SLG Conference 2021 – Behind the Scenes, Charlotte Cole

This year was the first SLG virtual conference. After being postponed twice due to the pandemic, the decision was made for the conference to go ahead virtually, rather than postponing for a third time. As a newly joined committee member, I was excited to see what was involved in organising a conference. I had only been to one conference previously and that was also virtual due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The planning for the conference had been well under way before I had joined the committee, but I was involved in discussions from my first meeting. My initial thoughts when discussing the programme was of sheer amazement at just how much was going to be packed in to the three days and the diversity of the sessions that would be on offer. I was so impressed to see that there was something that would be useful for all librarians, whether they had been in the job for years or if they were completely new to the role. 

The conference was organised by the conference planning group which was headed by committee member Annie Everall, but it was something that the whole of the committee was involved in. As the date of the conference loomed closer, we were all given jobs and Annie held a meeting so that everyone was aware of what to expect over the weekend. I was given the task of hosting a session on Promoting reading in schools, with Matt Evans, Zoe Rowley and Mary Rose Grieve. I was really nervous about hosting this session as it isn’t something that I had done before, but I was also mindful of all of the hard work the committee had put in and I didn’t want to undo it all with an inadequate session. Annie was fantastic at giving me advice on the types of questions that I could ask and best practice on how to be prepared for the session. I took her advice on board making sure that I had typed my questions up before hand, printing them in large font making them easy for me to read without making it obvious to those watching.

A couple of days before the conference, a WhatsApp group was set up for the committee so that we could communicate with each other during the conference. This turned out to be such a valuable tool and a wonderful way to be able to share the highs and the lows of the weekend, as well as be able to send messages for help when the odd technical issue or last-minute panic occurred, without making an announcement on screen.

The conference tied in with 40 years of SLG and there were some fantastic sessions to mark the mile-stone birthday. .

Unfortunately, I was at work on the Friday and so could only dial in to the odd session here and there. SLG chair Caroline Roche opened proceedings welcoming everyone and introducing our first keynote speaker, Cressida Cowell. Cressida was so lively and full of enthusiasm for children’s reading and why it is so important to instil a love of reading at an early age. She also talked about her legacy project where she has asked government to invest £100m yearly in primary school libraries. It was very clear from this session to see exactly why Cressida is the children’s laureate. 

The evening session on the Friday was a wonderful event, hosted by the very excitable and funny SLG ambassador Philip Ardagh. During the evening various authors entertained us with singing and storytelling and it was a delight to be able to attend. At the end of the evening, we were played a song which Jo Cotterill, John Doughtery and Steve Cole had written especially for the evening about SLG. The song was fabulous and was a real ear worm. I found myself singing it well after the weekend was over. The tag line was SLG – Still Looking Good, which I think of every time I see the SLG acronym. (As I write this blog post almost three months later, my son has just peeked over my shoulder and gave me a rendition of the chorus!) – Look out for our launch of this fabulous video at the start of Libraries Week next month 😊

Saturday was another action-packed day full of publisher highlights, author slots and ideas of how to engage readers in the library. One of the seminars I attended was about Newsguard, an add on for search engines which rates the authenticity of websites. The idea is for students to be able to identify fake websites as it isn’t always obvious. Newsguard is available for free for school libraries, and I was sure to make the IT coordinator aware of this on my return to work.

Saturday afternoon was the time for me to host the seminar. As mentioned above, I was lucky to have such a great panel and I knew they would be able to answer the questions which I had emailed to them before the day. My biggest worry was that I would fumble and trip over my words and would let down the team or run out of things to say and to be faced with complete silence. After all the hard work and dedication that had been put in by the whole committee, this was something I was desperate to avoid. As Annie had advised, I had everything prepared in advance and when the breakout room was open, all eyes were on me to get the session going. I had performed in a number of ballet shows in my youth and I remembered the advice that my dance teacher had given me. Whatever happens, just keep smiling and chances are the only person that will be able to tell if you’ve made a mistake is you! So, with a big smile on my face, I thanked everyone for attending, introduced the panel and the session was underway. With only 1 small technical hitch which was resolved almost instantly, the time just flew by and there wasn’t enough time to ask all of the prepared questions. The session was a success. 

With the relief that the seminar was behind me, I looked forward to the evening session which was hosted by Nosy Crow publishers, as part of their ten-year birthday celebrations. This was another fantastic evening and as the conference was online, I was able to share it with my children. They particularly enjoyed helping Pamela Butchart to think of characters and events to create a very original and funny story. Nosy Crow also kindly sent out a goody bag to all delegates which had a copy of The Secret Detectives by Ella Risbriger, a 10th birthday postcard and a number 10 iced biscuit. 

Sunday was the third and final day of the conference. It began with a very interesting talk delivered by Dr Margaret Mega from Australia on School Librarians as Literacy Leaders. Dr Merga spoke about how librarians can demonstrate their value to colleagues and stakeholders, how they can support reading for pleasure and information and how to help shape a positive future for the children in their schools. Dr Merga has published a number of papers on school libraries,  some of them are available to read for free here researchgate.net/profile/Margaret-Merga-2.

For the seminar choice on Sunday, I chose to watch effective displays by Pauline Carr from the Alternative Display Company. Being new(ish) to the role in the library and not particularly creative, displays are something that I find a little daunting. I was really interested to see what I could learn from this session, especially as it was advertised as creative displays on a shoestring. Pauline and her husband were absolutely fantastic to watch, and making brilliant displays from everyday materials such as bin bags, brochures and bookmarks. Despite the duo being concerned about their technical know-how in providing their demo via zoom, the seminar was a triumph and one of the most popular choices to being re-visited by delegates.

The final session to close the conference was with the amazing Jason Reynolds, Chris Priestly and Danica Novgoradoff, discussing their partnership in Long Way Down, the 2019 Carnegie nominated book written by Jason. There was quite some debate beforehand on who would be the one to welcome Jason into the conference, but as Annie was the conference organiser the honour was quite rightly given to her. It was wonderful to listen to Jason talk so eloquently about his book and commenting that we need to make sure that we look after our boys, as the protagonist in the book needs someone to guide him through a very difficult time. It was interesting to hear the different approaches from Chris and Danica and how they worked with Jason. A very happy end to three brilliant yet tiring days. 

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