Thursday, 20 September 2018

17 Days in Malaysia: Part Four - Fashion, Art and Culture!

So, Monday morning came along. It was the moment for the New Professional SIG to shine - our own IFLA session: "Librarian fashion: What does the way we dress say about us?"

IFLA President, Gloria Pérez-Salmerón, doing her part to help promote our session
We had two hours to fill, with one hour's worth of lightning talks, followed by a number of activities that we'd brainstormed over the preceding months, but never really thought through, including:

- A discussion panel
- A fashion parade, complete with catwalk and fashion-themed music
- A powerpoint presentation of outfits, as shared on social media using the hashtag #librarianfashion
- A crafty socio-political statement with pins, to promote diversity and social inclusion in libraries
- A creative activity with coloured textas, paper dolls, and paper outfits.

We'd also been allocated a *huge* space, with the capacity for 1,300 people, which seemed a bit crazy, since this was IFLA, where sessions can have anything from as few as a dozen people to maybe 300 people.

There were also a few potential hiccups along the way:

1. We wanted to have pins made with some kind of rainbow-coloured theme and an appropriate image / symbol, but (a) it turns out that unless you're making thousands, pins are kinda expensive, and (b) Malaysia doesn't have the most inclusive tolerance of such imagery, and we'd somehow need to get them into the country.
2. A week before the session, we discovered that there were literally thousands of photos submitted via social media following an extensive campaign to librarians to send their fashion stylings. None of us were keen to volunteer to download all the images into powerpoint slide.
3. We wanted to be able to have some kind of sound system set up for the fashion parade, but the conference presentation system was pretty much only good for powerpoint and web browsing.
4. By our estimations, we still had a good 45 minutes of unplanned time to fill.

So, here's how we put it all together.

1. I bought a badge machine. I'd wanted an excuse to buy one anyway, and they're only, like, $100 on eBay. After extensive discussion, with various designs changing due to disagreements and copyright issues, we settled on the following design:

With the words "Open to all", inspired by the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio. I was a little nervous bringing them through immigration and customs in my checked luggage, lest some overzealous official might find the contents sacrilegious or seditious, but fortunately nobody checked. We scattered the badges on the big tables toward the front of the room to encourage people to take up those seats first. As it turned out, our fears of a small turnout were clearly unfounded, as the enormous room just kept filling up with more and more people.

2. The night before, our dedicated co-convenor, Antoine, put together a fantastic scrolling display of images picked from the many submitted photos, and we started playing it on the big screens as delegates arrived.

3. I kept my fingers crossed that the Spotify web player was going to work, and had a YouTube playlist on standby. Fortunately, whilst Spotify was not yet available in Malaysia, my account still worked, and we had our fashion soundtrack to get everybody in the mood.

4. And as it turned out, we didn't really need to worry about going under time.

The session started with a keynote from the fabulous Loida Garcia-Febo, ALA President and, incidentally, one of the founding members of NPSIG back in 2004. She covered a number of topics related to fashion, but the one point that stood out for me was that as librarians, we need to focus on improving our communication, and the way we present ourselves is the way that we first communicate with people, such as new patrons in the library.

Then we got into the lightning talks, starting with the ever-stylish Amy McKenzie, introducing the following video, featuring a line-up of Australian librarians:

This was followed by

  • a demonstration of how librarians can be adaptable by Raymond Pun and Jesus Lau - in this case, adapting to the tropical heat, where Jesus gave Ray a live clipper haircut up on stage
  • explorations of traditional dress for librarians in Borneo, Indonesia, and India
  • a presentation by Dina from Egypt, about dressing professionally as a way of challenging librarian stereotypes (with some comment about not having tattoos or piercings, much to the chagrin of a number of other librarians present!)
  • and finally, a rousing presentation from Fara Wahidah from Malaysia, who is both a librarian and professional image consultant.
After an hour of presentations, we took the risk and, turning the music on again, we invited people to come up on the stage and strut their stuff on the stage / catwalk. And the risk paid off - so many came up on stage, including the likes of Claudia Lux and Donna Scheeder! The impromptu show went for over ten minutes, with many many photos taken:
Once all the excitement had died down, we moved into a discussion panel where some of the topics of the presentation were explored, along with other important topics such as diversity, freedom of expression, cultural appreciation or appropriation. The beauty of this theme is that whilst it was seemingly a fun topic on the surface, it had plenty of scope to delve into all kinds of important issues,  both within the library sector, and also with the wider community.

