try myself. This, more than anything is what stayed with me. That as a complete novice I felt welcome, and if I had had the time, the opportunity to give things a go. Later I was told that they would be running workshops that would take complete beginners through the process of working with the 3d printers. 

During the formal tour we learnt more about plans for the space, the ethos behind it, the plans to make it sustainable and efforts to tie it into the libraries' business development work. It's an exciting concept linking to the existing Makers and coders in the area as well as the college and university. There are even plans to get the local embroiderers guild involved to help use the high tech stitching machine they have bought.  
I should be clear, this will not be a totally free space, like many Makerspaces it will work on a gym like subscription service with prices dependent on the type and need of the user. Although funding has been provided to buy equipment it has to become self sustaining. 

To help run the space volunteers get time on machines in return for their contributions and there is a commitment to make the space available on an open access, pay as you go, basis at least one day per week.  A completely free Makerspace is probably not sustaiable in this climate and even if charging does seem against the grain in public libraries there certainly  seems to be a commitment to making the technology and tools as accessible as possible. 

Volunteers will also help run ongoing Raspberry Pi events and the planned coding events for kids - not replacing existing staff but sharing their knowledge and adding real value to the service. It's a form of volunteering that, given the often negative connotations in public libraries nowadays, should really be highlighted as good practice. Volunteering that allows the offer of a service that would not otherwise be possible and which  everyone, the volunteer, the user and the service, will benefit from in some way or another. 

I especially liked hearing about the basic 3d printer they have bought, as opposed to the larger Makerbots that made my bracelet.  This is easy to transport and set up and the aim is that it can be taken out and about - into schools and branch libraries, to do events and workshops. Exactly the sort of accessible and adaptable 'Making' that gets me excited.

So, if nothing else the Fablab made my trip to Devon worth it. Especially as I got a wee momentum in the form of a 3d printed bracelet (Pictured above) during my visit. I've also got a few more leads for my research and learnt a lot about the smaller events going on around coding and Raspberry Pi. So while it would have been nice to spend the day in bed, it was in fact a Saturday well spent.