Sunday, 26 September 2010

A review of 'The Next Generation' - the 2010 ARLIS Conference in Edinburgh

This year I was lucky enough to be sent to the ARLIS annual conference in Edinburgh by my workplace, and I thought it might be useful to reflect on what happened there, what I learned and what I thought of the experience.

This was my first professional conference since qualifying as an information professional, and so it was with some trepidation that I filled in the application form as I had no idea what to expect. However before I travelled to Edinburgh I was able to check out the conference blog ( and Twitter archive ( to see what I’d be doing and who I’d be meeting, which was really helpful.

Firstly, it seemed expensive – so expensive that there was no way I could have afforded to go unless my workplace was prepared to sponsor me, which luckily they agreed to do. If you are currently studying for your library qualification it is well worth applying for the ARLIS Student and Trainees conference bursary, which pays for one student to attend the conference. There is a similar bursary for international delegates, so if you are reading this from outside the UK then you could also apply for a funded place this way. In terms of value for money though, the ARLIS conference would be hard to beat. There were talks, workshops, visits and social events timetabled in for almost every moment of the two and a half days, often with the option of choosing the speaker you most wanted to hear. I very much enjoyed the opening keynote speech by Roger Wilson from the Glasgow School of Art, in which he reflected on his career in art education and how it has been shaped by successive governments and their agendas. This was followed by two fantastic talks by Nicola Osborne of Edina and Sophy Smith from DeMontfort University. Nicola’s talk was in many ways the highlight of the conference for me, centring on new technological developments that librarians could exploit to improve their services. Nicola’s presentation was made using Prezi, which made a welcome change from the usual Powerpoints and provided the perfect visual accompaniment to her thoughts on QRcodes, crowd sourcing, Twitter and user generated content. The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Dean Gallery for a drinks reception and a fabulous opportunity to view their collections when the building was closed to the general public. After a lively dinner we were treated to an excellent lecture by Margaret Stewart from Edinburgh College of Art on the similarities between Edinburgh and Athens (more than you might at first think!)

Day two was similarly packed, with sessions on artists’ books and archives by an archivist and a practising artist, followed by a visit. I chose to see the Special Collections Centre of Edinburgh University, which houses a fascinating collection of antiquarian books and artworks. After lunch we had a choice of breakout sessions, and I attended sessions led by Duncan Chappell of Glasgow School of Art who talked about developing online modules in information skills for art and design students, and by Leigh Garrett of VADS who explored the issues behind funding and running digital collections. After dinner the evening was rounded off with a talk by the charismatic poet Alec Finlay who joined us afterwards for drinks in the bar.

Friday morning was even busier, with four talks on digital collections and copyright before we all headed off home. I think it would be fair to say that I found the conference pretty exhausting, and my only gripe would be that we didn’t get much time to see the amazing city of Edinburgh. However, in terms of the brilliant programme, great company and comfortable surroundings I’d recommend anyone to try to get a place on next year’s conference in Leeds. From a professional point of view not only were the presentations interesting and sometimes revelatory, but the networking opportunities alone are worth the price of the conference. Fingers crossed I can persuade work to send me next year!

This post was contributed by Jennie-Claire Perry, currently a member of the Students and Trainees Committee. The conference took place at the University of Edinburgh from the 14-16 July 2010. Jennie's images from the conference can be seen on the post below.

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