In summer 2010, Isla Kuhn, Reader Services Librarian at Cambridge University Medical Library, blogged about a particular type of event popular among school teachers, and wondered whether this ‘TeachMeet’ idea would be of interest to librarians (Kuhn, 2010). Several other librarians at the University of Cambridge responded enthusiastically and LibTeachMeet was born.
So what is TeachMeet?
First established in 2005 (Hallahan, 2010), TeachMeet is an ‘unconference’ organized by teachers, for teachers. These open, friendly and loosely structured events provide an opportunity for teachers to share classroom experiences and to learn from each other. The idea is that everyone is an active participant in the event – even those not presenting are ‘enthusiastic lurkers’, as opposed to passive ‘attendees’.
TeachMeets are free to attend, but sponsorship may be sought to cover costs such as venue hire and provision of refreshments. The events themselves consist of seven-minute micro-presentations and two-minute nano-presentations. Presenters are encouraged to talk about a tool or technique they have tried themselves. Presentation topics are usually registered in advance using a wiki, but the order of speakers is selected at random on the day. There are no keynote speakers or sales pitches and participants are welcome to come and go throughout the presentations. Presentations can be in any style or format but the original TeachMeets encouraged the use of more imaginative presentation techniques than PowerPoint presentations.
Why TeachMeet for librarians?
Recent research undertaken on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (Research by Design Ltd, 2010) found that 71% of information professionals use training skills and 50% use teaching skills in their current roles, while 63% expect to be using these skills a lot or a little more in 10 years’ time. Despite the evident importance of the educational role of the librarian, educational theory and teaching skills are not included as a compulsory component of many librarianship courses in the UK, so information professionals require alternative opportunities to develop these skills. Just as many teachers work on their own in their classrooms, many librarians teach in isolation, with little opportunity to share advice and experiences. Alternative methods of training and sharing are needed and this is where the TeachMeet model can help.
TeachMeets are quick and cheap to organize, given the emphasis on informality, and offer a convenient opportunity to meet up with colleagues outside of expensive conferences or other large-scale training events.