Vinh Giang – Open Your Mind

Heading to a keynote speaker who is a magician and entrepreneur, I did not know what to expect – particularly at a library conference.  However, Giang truly did open my mind!

Vinh Giang's keynote at LIANZA Conference 2017.
An audience volunteer with Vinh Giang during his keynote.

As you know librarians love a story. Giang shared the personal tale of how his parents risked their lives to escape Vietnam to start a new life as refugees in Australia. They worked very hard to ensure the family got ahead. This resulted in Giang and his brother being left at the local public library while their parents worked long hours.

The library staff embraced the family with “love and kindness” and played card games with them. One day a library staff member showed 11-year old Giang a magic book. This book and the card games were clearly life influencing and would eventually lead to a unique career.

Years later, Giang decided to drop out of university to become a magician. The hardest thing was telling his parents because he felt he had been brought up to achieve academically. Surprisingly, Vinh’s parents were very supportive. They said they didn’t risk their lives to start a new life where he had to do something he didn’t want to do. They wanted him to be happy and have opportunities.

His father encouraged him and stated,

“jump as high as you can in life. As long as I am alive boy, I will forever be your net.”

A relieved Giang then cheekily asked his parents to help finance his proposed business using their investment property. Giang and his friends consequently started the Encyclopaedia of Magic, an online business.

Setting up this business was a risk and required a lot of hard work. Giang recognises the help and support he has received, particularly from family. Despite being very successful he endeavors to remain grounded and shared a Vietnamese saying,

“When you eat the fruit, always remember those who help you plant the tree.”

Illustrating some tricks Giang showed the audience that magic is the problem you can’t solve because of perspective. He highlighted the importance of looking at something from a different point of view, a different perspective. A filmed card trick shows one perspective, whereas a trick in real life shows another perspective.

According to Giang if we generally want to change what we are doing we need to consider completely different perspectives.

“Gather as many perspectives as you can. Perspective is power.”

“We don’t innovate by what others are doing in our industry.”

All of us in the GLAM sector can clearly learn a lot from each other. We should collaborate more – share successes, failures, ideas and findings. We should also look outside our industry for inspiration.

A sllide from Vinh Giang's keynote
A sllide from Vinh Giang’s keynote illustrating the possibilities inherent in gaining a different perspective,

A passionate Giang clearly illustrated his belief that when you improve individually, you improve professionally. He believes,

 “…you are the direct reflection of the top five people you spend time with.”

Giang pestered entrepreneur Matthew Michalewicz until he agreed to spend an hour with him. They are now best friends and Michalewicz is Vinh’s mentor. To reach full potential you have to feel good. If you feel you are lacking a skill or attribute bring someone into your top five. For example, you may need a public speaker.

According to Giang,

 “…your beliefs dictate you actions.”

Clearly, it is important we are positive and know where we are heading as a profession. It is good to set some individual goals and put your hand up to participate in project work. Learning new skills and being adaptable is essential in today’s workplace.

Giang emphasised the importance of taking the first step in processes and surrounding yourself with positive people.

After hearing Giang speak, I think it is important that we all learn to believe in ourselves. It is fundamental that we GLAM professionals develop a stronger voice and illustrate our worth in society. We should take pride in stories such as those of Giang who was clearly empowered by library staff. We are highly skilled, noble workers who come to work every day for the common good of helping other citizens.

Try not to be overwhelmed by projects and opportunities.  Gather different perspectives on the way and remember to take one step at a time!  Be prepared to change perspectives and look at other opportunities around you.

Being open

My intention with writing a post about attending OPEN17, this year’s LIANZA Conference was always to pick a session or two of interest and report back on them… however as often happens at these kind of events, what you think going in, and what you think coming out, are vastly different things. Some sessions I thought would fire with me didn’t, others that I didn’t expect much from resonated. You just never can tell from an abstract, I guess.

And just as important as the individual sessions is the way that themes and ideas from different ones can interact with each other in your mind, achieving a kind of cerebral synergy. So please bear with as I attempt to un-knot some of these intertwined ideas and explain their relationships to each other.

