I have been very honoured and excited to have been named 2nd runner up in last year’s Librarian of the Year competition. It was amazing to have been nominated Western Cape Librarian of the Year, so coming in the top three of the national competition was a bonus - a real professional boost! I was awarded R10 000 generously sponsored by SABINET. I was also fortunate to have had some extra financial support from UCT Libraries.
I used this money to attend the 18th International Conference on Learning which was held from 5 – 8 July at the University of Mauritius. I registered on the Monday and then took the opportunity for a professional visit to see Mr Cader Nunkoo, the librarian in charge of Rose Hill Public Library. It is a small library, situated next to the municipal building in a garden setting.
The conference attracted more than 300 delegates from all over the world, coming as far afield as Australia, Estonia, Russia, Malaysia, the States, Turkey, India, and of course Mauritius (and it made the evening news.) And there were quite a number of South African academics as well, including three of us from my own institution.
The conference provided a forum for talking about the nature and future of learning from early childhood, school, technical and vocational, university and adult education, where research and reflections on education were discussed. Workshops and colloquium sessions completed the rest of the physical conference line-up. It was also possible to do a virtual presentation - these weren’t broadcast at the conference, but are available via the Conference Youtube channel.
I am always interested in seeing how other conferences manage, and saw that sessions were chaired by by Graduate Scholar Recipients - attendees who had applied and received grants to attend the conference, in return for facilitating these sessions. And often, they were presenting as well.
Something that I hadn’t seen before was “Talking Circles” which were supposed to give people a chance to ointeract around key ideas away from the formalities. There were two facilitated sessions for each stream of discussion e.g. Technology in Learning or Adult, or Vocational, tertiary and professional learning. During the first circle, participants would introduce themselves and talk about common issues, and the second session would take the discussion further and come up with possible solutions and then later report back at the closing plenary. And these sessions could be informal or structured depending on the facilitator. Not very successful, because much depended on the facilitator … but an interesting idea nevertheless.
As an academic librarian, I attended sessions on a variety of topics of interest to higher education - and of importance to the work and support we provide - academic literacy, teaching teams, academic performance of first years, underprepared postgraduates and plagiarism in student writing. Many of these papers were presented by Education academics or Academic Development Units or similar units including Writing Centres from institutions across the world including South Africa. And in almost every one of these papers, libraries and librarians were not mentioned at all. I kept putting my hand up and asking … and got back, yes of course we worked with our librarian, couldn’t do it without our librarian, our librarian is the best …. But none of this came out in the papers, not even a “by the way” mention. Are we really that invisible?
But what was even stranger for me - although I do think that it was just at this particular conference - was that I was the only librarian at an international education conference! (I have seen papers by librarians in earlier issues of the journal “International Journal of Learning” which contains conference proceedings, so it must have just been this one.)
So this set the bees in my bonnet buzzing. I’ve always kept an eye on what other academic libraries are doing for their students, particularly regarding information literacy skills and collaborating with individual academics, and units like Academic Development Units and Writing Centres.
What collaborations are happening or are we working in parallel universes? I know that we aren’t, that there are collaborations going on - so here is a challenge to myself and other librarians out there:
if you are involved, please share these with your colleagues whether it is at seminars, workshops, or conference presentations. And not just library conferences, but look for the opportunities at other conferences, even co-presenting with your academics.
Thank you to LIASA and sponsors, SABINET, for making my conference attendance possible, and to UCT Libraries for the additional financial support.