UXLibs II was my first time engaging with this particular library audience. From the outset (as far back as being asked to do the closing keynote) I got the impression it was going to be a different kind of event. But I wasn’t prepared for the sheer level of enthusiasm and engagement with everything about the conference. From the outset, the organizing committee of UXLibs (led by Andy Priestner, Matt Borg, and Ned Potter) set a high bar, from welcoming opening remarks and housekeeping (with the marvellous Ange Fitzpatrick) through the keynotes, posters and workshops. The audience and content were focused on User Experience, Ethnography and Libraries.
All the rooms were full, all the time. When was the last time you could say that at a conference? From my own perspective of delivering the opening keynote of day 2, at 09:00, I expected more than a few empty seats, not least because the gala dinner had plenty of wine, and well, we all know what happened on Friday 24th June. It was with a heavy heart that I trudged to the venue, asking Twitter for advice:
I am key noting in 20 minutes, if you have any top tips on how I do this on this morning of all mornings now would be the time to send them.
— Lawrie Phipps (@Lawrie) June 24, 2016
But Andy Priester spoke, an excellent tonic, and whilst layered with the pathos of events of the last 24 hours I took to a stage and was faced with a full audience, and no matter what they were feeling, they seemed engaged and welcomed me, and participated with me.
I will blog my keynote later. There are two big things that I want to highlight in this first reflective post on UXLibs II:
Engagement. If you are looking to get away for a couple of days and catch up on your email at the back of a conference, pick something other than UXLibs. You can’t help but get engaged, either the genuine enthusiasm of the delegates will get you, or the excellent structure of the event.
Content. The parallel themes of UXLibs II were Nailed, Failed and Derailed, getting delegates to engage with not only what goes well in institutional projects but also what fails or completely goes off the tracks. I was one of two keynotes, speakers who had strict briefs, that the organisers had specified. These were followed by shorter workshop presentations and discussions based on work they had done since the first UXLibs last year, and over lunch there was an excellent poster session. But then, and for the next 24 hours delegates created the content. Randomised teams, included the vendors and sponsors who were at the event–vendors and sponsors participated as delegates, it was a condition of attending UXLibs this year as it was last year. Delegates collectively worked on UX problems and solutions, culminating in three winning pitches to various stakeholder groups (senior management, student organizations, and library staff), generating content that was presented to the entire conference.
And to be honest that was UXLibs for me, hugely interactive, engaging and most importantly the collective, the experience in the room, created something that was more than the sum of the conference parts.
I have attended a lot of conferences in the last 20 years, in technology, in staff and education development, in disability and a range of others. This is the first time I have seen a challenge successfully delivered, at scale, to the delegates, to engage and create content, to genuinely learn from each other. It was also one of the first conferences in a long time where I have learned so many new things. And I need to thank all of the delegates for that, and especially Matt and Andy for asking me to not only present, but participate.
But what next? I hope the UXLibs approach will be modelled more widely, both the conference itself, but also the use of ethnography to underpin change. My own area of Technology Enhanced Learning is currently on one “user experience” path, but one that seems strangely distant from the actual people. It’s a path that Libraries have clearly traveled before, and one that UXLibs is trying to provide an alternative to. Both paths have the ability to enhance the student journey, but that is a post for later.