5 Lessons from VALA 2012

Last week was a huge week on the Victorian library calendar with the biennial VALA 2012 conference at the Melbourne Convention Centre.

Having been to this conference over a few years, it was good to see how the infrastructure has evolved. The internet kiosk has grown smaller, but wireless connectivity had increased in power and relevancy. The charge up station for tablets, notebooks, and smartphones was a great place to meet people you had never met before. As always, the catering was delicious, the vendors were friendly and helpful, and it was good to see new and familiar faces amongst the crowd.

The favourite tote bag of choice appeared to be a cat tote bag from Baker and Taylor, which combined its cat branding with the librarian cliche of being cat people- a win-win situation! No, I did not one as I have lots of totes at home, and I’m comfortable with the fact I am a cat person anyway :).

I am in the midst of drafting up a report for work on my day at VALA (the library equivalent of singing for one’s supper), but these were the 5 top lessons to draw from the conference I wish to share.

1. You can learn a lot from outside your niche

VALA attracts a great deal of presentations from academic, school, public and special libraries. While librarians may comment on the lack of specificity to their specialisation at conferences such as these, it is a good chance to be exposed to different ideas and approaches to the ultimate question- how can we best help our users?

Eibhlin Roche, who spoke about the use of Guinness archives within the Guinness organisation was one such example. If you look beyond the fancy apps, the genealogical database, and the marketing spin, you see an archive which has linked its collection to the parent organisation’s overall mission and has been very strategic in developing projects which support that mission. The trick for special/corporate libraries is to make yourself indispensable by enmeshing yourself within the heart of the organisation.

2. Be a part of your community

I am talking about this on 2 levels- engaging with the library community as well as the community in which you live and work. The aspect I love about conferences is the chance to catch up and engage in discussions about the profession with those you don’t work with. The challenge is to continue that dialogue with your colleagues who were holding the fort while you were away.

At the same time, you can also reach out to your users through inventive programs, giving them what they want, but especially through talking to them.

3. I came to hear you talk, not you talk to slides-

The value of a conference is a gathering of minds to tease out themes and continue the discussion that was started in the papers submitted. It’s not that I want to be entertained with slides of cute cats (okay I do), but if you are going to be putting heaps of words on a slide, make them a) succinct and b) readable. While the PowerPoint presentation is not your paper, over which you have thought, reflected and edited over and over again, it still is something into which presenters have to give a lot of thought.

4. Declare war on DRM, licensing and copyright.

Eli Neiburger’s presentation’s sentiment- ‘We share sh*t’ struck me as gold. While working in an environment where laws are actually made, I don’t think we can actually get away with infringing the law :). However Eli’s sentiment of freeing information for the greater good, a sentiment shared by all librarians, got me thinking on what data libraries have collected over the past  aeons that would be valuable to the greater community- photos, ephemera, papers, records? Such data was released and shared by National and State Libraries to be used in a Library Hack Competition, which attracted non-library users to engage with and manipulate library data.

5. Even librarians get the information overload blues.

Reading Twitter made it hard for me to concentrate on what was being said in front of me, and often reflected what had been said a couple of minutes earlier. I tweeted a bit during the first plenary session, and followed it for a while, but it brought home that I can’t do 2 things at once, and if I do, it’s in a very half-assed fashion. It didn’t help that it wras using up a lot of my power. I do applaud those who were there every day, tweeting and blogging and were able to speak coherently at the end of it. Michelle McLean the Connecting Librarian produced good notes of the sessions she attended,
I also resolved to weed my own RSS feeds, unfollow people on Twitter and Facebook in an attempt to be more mindful of who I follow. This will be an ongoing process, trying to refine the type of information I receive and making it more meaningful.

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