UTS Library

Notes from the recent national library conference

At the risk of boring some of you, I thought I'd post a little about the recent library conference that some of us attended: the ALIA Information Online conference held in Brisbane during February 2013. I have to declare that I was on the Program Committee for the conference, so maybe you'll read some bias into my comments here. I'm trying to be objective.

We had a number of significant keynotes that encouraged us to consider a number of different themes.  Many of these are relevant for us at UTS as we consider seriously the development of our future library. These included:

  • Designing new services for people.
  • Finding and providing more meaning in what we do as cultural institutions.
  • Finding our voice and becoming better advocates for the public good (e.g. Open Access, Copyright reform and a sustainable future).
  • Putting people before technology.
  • The importance of empathy and user experience research.
  • Reassurance of the value in play, fail, learn as a strategy.

This conference I borrowed a stylus from a colleague and used sketchnotes to record thoughts that struck me in just the one image and tweet instead of an endless stream of tweets that would annoy those who follow me. I'm still learning about the use of sketch-notes. They do force you to think more deeply about the messages you are hearing and how to represent them visually. I'm being mentored in this by one of my colleagues @thelibrarykim so I thank her for all of her tips and assistance. Her sketch-notes are always grand!

Tim Kastelle's Keynote 

The sketch notes above are from one of the first keynotes by Tim Kastelle from the University of Queensland Business School. I think one of his best messages for libraries (which you can see above) was to aggregate, filter and connect. I also liked his suggestion that obscurity was worse than piracy for content creators. He urged us to consider innovation in our business model (i.e. behavioural change), not simply in or through technology. 

Sarah Drummond's Keynote

Sarah Drummond provided a great deal of inspiration at ALIA Online, particularly for younger librarians who could identify with her in so many ways. She really engaged with us during the week in Brisbane by participating in the New Librarians Seminar the weekend before the conference itself and then by running a one day workshop on design, that emphasised the importance of understanding and mapping your customers' journeys, after the conference. She was one of several keynoters who urged us to start with people and not technology and she was brave enough to tell us that we hold too much fear and that results in our attachment to too much command and control. We need to let go more.

Roy Tennant, Jon Voss and Ingrid Mason Keynote

This was one presentation that I felt I should attend, but I was also fearing because it is a serious and technical subject that might be hard to present in an entertaining and lively manner. Well that certainly was not the case with these three presenters. They grabbed our attention after lunch with well selected personal musical introductions for each.Then they managed to pass on some key messages about the benefits of open linked data along with some powerful examples of what data can do when it is shared, open and then linked. A very memorable presentation! It was extremely relevant for those of us from UTS as connected data is a major new strategic initiative for this University.

Sue Gardner's Keynote

Sue Gardner from Wikimedia left us with some very important reminders about the importance of a free and open internet and how libraries must participate in that as advocates and by helping others to understand more about it. She encouraged us to do what we can to make knowledge freely available, just as Wikipedia does.

Charles Leadbeater's Keynote 

Charles Leadbeater is a leading thinker on the future of learning and his Skype presentation really lived up to its promise. Again we were reminded that solutions cannot be found by looking only or primarily at technology or systems. He encouraged us to empathise with our clients and to facilitate connections and develop and facilitate meangingful relationships. He said that eventually technology would bother us less and simply help support those social relationships. His keynote was one of the main highlights for me.

Anna Troberg's Keynote 

Anna Troberg leads the Swedish Pirate Party and she gave us very strong encouragement to raise hell about quite a few issues. We are "too passive and too nice!". She sees information and culture as wealth and reminded us that we have a key role in preserving access to them. Anna said that culture always finds a way forward, but outdated Copyright law needed reform as it now served to block cultural flow and even to hide cultural assets. So what are we all waiting for? Let's raise some hell!

Dick Rijken's Keynote

Dick Rijken's keynote Swing is the Soul of the Groove was one that I arranged, so again, maybe I am biased here, but I loved it. It seemed to me at least that the whole week elegantly flowed into his final keynote and he skillfully wrapped up many of the main themes. He stressed culture over the vogue words: creativity and innovation. He illustrated his points with visual and musical storytelling and I was in two minds as to whether I should just watch or try to record some thoughts and reminders. It was fantastic to hear someone of his standing reminding us of the importance of things like ambiguity, not knowing or understanding, romanticism, aestheticism, experimentation and trusting our intuition. All are hard to tie down, to justify or to measure quantitatively, but in the end are they not some of the things that distinguish us from robots or automatons? And certainly I think they are critical to our sector.

For too long I think we've been obsessed with making things more efficient, more specialised, less connected and easily measured. We need to rediscover the underlying meaning in what we do. As Dick said, an artistic mentality can be very helpful to us in finding that meaning and in truly understanding what we are supposed to be doing. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with Dick last week and to present a workshop with him last Friday. Not only did I learn a great deal from him, I was stimulated and energised by the many discussions we had.