VALA Virgin

As you know I have an insatiable desire to learn about EVERYTHING – but for the purpose of this blog – I am mostly writing about professional learning. Yes this time I had the opportunity to attend the VALA 2020 conference for the first time! Wow. Finally! It’s been my dream ever since I started my librarian career.

So for those who may not know, VALA started off as the Victorian Association for Library Automation which was a response to the emerging automation of library catalogues and technologies at the time. In 2006, it changed its name to VALA – Libraries, Technology and the Future. Although the conference focuses on technology, it was less emphasised this time around. I found the conference more focused on the whys and the missions. VALA 2020 also celebrated its 20th Biennial Conference so all the attendees received this very COOL pin.

The Venue

I don’t normally write about conference venues and catering but I was quite impressed with Melbourne, the convention centre and the yummy food that it is worth mentioning here.

The Yarra River and Melbourne City

Melbourne is not a city I would particularly like to live in (too expensive, too big, too crowded…sorry Melbournians) but coming from tiny teeny hicksville city Hobart, I was awed with the city’s progress. I saw it through its architecture, fashion, infrastructure, people, learning institutions and in particular their public libraries (but more on that later). One of its amazing building is the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre where the conference was held. Wow. What an amazing design. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos but Google it under images and you’ll see what I mean. Now as for an emerging vegan like me (not fully converted yet), I was totally impressed with the food and catering. But would you believe it, I did not take any photos of the food. Gasp! I did take a photo of a mocktail that the kind people at the SAGE publishing stall made for me. And finally an advice to the catering manager – chill out dude, I was only asking. Overall, though I had a rad gastronomical experience at the conference.

The People

Again for some reason, I did not take as many photos of the people I met, caught up and mingled with. But I did find two Tasmanian library folks – from Libraries Tasmania and Tourism Tasmania. It was also great to finally meet my Twitter friend Jane Cowell in person. What an amazing professional – both online and in person. There weren’t many students or international folks though – I only met a few. I did talk to some of the vendors and grabbed their bags of goodies (well I liked the bags). But the best vendor conversation I had was at the Koha stall. It was great to talk about my first ever library project using and implementing the Koha open-source library system software. I love open-source. It was also great to see old friends again – Megan Ingle, Steven Chang, Matthias Liffers, Janice Chan, Con Wiebrands, Kim Williams, Kathryn Greenhill just to name a few….

WIth Premal Niranjan and Jane Cowell
WIth Kalaya and Saifon from Chulalongkorn University Bangkok
Vendor bags

The Keynotes

Alright the big kahunas now. There were six of them and I liked them all! I was surprised that their presentations weren’t technology centred but as I mentioned previously, VALA is heading towards a more mission-focused content conference with technology embedded within its context now.

Adam Moriarty from Auckland War Memorial Museum opened the keynote session and talked about his museum’s open collection. A Kiwi with an English accent and head of the CIA (Collection Information and Access – ha! his own joke). Great talk. Calm voice. Great insight. Moriarty showed plenty of beautiful slides from the collection. He also asked us to go and share our content and told us that it doesn’t matter if people didn’t come back to our website as long as people were having meaningful interactions with our collection. He also explained that his museum is guided by four values and philosophies.

Ok even though Anna Raunik was not part of the keynote session, I thought I’d mention her talk here briefly. She was the recipient of the Williamson Award for 2020. I liked her presentation because she has been in the industry for a very long time and has seen so many changes – from the cutting edge technology in the 1980’s (image on the left – not sure of the name of that machine – was it the PC?) to today’s open data.

The second keynote was Dr Phillippa Sheail who was from the University of Edinburgh and she ended the first day of the conference. Her presentation was quite academic – by that I mean most of the content was for University libraries. I don’t work in an academic library but I found some of the content could be applied to public library settings. Mostly about data privacy and surveillance. What I remembered mostly though was she giggled a lot and she was weary and mistrusting of how companies are using our data. Please watch her full presentation if you would like to know more. Some of my tweets below during her presentation.

The third keynote was Dr Lyndon Ormond-Parker from the University of Melbourne who didn’t have a Twitter handle so I had to type his name long-hand every time I tweeted about his presentation. I should have just called him Dr LOP – ha! His talk was about: Voice. Treaty. Truth & Archives. Archiving cultural heritage – from VHS to digitisation. Two challenges he and his team faced was what standard to use and how to be respectful to the dead but at the same time being able to show this to people. Again you can watch his full presentation and below are some of my tweets and re-tweets.

The fourth keynote was Siobhan Leachman who is a volunpeer for Wikimedia, Biodiversity Heritage Library and Smithsonian Institution. You know what, I didn’t seem to tweet during her talk. Perhaps I was captivated with her presentation. Well I guess you just have to watch what she had to say. She had a standing ovation at the end of her talk and that has never happened before in all of the VALA history. So go Siobhan!

