“I’ve got my cardigan”*

To tell you the truth there would have not been a need for any cardigans at the VALA conference. It was warm, balmy, sticky, humid- all of the above in fact. Fashion trends on the day were comfortable shoes, loose floaty dresses for the ladies, and for the gentlemen casual pants and untucked shirts. A special mention to Michael Gonzalez for his all-black ensemble with dark-grey tie- he joked that people had mistaken him for a vendor and were asking him for pens (free stationery, another perk of conference attendance).

The conference is at the new Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, which involved a promenande along the Yarra past Jeff’s Shed (does that make the MCEC Steve’s Shack?). It utilises exhibition space from Jeff’s Shed, with the meeting rooms and theatres part of the newer buildng. An clever use of an existing building to complement the use of another.

I’ll be honest with you- I am a part time attendee, having a shared registration thanks to work.  I couldn’t attend every session, but I have found that this can induce a serious case of conference fatigue from which the only way to recover is copious amounts of alcohol and sleep. With two energetic kids under 5, this would prove to be somewhat problematic. I’ve kept up to date so far with following tweets to get an idea of what has been happening (wifi problems) and opinions on the presenters (incredibly positive).

Lunch was spent catching up with former colleagues and gossip in libraryland. It is the social aspect of conferences that have their own special buzz. It was also a chance to catch up with some people whose tweets I have been following, and who are just as great in the flesh as they are on Twitter.

The session I attended yesterday was the afternoon Discovery session with John Garroway from the University of Auckland, Michael Gonzalez from the University of Western Sydney and Shirley White and Rina Brettell from the Parliament of Australia. John was quite self deprecating and got all the New Zealand accent jokes out of the way early and focused on the new resource discovery layer for the University of Auckland Library (Primo), which harvests the records, re-indexes them before displaying them. With an array of different formats, such as images, articles and media clips, this way of displaying information could have applications for our library. Michael Gonzalez spoke as well on a similar development, using Aquabrowser as their discovery platform.

What was interesting were the responses of the users to the new interface; for the University of Western Sydney, there was a strong negative response. Could it be that the testing and consultation did not appear to involve students, rather staff who would be considered expert users? The removal of the native interfaces to e-resources caused a fuss to the extent that a link to them was re-instated. Perhaps greater consultation with students in the form of surveys and testing would have been needed.

It is these types of presentation that makes you head buzz with possibilities about what can be achieved in libraryland with committed staff in organisations that value the library. Libraries are a valuable asset for universities, and a vital link to the community for public libraries, and this is demonstrated by the number of presentations from these sectors.

The final presentation ultimately demonstrated how a special library, a valuable information resource, can be subsumed by the parent organisation. When Parliament is in session, parliamentary business prevails over any ongoing project- it is like the House(s) wins. With 17 stakeholders, all of which had differing expectations and knowledge, the Parlinfo upgrade had a huge challenge ahead just trying to balance their needs, let alone trying to update the search facility of  all the data which is generated by the Parliament of Australia. Not only does it search library material, but it searches Bills, Hansard, Committee papers, and Parliamentary Papers. Parlinfo searches information which is accessible to the public as well as available to internal users. It still is an unwieldy beast to use and frustratingly slow (server upgrade please!). I have had it open for 10 minutes and it is still loading. It’s a shanme because there is some really great information there- you just have to discover it.

My day at VALA was curtailed due to a kinder function for Master BG. And no, it was still warm and muggy enough in Ballarat for me not to worry about a cardigan :).

* libsmatter OH in hotel lift: ” I’ve got my cardigan#librariansonwaytoconference #VALA2010 Feb 9, 2010

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