Finally - for our creative exercise (with only 10 minutes left in the session!), we made an activity sheet which we put out on each of the tables. Even with the limited time, there were some creative results:

All in all, this session was a huge success - and as it turned out, we ended up with over 600 attendees, which to the best of my knowledge was one of the highest-attended sessions this year. It was certainly  one of my highlights of the conference, and I like to think that it created some lasting memories for others in years to come, when people say, "Hey, remember that year at IFLA when there was a fashion parade in the middle of the session?"


I'd talk about all the other sessions I attended that day, but to be honest, it's a bit of a blur. High on the success of the session (or maybe it was just being overheated from wearing a suit in the tropics), I headed back to the hostel to change, and returned to the conference in time for a session on Art Libraries and their Users, and there's some wonderful innovation out there, like the Sitterwerk Art Library, where books and objects all have RFID tags, and an RFID sensitive table identifies everything that is placed on the table and the software links content that is related to one another. Users are encouraged to put books back on the shelf in whichever order they like, and the catalogue is updated every night to reflect the new shelf order of the collection - now there's an idea that I find far more attractive than Dewey shelf order! Another library had an audio guide that you listen to as you walk through the space and past the materials, focusing on "emotional, philosophical and choreographically encounters in the library".

Pretty soon, it was time to go back and change clothes (once again! stupid tropical weather!) for the Cultural Evening - a highlight of every IFLA conference.

Held at the Malaysian Tourism Centre in KL, there was so much local food - from the usual street food staples of satay and noodles, to gelatinous cakes and ais kacang. And along with the usual offerings of wine, there was also pots of freshly made teh tarik made behind the bar, so if you didn't want to get tipsy, you could get hyper on the sugar instead! Inside, there was a cultural show, presenting traditional dances from many of the different cultural groups in Malaysia, which was then transformed into a dance floor to take us into the late hours of the evening.

Librarians hitting the dance floor...
All in all, an excellent way to end what was truly an epic day.

Next up: the final days of IFLA...

Sunday, 16 September 2018

17 Days in Malaysia: Part Three - the opening weekend of IFLA WLIC 2018

So, Saturday morning came around, and it was time for the actual conference! How best to summarise four and a half days of conference presentations? In hindsight, the whole thing is a bit of a blur, and I regularly found myself struggling to choose between a number of consecutive sessions that I really wanted to attend, often switching sessions between presentations, and occasionally hovering in the back row waiting to see if I really wanted to stick around or not.

On top of that, there were various meetings - planning our own session for the Monday morning, running into people that I wanted to network with that I ended up having long chats / coffees with - and then those moments where I felt my body telling me that I needed time out, and I'd go find a quiet spot to zone out. The location of the conference centre was conveniently next to the KLCC park, which was a great place to escape the A/C and soak up the lush tropical greenery for a good 15 minutes until the heat / humidity became overwhelming, and it was time to escape back into a controlled environment. And the Suria KLCC shopping centre next door was also a nice escape to occasionally pick up souvenirs, such as postcards - many of which I wrote and sent to the four corners of the earth - and I'd also pop down to the Isetan (Japanese department store) during lunch breaks and pick up amazing bentos for 10-15 ringgit ($3-5).

But I digress - back to the programme. First up was the opening ceremony, which had its usual speeches and addresses, but the highlight is always the performance. This time, we had a performance that showcased the diversity of Malaysian culture and how they relate to reading and information: (performance starts at 1hr 1min)

From there, I went to a session on advocacy, where the standout presentation was from the United States Public Library Association, presenting on Project Outcome, which provides resources to help public libraries collect data from clients, and then use that data to improve services, create more impact, and communicate value to the board / donors - especially when those people are aware of what the library does, but not what the value is. My takeaway message from that session was to be aware of when quantitative data stops telling you anything new (i.e. that everything is "business as usual") and when that happens, focus more on collection qualitative data, such as feedback and stories, to demonstrate impact.

