I’ve just returned from the 2008 ALLA conference in Perth.
It was my intention to blog most of the sessions which I attended, but my notes are quite messy and so it will take some time to get them ready. Even after this editing process, I remain a bit diffident about the accuracy and value of these notes, so I’m going to put them in the expodedlibrary bunker, where I sometimes put things which I consider more “iffy”. I’ll be linking to each one from here, so they’ll still be accessible. I’m hoping to add a little value by linking to any books or websites or other linkable things which were referred to.
I won’t be going through my notes in any particular order - just whatever I feel like doing at the time. One will go up tonight, three will go up tomorrow, and then probably one or two each day of next week. If you want to read something right now, Kathryn Greenhill has some brief notes about the sessions she attended on Thursday afternoon.
Anyway, here are my first general impressions of the conference and my trip to Perth.
ALLA was a small and compact conference, with 190 delegates, lasting two days - excluding satellite events and other social activities.
I enjoyed it more than some of the larger conferences I’ve attended recently. I prefer smaller conferences, they’re not quite so overwhelming. You’re more likely to have a chance to have repeated informal chats with people, including the speakers. This was the first ALLA event I’ve attended, and although I noticed that it was close knit, it was not totally intimidating for me as a newcomer. People were generally very welcoming.
There seems to be a real sense of camaraderie amongst law librarians, especially law firm librarians. Could it be because it’s one of the more stressful library jobs, and so it’s nice to find other people who understand what we’re dealing with? Could it be that although from time to time we are on opposing sides of matters, we all face the huge common challenge of dealing with those bloody lawyers ;)
But I don’t want to be snarky. After all, many of the speakers were lawyers and it was gratifying to hear them say very nice things about how they value the law librarians in their organizations. On a related note, one of the themes which popped up in a few of the sessions was the idea that as people who have the tools and skills to find the law more easily than just about anyone else, law librarians have power, and it is our duty to recognize this power and use it responsibly.
My immediate reaction was that I don’t see how this position and ability leads to power, but I’ve noticed that it is the nature of power and privilege that it becomes invisible to its owners. I’m a white male and sometimes I don’t see the privilege attached to being a white male, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. So I’ll try to keep an open mind and think about this some more.
But I digress. The organizing committee of the conference did a great job. The programme was interesting and nicely balanced, and having the new Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia speak was quite a coup! I don’t really have much to say about the trade exhibition. For some people these are the highlight of a conference, but it’s not like that for me. I’m yet to unlock the secret of successfully “working a trade exhibition”, although I did have a couple of good conversations. The social activities went really well, from the opening to the dinner and the closing drinks in the lovely WA Parliament House. The group activity at dinner, making art from discarded library materials, was inspired and turned out to be a great icebreaker.
I only have two gripes. I liked the venue, it was an appropriate size and style for this conference, but I wish it had been more tech friendly. Things like internet access at the podium so speakers could give live demonstrations of things on the web, and power outlets for people with laptops (but kudos for arranging workarounds). I also wish that the conference programme had been purely a single stream, or that it had a complete and equal second stream. I was initially quite miffed that I couldn’t attend the breakout sessions because they were only limited to 20 people and I hadn’t signed up in time. As it turned out, the two sessions I attended instead of the breakout sessions did exceed my expectations, so I’m ok-ish about this thing now.
I also enjoyed the conference because it gave me an opportunity to visit Perth, a city that I really liked. Perth seems to have a nice balance, with the infrastructure and opportunities and diversity one would expect from a large city, while not being as stressed and overloaded as Sydney.
Of course, Perth is the hotspot of Australian librar* blogging, and I was very fortunate to be able to have dinner with the bloggers behind Librarians Matter, Ruminations and Suelibrarian. Although much of blogging is like a conversation, it is nice to occasionally have these interesting conversations face to face.