The second last keynote was Catherine Nicole Coleman from Stanford University who talked about Artificial Intelligence (AI). I missed the first 10 minutes of this talk and because of AI I can actually watch what I missed in my own time. Ha! But what is AI? According to Coleman there is nothing artificial about it at all and asks all information professionals to learn AI and put them to work. She mentioned MONA where she saw the Anatomy of an AI System.

I love the live polling during this session.

The last keynote for the conference was Cecily Walker – A librarian and social activist from the USA. Her keynote was titled Be the Goose. What an amazing speaker. Her talk was challenging, confronting and uncomfortable. Please watch her keynote and think about how inclusive your organisation is. She asked the audience to: End Silence. Be Heard. Make some Noise. Honk. It’s about changing behaviours and calling it out if you see people are being mistreated in the workplace. But what are the repercussions? As one Twitter colleague aptly put it at the end of the presentation:

Just some of my re-tweets from my Twitter colleagues:

The Concurrent Sessions, ePosters & Other bits and pieces

Rather than discuss every single one of the sessions I attended here (because I can see you yawning now…) I will just write what resonated with me in relation to and within the context of public libraries as this is the sector where I am currently working in.

I sneaked in (I didn’t register) to the Critical Conversations on the third day because I didn’t find any of the concurrent sessions interesting enough. I’m glad I was bold enough to do that because I truly enjoyed the session(s). One of the conversations was about a Chatbot that could help children learn to love to read. It is currently being piloted at the State Library of NSW. I think it still needs tweaking and I love the concept (think of Amazon or Goodreads books for kids – a recommendation tool based on age and gender…hmmm) but I also love the idea of children picking up a book randomly from the library shelves. It would be interesting to see how this initiative develops.

The second critical conversation I joined in was about finding better measurement for library use without using numbers. How do we find out about what people do in the library using heat map technologies and still maintain privacy for library users? Here is the solution matrix (also below) that Tom Edwards from Wyndham City Library and Premal Niranjan from Eastern Regional Library created via the ideas generated from the 3 conversations.

I enjoyed listening to Sarah Thompson’s youth-led library website project called Tiny Doors. This is a great initiative to get the youth to interact with technology, the library and digital literacy. And something that school and public libraries could do and implement.

The Office without Walls by Michelle McLean (current VALA president) was also an interesting and worthwile visit. McLean discussed the move to a mobile working environment for staff at Casey Cardinia Libraries. I love this initiative! Seems to me the Victorian Public Libraries are a little more progressive in many areas but then again they might have a bigger representation here at VALA?

I met a new friend and fellow designer Dana Danaee from the University of Queensland who delivered an excellent talk on data visualisation. Please listen to her discuss how her library found new ways to illustrate the library story to show impact.

Are you bored yet? Well just a couple more concurrent sessions to include in here both by academic library staff – one by Kim Williams (awesome illustrator) from University of Sydney who talked about documenting your library’s digitisation process and the other from Kathryn Greenhill from Curtin University who talked about the difference between kindness and UX. Please see my tweets and watch their videos (Kim’s and Kathryn’s) for the detailed presentation.

Last year when I was contemplating about attending VALA 2020, I thought about submitting an ePoster. It didn’t eventuate of course because I couldn’t think of a great topic to show plus I needed to collaborate with higher minds. I did however keep forgetting to look at the ePosters during lunch time because I was too busy munching food and chatting with people. The ones I did have a look at were below. VALA has published the ePosters presentations and abstracts so you don’t have to squint your eyes to read the teeny weeny text below. VALA has also published this year’s conference proceedings as a single PDF download.

See the photo below, do you know what it is? It’s a self-check out machine with a self-service payment option (the yellow bit on the right). How cool is that? I want one!

Also, you know how I mentioned that I love open-source software? Well I do and during one of my chit chats I was listening to someone talk about an open-source software called Library Simplified. It’s a FREE and open-source eReading software suite for libraries and includes an e-reading app for IOS and Android devices. One great thing about this software is its marketing aspect – you can maintain your library’s identity (name, logo and brand) within the app, which you can’t do with the commercial version.

The End

So that’s it folks – here ends my VALA 2020 report. What a wonderful first ride. I’m hooked and will definitely come back in two years – perhaps as part of the organising committee? Haa! We will see. I would like to thank the VALA 2020 organising team who made this conference a totally successful event! Well done to the VALA 2020 team! I would also like to thank the Tasmanian State Library and Archives Trust for funding my attendance and to my workplace Libraries Tasmania for giving me some time off to attend this amazing conference. And lastly, I thank you for coming here and visiting my blog and hope by doing so will take away something valuable that you could use in your professional and personal lives.

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