And then came the Exhibition Opening Party, with its many vendor stalls, and poster presentations, all in the one hall. Of course, there was also wine and finger food, with which came what was perhaps the greatest wonder of innovative design that I have seen in quite some time:

Photo: Romany Manuell. Hands: mine.
Yes, that's right, you can comfortably hold your wine glass and plate together, and have a hand free for picking up food, flyers, shaking hands, etc. There's nothing more awkward than trying to juggle a glass, a plate and then wish you had a third hand. Conference organisers, take note: this is the future.

Afterwards, all the IFLA office bearers went off to their opening night reception, which is also the time that NPSIG traditionally has it's social evening. So, I led a group of intrepid librarians off to Bukit Bintang (literally means Star Hill) which is the main shopping strip of KL, but also home to Jalan Alor, one of the most popular spots in KL for street food.

Once everybody had enjoyed some local food and a few beers, I ducked over to the local fruit stall, and returned with the question, "So... who would like to try some durian?" Responses varied from naive curiosity to repulsion at even the idea of eating it. For those brave enough to try, the violent retching was surprisingly minimal, but I heard that it was a good season this year.

The next day, it was time to get into a full day of conference sessions. For the first session, I switched between sessions for the Library History Special Interest Group and the Indigenous Matters Section. The former had a fascinating keynote from Brendan Luyt, looking at the Raffles Library and Museum in Singapore, where the presenter started by stating that the horrors of the British colonial past are often forgotten, especially where tourism capitalises on colonial nostalgia (full disclosure: I am guilty of having dressed up and gone to high tea at Raffles Hotel. It was nice.) However, libraries can generate counter discourses by using Library History to make observations about the wider historical context - in this case, of colonial Singapore.

I then ducked across to the Indigenous Matters session, hoping to catch the presentation  on Utilising Te Tiriti o Waitangi to decolonise practices at New Zealand Tertiary Institutions, but unfortunately the presentations were given in the order listed in the program, and so I sadly missed it. I did, however manage to catch a fascinating presentation from Bibliothèques Sans Frontières on the fascinating work that they are doing with Indigenous communities in developing countries.

Of course, also being on Twitter, I started getting FOMO about two other concurrent sessions after reading some of their tweets, and so I ducked into a session on National Libraries and social media, and managed to catch some of the discussion whereby the US National Archives are crowdsourcing responses to their reference questions using their History Hub website. Whilst I like it, I'm not sure how that kind of suggestion would go down with my workplace's reference services!

In the afternoon, I caught fellow Aussie Leonee Derr's presentation on challenging the ideas of safety / sanctuary and neutrality in public libraries, and there were other stimulating papers on serving the information needs of queer homeless youth in Toronto, and one on how considerations of inclusivity and community development were factored into the redesign of the Madison Public Library.

Next up, I headed to the Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) session, which explored Intellectual Freedom in a Polarised World - which you can watch here. I particularly enjoyed the second speaker, looking at the historical and legal context surrounding freedom of speech in Malaysia, and the implications of the recent change of government - where they have committed to doing away with their Sedition Act and their Printing and Publications Act

Then I switched across to the session on "Social Networks: looking for the next big thing" - which, unfortunately, I found less than inspiring, and also heard afterwards that there were some great presentations happening in concurrent session which was all about digital marketing, including social media. Again - one of the pitfalls of such a huge conference, is that sometimes you make a calculated risk, and lose. Then again, the programming committee could have done better than having two very similar topics on at the same time.

Finally, the evening arrived, and with it, some more socialising and networking. I'd received an invitation to the Global Libraries networking reception at the Grand Hyatt - which was also the farewell party for the Global Libraries programme, which was wrapping up after over 20 years of amazing work around the world. The who's who of the international library world were there, and there were many inspiring speeches, and fascinating conversations with people who have led much more interesting careers than myself.

We were amused to find Australian wine on offer. Photo: Amy McKenzie
And from there, many people then moved on to the OCLC party, but I was thoroughly exhausted, and we had to be up early and ready for our big moment on Monday morning... to be continued!

