Last weekend I was involved in running a School Library Camp at MMU. This event was one of five camps being held around the UK on the same day. Darren Flynn from Dixons Allerton Academy in Bradford came up with the ambitious idea to hold simultaneous events, allowing school librarians from different regions to attend an event close to home, but still share ideas with colleagues from other parts of the country via social media.
Library Camps adopt an ‘unconference’ format where there’s no pre-planned programme; participants set the agenda on the day. The camp starts by people making suggestions for what they’d like to talk about and throughout the day, attendees are free to move between sessions as they wish. At the North West School Library Camp, we used post-it notes to give everyone a chance to suggest ideas then grouped these to create a timetable for the day. Sessions covered a wide range of topics from information literacy, transition between educational stages/institutions; and evaluating the impact of the school library; to how to use Twitter, the role of e-books and library pets!
Listening to the discussions, I was reminded of conversations which James Duggan and I have had recently on the topic of phronesis or ‘practical wisdom’, the ability to apply rules of thumb or working principles, often in ‘messy’ contexts. It’s something which professionals become more skilled in through practice, but most of us are fortunate enough to get a head start by learning from more experienced colleagues: other teachers, researchers, lecturers etc within our organisation. For school librarians, however, opportunities to acquire ‘practical wisdom’ from others are usually few and far between. Most are the only librarian working in their organisation, so they have to rely on external contacts and events for the sorts of opportunities most professionals take for granted in the workplace.
The vast majority of discussions at the School Library Camp were about precisely this type of highly practical, but complex, knowledge, for example, how to ensure you have career progression opportunities; how to demonstrate the value of your work to the SLT and governors; and how to encourage both teachers and students to make better use of the library. None of these questions has a straightforward answer of course, but through sharing ideas and experiences, school librarians were able to think about new ways to develop themselves and their libraries. Attendees had a wide range of experience, from students considering future careers options to librarians with more than 30 years’ experience in schools, but it was clear that, regardless of the length of their experience, they were all keen to use the event to find new ideas and approaches.
Technology has, undoubtedly, helped to reduce the isolation of school librarianship, for example, there is a School Librarians’ Network mailing list which is highly active. But the School Library Camp demonstrated the value of face-to-face contact too for sharing practical wisdom and the informal, participant-led approach of a Library Camp/unconference format seems well-matched to the notion of phronesis. It seems this sort of event may be one way of supporting the development of this type of knowledge among professionals with limited opportunities to do so in the workplace.