Library Camp 2012- Enlightening!

Following on from VALA, an unconference or Library Camp was organised at the University of Melbourne. Nearly 200 attendees attended from academic, school, public and special libraries. It was free for delegates, thanks to sponsorship from libraries across Australia.

The day was a chance to extend discussions that had arisen from the previous three days, or to facilitate discussions on whatever took your fancy. The ideas were crowd-sourced and people then voted on the topics they wanted to hear discussed. There was also the opportunity to hear lightning talks of 3 minute presentations from delegates.

These were the sessions which had the greatest imapct for me:

Professional Reading in the National Year of Reading.

While the National Year of Reading is strongly focused on the recreational reading habits of Australians and to promote literacy, it was believed that this was a chance to promote reading of professional literature amongst library staff.In the midst of working and serving and reacting to our user’s needs, our own needs to continue learning about our own professional environment are often pushed aside. One delegate said she had to give herself permission to read for 10 minutes at the end of the day.

An online journal club was mooted, which sounds promising. It’s an idea which could be taken back to our places of work to get other staff reading more professional material- and not just the latest copy of incite. With aspects of librarianship becoming increasingly specialised, professional reading can often mean reading something which doesn’t appear in a library journal/website. If professional reading was tailored to a person’s specific interest and incorporated into their work day, perhaps more reading would get done?

Jason Griffey presented footage and discussed his time at the Consumer Electronics Expo in Las Vegas, which had 165,000 attendees. He was one of 6 librarians who attended (there really needs to be a greater acceptance of librarians attending non-library related activities to think outside the circle). He saw a tablet which could be powered by a handcrank, aimed at users in very romote places, and a Lytro camera which would never give you an out of focus shot again, through its plenoptic lens.

Librarians as researchers, or basically the need for librarians to undertake research as a means of getting published and achieving recognition as academics. While this has an academic library perspective, more librarians need to contribute to the profession by writing of their own expertise and applying research methods that they themselves try to instil in students. It often comes down to finding the time (this post was written over ten days in spits and spurts on the train and at home) and having the support of your parent organisation.

The lightning talks were…enlightening!

Amy from Melbourne City Libraries spoke of the experience of Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer attending a library event, simply on the basis that they were asked. Lesson learned : Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Carolyn McDonald spoke of innovation and how people strive to be innovative, when in fact you should be thinking about the goals you wish to achieve. Innovation shouldn’t be your goal. Lesson learned: don’t do something just because it’s cool, but because it has a purpose and use.

At the end of the day the question was asked- What will you take away from this day? For me it was faces of people whom I had gotten to know very well on Twitter- this was another reason why I enjoyed my day at VALA. I ended up using the law of two feet and having a coffee and chat with Kate before heading to the Melbourne Uni Bookshop for a browse before appearing at afternoon tea.

Another thingĀ  I took from that day was the pleasure of heading back to my old uni, at which I had the best time 20 years ago. I retraced my steps past Wilson Hall, through the Old Law quadrangle (I’m so old I remember when the law school was actually there!), through the Old Arts building, said a brief hello to Babel, the language building, then down the slope to the Baillieu Library.

The last aspect I took from that day was a question. How do you engage the staff who don’t have the opportunity or inclination to attend workshops? How do you get people enthused about seeking out professional development? To some staff, professional development is about being trained, or sitting passively in a room watching a demonstration. The challenge is to demonstrate the merits of professional development to a work force which is concerned with focusing on the present rather than the future.

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 pastĀ  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.