Cape Town

The Trip. Library adventures in Cape Town part 2

water, sky, boat This is the second in a mini-series of posts about my attendance at the LIASA 2013 conference in Cape Town. Part 1 is here, with slides and audio from one of my presentations. I'll put more about the conference itself in Part 3 of this post, but it seems remiss to blog about giving a talk in South Africa without talking a little bit about what going to South Africa was like.

This conference happened in Week 2 of the academic year. As anyone who works in academic libraries knows, this is a BONKERS time, incredibly busy, possibly the busiest week out of the entire 52. So when I was first invited over I'd actually written the entire email saying that, although it killed me turn down such an amazing opportunity, I was going to have to say 'no'. But then three things happened - firstly I expressed my anguish out loud and my fabulous colleagues all said 'Go! Go! You have to go! We'll cover your teaching, anything, you can't not do this!', secondly I checked the dates and by a series of coincidences and happenstance, I actually didn't have any teaching in Week 2 (just hours of it in Weeks 1 and 3). The third thing that happened is I Google Image searched Cape Town. This was a mistake. It is SO beautiful - I love anything near Water anyway, but how many Cities have a mountain right in the middle? Not at the edge - in the actual middle! I also know several people who've been there who say it's incredible, and I have the painting of it done by my Great-Grandfather you can see in the presentation video in Part 1 so feel like I have a small connection with it.

In any case, I deleted the draft email, and sent another one saying, essentially, 'OMG yes'.

Ingrid Thompson, from HELIG, had invited me over. We follow each other on Twitter (hence my comment in the branding presentation that 'without Twitter I wouldn't be here'  in South Africa) and, like everyone else at LIASA, she was incredibly helpful, generous, and welcoming. After a journey which was REALLY long (24hrs each way from door-to-door - I got about an hour's sleep in total, woo!) I was kindly picked up from the airport by Nikki Crowster who told me a bit about the City and the conference. They put me up in a much nicer hotel than the kind I'm used to staying in, and after a quick trip to the waterfront to explore a little, I had some food in the hotel and went to bed very early indeed.

My second day there was a Sunday, which I had to myself. I went to Robben Island and it was pretty moving - you're shown round by a former inmate. This was a fantastic initiative - the guy said it was like therapy for him, reclaiming a space which had previously only been associated with suffering. For us, it took a prison which had become iconic and part of a worldwide narrative regarding a cultural hero in Nelson Mandela, and took it out of that rarefied realm and into a much more immediate reality.

I explored the Waterfront, which is a hive of activity - on my last night I bagged an outdoor table in a steak restaurant and watched the sun go down behind Table Mountain, while the fishing boats came in from their day's work in a steady stream. It was pretty epic. I can't wait to go back with my wife.


As well as the Conference itself, I was also given a tour of the University of Cape Town by Ingrid (she works there); what a ridiculously beautiful campus that is. It reminds me of Verona - beautiful old stone buildings crawling with ivy. Here's the view from near the main Library:


On my final night there we went to the President's Dinner, at Gold Restaurant - watch this video for an idea of the experience. This was amazing too. You didn't choose from a menu, you were just brought food. Your wine glass was refilled with alarming frequency. There was singing, dancing, face-painting, drumming, scarily tall sort of dancing puppet-costume things, great conversations. I sat next to a lady who knew the language so she translated the songs for me as they were sung - it felt like a completely unique experience that I couldn't have had anywhere else. The whole thing was just heady, an assault on the senses. I don't know how authentic it truly was, but I completely loved it.

For all sorts of reasons I very nearly ended up not going to Cape Town, but I'm so glad I did. It was an incredible trip, and incredible conference, more on which in part 3.


Building your professional reputation. Library adventures in Cape Town part 1

In October I was invited to South Africa to speak at LIASA 2013, the 15th annual Library and Information Association of South Africa conference. It was in the fabulous City of Cape Town and it was incredible; I just haven't had a chance to put my thoughts down in a blogpost until now. But I know not everyone is particularly interested in a 'here's what I did' type post so I've put that separately in Part 2. There's also a Part 3 to follow about the differences between UK conferences and international ones. I was asked to do three things at the conference - a marketing workshop (half a day on strategic marketing and half a day on emerging technologies), a session for the Higher Education Library Interest Group on induction / orientation here at the University of York Library (the presentation is here, although it doesn't make much sense without me talking over the top, I'm afraid), and a talk aimed primarily at new professionals on building your reputation and professional brand. It's a tiresomely controversial subject, this; what it comes down to for me is that people fairly new to the profession can sometimes worry about being some sort of super librarian and DOING ALL THE THINGS, but actually you don't have to be like this at all. You just have to get involved with the areas of librarianship which correspond to your goals in the profession. So the talk was about that, and about different ways to be part of the wider community.

Below is the talk: it consists of my slides, the audio of the talk (recorded from my iphone in my jacket pocket!) and a couple of pictures to look at while I talk about some things I wasn't intending to talk about, at the very start.

It was fun doing this talk, it was different to the normal things I do. The room was bigger - this is the first time, outside of the webinar environment, that I'd talked to several hundred people at once. Speaking to a room that size is very different to speaking to 30 people - my usual very conversational presentation style wouldn't have worked. Presenting is a bit like drawing a picture in that the further away the audience, the broader the strokes needed for the picture; the detail gets lost.

The atmosphere was different in SA that from conferences I've presented at in the UK, too - people were laid back, ready to laugh. I was one of only three international speakers so everyone was very welcoming. And also, this talk is a version of something I'd originally delivered at a New Professionals Day back in 2012 which was designed primarily to address an anxiety about branding I'd heard many new professionals express - an anxiety which, having arrived in South Africa and been at the conference for a couple of days already, I'd found to be largely absent! So I felt a bit like my talk didn't match my slides - certainly I was trying to manipulate the slides to tell a slightly different, more widely applicable story, as I went along. But anyway I really enjoyed it and I've had some genuinely touching feedback about people feeling inspired.

Parts 2 and 3 to follow!