NLS9 was held in Adelaide on the 5th-7th of July, with tours held on the 5th and the conference proper on 6th and 7th July.
I’ve thought long and hard about what I wanted to say about this conference, and at the prompting of Sally Turbitt I’ve decided to share my thoughts.
The upshot is, I didn’t enjoy this conference. There were some factors that were well within the organisers’ control however there was a lot that wasn’t and was simply about me. From “what could be improved” I found that the breakout space wasn’t really kept for downtime as advertised (it was multipurpose, used for meal breaks, meetings and chill out time) and I also thought that the keynotes had zero promotion about them, and they didn’t even have titles/topics in the programs, so I couldn’t make an educated decision about whether I should go to the keynote or skip it and get some rest. On a personal note, I was worn out going into the conference, and ended up with a migraine on Sunday morning as a result. I’m starting to think that conferences just aren’t my jam – there is so much information to absorb in a short space of time, and so many people. As an introvert and a neurodiverse person (ADHD including sensory processing issues) conferences are really, really hard.
I was disappointed by the keynotes, as some seemed to be a bit too niche interest for me and some rehashed ideas I’d heard before (however, I must also note that not everyone – ie most people at NLS9 – did not have the privilege of attending ALIA Information Online 2019 and hearing the amazing keynotes there). As I said earlier, I couldn’t make an informed decision about whether or not to attend because there was no information given about them leading up to the event. I was also disappointed in the one teacher-librarian lightning talk – the speaker has no experience as a teacher librarian and just presented the sort of stuff we write in assignments and blog posts, not anything inspiring.
While there were things the organisers could have done to improve the conference experience, please don’t take this post as saying the conference was awful. It wasn’t. It was pretty groundbreaking for Australia with a strong sustainability focus and the organisers worked really hard. It’s just I think… maybe conferences aren’t for me.
Study visits can be a really exciting part of a library course, but they can also be hard work. Here’s ten tips to help you get the most out of your study visits.
Be prepared. Work out what needs doing at home while you’re away, especially if you have family to care for. Your study visits might involve being away from home for days or even if you’re local there could be some really long hours. Make sure you have reliable care for any kids you might have, make sure the pets will get fed while you’re away. Plan well to make sure they are taken care of in advance. Also, know what the procedure is at your institution if something goes wrong and you can’t make it on the day.
Plan your outfits. Comfy shoes are a must as you’ll do a lot of walking. Personally, between the four days of study visits, including getting to and from the city and my after hours commitments I clocked up 57,000 steps! The same goes for your outfits. Check the weather in the lead up, especially if you’ll be in a different city to where you live.
Take notes. You’ll likely need to write some sort of report after the study visits, so take lots of notes to help you remember who said what at each library.
Take photos. Photos are also a great way to jog your memory later about what you’ve seen. Make sure you get permission first and be cautious about posting on social media. Some of our sites allowed us to take photos on the provision that they did not go on social media. Any photos you take should not have any library patrons or fellow students in them.
Do your research. If, like me, you have to write a researched essay, incorporating what you saw on study visits, do your research before the visits if you can. It will give youthings to look out for, maybe prompt some questions to ask your hosts and help your essay in the end.
Check out transport. Check out your public transport options ahead of time or use the discussion forums or Facebook groups to meet up with a travel buddy if you’re anxious about getting to the right places. Know when the public transport options are good or when you might be better off bringing the car or booking an Uber. Remember you can use travel time to chill – read a book, listen to a podcast, or write some reflections about your experience.
Take time off. If you can afford a little more time off work, give yourself an extra day to recover from the visits. A study visit can involve long days in an unfamiliar city with lots of information to absorb – it’s tiring.
Enjoy the experience – Plan to have some fun while you’re on study visits. Organise to meet fellow students for meals, or look at exhibitions at the venues or in nearby locations. Most study visits will have an attached Students and New Grads group event – join us for a chat!
Expect the unexpected. Serendipity is important for library users but it’s important for us as well. Be ready to embrace opportunities. Be willing to meet new people and chat to people you don’t know.