Thursday, 13 September 2018

17 Days in Malaysia: Part Two - IFLAcamp 6

So, Thursday morning, and it was time for IFLAcamp - the annual two-day satellite event organised by the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group. The first day traditionally consisted of an unconference and workshop, which this year was hosted by the Raja Tun Uda Library, which is a public library in Selangor, approximately 30km out of Kuala Lumpur. Fortunately, the host library also generously provided bus transport to and from KL. And what a library it was - as you can see below!

Once we arrived, we were welcomed with a number of speeches, including a video welcome from IFLA President Gloria Perez-Salmeron, and the director of the Raja Tun Uda Library, and then it was time to get started. Being an unconference, we invited the group of sixty or so librarians to write down suggested topics on butcher's paper, and whilst they were tentative at first, after about 15 minutes, we couldn't stop the ideas flowing!

Which was an interesting conundrum, because the next step was to collate all of the topics onto an online poll, and then get everybody to vote for them, and we had close to seventy topics, which some poor loser would need to put together online. That person was me.

Fortunately, we were able to buy a little time. Firstly, we picked some of the our favourite topics, and divided the room into four groups to discuss a topic each, and then present their discussion to the group. Then it was time for lunch, after which our fearless leader Antoine led a workshop of sketch noting. By this time, I'd found a working wireless connection (mental note: any time you rely on wifi, it's almost guaranteed to let you down!) and copied sixty topics into an online poll. By the time, Antoine's workshop was finished, everything was up, and everybody was ready to vote!

Honestly, with an international group of librarians that were dominated by local Malaysian new librarians, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the range of topics suggested, but as it turned out, there were plenty of topics that I'm pretty sure most librarians can relate to, wherever they go:

(Click to see a readable full-sized version)

Combined with the inspiration from our sketch noting workshop, there was some super-creative output from some of the groups too:

And then it was time to get back on the bus to go home - but not without first getting a "light afternoon tea" which was basically second lunch, as well as a quick "ride" in their 6D Cinema. I don't recommend it in that order!

I can't even remember what I did that night - probably just went back to my hostel and slept in preparation of Day 2 of IFLAcamp! Last year, we all hired bicycles and went on a bicycle library tour of Wroclaw. However, Kuala Lumpur's climate and traffic is not as conducive to casual cycling around town.

So, instead, I devised a plan to navigate the public transport system and take in a couple of cultural sites. Meeting a smaller group of fifteen international librarians at the KL Convention Centre, we boldly went forth and successfully navigated the free goKL buses to the other side of town, where we visited the Museum of Islamic Art - one of my favourite museums of Kuala Lumpur - with an amazing display of architectural design, textiles, jewellery, and, of course, manuscripts and calligraphy.

After an hour or so there, we ventured across to the old Kuala Lumpur station where we found some lunch before catching the train across to the Batu Caves. The 30-minute journey was the perfect opportunity for our more intimate group to introduce ourselves and talk a little bit about what we do as librarians.

And then, we arrived! Due to a less-than-convenient schedule, we had one hour to get out of the train station, find our way up the many stairs to the caves, and return in time for the train to take us back. But we did it, with enough time for a group photo!

By 5pm, I had returned to my hostel, with enough time to change into my nice clothes, for a reception at the Australian High Commission, where I met up with my fellow Australian delegates, and we even invited our New Zealander compatriots along, who proceeded to ask us what the deal was with our rotating Prime Ministers...

And that, my friends, is how I first came to discover that Scott Morrison was now Prime Minister of Australia.

Next up: The actual conference.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

17 Days in Malaysia: Part One - The beginning

So, it's been five days since I returned from being overseas for two and a half weeks for the International Federation of Library Associations World Library and Information Congress (henceforth referred to as IFLA WLIC). After a long-haul flight returning me from the tropics to the comparatively-chilly city of Canberra, I promptly caught a nasty cold, which I am still recovering from.

At work, people have been asking me, "So, how was your trip? Did you have a good time?" To which  I usually answer a combination of, "Yes, it was good... I think?", "It was so busy, I can't remember", and "Oh god, I just want to sleep for a week." Honestly, it was such a hectic whirlwind of a trip, that I haven't really had the chance to process it all. So, that's what I'm going to try to do now. In six parts.

Part One: The beginning.

