Saturday 15 May 2010

Liver and Mash - Top tips for organisers

On Friday 14th May, there was a Mashed Libraries event in Liverpool. It was preceded by the first UK OCLC mashathon.

The event is well documented at the Liver and Mash blog, and through many tweets surrounding the event using the #mashliv hashtag. I'm not going to write here about 'what' happened, more 'how' it came about, things that I took away (from an organisers perspective) and what's likely to happen next. 

I attended the Mash Oop North mashed libraries event in Huddersfield less than a year ago, and had followed Owen Stephen's journey through developing Mashed Libraries, in fact I think I was one of the first to put my name to the ning site but couldn't attend the inaugural event at Birkbeck, or Middlemash (first day of a new job).

There had been some conversations about having a North West mash up whilst I was still in post at Edge Hill, and it was something I was keen to do, however, moving jobs, moving house and other things made me put it to one side for a while.

The idea was raised again earlier this year by David Clay at Liverpool Uni who was keen to attend a mashup, and I felt the time was right to get something going.Taking Owen's idea as a starting point, and keen to do something with a bit of a twist, Liver and Mash started to come to fruition.

I've blogged before about 'doing things' as opposed to just 'talking about thing's', and putting this event together is a prime example. Being new in post gave me a bit of freedom in terms of starting to sell this idea to my peers and manager, who were happy for me to progress it. 

So, an event with no name, no budget, no venue, as yet no delegates but a seed of an idea, and a date.
Where do you go from there? Here's my step by step guide:

1. Find the good people:

You already know the people you work with who know what you're talking about, the ones who get passionate with you and let you rant and talk to them about the event and what you're trying to do. Don't necessarily limit the good people to those that work in your immediate circle, consider ex-colleagues, people you talk to on Twitter, people in your organisation who make an impact, friends who 'get it', local and regional networks and basically anyone who shows a real interest including your suppliers.

2. Be cheeky.

Once you've worked out what it is you're going to try and do, then be cheeky, push the boundaries, if you think you can get something, ask for double or even triple, drag your colleagues in to talk, use every contact you have available to you. If you're passionate about it, it becomes contagious. If you're enthused, so will they be.

3. Be specific.

What do you want? What kind of event should it be? What do you want people to get from it? What opportunities will you give people to get involved in organising/presenting/helping out? Putting on an unconference is a bit of a contradiction in terms. There is a 'lot' of organisation to make things happen as you want them to! In addition, don't settle for second best. If the venue isn't working for you, get somewhere else. You're the customer here!

4. Have fun.

If it ain't fun, then why are you doing it? Sure, there will be other outputs and benefits as an organiser. Your profile will be raised in the mashup community, in your own organisation and in the networks you use, you might write something up on it and share it with the wider profession. Leading an event certainly will not do your career any harm.

Leading an event will test many skills, problem solving, creativity, resilience, administration, multi-tasking, marketing, negotiation and presenting (even if it's just MC'ing the day). Everyone will look to you for guidance, before the event and on the day itself. Get plenty of sleep!

The OCLC collaboration presented itself as an opportunity which was too good to miss in terms of getting that level of expertise to the UK, but also added an extra element of working out communication methods across two time zones.

I was lucky in that I had a good network in Liverpool, primarily outside the University that I was able to call on to assist, but also that I had found a few good people on the inside. 

The two day event would not have taken place with the support of Dave Pattern (who I harassed regularly using Twitter) and have only met in real life a handful of times, Owen Stephens who contributed ideas around potential sponsors, Andy Goodwin from LJMU's OpenLab who backed me completely, and was my right hand man for the whole event and Allison Cordner and Jason Taylor, also from OpenLab who looked after the administrative side of things. 

I feel it went well, the feedback is extremely positive and there was a definite buzz around the events. The one downside of organising these things is that you don't get to speak to everyone that you want to, so if I missed you, sorry!