Death Cafe Reflections…

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(Image taken from Margate Sands, June 20th 2018 – day before the Solstice. Copyright K Dolman, 2018).

Every year, Sheffield Hallam University hosts an event as part of ‘Dying Matters Awareness Week‘. The Death Café event, held at the Heart of the Campus at Collegiate Campus, takes place in May and the Palliative Care Team encourages us to have a library stall at the event. I’ve been involved since 2015 when they approached us to have a stall, and I gained the honour owing to my working with the team as part of the Radiotherapy & Oncology (RONC) department.

Themes for the event have varied over the years, but a stand out one was on ‘Digital Legacy’, something I am very interested in as I spend a lot of time on social media (for development purposes, of course!). This one was interesting to explore as it came at a time when this subject was gaining media attention (Facebook introducing commemorative pages, David Bowie’s swansong Blackstar, etc). Owing to my interest in this topic and having a good knowledge of the environment and the issues concerned, I was able to make a few suggestions of my own, which were met with approval by the team.

I’m responsible for organising our physical presence at the event and normally get someone to help on the day. We do the usual; taking along the banner and pamphlets, plus the usual assorted library giveaway goodies, etc. I also take a couple of laptops to demo resources and to have our promo videos showing on a loop. And as well as organising the physical stall I also put together a list of resources for the event. This resource list is always linked into the promo website for the event and I use our reading list software to produce it.

The event has been open to the public and so providing resources as a University Library is a little challenging. Initial planning revealed that we had to make sure that the resources the staff suggested were either open access or freely available and ensuring the staff were aware of the policies around use of material and copyright. This entailed quite a bit of work for me – and also was a learning curve – as I am by no means an expert on these issues!

To the event itself: although it is always well attended, in the initial years we struggled to get people to come and talk to us. So we had to do some thinking about how we could improve this and hit upon the idea of cake, being the great Leveller that it is (no pun intended!). Therefore, at the initial planning meeting in January 2017, I asked if there were plans to have break-outs this time. Indeed there are, was the reply. Well, said I, if we were to have our stall in the break out area with, possibly, some cake, it might encourage people to speak to us. My wing-person was also engaged with the idea of cake (I am odd – I don’t like cake!). The planning team thought this was a good idea too. We’ll see, I thought…

And it worked! This year we had many more people come to speak with us and we got through all of our own cake and then some. We had students signing up to drop in sessions on topics such as referencing, etc, and promoted some new resources to both staff and students. And, best of all, I got to meet some of the students on our collaborative and work-based learning course whom I would never meet otherwise!

This year’s event is currently in the initial planning stages and I am very much aiming to repeat the success of last year. I may even include biscuits this time…watch this space…

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