Without the benefit of hindsight, the morning of Friday 24th June 2016 is, three days later, already one of those hauntingly crisp memories that later gets reprocessed every time you find yourself in one of those conversations that start “where were you when you heard about…?” I heard the result of the EU referendum having woken up in my Manchester hotel room, on my own, in the dark, checking Facebook to read one of my friends’ angry posts, and suddenly I felt like someone had died. Trawling the Internet for information and then fixed to the TV news, I forgot I was meant to be leaving for the second day of the UX Libs conference and hurriedly threw everything into my suitcase and went out onto the unfamiliar streets of Manchester, wondering what on earth kind of country I was in.
If this sounds over dramatic it’s because I’d already turned the EU referendum into something very personal. Work’s not been easy for me since I returned after maternity leave. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what I want to do, whether I want to stay in libraries, stay working in London, etc etc. When the referendum was announced I was quite clear about my vote. Working in HE, and having a keen interest in science, it’s probably not surprising I am looking at the benefits of being in the EU, the diversity it brings to my workplace, and the opportunities it brings for collaborative working on some of the biggest issues we’re facing as a society, and as human beings on this little blue planet. It’s something that governments, who change every 4-8 years can’t address on their own. I know the EU isn’t perfect, and I can’t claim to know everything about it, but fundamentally, I think it’s better to work together and bring expertise from a wide pool of people to work on these issues. Working together is our only chance to save ourselves, and if the EU isn’t working, then I think the answer is not to leave, but stay and try to fight for it to be better. As I thought more and more about this I applied the same logic to my working life – if things aren’t quite working out you need to make a choice between staying and leaving. Is there something worth fighting for? Yes. My heart, firmly in the remain camp, with the feelings around the vote wrapped up with my own personal life, took a massive blow.
Walking back to the conference on day two was strange; I suspected although didn’t know, that most people there would be feeling the same as me, and this turned out to be the case. Andy Priestner’s emotional opening address bore this out, and I sat there in the audience trying not to burst into tears again. Lawrie Phipps’ keynote, on leadership, echoing my own feelings about us all being leaders and everyday leadership (see Drew Dudley’s TED talk) would have been a completely different one yesterday. It was hard to rally our team together for our morning pitch – on collaboration (ha!) – but the group managed to deliver, and we got through the day. There were some laughs, but above all, shock and disappointment.
BUT, all the conference delegates, of whom I met many from all over Europe – France, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland…to name a few, were in no doubt that collaboration is really worth it. If we want to make the lives of people we work for, and with, better, then we HAVE to work together. A choice to leave the EU has dealt that ideal a massive blow, but we can’t let that stop us.
So…a massive thank you to the UX Libs conference team, to all the speakers, and to all the delegates I met who were all, without exception, friendly and open. I have honestly never met SO many new people and felt so at home. Being there was the best place to be on such a horrid day. Spending the afternoon making a “cultural probe” for first year undergraduate students, with happy and sad face stickers, stars, foam, and sharpies, could have have felt frivolous and pointless on such a day, but UX techniques are about getting to the heart of our library users, engaging with them on an emotional level, understanding how those emotions affect their use of space and services and vice versa. It goes beyond the numbers. And somehow, we need to get behind the 48/52% referendum result, and work out what on earth we’re going to do now.
More on UXLibs here: http://uxlib.org/home/