Many moons ago, I bought my return flights to Kuala Lumpur at one of those travel fairs at the Canberra Convention Centre. I was particularly excited, as they were on the new flights flying directly from Canberra to Singapore, with a connecting flight to KL. That's right - no more catching the 3.5 hour Murrays Express to Sydney Airport, to line up for hours to check in, and get past immigration and security. It was a 15-minute Uber to the airport, and there was literally nobody in the queue to check in my luggage or go through security.

The downside? It was an 11pm flight, arriving in Singapore at 5:15am. Given that I had a substantial layover, with a planned library tour at 10am, and I hadn't really slept much on the plane, I found that my best option was to wander across into the transit lounge, and find somewhere to nap for a few hours until it was time to head out into Singapore.

Protip: The best place to nap for free in the Singapore transit lounge is the 24-hour movie cinema. Most other places will be quieter, but less comfortable, and with bright lights shining in your eyes. However, I can sleep through explosions, as long as it's a dark and comfortable.

Three hours later, I was feeling a little more refreshed and ready to face the world, so I headed through immigration, got a brand new stamp in my passport, and got on a bus headed for the Tampines Regional Library - where I arrived around 9:30am.

It turned out that my nap had been the best idea, because (a) it was already pretty warm outside, and (b) most places in Singapore appear to be closed before 10am, with the exception of food centres, Starbucks and McDonalds.

A post shared by Andrew F (@lib_idol) on

After finding some simple-but-tasty chicken rice (Singapore's national dish) at the nearby hawker food centre, I arrived at the Tampines Regional Library and was met by Shi Lei, who gave me a tour of the whole library. My first impression was "Wow - where are all the service staff?" The entrance has a super touch-screen shopping mall-style navigational kiosk. All book returns are through a self-service returns chute robot, which transports the returned books for sorting and shelving once full. And all borrowing is done by the user using a mobile app, which scans the barcode on the book and issues it to the reader! The building is designed so that the further up you go the five floors, the more conducive it is to quieter usage, with the more collaborative and lively spaces downstairs, and the study and reading spaces upstairs. I particularly liked their "Culinary Studio" i.e. cooking class space, with cookbooks in the adjacent area, their teen spaces (both indoors and outdoors) with a screen that they can post their selfies to, and the digital signage which was engaging and dynamic in its style (and I must found out what platform they use for managing the content!). Best of all, they had a MakerSpace that actually maintains a core group of people using it on a regular basis, complete with 3D printers, raspberry pi kits, sewing machines, green screen and video suite, and other gadgets that I wasn't familiar with.
It wasn't until the following week that I discovered that this library was one of the five shortlisted finalists for the Public Library of the Year Award. Which is not at all surprising.

An hour or so later, it was time to get a coffee, and go exploring. I didn't really have enough time to head all the way into Singapore city and back, so instead I ventured to the East Coast Lagoon Food Village for some tasty BBQ sambal stingray and fresh cane juice...

...before jumping on a bus back to Changi Airport for my connection flight to Kuala Lumpur!

I arrived at KLIA at 5:45pm but it took a good hour of waiting at the immigration queue, finding the bus to KL Sentral, before I was on my way to town. Unbeknownst to me, it was also the evening before a public holiday, and so the traffic was particularly heavy, and I didn't arrive at the hostel until after 8pm. Finally finding my modest loft room, I ventured a block away to Chinatown, and found my first street food meal in Malaysia - Hokkien mee! Satisfied and travel-weary, I returned to the hostel for a shower and an early night.

The next day, I awoke to appreciate my hostel for the first time in full daylight. Staying in the Chinatown area, I was in one of the oldest parts of Kuala Lumpur. And although I wasn't conveniently close to the Conference Centre, like all the fancy hotels, there was a free public bus that would get me there in about 20 minutes. And at a fifth of the cost of said fancy hotels, it was definitely worth it!
This was my one day off before the satellite event started, which gave me a chance to settle in, do a little bit of wandering around, which mostly consisted of buying socks, and trying some of KL's world-famous egg tarts.

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And then, it was time to get to business - I met up with the team from the New Professionals Special Interest Group, to make the necessary last-minute preparations for our 2-day satellite event, IFLAcamp, which was to commence the next day.........

Stay tuned for Part 2: IFLAcamp!