Why the unconference is the new conference


They’re springing up all over the place these days – informal gatherings of like-minded people talking about the things they love to do. A mass of people who are trying things out or interested in trying new ideas. Mini “Flash Talks” or self-organised topic debates pepper a day that is all about the quality of the delegates rather than the quality of the speakers.

Although they are often outside of working hours, the good news is that they are also often either free or surprisingly economical to attend. They are run on a shoe-string budget and rely on the goodwill of sponsoring organisations – sound familiar? Just like my features on Gateshead Libraries and Lewisham People’s Day, unconferences rely on the new reciprocal or gift economy to work. You give back just by participating, so if you go along don’t expect to be able to just listen quietly and slink to the back of the room to eat sandwiches. Come prepared to talk, show and tell things you’ve been working on and exchange details with hundreds of other people.

The two big unconference organisers that library professionals needs to know about are Mashed Libraries and Library Camp. Both have big events coming up soon –

Pi and Mash on 9th August is about pushing the technological boundaries of library work and library collections. Mainly run with academic libraries in mind, it’s a great opportunity for public library staff to find out about the latest developments in academia and build contacts with academic libraries which may have access to tech you’ve only dreamt about and will certainly know a few people who can help develop your coding and tech offer.

Unfortunately, it’s already sold out but you can get on the waiting list here. It was offering bursaries to help hard pressed library staff attend, so even if you don’t have any kind of travel budget you might be able to go next year. Or how about setting up your own Mashed Library event? Anyone can hold one…

Library Camp has been running for a few years now – I had thought that all public library staff must be aware of it but it seems as though that’s not the case! It’s a self-organised unconference about all aspects of library services and includes school and academic librarians, volunteers and users as well as public library staff. The next event is on 13th September in Newcastle.

But if going off to an unofficial conference isn’t on your service’s budget or radar this year, how about an international online library conference? Library 2.014 is running on 8-9 October and will include library staff from all over the globe. You will be able to stream live talks, demos and presentations and participate in online chat forums alongside your library colleagues from around the world. You can even propose your own paper! It’s not world peace, but it’s a start…

(Image: Conference Time, Christian Senger)


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