Top 3 takeaways from the AL4 conference

Text by: Jo

A month has passed since the Academic Librarian 4 conference at HKUST, and over that time I have been reflecting on the conference, thinking about how I might distill the two days into one coherent blog post for HKLC. I have decided - it is impossible! So instead of attempting to write an overall summary, here are my top three takeaways from the event.


One: Sustainability is not just about buildings

A major theme of the conference was how to preserve digital and physical collections long term. Among the talks on this theme were the second plenary speaker Ms Helen HOCKX-YU (Director of Global Web Services at the Internet Archive) who talked about the challenges of capturing and collecting internet pages for the longevity of the web, and Dr Marco CABOARA (Digital Scholarship & Archives Manager at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Library), who shared the Library’s experience of a large-scale digitisation project of Chinese maps.

There were also several presentations about the sustainability of information literacy programs. As I am writing this the concept of planning for long term viability of information literacy programs is particularly pertinent as the ACRL Information Literacy Standards, a document commonly used or referred to by many academic librarians in Hong Kong, were rescinded last week. If like me, information literacy is an interest of yours, I recommend these presentations on the topic of building info lit programs that last:


Two: Sometimes sustainability is about buildings (and I can be involved)

Of course I recycle and I avoid printing wherever possible (I don’t even use paper notebooks!), but apart from that I had not paid sustainability in libraries much mind - I thought it was the responsibility of library and university management as they are responsible for construction and renovation projects. It took only the first keynote on the first day to change my mind! Ms Madeleine CHARNEY (Research & Liaison Services Librarian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Coordinator, SustainRT: Libraries Fostering Resilient Communities of the American Library Association) changed my thinking by describing the library as a ‘hub’ of sustainability on campus, and not just by constructing green buildings. She suggested small, realistic things that we can all do to contribute to environmental sustainability, whether it is in your job description or not.

I was also inspired by Prof Uta HUSSONG-CHRISTIAN (Science Librarian at Oregon State University Libraries & Press), who talked about an ambitious project at her library to compost library waste - a large scale version of saving scraps from the office kitchen! There were also presentations about sustainability efforts here in Hong Kong. Mr Edward SPODICK (IT and Services Infrastructure Manager at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Library) described the macro and micro institutional approaches to sustainability, and the 'culture of sustainability' that has been developed at HKUST. Ms Louise JONES (University Librarian) and Ms Winky WONG (Head of Library Administrative Services) from the Chinese University of Hong Kong Library shared their experience of how their library has cooperated with other units and departments on campus to align themselves with the broader sustainability efforts and policies of the university. After hearing Ms Jones speak I also hope to visit the Library’s rooftop vegetable garden - maintained by library staff!


Three: Sustainability is about PEOPLE

I have a real passion for customer service, and hearing librarians talk passionately about the needs of the communities and individuals that they serve was inspiring, and a warm reminder of why I joined the profession. Andy PRIESTNER (Director, Andy Priestner Training & Consulting), who gave the fourth plenary presentation, shared a variety of user experience research methods to find out exactly what library visitors do in the library, what they want, and how best to deliver services to them. Conclusion: librarians can do better than surveys!

Working with students is consistently my favourite part of academic library work, and I enjoyed the presentation by Ms Sumiyati OETOMO (Acting Team Leader, Student IT) and Mrs Karen KEAL (Associate Director, Information Services and Library Spaces at University of Melbourne) about the success they have had through their Student Employment program. It was wonderful to hear not only what the students had gained from working in the library, but what the library has learned from the students.

Perhaps the two most emotionally charged presentations when thinking about our library users were from librarians working in the US. Ms Makiba FOSTER (Subject Librarian) and Dr Meredith EVANS (Associate University Librarian) from Washington University in St. Louis talked about their social archive project, Documenting Ferguson. The digital archive was established as a means to preserve and share media created by community members following the shooting death of Michael Brown, Jr in St. Louis, Missouri. Ms JJ PIONKE (Assistant Professor and Applied Health Sciences Librarian) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign talked about how libraries have traditionally treated and supported users with disabilities - and asserted that many libraries could do much, much better. I struggle to write anything eloquent about either of these two challenging and powerful presentations, so instead I urge you to read the abstracts and view their presentation material yourself!

You can read all the abstracts and presentation materials in the Academic Librarian 4 online conference program, which also includes videos from the plenary speakers. Thank you once again to the conference organisers for their great effort in producing such a successful and engaging conference. If you are interested, the tweets from the conference have been collected using Storify (Day One and Day Two), or read about the experience of live-tweeting at the conference.