Practical suggestions for running your own Library Camp

Library Camp London board following pitching.
Library Camp London board following pitching.
Library Camp London board following pitching.

So you want to run your own Library Camp unconference?

This is meant as practical advice in contrast to my reflective post.

I realized doing this was feasible when I attended a “Run your own Library Camp” session at Library Camp UK 2012 (blog post summarizing this from Carolin). With experience it’s fair to say the organizers of that session were modest, and underplayed how much work went into their events. It is quite some work – but less than organizing the equivalent size traditional conference would be. Here are my thoughts grouped into general themes.


Alongside several other great ideas, Anne encouraged me to reserve places at Library Camp London for students. This meant they had the best possible chance of attending as they could be certain of a ticket and arrange travel more cheaply in advance. I expected better uptake if this came from lecturers themselves, so I circulated an advert for the unconference to colleagues at UCL, City University, London Met, and Brighton. I was able to sell out the student tickets in a day.

I wanted to ensure Library Camp London was emphatically cross-sector in outlook. I made contact with our local public library authority, London Borough of Camden, to ask about co-hosting. I had several reasons for doing this:

  • To widen participation and facilitate discussion and sharing between those from academic, public, special libraries, and non-library backgrounds.
  • At previous regional camps I’d noticed a tendency for attendees to be weighted towards the sector of the hosting institution.
  • To demonstrate how the University of London is engaging our colleagues beyond academic libraries. (We’re doing it; we need to demonstrate it too!)

I also contacted colleagues at special libraries to advertise the unconference internally, and spoke at a Camden Libraries Network meeting held at the Weiner Library to promote the event.

Encouraging contributions

Unconferences subvert the traditional conference approach as they are participant-driven and lack top-down organization. It was essential to maintain this spirit at Library Camp London.

However, I knew I could build interest by doing some groundwork. In practical terms this meant encouraging library folk to attend and pitch (this is easier over a drink), and talking to people I thought would have something interesting to contribute. Even those who could not make it in the end provided useful ideas, suggestions, and helped promote the event but talking to others. Additionally, I felt asking others to facilitate who hadn’t done so before was actively encouraging their development. Sometimes people just need a little nudge.

I was pleased we could provide a setting and importantly the technology needed to enable a live uklibchat on the day. I love the idea of a live uklibchat at an unconference but to be successful it is very technology-dependent so that aspect had to work perfectly – this means preparation.


We had fairly complex requirements for ticketing and a waiting list and Eventbrite met these. It’s free and works.

The only thing I missed is a way of emailing the waiting list as you can with ticket-holders. What I did was export the waiting list to CSV and use that as the basis for a mail-merge.

On the day we needed effective ticketing as the library was open as usual. We used the Eventbrite Entry Manager app for Android to check-in on the gate. This was speedy and efficient with two or three of us present all the time. Eventbrite allows delegating limited access to your account to another user, so they can just do check-ins for an event without having access to the rest of your account.

I left a printed delegate list at our membership desk for latecomers, along with an example printed ticket.


It’s sensible to over-sell tickets for a free event, the question is by how much. I found out other Library Camps have had drop-out rates between 10-25% but that has been highly dependant on things like transport problems on the day. We thought our central London location would lead to fewer drop-outs so I spent some time working out the limits of what we could do with our space. 150 library campers would have been too many but 120-130 would have been OK, I reasoned. I assumed a drop-out rate of about 10-15%.

We had 139 delegates on Eventbrite and checked-in 111 on the day. If I ignore those who cancelled after the point I could reallocate their tickets but did still cancel, it was 16% drop-out.

It was helpful to do several mailouts using Eventbrite ahead of the event to remind people who could no longer attend to release their tickets. Email is effective at this; asking on Twitter doesn’t seem to be. Richard had warned me about it, but I was still surprised how many people cancelled one day before the event. I was ready to go with a mail-merge for last minute ticket requests using my Eventbrite waiting list.

Unsure of final numbers, I found it very useful to have a ‘spare’ session location. I had planned three sessions in one room and two in another, but knew we could fit three sessions in both rooms if needed. We had pitches to fill those three spaces in both rooms for two of the morning sessions, so having an extra space pre-arranged was helpful.

Staffing and assistance

Having staff from Senate House Library available on the day made a huge difference to the smooth running of the event. In particular, my colleague Esme Stephens made strong contributions to several sessions alongside being a whirlwind of activity helping with the practical organization. If you can find one, have an Esme helping you.

Offers of help from others were appreciated, but unless it’s people involved from early on I’d recommend only accepting offers where you have a specific and defined job in mind. What I needed on the day were people to respond immediately to requests and take action. This would be very disruptive and somewhat unfair for someone expecting to attend the conference who had innocently offered to lend a hand.


