On the 8th of March, I attended the biannual Public Libraries WA Conference for the second time. Not only do I find it very interesting, it was also a good opportunity for me to schmooze with some of the library managers (after all, when my contract at FPWA ends in two months, I will be once again out of work).
The day started with a lovely surprise, when I saw my old manager from, Kalgoorlie, Debra Hodges. Debra has known me as a child, as I used to spend many hours reading (and sleeping) on the library sofa as I was growing up. When I was a teenager, she employed me as a library shelver, which I worked after school while I completed my TEE studies. I left town after graduating, but regularly go back to visit the staff there. The last few times though, Deb hadn’t been there, so it was quite a surprise for her to see me with my wheelchair!
The opening address was by the Hon. Alannah MacTiernan, who it the Mayor of Vincent, talking about her take on the importance of libraries to society and culture. I was rather amused when she made a comment about Twitter being a form of “shallow communication”, considering she was speaking to a room full of tweeting librarians (for those who are not information professionals, librarians who tweet are A Thing. Seriously. I don’t know of any other industry that uses Twitter in a professional capacity the way librarians do).
The first keynote speaker was Steve Coffman, who came from Arizona, on behalf of Library Systems and Services Incorporated. His segment was entitled So what now: Thinking about libraris in the digital age, which I found really interesting. He started talking about various digital projects he has been involved in, that had failed. For example, Library 2.0, where they tried to get users to interact with their services like review and rate books on the catalogue (people already did this on GoodReads and Amazon), or the Virtual Reference Services (only people used Google instead). He spoke about all the many, many issues with ebooks (lending, DRM, cost, sales, etc), then asked the Big Question: If the world turns digital, what do we do? His answer? Go back to books. Do what we have always done. It is what we are known for, and we should stop apologising for it. Forget the “more than just books” mindset, and keep providing the same services that our users have been using and appreciating for the last few hundred years.
After lunch I attended Session 1, the Innovations in Libraries panel. Of the speakers, the first was the one that stuck out to me the most. Kirstie Nicholson spoke about her visit to a number of European libraries which she visited as part of the Kay Poustie OMA travel scholarship. For me, this was particularly interesting, as one of the libraries she spoke about was OBA in Amsterdam, which I visited myself last August. I was there presenting a paper for a conference, and didn’t really have much chance to really look around, but some of the things that Kirstie mentioned as being significant to her, such as the inclusion of art, are things that I remember from being there
As I am sure many others will note, another highlight was storyteller Glen B. Swift present his tale, Pulverised by Literature, which contained every library-related pun and innuendo I have ever hears, and then some. The whole room was laughing their head off at his theatrics. Plus, he had an amazing waistcoat (Andrew, I am looking at you!).
The final speaker in the afternoon was Ross Duncan from the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, talking about how their library system integrated themselves into their local community, and ended up pretty much co-ordinating their council’s activities, workshops and events, by creating partnerships with other local organisations. For example, they currently have a support group for people with Autism, run out of the library (my fiancée is Autistic, so I can see the appeal of running an Autism group out of a nice, quiet, orderly library). For me, this was particularly fascinating as I am a big believer in libraries becoming cultural and community centres, and providing the services that are needed within the community, rather than libraries trying to convince the community the community that we have something that they needed, when they have never needed it before. I think everyone in that room was enraptured by Ross, telling just how many activities and events they run, and just how well attended they are.
Overall, a rather fantastic day. Unfortunately I didn’t get to schmooze with as many manager as I would have liked, but I am recognisable enough with my chair, and on the 26th of March I am speaking at the ALIA report back at the State Library, so people are getting to know who I am!