UXLibs IV – 05,06 & 07 June 2018 – It wasn’t just about the shoes!


So UXLibs happened, again, and it’s time to write the obligatory blog post(s) which serves as a way to help me reflect and process the mass of experience, information and learning that I have in my head.   This year, more than ever I feel overwhelmed and I’m finding it difficult knowing where to start.  Hence, this will not be a brilliantly articulate piece of writing.

UXLibs has at its core, an incredibly diverse, talented and supportive community. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in that community since the first conference in Cambridge in March 2015. Since then I have seen people’s passion and confidence grow (my own included), I have seen some amazing work being undertaken and I have made connections that have opened doors allowing me to be involved in work that would never have been possible before.  For that I thank the community. This year I was invited to run a workshop (or rather two) which I felt incredibly honoured and excited at the prospect of (I have posted about that separately).

I often feel a little nervous when traveling to conferences, I think partly because I like going to new places, but I get worked up about traveling.  Also partly because whilst I’m relatively extraverted, I don’t always find it easy to mingle in situations where I don’t know anyone. It’s not as simple as to label me ENFP.    However, UXLibs IV felt different for three reasons.  It was just down the road in Sheffield, I already knew some people and I was really excited to be meeting a number of people whom I had already interacted with on twitter. I arrived in Sheffield relaxed,  then, I knew it was UXLibs when @shelley_gee, having travelled all the way from Canada greeted me halfway through my hotel check-in procedure with a hug,  and that, right there, is the UXLibs mentality – it’s interrupting someone’s check-in to make them feel welcome, to let them know that you are glad they came.  Right from that point I felt included.

The pre-conference evening event felt much like it has before, like a community coming together. It felt a bit like Avengers Assemble, perhaps more Librarians Assemble. I met a number of brilliant new people that night too, @clauersen, @johnjungdotus, @RosieHare to just name drop a few as well as being able to catch up with some of the UXLibs veterans.  I’m not going to name drop everyone,  but they know who they are.

The morning of the first day involved an early start as I agreed to help out with registration. This was really good, it was fun and served as a great way to say hello to just about everyone in person and understand who was there. Despite the early start, I felt really energised by the time I went in to hear @clauersen deliver his keynote.  (https://christianlauersen.net/2018/06/07/inclusion-and-belonging-in-libraries-and-beyond/)

In March this year, I travelled to Austin, Texas and co-delivered a UX Workshop on digital empathy and creating safe spaces online.  To my surprise, what I really took from that conference was a theme of diversity, inclusion and acceptance.  The UXLibs theme this year was ‘inclusivity’ and the conference really validated my thoughts around this. It also went a step further and helped me understand what it could mean in a practical sense and how our actions and personal biases, no matter how small can have a huge impact on how we make people feel as well as how we design and deliver our services.   This couldn’t have come at a better time for me,  I have been trying to piece things together in my mind since March and struggling a little.

I think fundamentally I’d been finding it hard because I couldn’t understand why it matters what colour skin someone has, whether they are gay, bi, trans, heterosexual, male or female and why anyone would have a problem with that.   But at some point in the conference, it clicked and I realised that this isn’t just about me, it’s not about me being okay with anything.   As @clauersen pointed out in his talk, I’m a white, heterosexual, male with a relatively good job and a family.  I don’t have any physical disabilities, I’m dyslexic but I don’t think that counts.  I have it easy, almost by default I hold a position of privilege, and that begins to make me feel uncomfortable –  and that’s a great starting point!  I don’t know what it feels like to be a trans male in a building with male and female toilets,  I don’t know what it’s like to come into the library during a gender transition. It’s not okay for me to just say ‘I don’t care’ about someone’s race or gender. Perhaps we all have a personal responsibility, regardless of role to help others feel safe and welcome in our spaces, both physical and digital.

So what am I going to do? A starting point for me will be raising awareness around diversity and inclusion with library staff, we all do our online diversity training, but this isn’t enough I will work with our EDI coordinators to ensure that diversity and inclusion isn’t just a tick box, I want us to consider it more in everything we do.

So that’s what I took away generally from the underlying theme of the conference. I attended a lot of excellent delegate talks which I won’t write about here, but thank you to everyone who took the time to prepare their content and talk about their experiences, this is so valuable. I feel like I should pick up on the friendliness and supportiveness of the community too, I can’t remember how many times I heard the phrase “Good luck with your talk, you’ll be great’ or how many people said to me that they hoped my workshop went well. Things like that really do make a difference, especially for people who don’t do it often.

I think if you truly participate in a conference and want to get the most possible benefit from attending, you need to work really hard whilst you are there, you certainly do that at UXLibs, it’s also a great idea to relax and get to know people on the evening, there are some great people at UXLibs. You should come home feeling a little bit broken with a mind full of exciting things you need to process. You should come home a slightly different person, having learnt something about work and about you personally, I certainly did.

UXLibs certainly isn’t just about the shoes, but let’s be honest, that’s part of it!

Photo – @clauersen

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