Details matter a great deal – they all add up to the overall experience of your venue and event. If you miss something it will be talked about in public and you’ll be apologizing for it.

  • Wifi / wireless absolutely needs to be working.
  • Make sure signs – including things like direction arrows – are printed correctly and ready to go before the event.
  • Make sure each session has flipchart paper and more than one pen.
  • Water bottles are better than glasses of water for carrying around a library. I accidentally ordered only fizzy water rather than a mix of fizzy and still which was an oversight.
  • We moved a lot of tables around for the event which uncovered carpet that needed a clean. Our cleaners were in there hoovering before I’d even asked.


I thought the choice of two big rooms was a positive one given experience from other unconference events that big rooms allow freer movement between sessions than small ones. People are uncomfortable getting up in front of everyone to leave a small room through a door/ Unfortunately it meant loud sessions disrupted quieter ones. The speed networking event and rhymetime sessions were quite loud – these were were both excellent sessions and brilliantly facilitated, but louder than the sessions next to them:

Ideally I would have provided separate space for especially quite or noisy sessions to be more contained. I was limited by the spaces actually available in the library though. I had initially planned to use different rooms including smaller spaces, but that would have made for a much smaller event.

What I learned from organizing an unconference

Jodie, Rosie, David, and Céline during the rhymetime session.
Jodie, Rosie, David, and Céline during the rhymetime session.


Late last year in Somers Town Coffee House, Euston, I pitched the idea of running an unconference at Senate House to a group of librarians. They not only wanted to see it happen, but several of them including Gary offered to help right away. The idea itself wasn’t new as my colleague Les mooted running an event at Senate House after Library Camp Brunel

I’d imagined using the traditional, historic reading rooms of Senate House Library as a venue for hosting a fresh, modern conference – a combination of the traditional and the contemporary. I feel this is exactly what we managed to deliver.

Our location and size meant I thought I could make the unconference a bit bigger than regional library camps tend to be. We had 111 library campers including people from beyond library land, a very broad mix of sessions, and a delicious savoury lunch – although some subversives brought cake along too.

The highlights of the day for me were:

  • The rhymetime session run by Linsey and Jodie in our Middlesex South reading room had a transgressive feel and took most of us well out of our comfort zones. Informative, funny, and so different from anything I have seen at a conference before.
  • Sara‘s agreement to bring The Intinerant Poetry Library made for a really special part of the event for me. I was already a ‘Valued Patron of the Library’ and having a radical library like TIPL operate inside my own library has been a dream for some time.
  • Getting out of my comfort zone with hosting and organizing and event rather than just speaking or facilitating was very rewarding. I was scared at the thought of addressing 100+ library campers before pitching, but having done this once I know I can do it again and it will get easier and more natural.
  • Importantly for me, being able to make a contribution to other’s development by providing an event based on Open Space principles that allowed discussion to develop in an engaging and non-hierarchical way.
  • Lastly, I discovered Liz and Katharine both have truely awesome shushing ability.

Comments like these made my day:

Elly said:

Library camp was not only invigorating, but also liberating. All too often we get fixated on the idea of CPD in order to develop within our current role, essentially to get “better” at our current job. However, Library camp being free, and on a Saturday, meant that the day was solely for me as a professional.

The few days before the unconference were non-stop and the Saturday running the conference was intense. I promised myself I would not host anything this exhausing again too soon.

How come? We’d been removing desktop computers from our reading rooms gradually as we phase in Everyware mobile device lending, but the last PCs weren’t removed until Friday morning. On the Friday I was whizzing around Bloomsbury on a Boris bike looking for last-minute supplies – plastic knives and forks, Sharpie pens, labels, and paper napkins – as well as dealing with a slew of cancellations, getting furniture moved around by our portering team, and printing the signs and leaflets for delegates. Anything and everything that anyone else did to help was enormously appreciated.

On the Saturday morning I had an enormous feeling of relief when everyone started rolling in as expected, and made their way smoothly from cloakroom to lunch table to tea and coffee. During a lull Richard explained, “You’ve done it”, meaning the hardest part of organizing was over. He was right about this.

What next?

Following Library Camp London I’ve reflected on some of the limitations of an unconference for a generalist library audience. If you’re a specialist and want to present on something quite specialist, you may only be able to scratch the surface of what’s possible in discussion. Of course it is wonderful and encouraging that people come to learn and ask questions – indeed, that’s what I asked for during pitching at the beginning of the day. It was really interesting that a discussion notionally on Open Source library systems progressed onto talking about the value of children learning programming and the impact of Raspberry Pi, for one!

Having said that, I’ve realized there would be space for a library unconference in London with a technical or system focus. This could be hosted as a Mashed Library event, perhaps at Senate House later in the year. I am already thinking about Open Source Software / “openness” as a general theme. I feel I have broken my promise already…

Again, my thanks to all who contributed and made Library Camp London successful.

