Infinite Possibilities: learnings from ALIA’s Info Online conference

Held across several big days in Sydney, ALIA’s Info Online conference really did seem to present “infinite possibilities”! I was so inspired by the range of topics presented and the expertise of the speakers.

I gravitated towards sessions on tech, ways of working and inclusivity, so I present here a few of the "possibilities" that are still resonating with me:

On ways of working

I loved hearing about UTS Library's Tinker time: developing digital literacies with the growth mindset, a six-month self-directed tech learning event for staff which invited everyone to have a go at learning something new. Alycia Bailey and Ashley England noted that the program was important not to upskill staff in tech but as a practical way of teach growth mindset, noting that "When teachers have a low learning power, their students will too." That is a very powerful statement when applied to librarians! How can library staff serve their communities if they themselves are not embracing a growth mindset? I thought this program was a powerful (and potentially fun!) way to approach staff development.

In the exhibitor's hall I enjoyed talking to Bibliotecha about their Open+ system which allows members to access libraries out of hours - an exciting possibility!

On tech

Keynote speaker Genevieve Ball's talk Designing wonder in the age of AI: implications from the 4th wave of industrialisation had me feeling charged with possibilities. Integrating a short history of computers (!), Ball situated tech and AI in a human, cultural, social and political context. Tech is fun but our decisions about integrating or using tech should be about the outcomes that it enables - such as creativity, connections, and wonder. For a conference with a lot of tech on the agenda it was a good reminder to avoid the "tech for tech's sake" trap. I immediately thought about library #STEM programs, wondering if we as an industry might be focussing too heavily on tech skill acquisition, when the (admittedly very fun!) tech could be the tool that instead teaches collaboration, problem-solving and creativity. What would programs look like if we were centring those outcomes and not the tools?

I was blown away by the State Library of NSW’s Dx Labs project New Self Wales – using Instagram and an in-library photobooth to invite citizens to send a selfie to the library. The selfies were  displayed in the library in real time, integrating with portrait images from their local history collection. While zeitgeist-y and fun (and brilliant from a marketing perspective – who doesn’t love the hashtag #NewSelfWales), the project also represents an innovative approach to social history. The images collected were archived and will remain as a snapshot in time. I thought the project, to which everyone and anyone was invited to contribute, was a brilliant way for the library to build a sense of community and grow its profile as a welcoming space. Rather than leaving it to curators and historians to document what they deem important, the archive is defined by the participants of the project - an appealingly democratic and inclusive approach.

On inclusivity

Terri Janke gave a brilliant talk in Revitalising First Nations Languages: Keeping Culture Strong in the Digital World. In this UN International Year of Indigenous languages, Janke noted that 90% of #indigenous languages in Australia are endangered with a further challenge of an indigenous oral history being lost. However, libraries as "windows to the world" can (and sometimes do) play a role in language revitilisation, particularly around archiving and being a point of access; a timely reminder that ibraries are not only the conduit between individuals and their communities but also the state and nation. She reminded the audience that projects need to happen with Aboriginal people and empower them as part of the process - not simply be "for" or "about" them. True Tracks: 10 principals to be aware of when working with First Nations cultural items demonstrates best practice for how this can happen.

Rachel Franks (State Library NSW) spoke on Challenging the Canon: Collaboration, Digitisation and Education, articulating how libraries are not neutral spaces and have a responsibility to challenge the canon. In Rachel's powerful words: "let's not rehearse, repeat and rely on the canon"! Collections (and I would argue, programs) are reflective of power relationships, with decisions being made - consciously and unconsciously - about what is presented as history. How are some stories privileged, and others excluded? Institutions carry the weight of past collections strategies, but it is up to today's libraries to interrogate and address those imbalances.

Both these presentations reminded me of the powerful role that libraries play and the responsibility that comes with that. What could we all be doing to better centre marginalised stories, people and histories?


On click gaming

Shout out to the ALIA Scouts for running the Click Game throughout the conference! It was not only great fun (with a dash of competition thrown in), but a great way to meet fellow delegates.

By Manager Public Participation Lisa Dempster.

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