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. 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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Reflections of a conference-goer part deux!

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(Little me, in the middle of the photo, standing next to David in his blue shirt!)

The other thing that happened recently is that I presented, with my line manager Alison, at the Northern Collaboration event on using TEL in our work (conference abstract: parallel session 3). There’s a few tweets about our presentation which can be found here and here: and the picture above, with little me in it, is kindly taken from the NC twitter feed.

Our presentation was on the use of Articulate Storyline to develop an online teaching tool for referencing. Our presentation was good, and we had quite a few attendees and questions too! (All a bit daunting, but we got there!). In the course of the previous presentation though, we found that some Universities have done with Articulate as they don’t find it useful. I must admit, learning to use it was a little arduous, but once you master the basics, it really is quite intuitive. And I am certainly not going down the road of one librarian and learning how to programme to do this sort of thing! 😦

The day was really good though: as well as presenting, there were many opportunities for collaboration and knowledge-exchange, as well as catching up with old friends and making new ones. I also bumped into the Mentor Co-ordinator for the NW and spoke with her about becoming a mentor once I am fully chartered myself. This stems from a desire to do some staff development which I always enjoyed as part of my management role. As I don’t line manage anyone any more, this seems like a good way of keeping my skills up to date, without the nasty PDR and sickness monitoring etc that comes with being a manager…I suppose it’s a bit like being a Grannie – you get to do the nice things and give them back when they do something icky…

The other upshot of the day is that I am now going on a knowledge exchange to MMU (you cant keep me away! :)) about reading for pleasure outside the academic texts. This has come from attending one workshop with a staff member from MMU who talked about their project working with Manchester Public Libraries to promote their collection and to get students to read for pleasure and mental wellbeing. Well, this struck a chord right away, what with me leading our bookgroup this year and the work I have been doing with our student wellbeing service in providing access to their books via the library catalogue! So Gopal has kindly invited me for a jolly over on the 15th November to speak with likeminded colleagues about this. It also gives me a chance to catch up with the MMU lot! I’m really looking forward to talking about something that is very close to my heart – the therapeutic benefit of reading for pleasure on mental wellbeing. More will definitely be coming on this subject so watch this space…

Update: 29.11.17: I went along to the knowledge exchange with Gopal – I had two hours to talk about how they are promoting reading for pleasure and to talk about my reading group. My reflection on this is contained in the blog post ‘Reading for Pleasure: it’s not just about academic books!’.