Some observations about VALA 2010

I made a few flippant and some serious observations about VALA 2010 on Twitter over the last week or so. Well, OK then, quite a lot really. I’ll try and be less flippant and a little bit deeper in this post. Promise.
Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge the huge effort put in by all of those involved in putting this conference together. It really is an immense task and far too much to arrange for anyone wanting to keep their original hair colour. We should all be grateful to those who volunteered their time and energy to make the conference run so well.
From a content perspective, I think it had something for everyone and I know that the Program Committee made every formal and informal effort to consult with people about who to ask to give keynotes. I was also aware that people like David Feighan (the Program Chair) made an effort to encourage people to take some risks with what they said and to present it in an entertaining way. His opening address and welcome featuring the short video by Abbey the Digiberal Native was a brilliant example for us to follow. (If only David was wearing a tie.)
So, I came away satisfied that the conference pushed the buttons I wanted to have pushed:

  • stimulating content and ideas that challenged some of my views or reminded me of reality (from RFID to networked books);
  • the opportunity to swap ideas with colleagues from all over Australasia (& beyond!);
  • the chance to let others know what we are up to;
  • the opportunity to have some fun (away) with some of my colleagues and some new friends;
  • stimulus to write a paper and prepare a presentation on a topic of some importance to us;
  • connecting with old colleagues;
  • watching and listening to some up-and-coming rock stars of the library world who are so passionate and enthusiastic about what they do; and
  • sometimes I just needed a laugh (thanks to many of my Twitter friends and especially John Garraway from the University of Auckland who has a real gift for timing and delivery).

I don’t think the real value, in terms of connections, content, conversations and encouragement, that such conferences give to their attendees can be discounted.

So, to some brief observations from my perspective:

SUSTAINABILITY: I was pretty surprised that this issue did not come up much apart from our (UTS) presentation. It is a major priority for us and was one of the main conference themes at Educause09.

TWITTER: It provided a very valuable back-channel for this conference and I think that, like Educause09 in Denver, if you didn’t at least lurk, you missed a vital and really useful dimension of VALA2010. As @flexnib tweeted: “all of us are smarter than any of us”. In a way, it provided a cloud for the crowd.

CLOUD COMPUTING: This issue emerged and was debated in several sessions, but again, I was surprised that it didn’t feature on as many agendas as it might have.

ROCK STARS: I am glad that some new young Australian library “rock stars” are starting to emerge. I’m thinking of people like Paul Hagon, Kat Clancy and our own Sophie McDonald to name just a few of them. They need to be encouraged as examples for others to follow. Their essential role in connecting us to our clients or just the broader public cannot be underestimated.

INSPIRATION & LEARNING FROM OUTSIDE THE SECTOR: I really enjoyed two of the keynotes as they made me think . . . about everything. Firstly there was the wonderful Stephanie Orlic from Museum Lab, Musée du Louvre and finally we had McKenzie Wark from the New School for Social Research in New York. Both were brilliant. You could also argue that Paul Hagon’s “cataloguing by faces and colours” session on 10 February was along the same lines – thinking outside the box.

FROM LITTLE THINGS . . . : One thing that disappointed me was hearing, I think from a panellist, that what some public and state libraries are doing in digitising their own historical collections and other popular and/or rare collection material is insignificant or really doesn’t matter much. Well, I’m sorry, but it does. It matters big time. As Paul Kelly said “From little things, big things grow”. It is an important start and if our public institutions don’t make a start then someone else will start pulling the rug from under us. We should be encouraging any digitisation of cultural materials, not just endlessly debating which metadata schema to use or how to moderate user-created data, should we ever decide to allow it. What NLA is doing with Trove , what the Australian War Memorial has done with war diaries and more recently C.E.W. Bean’s First World war records and what the State libraries and some public libraries are doing to provide online access to and digital preservation of our cultural and historical heritage is very important and a great example for others to follow. If we were really a clever nation, by now we’d have a national cultural digitisation strategy.

That’s all!

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