Librarians and personality – at Library Camp London

'Librarians and personality' session. Photo © 2013 by Annie Johnson, used with permission.
‘Librarians and personality’ session. Photo ¬© 2013 by Annie Johnson, used with permission.


This session grew from my thinking about extraversion and introversion in library workers. I was aware of a stereotype of librarians as being introverted, detail-focused, orderly, etc. but in my work I kept meeting extraverted librarians eager to deny that they are anything like that. Indeed, some were surprised that librarianship is thought of as an introverted profession at all.

I thought about a colleague from another academic library who was as extraverted a person as I had ever met. Whereas I was drained and ready for a lie down in a silent, dark room at the end of a day at at a conference, her energy had built steadily throughout the day and she was fizzing with it at the end. I also started noticing where the stereotype did seem to exist, for example a conference I attended where all the libraries seemed to have sent their most introverted staff, and my experience trying to run a focus group discussion with team-members all tending towards introversion.

Having opened with extraversion, you’d be right if you suspected Jung (1971)¬†was my starting point.¬†Following Jung, there are various approaches to classifying personality of which the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is very well-known and widely applied.¬†I personally prefer the Five Factor Model (or “Big Five”), as I’ve found it a better tool for looking at my own personality.¬†The helpful thing about MBTI is that so many people have done an MTBI test, or at least know something about it, and that it has been used as a tool for looking at librarian personalities already.

In that respect we wanted to note we can only discuss what actually exists in the literature – we acknowledge tests used have flaws and limitations.

The landmark paper in this area is by Mary Jane Scherdin (1994). Scherdin surveyed librarians using a version of the MBTI. She found over-representation of introversion in the profession, with the most frequent MBTI types ISTJ (17%), and INTJ (12%). ISTJ is thought of as the classic librarian type: quiet, serious, thorough and dependable, orderly and organized, focused on details, and preferring a logical approach to planning work.


Rosie and I therefore pitched this for Library Camp London:

Librarianship is sometimes thought of as the natural domain of a certain personality, in particular the introverted type. We disagree with this, and in this session we will challenge this perception and discuss how a range of personalities are suited to library work. Ahead of Library Camp London on Thursday 21st February¬†uklibchat¬†will be hosting an¬†extra chat on ‘Librarians and personality’ to¬†seed our session with ideas.


Ahead of our session we agreed with the uklibchat team that they would run a one-off special edition of uklibchat on this subject. The agenda is available and there is a very comprehensive and readable summary of the chat from Linsey.. We thought this would be an interesting subject for uklibchat discussion anyway, but wanted to do it for some specific reasons:

  • To surface views and opinions from library workers about any underlying truth to librarian personality stereotypes. This would provide starting points or seed discussion at Library Camp London.
  • To ask if there were things we could do at Library Camp London to encourage more participation from introverted types. This was in part a response to comments from Library Camp UK 2012 asking for this.
  • A major reason was to have the general discussion about this concept ahead of the session itself. In the session we knew we’d have 50 minutes total including about 25 minutes group discussion. This could easily be been eaten up by general discussion. From experience this can be a trap in unconference sessions.

This was a very busy discussion, busy enough for the #uklibchat hashtag to trend on Twitter UK-wide that evening.

We noted people were much more eager than I expected to do a Jungian type test, and discuss the results and what their type meant. There was some buzz about this on Facebook ahead of uklibchat, so we linked to¬†a Jungian test¬†from the agenda.¬†I had been fretting about tests similar to MBTI being viewed as unscientific or worse mumbo jumbo, and I didn’t want to anchor the discussion to MBTI. I relaxed somewhat when people took to it quite easily.

In the chat the most unexpected thing for me was how much talk was about skills rather than personality. I mean by this that skills are something you can acquire, then work on and develop whereas I think of personality trains as a preference we can work with or against in different situations. We realized at Library Camp London we needed to be clear on personality versus skills, and what we were looking for from the group.

An interesting discussion about development opened up on the importance of making yourself do things you would not ordinarily as a way to grow as a person, which would be working against your preferences in personality terms. This was summed up marvellously by Penny as:

A darker side emerged when we discussed recruitment or interviewing and the place of psychometric tests like MBTI used to judge suitability for a job. The idea of a person being hired because they will ‘fit in’ to a team based on personality type was seen as especially problematic.¬†My own view is team dynamic is very important, but there are better ways to look at this than a psychometric test. For example, I found an¬†interview where I got to meet the team I’d be working with and be formally questioned by them to be a very good approach.

Library Camp London session

Following suggestions for making our session more inclusive or introvert-friendly, both in the chat and in a very thoughtful and detailed email from Joy, we decided on including a range of activities including a suitably engaging / awful (depending on your view) ice-breaker activity to get people warmed up.

