Collaborate. Deviate. Innovate.
It’s been over a month and I think I’ve finally recovered from attending NLS9 in Adelaide at the start of July. I love the energy of a conference, there is so much enthusiasm and generously shared knowledge from so many people. I relish the opportunity to meet new people and hear how they do GLAMR. Having said that, conferencing really tires me out, all the networking, learning and tweeting, tweeting, tweeting. The NLS9 hashtag trended and I tweeted lots from each of the sessions I attended, using Twitter as a public form of notetaking.
NLS9 has really set the bar high for all future conferences I attend, and I thank all of the conference committee for all of their hard work in creating such a sustainable and inclusive event. What really struck me about this was how scalable many of the ideas were: organic waste bins, linen napkins, reusable or biodegradable coffee cups, reusable Boomerang bags made from recycled fabrics, vegan food, gentle encouragement at conference opening to take the stairs and leave the lifts for those who truly required them….so many little things that all added up.
NLS9 represented a few firsts for me: first time at an NLS event, almost-first time visiting Adelaide (I don’t think the first time really counted as I didn’t get to actually see Adelaide), and as previously mentioned my first time trying my hand at speaking in front of colleagues (I tortured myself and took a look at the recording, and FYI it is not great, with a fair amount of interference to hurt the ears!).
NLS9 started for me with Tour 3 on Friday afternoon, visiting the Migration Museum, State Library of South Australia and MOD. at UniSA. What really struck me about the places visited is the power of institutions to hold stories and the way in which their exhibitions can convey them.
At the Migration Museum their buildings were originally part of Adelaide’s Destitute Asylum, one particular building was the Lying-in Home for expectant mothers and houses the In This Place exhibition which has a striking display of tags hanging from the ceiling. Each tag has the name and date of birth of the 1678 babies born in the Destitute Asylum between 1880 and 1909, on closer inspection you can see that some tags have a black end to them, they were the stillborn babes.
The State Library of South Australia has so many stories within its walls, my favourite from our tour was that the first library to come to South Australia, selected by Robert Gouger, sunk and had to be retrieved from the Port River when it arrived. The remaining books from this collection are housed in the magnificent Mortlock Wing.
MOD. was an interesting mix of science, technology and interaction. The Hedonism exhibition had many interactive displays, I was struck by the Hedonometer hanging in the foyer, its colour changing to reflect the real time mood of Twitter in Australia, and by the touchscreen display reflecting the Kaurna windy season of Parnatti.
There were many, many great sessions over the conference, it was hard to choose which ones to write about so I’ve settled on the keynotes and a few sessions that I have found myself ruminating over in the last month.
Sarah Brown’s keynote presentation really opened my eyes to the realities of the lack of diversity in tech. Sarah drew audible gasps from delegates as she illustrated just how biased toward male and Western accents voice recognition software is by relaying the story of a women calling her car manufacturer after having trouble setting up her car’s voice activation, only to be told “it will never understand you, you need a man to set it up”. Sarah was the first, but not last, presenter to recommend the book Invisible Women, which I can’t wait to read. Sarah’s top tips to combat tech bias include staying informed, tinkering with tech and self-organising. Vive la revolution!
Craig Middleton focused on queering museums and queer leadership in the GLAM sector in this keynote. Something that really struck me from this session was the question “what is a queer object?” Is it something owned by a queer person? Created for a queer event? Made by a queer person? Craig illustrated this, discussing the “Queering Museums” exhibition which drew together objects to tell a queer story, this disrupted norms and raised questions like if it was offensive to those who donated objects to connect them in a ways that was never intended and did not reflect the life the object had when it was used? Craig’s session gave me lots to consider, and I found it really inspiring to see new ways of meaning being created in museum spaces.
Dr Eva Balan-Vnuk’s keynote asked “are robots taking over?”, the answer was yes, no, and if we would just stop to think about it we’d realise that they shouldn’t ever be given the chance to. Eva pointed out that automation is definitely happening, but there are skills and attributes that humans have that provide value, such as empathy, curiosity and emotional intelligence. Eva also spoke about the attributes that make staff follow a leader such as hope, stability, trust and empathy, which are also attributes robots are not able to offer (yet). The problem is that unlike other ages, the 4th industrial revolution has occurred so rapidly we have not had time to think and adjust, and this session kept making me think of that adage “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. To stay ahead of the robots we have to focus on upskilling and having a growth mindset. Something that has really stuck with me is Eva’s suggesting that a growth mindset should really be cemented into organisational processes, such as factoring it into performance reviews, asking not just how did an individual perform, but also what impact they had on others and what impact others have had on them.
Jacinta Koolmatrie is an Adnyamathanha and Ngarrindjeri archaeologist, her keynote focused on bringing Indigenous knowledges to the forefront in archaeological practice. She reminded us that authentic Indigenous culture is not isolated to bush or outback areas, but can be found everywhere around us, if only we would remove our Western lens of understanding and remember that no matter how big the city, it’s centre will always be on Indigenous land. Jacinta spoke of her research of Adnyamathanha yura malka (rock art). She highlighted that we should remember to critically review these sources as coloniser perspectives are often misrepresentative of Indigenous people/knowledge, and also the diversity of and within Indigenous communities means that consulting widely is important. Jacinta emphasised that the books and the libraries of Indigenous peoples are held in the land, in destroying the land, we destroy their heritage and knowledge. So many important messages packed into one keynote.
Alissa McCulloch’s “We need to talk about cataloguing” session was possibly the most directly relevant to my everyday work in acquisitions and cataloguing. Alissa is a passionate metadata advocate and was not afraid to tell us that sometimes the rules are just plain wrong…and that sometimes we just need to go ahead and break the rules if they are not working for us. Alissa highlighted that metadata brings order to the chaos, is what makes collections accessible and it needs to be local, personal and human. Cataloguing is power!
Nikki Andersen was powerfully informative and full of practical advice. She began by highlighting that to understand inclusion, you need to understand exclusion. This means less talking TO people and more talking WITH people. She reminded us that these will probably involve difficult and uncomfortable conversations and we will likely make mistakes, but we must graciously learn from them and keep moving forward. A big point for me was that being inclusive by design benefits everyone. Some of the practical tools and tips provided by Nikki include using Vision Australia’s accessibility tool for MS word, Camel Case hashtags, alt-text for images, to think about colour contrast and font size and not to assume anything, just ask instead!
Jess Howie presented on her experience in starting in a newly created role that had not previously existed. Although I am not personally in a similar situation, much of Jess’s advice is readily applicable to me as a new grad. My main takeaway was GET ORGANISED! Structure your role and responsibilities and prioritise professional development. Jess uses Trello to plan and track her PD and I really must go back to take some better notes on this section because at best my PD tracking could be described as…haphazard. Another particularly relevant suggestion was to be absolutely shameless in promoting the work that you do. Hello! Yes! I currently work in collections and often feel that our work is invisible, to library users but sometimes to library staff as well.
Mary Carroll taught me how little I know of Australian (and general) library history. Research is something I’m interested in but I have no idea where to start and in all honestly I doubt I have the time to invest in at this point. Mary asked lots of hard questions like, why are we even discussing the term neutrality? Have we been part of the problem? And, have we succumbed to vocational awe? Like the educator she is she even threw in a test – which I failed dismally!
These were just some of the sessions that stood out for me, recordings, slides and tweets are up on the conference website, there was also the collaborative conference zine curated by Kassi and Alissa and a conference game so you can virtually experience NLS9.