I attended my very first New Librarians Symposium on the weekend. Not only was it my first NLS, it was my very first time presenting at a conference! The conference sparked a lot of ideas for me, but my top two takeaways were (1.) why haven’t I attended this fantastic event before? and (2.) I think it’s time to start a blog.
And well here we are! Probably about 10 years behind the curve* with the whole blogging thing but that’s okay. I like writing and I have a lot of opinions, I’ve just always been reluctant because there are other people out there who are better writers and who have better opinions, so what would I be adding?
But over the weekend I talked with a few people who pointed out the usefulness of blogging as a reflection tool. You do a course, or go to a conference, you learn stuff, you write about what you learned. And then later on when you’ve forgotten most of it, you actually have a written reminder to refer to. This is probably super obvious to everyone else but it was a eureka moment for me.
My highlights of NLS8:
Eulogy for the Information Age: The Future is Impact Not Access
I enjoyed R. David Lankes keynote not least because he referenced two of my favourite writers – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Yuval Harari. You can see it here in full, or read the transcript, so I won’t try to summarise. Also, it’s quite hard to summarise because there are so many good themes in there! The cognitive revolution, new librarianship, the power of fiction, how ideas shape behaviour…
One of the things I wrote down and underlined was ‘Cataloging and acquisition needs to be more about knowing what people are trying to learn, than what materials are available.’ This struck a chord with me – as an acquisitions librarian, I spend my day acquiring, collecting, buying (and quite frantically as we reach the end of the financial year, ensuring that we expend our budget), but I don’t always see how these collections are used.
David made the point that as a profession we’re quite good at patting ourselves on the back, but are we really, really, providing our communities with what they need to learn and develop? How do we know what they need? We go out and talk with them of course. We go out and talk to our community and we ask them what they are trying to learn. Of course, I’m not sure how we can best do this when our community is a state of 7 million people, and we’re collecting not just for people of today, but people 300 years from now. But this is something I’ll continue to think about.
Oral history Projects: Making it Simple
One proposal David had for facilitating knowledge was that libraries should be recording the stories and voices of their communities. As it happens commissioning and collecting oral histories is one of the things I do in my job, however oral history as a format has always scared me a bit. There’s the digital preservation bit, which is complex, but also, how do interviews work? How do you know what questions to ask, and how do you get your subject to open up while keeping within a time limit?
Sharee Cordes’ workshop Oral History Projects: Making it Simple helped to demystify the whole thing for me. Our task was to create an NLS8 Oral History Project, each of us interviewing a subject about their experiences. As a group we brainstormed questions – ‘what brings you to NLS8?’ and using a free app, Twisted Wave, we recorded interviews.
I had so much fun doing this! Of course it helped that I had a clever and articulate subject (thanks Elizabeth!), and was using questions thought up by clever and articulate librarians, and a 15 minute time limit. I found that once I’d started asking the pre-planned questions, I thought of more questions, and the whole thing just flowed.
We don’t usually conduct the oral histories we collect at the Library ourselves – we commission professional oral historians. This workshop gave me a better insight into how oral historians work, and curiosity to do more of it myself! Watch out grandparents, you’re next!
Indigenous Collection Material from within the National Library of Australia
John Morseu introduced us to some of his favourites from the NLA’s Indigenous Oral History and Folklore collections. He played us recordings of songs from Torres Strait Islander groups, filling the Theatre with beautiful music.
John also talked about bringing collections out to people. Representing the NLA, he visited communities in the Torres Strait Islands (where he hails from himself). He said the impact of this type of outreach was that communities were able to see that their stories were part of the national collection, highlighting their value and significance. Additionally, armed with his laptop, he was able to come to people to help them with their research on the spot. a great example of going out to your community and asking them what they are trying to learn.
Prisoners Have a Right to Information
Deborah Fuller presented about her research into prison libraries in Australia. With a background working as a nurse in prisons, she knew her subject firsthand. It was sobering to realise the types of challenges prison libraries face. And just baffling and rage inducing that many authorities fail to (or refuse to) see the benefit of literacy to people in prison.
Styled for Success
A subject close to my heart. You spend a third of your day at work, you should be able to spend that time dressed in a way that makes you feel good!
And I’ve only mentioned a few of the sessions which inspired me! Well done to the NLS8 organisers for putting together such an interesting and diverse program.
I did find that I was able to take in Sunday’s program easier than Saturday’s because I was presenting on Saturday afternoon, and nerves are very distracting! As I mentioned above, it was my very first time presenting at a conference. My presentation, ‘From selling insurance to selling rare books for the State Library of New South Wales’, covered two main themes: a reflection on a major restructure and how this affects the way we develop the collection at SLNSW, and how my background in insurance prepared me for my current role in acquisitions.
I’m so grateful to my friends and colleagues who helped me develop and practice my presentation and I’m happy to say the practice paid off! Things I would do differently next time would be to trim my content (there’s only so much minutiae people can take in at 3.30pm) and cut down on the number of slides used. I also noticed that the presentations I was most engaged in were the ones where the presenter draws in the audience by asking questions of them. I’d also like to work on developing a more natural, conversational presentation style. This will probably come with more experience, so I suppose I’ll be putting my hand up to present more!
Apart from the formal programming, I was also hugely inspired by the fantastic people I met. I came across so many bright, hard working and friendly people. It was also just really fun. Looking forward to NLS9!
*Not entirely true. You can see my 2013 foray into Tumblr and politics here: https://tonyabbottloveswomen.tumblr.com/