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Senior Library Assistant Conference 2019

By Jonathan W M Siah, on 17 July 2019

On the 19th of June I attended the SLA Conference organised by M25 Libraries at The Museum of London. The theme was the increasingly hot topic of ‘wellbeing’ and the first session began with a triage of presenters from Middlesex University. They talked us through some initiatives designed to have a positive impact on staff and student wellbeing in response to recent surveys. Then they honed in on discussing the importance of saying “no!” to things; detailing how it’s ok to disappoint if you really can’t manage what is being asked of you, and that this is quite different from letting someone down, so you shouldn’t feel that you are. This opening session ended with the ‘button exercise.’ Essentially, they put lots of buttons in the middle of each table, and we had to try and represent our working relationships (organisation, colleagues, students etc.) with the buttons. My cryptic offering is pictured below.

We then had a tour of the library, in which the librarian told us about their impending move to a new site, which will be in one of the long-abandoned halves of Smithfield Market. Apparently it’s all proving quite a challenge as the Thames Link goes directly underneath; but plans are in motion for there to be a viewing area inside the museum, so you’ll be able to see living pieces of history whizz by on their way to the boardrooms of the City, coffee cups and newspapers in hand, faces pressed against the windows.

The librarian then showed us some gems from their collection, including a book supposedly owned by Elizabeth I.

After a generous lunch spread we had some free time to explore the museum, although I didn’t get much beyond the Jurassic period before having to come back for the afternoon sessions. During which, I presented on the topic of ‘wellbeing and walking’, describing the various escapades I’ve been lucky enough to lead over the years and the self-guided walking maps we made at LaSS for the students this year, to encourage them to take a break during exams. I then wandered into talking about the idea of walking and getting lost, or meandering about, in order to break the rhythm of always walking from A to B and how this can be good for one’s mental health. It was a generous crowd and I recommend taking the opportunity to present at a CPD25 event if you get the chance.

 

Library Assistants from other universities also presented on the various activities and initiatives they have been doing in their libraries. These included fun stuff like bake-offs, but also practical skills such as debriefing with trained professionals after a big incident, especially with front line staff. There was time for questions and during this it was really good to share ideas and see that we were all working in a similar vein. However, it wasn’t without the usual elephants in the room trumpeting from time to time: workload, under-staffing, outsourcing, faulty IT systems, the increasing number of students with anxiety and depression, as well as complex issues such as self-harming, and the overwhelming burden of debt from day one etc., etc. All issues that are way beyond the scope of a Librarian or a Wellbeing Champion to deal with or to change, and it was good to be reminded by the CPD25 facilitator that our main role is to signpost to relevant services and to continue to strive for culture change within our institutions. That said, one could tell from the tone of the discussion, that if these issues are not addressed, then they will continue to be part of the conversation about ‘wellbeing’ in higher education; and the longer they persist the more the enthusiasm nurtured by events like this SLA Conference will gradually vanish.

The day ended with a mindfulness session, which I can only describe as being like yoga but sitting down. Not that we had to stretch or anything. But the experience of your mind and body resisting the encouragement to slow down and focus on ‘your breath’, only that by the end, you find that you’ve completely given over to it and can’t remember why you were so resistant in the first place. Potent stuff!

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