Know thyself. Know what you need to help you get through the week. Are you someone who needs regular fresh air and sunshine? Try to have your lunch in a park or an outdoor cafe. Like to process what you see by chatting? Organise to debrief afterwards at the pub or on transport between venues with other students. Need time alone? Stick your headphones on and scurry off after a visit to get some alone time. Know what you need and make firm plans to get what you need.
I want to straight-up start by saying I am a person who is sick of reading books and blog posts about life hacks and how to achieve your goals from single, straight, affluent, white, American men. As a married, Australian middle-class woman with five kids, most of those suggestions are unattainable at best.
This will not be a blog post like that.
I want to tell you how you can hack your degree and make it work for you. I cannot promise you’ll get all HDs or get a job at the end, but I can tell you how to make the most of your opportunities as a student, to give you the best chance of success once you get that piece of paper to say that you are a fully qualified Librarian. (Or library technician, archivist, teacher-librarian or whatever your study is in. Use your imagination).
Join. Join your local library/records association at the student rate while you can. ALIA has great student rates (and also offers discount rates to new graduates) as do RIMPA. Not only that, but take advantage of the benefits it gives you. Members of ALIA can sign up for mailing lists that give them articles to read for professional development, you have access to ebooks and ejournals, you hear about great events and get a discount when you go to a paid event. When you go to events you meet new people, especially in the industry you are hoping to be employed in.
Volunteer! Volunteer for ALIA – the Students and New Grads group are always looking for new team members. You can learn great skills, network with other new professionals and students, and it looks great on your CV as you then have proven skills in social media platforms, event coordination and the like. You can also volunteer at events. Earlier this year I volunteered at ALIA Information Online 2019 and I got so much out of it. While the volunteer role is important, most of the time I was still able to listen to the keynote speakers, and participate in workshops. I learnt so much and met so many new people. NLS9 is currently calling for volunteers – they want you to volunteer a day of your time in exchange for free entry to the conference the other day. If you’re able to volunteer at a conference like this then take the opportunity.
Jump in. Join committees and working groups. While this isn’t something that’s exclusive to being a student, you possibly have more time now as a student than you will as a full time employee, plus its something students feel like they have no place putting their hands up for. IFLA have working groups you can join from anywhere in the world. ALIA have sub-groups, working groups and conference committees. If you see a call out for volunteers to be involved in something you are interested in, put your hand up!
Learn. Most universities have student subscriptions to online learning platforms such as Lynda. If you look at job ads in your preferred field and notice they are all asking for knowledge of or experience with budgeting, social media marketing, project management or change management, take a look at these platforms to see if there’s a course you could do that can skill you up in this area.
Complete. Complete your assignments, but not just as an assignment. When you write that collection development policy or disaster recovery plan, treat it like a piece of work that you would do for an employer. Have it as evidence of your knowledge in this area. Treat essays as though they were articles to submit to journals, and then rework them a little and submit them to journals or blogs.
Write. Beyond your assignments, write. Write for Incite. Write for shared blogs. Write for journals. If people read what you’ve written and like it, they’ll remember you and it may just come in handy one day.
Connect. Join Twitter, Linked In or another social media platform and connect with librarians around the world, both in your preferred field and outside of it. Get to know what other librarians are talking about. Learn the problems with the theories and ideals we are taught in university. Join the conversation.
Look. Look out for any free or low-cost professional development activities in your area. Look for free webinars. Attend whatever you can, and learn. You’ll meet new people and learn a lot. If you’re an ALIA member, even as a student member, you can log your PD hours on the website.
Ask. Ask for help if you need it. Ask for recommendations of papers to read, journals to read, libraries and librarians to follow. Ask for a chat over a coffee with someone you admire. And don’t be upset if it doesn’t work out first time around. Librarians are generally generous people and if you ask a few, telling them you’re a student and would like to buy them a coffee and pick their brains for an hour, you’ll find someone willing.
