Saturday, November 14, 2009

Seeing Things Differently.SLAV Conference November 13 2009

Also published on my Great Raven blog.

I have just been to this year's end-of-year library conference. I usually hold out for this one, because, unlike the earlier ones, it's book-related. Writers and artists speak about their work and some of the talks are directly related to libraries. It's not that I have anything against conferences that give you ideas for running the library. It's just that I have found most of them are aimed at the kind of school where they have more than one part-time teacher-librarian and part-time support staff and that have budgets I can only dream about. The last straw was when I attended a SLAV conference at which one of the guest speakers, who came from a Grammar School, stood on the podium and told us smugly about all the fabulous things they were doing at her school ... with dozens of staff and budgets in the 100,000-or-more range. And then expected us all to applaud her for doing writers and publishers out of their hard-earned money by scanning their work on to a school web site. As if the rich kids at her school couldn't afford about $12.95 for a copy, or the library couldn't buy some class sets of them! It was illegal, of course, but what point in getting up and accusing? I just stopped going to "those" conferences. That was years ago.

So I was looking forward to this one, which was held at the National Gallery of Victoria on St Kilda Rd.

Well, there were some very good presentations. I took notes on the use of Web 2 in libraries and on graphic novels in the curriculum. I did wonder if having to study them wouldn't spoil them for the kids, but I'm prepared to try it out. "Visual literacies" was the theme of this conference, which was natural for a conference held at the gallery. And the keynote address by Dr Mark Norman, marine biologist and children's non-fiction writer, was worth the price of the conference by itself. He was delightful. I could hardly wait to get down to the book stall to pick up some of his books which I knew would thoroughly engage our reluctant readers. He began by showing a picture of a vampire and a real-life fish with fangs and showed us, in the course of the talk, how truth really is more bizarre than fiction and that there are so many wonderful things in real life that you couldn't invent.I was sitting next to Sue Ann Barber, programmer for Aussiecon 4, and suggested she see if we could get him for the con's science stream. I am certainly going to get hold of some of his books for myself, before my new budget next year, to use in my own research.

The only trouble was: there was no book stall. No publishers showing off their stuff. No useful stuff for schools. No graphic novels of the kind that speakers were urging us to buy for our libraries. A library conference with no books, except those on the screen? It reminded me of the time, years ago, when a friend and I took her son to the Book Week Fair at the Arts Centre and the poor boy stopped and asked, "Where are the books?" The only books at that event were on the YABBA stall, on display, not for sale.

Now, I know I can't get at my budget for next year as yet, because the books are closed and there has been a death among the admin staff and no time to replace her, not to mention a business manager on leave. But I have never seen a book stall not swarming with customers, even in November. What happened? Did the gallery object, perhaps, because they have their own bookshop? But that wasn't connected with the sort of stuff normally sold. Did the booksellers simply not bother this time? I'm sure I will find out eventually, but right now I am puzzled and disappointed.

No writers as speakers, either, except for the delightful Dr Norman. I really look forward to this conference because of something that wasn't there this time. While I found the talk on Asian art enjoyable and the talk by a painting conservator fascinating, including his description of the research he had to do to get it right, they just weren't what I attended the conference for.

I assume they had to use the gallery's caterers too. There was no afternoon tea, as in the past, so we had both sessions before lunch,when we went to the Great Hall - a lovely place for lunch. And if you like dead animal on your plate, I'm sure the egg and bacon and chicken sandwiches and party pies and sausage rolls were fine. For those of us who prefer not to eat meat, there were only roast vegetable sandwiches, and while I am in a minority in this, I believe vegies belong on the side of the plate, not in bread. I ate them because there was nothing else except fruit on sticks, which I also ate. I was hungry when I left, though, and dinner with my family wasn't till 7.30 p.m. And no coffee urns when we arrived. When coffee was available at morning tea, you had to wait for a staff member to pour it for you.

Still, there was Dr Norman and there were some really useful suggestions about the use of Web 2 and graphic novels in the library and classroom (we are already buying lots of graphic novels, especially manga, though not teaching them).

I can only hope that next year, though, the event is held elsewhere and is more like what I look forward to.