In terms of keynotes there were two that really got me thinking; Laurinda Thomas – The Dangerous Myth about librarians – and Vinh Giang – Open your mind. The appeal of the first was not so much of a surprise to me. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Laurinda in the past about some of the issues she touched on in her presentation so I was fairly sure she and I would be on the same wavelength. We both believe that libraries have fallen into the trap of helping perpetuate narratives that do not serve our industry well. That we chronically undersell ourselves and use language that belittles us. That we need to be bold and open to change and think about ourselves in a completely different way.

"Words have power" slide from Laurinda Thomas's keynote
“Words have power” slide from Laurinda Thomas’s keynote

Vinh Giang’s presentation was very different from this (as you would expect from a motivational speaker/magician) but in common were the ideas of changing your perception to change your reality, how the words you use (what he called “linguistic influence) can have a powerful effect, and self-belief. In many ways Laurinda’s talk was the “what that might look like in a library context” other half of Vinh’s session. He also talked about taking the blinders off and actively looking for opportunities. Advice that I took during conference myself, to great effect (more on that later).

Vinh Giang gives his keynote
Vinh Giang gives his keynote

Creating opportunities was something that came up in Hana O’Regan’s keynote too – namely how her determination to reclaim te reo created opportunities for her to learn her own history. Without this skill the Māori world would be largely closed off to her, the discovery of a Māori literary heritage (in the form of Niupepa) would not have been accessible to her and the ability to deconstruct the myths that Māori hold about themselves would have been greatly diminished. Hana spoke with great heart and it was clear that much of what she has achieved in building te reo capability within her own children is through sheer bloody-mindedness and – there’s that word again – self-belief.

Away from the keynotes some of the smaller sessions contained gold if you looked for it too. In particular I was very taken with Jane Cherry’s session, An Open Smile, which looked into the science and research behind smiling and why frontline staff should absolutely be doing it despite their many reservations – all of which were voiced to sometimes rather comical effect by Jane – including a stubborn determination to not be as friendly as “a shop”… for some reason. I found this session brought up many of the themes as discussed above, including the rather limiting “that’s not what a library does” perception still held by some.

Jane Cherry presenting at LIANZA conference 2017
Jane Cherry presents at Open 17. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

On a personal level, I decided to be open to opportunities in a most practical fashion – despite never having bothered with it before (partly because I am deathly afraid of having awkward conversations with salespeople) – I undertook to get my conference passport stamped at all the vendor stands in the exhibition hall, and then enter the prize draw. This turned out to be quite the mission, though not too onerous, and in the process I acquired “swag” that has resulted in sunflower plants starting to grown in our garden, returning to the office bestowing gifts like the King Midas of pens, and my toddler now has a new favourite bedtime pal aka a little stuffed lion (courtesy of the generous folk at Emerald Publishing). I also entered every vendor competition I came across.

Result? I won a Fitbit that I didn’t particularly want but which I am now borderline obsessed with and a nice bottle of wine. Keep your eyes open for opportunities and amazing things (and free plonk) can happen!

A LIANZA #open17 Bibliography

Kat, Kim, Sally & Amy
Kat, Kim, Sally & Amy. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

Want to find out more about the #open17 conference which took place at Addington Raceway, Christchurch 24-27 September 2017? Then take a look at this list of blogs and videos…

  • October’s edition of Library Life is a great place to get a number of people’s reflections from conference.
  • To see recordings of keynotes and sessions from the main plenary head to the LIANZA GigTV site. Please note it will ask for your name and email address. Keynotes will also be uploaded to the LIANZA YouTube channel.

If you know of anything I’ve missed or anything new do let us know!

The Future Sound of Libraries- Matt Finch: OPEN17 LIANZA Conference

Ah. Matt Finch’s keynote. He gave us Chris. Or should I say “Chrises”.

Then this.

We danced to this … and danced a library.

… For Alex and for the power of remembrance.