Deviate. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm. I didn’t like the remaining electives I had to choose from, so I requested permission to complete a different subject (that was in a closely allied field) and was given permission. So now, I’m studying Game Based Learning. Don’t assume you have to follow the cookie-cutter course. I can’t guarantee you’ll get permission to study a subject on pure mathematics or viticulture as a part of your librarianship degree, but if you’ve got a burning passion for something in a related area, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Maybe you can’t do all of these things. That’s ok. Just take one step.
If you’d like to hear more about this, I recommend the final episode of the podcast Beyond the Stacks, which inspired this post.
Last week, I had the incredible experience of volunteering at the ALIA Information Online conference.
Monday was a quiet day as it contained optional workshops at additional expense to delegates. My first workshop was a classroom technology session that involved 3D printing, playing with robots, iPads and VR. The workshop was interesting and it exposed me to some classroom tech options I hadn’t experienced before but it also showed me why this tech is not necessarily ready for the classroom. Robots had flat batteries; they didn’t connect with their iPads. VR just failed to work 90% of the time. In a school with one set of iPads and robots to share, the anticipation of your once a fortnight turn only to discover they needed updating (also happened in the workshop) or they hadn’t been plugged in properly by the previous class and so you have thirty disappointed kids. With time, battery lives will improve, the tech will get more reliable and teachers will understand better the potential cross-curriculum learning that can take place with this tech, then they will be ready for classrooms.
My second workshop on Monday was a bit over my head. I sat in on a Digitisation Workflows workshop, and while I was pleased to hear about a project Tim Sherratt is deeply involved with, and I was able to contribute, it wasn’t really my cup of tea as it had a lot of assumed knowledge and experience that I did not have.
Monday night we had a first timers social event where I met Matt Pascoe (who works for Ipswich Library), James Nicholson ALIA State Manager (QLD), and Sienna Gilchrist, ALIA State Manager (WA) as well as my fellow ALIA SNGG NSW Regional Coordinator, Veronica.
The conference kicked into full gear on Tuesday. After a site induction we got to sit in on the first keynote from Genevieve Bell about AI. I did miss the beginning but really enjoyed her keynote. She talked about how AI destroys the potential for “serendipitous discovery”, for example Spotify will recommend more of the same music that you already like, while GPS focuses us on the destination, rather than the journey and the interesting places we pass. She also explored the concept of what does it mean for computers to make art – with examples of music and visual art created by computers. One of the most interesting things she explored was the bias of algorithms, which I have read a little about. She shared this story about how Kodachrome film was developed, using “model people” (ie people who looked “ideal”) and used that as a benchmark for how to make those people look the best on this film. Of course, they used only white people. As a consequence, Sidney Poitier was always sweating profusely on set because they had to have so many spotlights on him for the film to be able to properly capture his facial expressions. Another example of algorithmic bias is automatic doors set to look for people of a certain height, meaning both particularly tall and particularly short people struggle to get the doors to open for them. The final message from this keynote was “Build the future you want to live in. You never do it alone.”
Another Monday keynote I enjoyed was Mike Jones‘ keynote on the unrealised potential of digital collections, which I have talked about in another post. The talk started with the history of cataloguing, and I learned a lot, including that early card catalogues used the back of playing cards (where the back was blank) as a way of standardising the size of the cards in the catalogue. We traipsed through history, to the modern website of museums and libraries, where entries often resemble a digitised card catalogue, rather than tapping into the potential of hyperlinking and tagging. A great quote from this session (from a guy called Ted Nelson) was “Everything is deeply intertwingled”. The Tate in the UK does a good job of showing the potential of how we can better catalogue items for users. The challenge was “What if I told you there is no shelf?” – could we have a non-hierarchical structure for libraries? Mike Jones left us with this thought – what if we thought of knowledge as the flow of a river, and how would digital collections change if we thought about knowledge in this way?
Other highlights of Monday were getting to hear some of the shorter talks. I learned about the “renovations” of the Trove website. It was great to hear more about one of my favourite library projects – a new logo is coming along with a pile of improvements. I went to a talk called Tinker time, which was about growth mindset and digital literacy for adults – staff at a university library and university students. The library staff engaged in their own digital literacy projects to stretch their own skills, but were given space to make mistakes, with the emphasis being on the process and the learning rather than on the finished product.
