Libraries, the universe and everything


ICoASL 2017
May 22, 2017, 12:39
Filed under: CPD, Events, Reflections | Tags: , ,

Several months ago I was both surprised and delighted to receive an invitation to speak at the 5th International Conference of Asian Special Libraries, particularly when I saw the theme was to be “Curation and Management of Cultural Heritage through Libraries: Challenges and Opportunities for the Digital Society”. I was slightly more apprehensive when I realised that I was the only SLA Board member who was able to attend, so that I would be representing the association as well as presenting my own speech, but in my usual spirit of “say yes and worry about the consequences later”, I happily accepted and began planning the trip.

The conference was being held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, which made a splendid excuse for a holiday, as well as enabling a stopover in Singapore, one of my bucket list destinations. I’m going to write more about all of that over on my other blog, and I’ve also submitted a brief account of the conference to the SLA blog (links will be added when these go live), but I wanted to share a more personal record of the experience here.

I should say at the outset that I tend to avoid professional public speaking, and had actually never given a paper or made a solo presentation at a conference. In the weeks leading up to ICoASL I discovered I’d been promoted from invited speaker to part of the keynote session – a terrifying prospect indeed! As it happened, in many ways that made it much easier to plan my speech, as it freed me to take a more high-level approach to the conference theme rather than having to go into anything in detail, but as my first major speaking opportunity frankly I would have been anxious about it whatever it involved. (My previous experience has largely been limited to moderating a couple of panels at SLA New York conferences, MCing the occasional event and speaking a bit on a few webinars.)

Naturally, I spent hours preparing my presentation, selecting images for my slides, and then obsessively practising and refining my text. I didn’t manage to learn it off by heart, but by the time I arrived at the podium I was very familiar with what I wanted to say, which meant that I was able to speak more naturally and not rely too heavily on my script. I don’t mind admitting that I woke up at 4am on the day itself, and nearly had a meltdown over breakfast, but by the time I arrived in the conference hall I was feeling much better, and when I realised how warm and welcoming the audience was my nerves more-or-less melted away. Quite to my surprise, I ended up enjoying delivering my speech, and my 15 minute timeslot flew by.

After my speech was over, I was able to properly relax and enjoy the panel sessions. It was extremely hard to choose which panels to attend as each featured 3 or 4 short presentations, I very much enjoyed the ones I selected, and it was fantastic to hear about so many different library collections and projects around Asia. (I’m looking forward to reading the ones I didn’t manage to hear in person.) I was also blown away by the speakers – many of whom were library students or newer professionals, as well as some more experienced librarians – I may have been the only person there who was presenting in their first language, and I spent the entire time feeling very humbled by this (not to mention grateful, too – I might just about get by at a conference conducted in French or Spanish, but certainly not in Bahasa Indonesia).

The conference was hosted at a university, UIN Sunan Kalijaga, and the compact space allotted to us allowed for plenty of networking contact between sessions, and over refreshments. All the arrangements seemed to go very smoothly, and it was certainly a great opportunity to meet new people – understandably a lot of Indonesian librarians attended, but there were 15 countries represented amongst the 200 participants, and I enjoyed talking with as many people as I could.

Yogyakarta is a major centre for Indonesian arts and culture, and its spirit of history and tradition really permeated the conference. At various points in the program we were treated to performances of dance, song and poetry, and I was delighted to discover that the exhibition space included a batik demonstration in addition to the regular sponsor booths. (I stumbled upon this after lunch on the first day, and happily sat down to try out the technique for myself, with a somewhat blobby result!) Also available to sample was a wide variety of Indonesian food, and I was sad that my various intolerances meant that I had to be really careful as it all looked delicious – the few things I managed to try were most enjoyable, and I’ve come home with a number of recipe ideas to attempt myself.

The final day of the conference was dedicated to cultural visits – Tom and I joined a tour of Yogyakarta palace which also took in a couple of museums and part of the old city (and an excellent lunch), and it was fun to experience these places in company with the rest of our group.

lunchtime fun on our cultural visits day

Looking back on the whole thing, I can’t quite believe it happened – did I really go all the way to Indonesia to deliver a keynote presentation? Me?!! But I did, and it was fun! I’m still tremendously grateful for the opportunity, and delighted that the stars aligned so I could make the journey happen. I’m not sure I’ll be rushing to offer my speaking services all over the place but I shall certainly be much happier about presenting in future, provided of course that I have something relevant to say. It also reminded me that combining conference attendance with holiday travel is something I can do outside the USA (where we do this regularly), which I’d stupidly not properly considered before now. The next ICoASL is going to be in New Delhi in 2019, and I’m extremely tempted…!

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[…] even heard of it until I was invited to speak at a conference there (about which I’ve written more on my other blog) – but that all just goes to show how much I know, because it really was […]

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