We visited a mobile library, and I borrowed one of my favourite books: When the wind blows by Raymond Briggs. (read this, and watch the Brit tv series Threads – the two perfect artefacts of  80s nuclear fear)

We met Bowie and Jobriath and Ann Magnuson.
Your collection is a springboard to creativity.

We designed a new exciting event and programming for our libraries.

We sung Oma rapeti.

And we met librarians from Australia and New Zealand doing awesome stuff.  Lesley Ahwang Acres, Field Officer with Indigenous Library Services at the State Library of Queensland (here she is at her session).

Amy Walduck and Sally Turbitt.

Rachael and Hamish talked about the important and life-changing work Auckland Libraries is doing with the streeties community. (read A home for the homeless: Rachael Rivera and the Auckland Library Streeties).

And we finished with a lineup of these awesome GLAMR peoples.
Kia ora. Bravo. Inspirational. Thanks.

More Matt

More LIANZA

The Dangerous Myth about librarians – Laurinda Thomas: OPEN17 LIANZA Conference

OPEN 2017 – the 2017 LIANZA Conference – officially kicked off on Sunday afternoon with a mihi whakatau and kai. Niamh Shaw the MC brought us together after that, and launched an afternoon of dangerous myths, future sounds, and an awards ceremony.

Kelsey Johnstone of Christchurch City Libraries, LIANZA councillor for the Aoraki region, introduced Laurinda Thomas.

Kelsey Johnston
Laurinda Thomas

Laurinda’s well known in library land for her TedX talk The Dangerous Myth about Libraries.

In this keynote, she looked into the dangerous myth about librarians.  This time it’s personal – it’s the things we tell ourselves:

Will we flourish or will we let the weight of that history hold us back from what we could be?

The most important resource in libraries? It’s librarians. And it is librarians that will determine what the future of the profession looks like.

This keynote was packed with ideas and conversations, and emphasised the importance of intentionality  – of knowing what we do, why we do it, and for whom. I’ve picked out some of her key points, and the slides that illustrated her ideas.

Laurinda focused on the here and now, not the future – the real work and real positive outcomes for the people we serve. We were social entrepreneurs before the phrase existed.

Libraries are powerful. They provide internet access and modern life relies on it completely.  Citizens can’t have human rights without access. We are providing people with a human right that opens up employment, communication with family, and democracy. The systematic cuts that UK libraries are enduring in the wake of austerity measures are not a politically neutral act. Cutting library budgets is reducing the education of citizens, and impacting on their rights.

We have power as librarians, and that can make us feel conflicted.  There is a hierachy amongst the people we serve, and the people we report to. These groups aren’t the same, one includes society’s most vulnerable, and the other includes some of the most privileged.

When we use the word “relevant”, we imply the opposite.

When we talk about “saving our libraries”, we signal powerlessness, and the need to be saved.

When Laurinda did her TEDx talk, a woman spoke to her and said the talk made her angry. It was a retired librarian, and she’d been part of the same conversations 30 years ago.

How do we have better conversations? Talk to the people who haven’t been into a library for ten years. Not everyone can afford books, or has a quiet place to go. Not everyone has internet access, or even a home.

Some people don’t give a damn about the social good of the library.

So find out what matters to them, and back up your stories with facts.

Dare to ask about the things we find confronting:

Are you represented?

If the library wasn’t here, what would you do?

Do you know someone who would never come to the library?

The elephants in the room:

  • Misusing numbers – conflating statistics with opinions about value, but really we are more interested in outcomes than numbers.
  • Relying on our “obvious” value (it’s not obvious)
  • Being lazy about biculturalism. (we haven’t moved enough in this area, not by a long stretch)
  • Looking for a single thing to save us (and I bet that thing will also make us “relevant”)
  • Avoiding politics.

Libraries are not ideologically neutral. We  support access to information, lifetime learning, and the social good. Political awareness is part of the job.

Get up there. Do public speaking. Speak from the heart. To be visible is to be courageous.

Make our profession impossible to ignore.