Tuesday began with a keynote from the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden. Carla’s keynote (via videolink) was warm, fuzzy and encouraging, rather than challenging and inspiring, however I did feel like it was a good balance to have something warm like that.
Possibly the most memorable workshop at InfoOnline was Five senses of GLAMR. We explored how algorithms turned paintings into sound, how libraries, galleries and museums can improve the experience for their blind and low vision patrons, experienced VR, discussed the role of scent and tasted the future of food – insects. It was truly a workshop that needed to be experienced, rather than something I can disseminate in detail. We did learn about a really interesting service called Aira, which is a subscription service for blind people where an operator can see, through smart glasses or a smartphone camera, where the person is and what is around them, and give them a verbal description of the location. This is something that libraries, galleries and museums can subscribe to, with a geofence, that allows vision impaired people to access Aira for free while they are on the premises, so they can more fully participate in exhibits and exhibitions.
Unfortunately, a migraine got the better of me on Wednesday and I needed to leave the conference early. I was disappointed to miss IFLA president, Glòria Pérez-Salmerón, speak on the UN Sustainable Development goals but look forward to watching her keynote when it is uploaded to the conference website in the coming weeks.
The highlight of Thursday, for me, was the strong Indigenous content. We began the day with a keynote from Terri Janke who talked about Indigenous language and culture in the context of Indigenous Culture and Intellectual Property (ICIP) even though this isn’t often recognised in copyright laws. For example, Tasmanian Aboriginal Languages were put onto Wikipedia without consultation with Indigenous communities. She talked about how to involve Indigenous communities respectfully, particularly through a program called True Tracks, that she has developed. This involves treating Indigenous communities with respect, giving them a right to self-determination and seeking consent and consultation early in the process, not as an afterthought.
Following this I heard Sophie Herbert talk about a modification of the Harvard referencing system she developed (which is now endorsed by the University of Technology, Sydney) which acknowledges the country from which Indigenous authors come, and also lists undocumented authors or contributors as “uncredited” rather than the former “unknown”. The use of “uncredited” puts the onus back on the knowledge gather – they didn’t bother to note down the contributor – rather than suggesting that they were not known. I also enjoyed hearing Marcus Hughes from the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) speak about Indigenous knowledge, where everything is linked unlike the Western view of knowledge where everything is in “silos”, and Indigenous culture and intellectual property rights. He talked about how that worked out in practice when Aunty Bonita Mabo donated Uncle Eddie Mabo’s shirts to the MAAS, and how the Mabo family retains ownership of these artefacts, even while MAAS is charged of taking care of them and displaying them.
Other highlights of the week for me were volunteering on the registration desk and getting to greet people and answer their questions, talking to exhibitors (who had masses of freebies) and the delicious food. I got to meet so many people – many of whom I knew as a Twitter handle. Kyla, Jane, Hugh, Mel, Nic. Also a shout out to Mylee who waswas very generous with her time, sharing her experiences of being on the ALIA Info Online 2019 Committee.
I have lots of ideas for ALIA National 2020, which I am on the Program Committee for!
Yesterday I attended CoGLAMeration 2018, an unconference for people working or studying in the GLAM sector. The three main talks were live streamed on the ALIA Sydney Facebook page and can be viewed by anyone. I didn’t sit in on the first talk, as during each talk there were breakout sessions on different topics. In the first session, I joined the breakout session to talk about metadata and critical librarianship, in which we talked about cataloging and metadata, SCIS and the devaluing of the profession as a whole and specialisation in particular. I confess that none of the options for the middle session particularly appealed to me so I sat in on the global collaboration talk. The third session, I felt I *should* join the breakout session on school libraries, but I did not want to miss Bonnie Wildie’s talk on engaging with digital collections, and I did not regret it (even though I knew I could watch it again later).