The session was a large one. Obviously we were pleased so many wanted to attend – but I wondered how well the format would work. The ice-breaker was a brief explanation of extraversion and introversion followed by asking everyone to form a rough line based on how extraverted they consider themselves. I was in the middle as an ambivert whereas Rosie took up a position at the extreme extraverted end.

I encouraged the two ends of the line to look at those opposite and think about what they thought of each other in terms of what extraversion and introversion means to them. I think this worked quite well – the extraverted end were keen to start with their discussion points right away, skipping the group work…!

Small group work

We split into four groups, and had two groups each deal with one of these assignments:

  • Write down what you think of as the stereotypical view of a librarian personality seen from outside the profession
  • Write down what you think are the personality traits that are actually needed in modern librarianship

Here are photos of each page:

Group discussion

When we came back together for group discussion, I asking for someone to be brave and contribute thoughts on what they had written. The initial point made was the contradictions from the groups that worked on stereotype, even within the same group, including:

  • Sexy and frumpy
  • Conservative and left-wing
  • Old-fashioned and alternative, cool

Both groups included things that were not personality traits such as being female, but were in keeping with a librarian stereotype.¬†Personal favourites for me were ‘radical… left-wing… vegan’ and ‘helpful (sometimes)’ – I liked how that sometimes brought to my mind a bad library experience right away.

Kathy Baro gave her view that we think about this kind of thing more as its what we do for a living. I wonder if this is librarians being self-obsessed, as discussed at the previous Library Camp Sheffield, or just good at reflecting on what is necessary for our roles and what makes us good at the job? (I err on the side of being positive here.) Looking at the stereotypes, there was a view that we are all quite confident and helpful compared with them – we’re all better than the negative stereotypes we had written down. We were reminded that ours was a self-selected group willing to come to a conference for work in our own time:

The group talked about the idea that a stereotype can affect the view of people we work with, but also the impression of those interested in joining our profession. We know librarian stereotypes are prevalent within our own organizations Рcolleagues may be surprised that you are a librarian when introduced. We wondered if the librarian stereotype means people may feel librarianship is a good career based on their introversion or shyness, or think they will get a quiet and bookish environment. This contrasts with how we tend to think of ourselves as outgoing and cool Рis there a problem here?

Sam mentioned the usefulness of the enduring library brand being books and knowledge, so there is perhaps value in a library stereotype to identify the core set of skills that sit with these concepts.

I gave an example of personalities in a team context: I worked in a systems team where my manager liked big-picture thinking (intuition versus sensing in Jungian terms), I am very much the same, and my direct report was similar. So if everyone was looking at the big picture, who was going to focus on the details to make things happen? Of course – as Liz pointed out – really these are just preferences and we can work against them.¬†Liz explained her view that a profile like MBTI is helpful as a starting point for self-knowledge. In a team-working situation we might find it effective to mould our approach to our line manager’s preferences, or from a management point of view we could ensure we can work around any missing personality traits.

This flowed into an interesting discussion about power and personality types in our workplaces. The point was raised that unless your organization takes personality on board in some way, hierarchy could just take over and you’re left coping as best you can. Liz’s view was power does come into play to an extent, but a good manager is one that will listen and make adjustments based on preferences.

An example given was a¬†preference for up-front information can come across as confrontational, so it’s important to preface this with what you are going to do about it and why you are asking so many questions. Liz explained personality preference as a¬†¬†way of getting around some of the intrinsic power structures in our organizations – for example it can be a way of depersonalising conflict based on it being an MBTI “thing” or preference when¬†you’re explaining something to a colleague where you know you’ll disagree.

Tying this point back to self-knowledge,¬†Linsey explained that understanding more about how you come across is very useful as a way of getting things done you couldn’t otherwise. I certainly agree with this having worked in flat management structures in education that absolutely require influencing others over whom you have no line management.


My grateful thanks to Rosie Hare for her hard work and enthusiasm in developing the ideas behind this session, reading quite a lot of Jung, and co-facilitating the session brilliantly. Thanks also to Liz Jolly for helpful discussion about personality, especially Myers-Briggs types.

Thanks to the uklibchat team – Annie Johnson, Ka-Ming Pang, Sam Wiggins, Sarah Childs, and Linsey Chrisman – for taking on the idea of an additional ‘special edition’ chat, and especially to Linsey for running the chat tightly and efficiently.


Briggs Myers, I. (1995) Gifts differing : understanding personality type. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.

Jung, C.G. (1971) Psychological types. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Scherdin, M.J. (1994) ‘Vive la difference: exploring librarian personality types using the MBTI’. In:¬†Discovering Librarians: profiles of a profession¬†(ed. M. Scherdin), pp. 125-156. Chicago: ACRL.