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...

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