It’s really hard to encapsulate what I got from yesterday’s unconference but I made a bunch of professional connections, inadvertently got some study and interview advice and had a great time. I also had a little breakthrough in my thinking about wanting to engage with digital records but not knowing how to do that or what to do without recreating the work of Tim Sherratt and Bonnie Wildie. I now have the very beginnings of a little project that has a blog and a twitter account. I’ve also created some twitter bots that will access my research on Trove, and post to that twitter account.
I also have some other thoughts that touch on the metadata and cataloging breakout session that we had and some reading I have been doing. I’ve been reading a book called Cruising the Library by Melissa Adler, which examines the history of the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and how they have been used and misused in the past and present to catalogue “perversions”, specifically with reference to homosexual practices, fetishes and material classified as unsuitable for general circulation. It is an interesting examination of how the organisation of the collection can stigmatise people (homosexuality placed next to books on paedophilia and child abuse), and direct research in the future (the use of medical and psychological labels for behaviours). I will confess though, it is heavy reading. Especially since we don’t use the LCSH in Australia. Now I don’t regret what I have read of the book and it’s vital to understand that cataloguing decisions matter and that there are biases behind how the catalogue is structured (and that is true of the Dewey decimal system also), but for someone who isn’t working in America or working with the LCSH it’s not something I need to go into great depth with, especially when it’s generally restricted to homosexuality and “lesbianism”. It has made me more interested in the cataloging process and the importance of metadata and excited for our cataloging subject next year at uni.
This also brings me to another issue I’ve been grappling with – ethics. Librarianship is a profession in part because it has a code of ethics, and yet those ethics can be problematic to apply at times. Recently I listened to the Better Library Leaders podcasts (there were two episodes) about the ALA Code of Ethics. In Australia, ALIA doesn’t have a Code of Ethics, although we have core values statements, a member code of conduct and we endorse the IFLA Code of Ethics. We cannot possibly follow every facet of a code of ethics all the time. We cannot provide free access to all information while working to provide the best service we can on a limited budget. We should not allow our dedication to the library being a space for everyone permit us to host hate groups in our spaces. I am hoping to give closer examination to the ethics documents we have in Australia and analyse their idiosyncrasies.
I’ve also created a skeleton of a little gamification project for Uni next semester. Just put something in the “check off” box and your points are added. You level up as you complete uni work across the session. I might have to create some rewards for myself!
Since I’ve finished my uni work for the session (even though session isn’t over) and I’ve given myself a few days break, I’m now sitting down to look at my list of potential end of session projects and working out which ones I want to do and when.
Firstly, I’ve already written an article for potential inclusion in Incite and there’s not any other issues coming this year that I feel like I have anything worthwhile to say about (the next deadline is regarding Lifelong Learning and although I’m passionate about that, it’s not something I feel I have the expertise to write about in a library context at this point).
I’ve scheduled in a day this week to either go on a bushwalk or ride my bike, but at this stage I think I’ll go for the bushwalk. I hope to block off a day most weeks for this sort of thing.
I’ve enrolled in two more theology subjects. These are nothing compared to a uni load – they each take about ten hours to complete. Completing these two subjects will have me completed Level Two of the Preliminary Theological Certificate and I’ve already completed one of the electives for Level Three. I’m completing New Testament 2 (Acts) and Doctrine 2 (Christ and His Work). I’m hoping to get these two subjects completed in the next few weeks.
I’ve been working on the garden and housework, which will always be an ongoing task. There’s a few chronic problem areas I’d like to clean up, like a desk that everything gets dumped on, get up to date with my filing, clean the kids’ bedrooms and get rid of some toys the kids have outgrown.
This week I will probably work on some Twitter bots and possibly a loose outline for gamifying uni progress next session, as well as the two PTC subjects I have signed up for and some reading, both personal and professional. I’ll get in touch with my contact regarding the Wikidata project in the next week or two. Tomorrow is my best time to work on projects this week, so I’m hoping to have something interesting to report back on soon.
Also, on Sunday I will be participating in ConGLAMeration, an un-conference for people in the GLAM Sector.