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.
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).
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.
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!