Love and a shoestring in the UL Tea Room

There are two qualities I’ve noticed in the planning for the most successful events I’ve been involved with: a kind of serendipitous “what the hell” feeling, and the University Library Tea Room. In fact I suspect the two elements are closely linked: there’s something about having your meetings in an atmosphere of academic noise and caffeine that seems to spark inspiration.

In May of 2009 I met a colleague for coffee and a Plan was born. We would organise an e-resources fair aimed at academics that would serve as both an update for their practice and an introduction to new online sources. We would invite publishers and suppliers to come into the library for an afternoon and set up their product stalls on the library desks, and we’d offer the entire Faculty wine and nibbles to entice it collectively through the door.

Thus in the space of one coffee we came up with the entire blueprint for ‘Food for Thought’, which took place less than a month later with remarkably little more organisation.  It turned out to be a roaring success. Suppliers were delighted to come and talk directly to academics about what they want, and to showcase their newest products; academics and researchers enjoyed the presentations and the chance to browse information at their own pace, wine in hand. And aside from food and drink, there were no other costs involved.

“We do it on love and a shoestring” is a phrase I find myself using a lot about the various information ventures I’m involved in. I don’t remember whether I stole it or coined it, but it sums up perfectly the kind of approach I enjoy most. The best events are resource-intensive, but the resource in question isn’t finance: it’s people – their creative thinking, their time willingly given, their engagement and expertise. With those ingredients it’s amazing how far a shoestring will stretch.

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4 comments so far

  1. libreaction on

    How true that is. Can see I’ll be a regular visitor here.

  2. Librarycow on

    I like it, really interesting post and I want to visit your tea room

  3. TraineeMermaid on

    Interesting, Ms Mongoose. I think I would be right in saying that Cambridge Uni acknowledges that real creativity usually happens in unexpected places with flashes of inspiration (eg Watson and Crick in the Eagle). It’s the ethos of the Colleges, bringing all subjects together. Which leads to an unspoken assumption that it’s all to do with people. Actually, I reckon most business is to do with people, can you work with and trust someone or not? It’s why the Quakers became so successful.

    So if you trust the people you work with, and you are trusted by them, and thus feel appreciated, you will work on a shoestring. However, there are 2 caveats. (1) is that management must acknowledge and reward as well, otherwise after a bit people feel taken advantage of and (2) always remember you are on a month’s notice (or whatever). If management need to sack you they will, no matter how enthusiastic or how worn out that bit of shoestring is.

  4. […] Being at Freshers’ Fair was a first for Cambridge Libraries, not merely in that it was the first time libraries had had a presence there: it was also our first outing as a joined-up library service, under the banner of libraries@cambridge. Along with the Library Gateway and the promotional film The Perfect Desk, the Freshers’ Fair stall was the outcome of a grass-roots movement towards greater communication and collaboration amongst all the individual – and autonomous – libraries across the University. Our stall, the banner, and, er, the taxi fare were paid for by the University Library, but the idea, the planning and all the work was done freely and joyously by Cambridge librarians who contributed their time, creativity and expertise. And this time we didn’t even need the stimulus of caffeine. […]


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