BibCamp 2012 Exchange on an Equal Footing

BibCamp 2012
BibCamp 2012 | Photo (detail): © Südpol-Redaktionsbüro/D. Giersberg

On 16 and 17 March 2012, around 200 librarians and knowledge managers from all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland met in Cologne to attend the 5th BibCamp, a symposium with no predefined programme but plenty of lively discussion.

Saturday, 1.15 pm. 15 or so people aged between 25 and 50 have gathered around a group of tables in seminar room 147 at Cologne’s University of Applied Sciences. The topic they are about to discuss is: “Is the eLibrary already dead?” Klaus-Jürgen Sommerschuh from the Schleswig-Holstein Central Library, who proposed the topic at the morning’s plenary session, outlines briefly why he is sceptical about reports of the eLibrary’s success. Within no time at all, a lively yet serious exchange of experience is underway between the librarians around the table.

46 such sessions took place on 16 and 17 March 2012 at the 5th BibCamp hosted by the Institute of Information Science at Cologne University of Applied Sciences. The camp was organized by a group of 40 third year students taking a BA degree in library studies – under the supervision of professors Ursula Georgy and Tom Becker and in cooperation with the North Rhine-Westphalia Library Service Centre (hbz), Cologne City Library, the German National Library of Medicine (ZB MED), the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (MPIfG) and the Society for Knowledge Management (GfWM).

A self-inventing conference

The BibCamp is a BarCamp, also known as an unconference. In other words: “There is no organizational committee that decides on the programme according to some criteria or other, e.g. according to names and positions or the desire for balance”, explains Ursula Georgy. “The participants come up with the themes themselves. This means that only those topics are discussed that people are genuinely interested in.” The 200 or so participants came together each morning to decide on the programme for that day – grassroots democracy in action. “Any participant can propose a topic; as soon as others express an interest in it, the suggestion becomes a session.”

26 such 45-minute sessions were staged on Saturday alone. As many as seven parallel sessions took place, allowing librarians from public and academic libraries, knowledge managers from companies, freelance consultants, students and professors to share views and experiences.

Libraries and knowledge management

The spectrum of topics was correspondingly broad. Sessions had titles such as “Change – how can I overcome entrenched structures and cultural dinosaurs?”, “Coursework – What do pupils need?”, “The future of specialist bibliography”, “Mobile OPACs”, “Open Access”, “Self-help group for research data”, “Facebook in public libraries” and “Food and drink in the reading room?”.

For the first time, this year’s BibCamp was staged jointly with the KnowledgeCamp nrw. “Our cooperation with the Society for Knowledge Management has turned out to be a successful experiment”, explains Ursula Georgy. The event’s participants also made enthusiastic comments about the merger, which was held under the banner “BibCamp 5 meets KnowledgeCamp”. Georgy believes that an interdisciplinary BarCamp of this type generates increased added value, and that it is much more exciting to learn about different perspectives rather than simply having one’s own views largely confirmed at a conference for specialists.

Anyone who was unable to travel to Cologne can visit the BibCamp website and view some of the sessions which were videoed. In some cases, the results of the open discussion sessions were also documented and posted online. Furthermore, there was plenty of twittering going on throughout the symposium, as one could see from the TwitterWall set up in the stairway.

A format with a future

For two thirds of participants the BibCamp in Cologne was the first BarCamp they had ever attended. The response was positive pretty much across the board – and not only as regards the excellent organization of the whole event, including the catering and evening poetry jam programme.

One librarian from Düsseldorf praised the relaxed atmosphere in particular: “It is so much easier to get into a conversation with someone here than at a normal conference.” People have no inhibitions since they encounter one another on an equal footing – partly because the informal “Du” is the standard form of address. “Despite the considerable freedom which characterizes the BibCamp, the whole event is amazingly disciplined. Unlike at other conferences I have attended, people here stick to the rules of communication, and are extremely polite in the way they talk to one another.” A knowledge manager from Bonn adds: “None of the speakers here are bothered about making a name for themselves, so their presentations tend not to overrun.”

“The BarCamp format is attracting increasing interest and is being regarded more and more as a reputable event”, agrees Ursula Georgy. This is evident, among other things, from the fact that attendance of the BibCamp is recognized as further training these days, with even public sector organizations approving it as business travel. Given such a positive response and so much enthusiasm, it is no surprise that people in Cologne have also been discussing the idea of incorporating a BarCamp into the annual Convention of German Librarians. “This would allow a forum for free discussion to be created also within the framework of this traditional conference.”