At the end of August, I was lucky enough to be invited to present a poster at the CILIP Cataloguing and Indexing Group biennial conference. This year, the theme was ‘Innovation and Discovery’, and for my own contribution I decided to create a poster* based on my metadata research proposal for my final module last semester. You can view details of the conference here, including copies of all the papers and posters which were presented. It took place over three days at the University of Swansea’s brand new Bay Campus, so with my newly-printed poster safely ensconced in a cardboard tube, I trundled over to Wales on the train to attend the first two days of events.
My main reason for going to the conference was so that I could attend some of the other talks, many of which covered topics which interested me. A particular highlight was a presentation by Ahava Cohen from the National Library of Israel on multi-lingual (and multi-script) authority files. This is an area which I had heard a lot about, and Ahava’s talk really brought home the difficulties of supplying multi-language search facilities within a collection, and most importantly making them return the correct results. This is a key feature of the NLI’s catalogue, as they have resources in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Russian which need to be searchable across languages. Added to this is the issue of ‘bi-directionality’, since Hebrew and Arabic are written right to left. Many of the other delegates remarked that, after listening to Ahava’s talk, their own problems with cataloguing seemed much more manageable! I hadn’t considered non-Roman scripts in cataloguing before, and of course it must be a huge area of interest in many countries which are not as mono-glottal as the UK!
Another highlight for me was the short talk by Lucy Yates about the object collection held at the National Maritime Museum. This was an intriguing look at how the museum was experimenting with a form of linked data to try to make links between objects in the NMM and its partner museums more obvious and descriptive. For me, the best part was the discussion around descriptions of the objects, and how different people had different methods, interpretations and ideas about what they considered the most salient information to include in the metadata. This really got to the heart of descriptive cataloguing for me, and I would have loved a more in-depth discussion on this topic.
The poster session itself was, thankfully, short and very informal – we even got to drink tea and eat some very good Welsh cakes whilst we perused them! Many people seemed interested in my work and intrigued as to why I had chosen that particular topic. It was really strange (in a good way) to have other people see my work, as I had grown accustomed to sharing it only with my tutors. The other posters were also excellent, and I particularly liked the one from the University of Kent on cataloguing items in cathedral archives… for reasons which will become clear in my next post!
Apart from attending talks and drinking tea, I also chatted to fellow attendees. Most were of course already in positions where they used information management skills every day, so it was great to get a professional perspective on things and to hear about many of the issues which they deal with when working in their jobs. In fact, the whole conference gave me a new perspective on the areas I had studied – it’s always easy to plan ideal solutions in an academic context, but in real situations there are always constraints which must be worked around. Away from the shop talk, we also enjoyed a very good buffet lunch and dinner laid on by the university caterers. Unfortunately I didn’t get to stay in the brand new halls of residence on campus, which would have been very convenient, but maybe next time!
All things considered, this was a really great experience from a professional and personal point of view. It allowed me to gain a familiarity with conferences in general, got me talking to people working in the field of information management and encouraged me to consider issues from new angles. A few of the discussions were quite technical and specific to people working in certain areas, but I could still appreciate the main ideas in what was being said, and it’s always good to gain awareness of things even if you don’t fully understand the details at this time. If you’re a student, or anyone just starting out in any area of work, I would recommend that you do try to attend a conference such as this. It may see a little daunting (and perhaps a bit ‘imposter syndrome’-inducing!) but it is well worth it in the long run. Presenting a poster is one way to get this experience without the pressure of having to come up with a fully-fledged talk, plus you can often get a discount on the delegate fee if you are presenting. If nothing else, you’ll meet friendly people and enjoy free tea and cake – what more could you want?!
*This was a feat in itself and took a while to put together, as I wanted it to look colourful and interesting but suitably academic at the same time. Being a keen photographer, I decided to include some pictures I had taken of various artefacts in museums to illustrate my points and make it a bit more inviting to look at. Luckily I had some high resolution files for these, so they actually turned out really well in the final poster. I have always wanted to get a chance to exhibit my own photos, so this was one tiny step towards that ambition too!