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!