First day at the Southern African Online Information Meeting 2016.
The theme I am seeing is that we need to define (or redefine) exactly what we do. What is our core purpose? Do the day to day operations in our libraries support this overall purpose or do we need to stop doing something ?
Phil Bradley made the point that what we do is not about physical books. We need to be careful not to fall for the “attraction of the artefact”. Our physical stock is used to define us in the dictionary, but collection management should not be what we are about. We can change the conversation to talk about building the library community rather than building the library collection. He gave a lovely example of what I have heard someone (who?? not me) refer to as “libraries as engines of hope and kindness”. The respect shown by a prison librarian gave clients a sense of belonging, and that was extended when on release the prison librarian had arranged for use of the local library. Phil suggested that being a librarian is a position of privilege and power because we can make such an impact on peoples’ lives.
Louis Fourie (after an initial diversion about keynotes being flashers and strippers, leaving me wonder which I will show myself to be) outlined challenges and developments on the horizon, and suggested ways that academic libraries could develop their services. Although libraries originated in a time of scarcity of information, with the current deluge, they may be better suited to positioning themselves as a friendly node in the network for students, rather than a source of content. Although I am all for microchipping our brains for better interfaces with machines, I am not 100% convinced that teleporting librarians are in our futures. I do agree with him that, whatever the future looks like, we do need to redesign what we do.
In corollary to Phil, Greg Lambert made the point that what we do is not about physical space. I liked his comment that there are few other professions (maybe with pharmacists as an exception) where the person is named after the space. His suggested solutions were that we need to 1) get out of our spaces, 2) listen and observe (to position ourselves to help our clients) 3) solve problems – our clients’ problems not our own 4) expand our reach.
These were the three keynote/invited speakers. The rest of the conference is a single session, mixing local speakers with one or two talks from sponsors. Unlike the multi-track conferences I am used to, this makes sure that all delegates are part of the same conversation. The Twitter feed is even on the screen behind the main speaker so all delegates can be part of that conversation too. I am used to there being a couple of Twitter feeds coming out from concurrent sessions and simultaneously being part of those conversations while sitting in my session. This is much more relaxed.
Siphethile Gcukumana outlined the research that led to this survey of online tools used by researchers worldwide:
- One speaker outlined how she used the Excel tricks I have taught my students for the first time this year and stressed the need to keep a transaction log so you remember how you processed the data. I wish I could have bottled this to show my students how relevant and useful these skills are professionally.
- South African copyright law has a concept of “private use”, so if you are just using something for yourself, and not making money from it, copyright laws are far less strict than in Australia.
- Twitchats are useful Professional Development, and Australians seem to be playing lots in this space.
- AustLII is actually part of a worldwide Legal Information Institutes Free Access to Law movement. These are “not-for-profit group[s] that believes everyone should be able to read and understand the laws that govern them, without cost”. Sounds like the South African version has a higher public profile than in Australia.
- Some librarians will probably grow up to be Competitive Information Analysts and could easily make the transition. Not just providing information requested but value adding to provide insight to the data. Lovely argument for us to include data visualisation in our course.
- South Africans are also talking about the semantic web and scratching their heads about skills needed to integrate our resources into freer access and linking for anyone who might want to use our information.