Connection, Contribution, and Inspiration: a chat with Zola Maddison on all things ALIA National Conference 

With ALIA’s National Conference only 6 weeks away, we sat down with ALIA’s Director of Training & Events Zola Maddison to learn more about the significance of this year’s conference theme, what new features and experiences attendees can expect, and the post-conference initiative aimed at turning ideas into action. Head to the ALIA Blog to read more.

Hi Zola! Thank you for talking to us. This year’s theme for ALIA National is ‘Truth and Dare’. Could you tell us why is this an important theme and idea for our sector?

Over the last years, we’ve watched library and information workers standing up against book bans and attacks on LGBTQIA+ communities, tackling mis- and dis- information campaigns, rising to AI challenges, and authentically working with and for Indigenous communities to bring significant and needed changes to our   profession. These historic social, technological, and economic changes have put a spotlight on and tested the values of our work – values around our role in protecting and respecting human rights and contributing to a thriving culture, economy, environment, and democracy.

The theme Truth and Dare is an effort to capture the proven commitment of our field to apply these values, in practical ways, for the communities we serve. Whether that’s developing tools and resources to fight against mis- and dis-information, or engaging in genuine and open-hearted listening to Indigenous truth telling. At the same time, the theme is also an acknowledgement that bringing these values to our work takes daring; it can be scary and we’re going to make mistakes. There is always more to learn, and ways we can do it better. This theme is important to our sector and for our conference because it’s a reminder that whether you are digitising archives, driving a mobile library in remote communities, running interlibrary loan at major academic institution, or cataloguing government documents, we are all connected by our shared commitment to these values. As for our program, it is one of our biggest and more diverse yet.

Whether they be first timers or conference regulars, attendees are always looking for something fresh and innovative when it comes to the conference experience. What new features or elements have been introduced for this year’s conference that sets it apart from previous events?

We’ve made some shifts to this year’s conference that – we hope! – reflect our commitment to supporting an inclusive and dynamic library and information workforce. First, we’ve made all our workshops free to anyone registering for the conference. We believe that the workshops are an incredible way to gain deeper learning, and because they are smaller groups, to build connections with others with similar interests. Second, we developed a series of sub-themes for the conference. Our clarity through the sub-themes has allowed presenters to be more precise in their contributions – the quality of the abstracts we received was truly remarkable! We also think that it will be interesting for attendees to see the range of approaches that colleagues are taking within each sub-theme, and attendees certainly now have the opportunity to focus on a sub-theme(s) of particular interest. Third, we’re working hard to make sure people have many ways to connect with one another. We’re opening up round table discussions during lunch time, we’ve reserved plenty of comfortable networking spaces, and bringing ALIA awards to our dinner so you can learn about and connect with outstanding contributors to our workforce. And finally, we are working to thread inclusion and belonging into every aspect of the conference. Attendees can pick up a hidden disabilities sunflower if they’d like to indicate they need additional support, we’ll have prayer rooms and quiet, decompression spaces, and from keynotes to lightning talks, we’ll be inspired and learn practical tactics for an inclusive library and information sector.

I understand you are planning a post-conference initiative aimed at turning ideas into action. Could you say more about this?

I’m very excited about this! We go to conferences to get new ideas, to learn new approaches, and to make new professional connections. Yet, more often than not, when we put these ideas, approaches, and partnership into practice, we don’t have a mechanism to share how that work has evolved, gotten stronger, and scaled beyond that initial interaction. That means, as a field, we aren’t benefiting from the knowledge gained from that new implementation. So this year, ALIA will be hosting a national, post-conference webinar, Putting Inspiration into Action. We’ll ask 2024 conference participants to share what and who they connected with at the conference, how they applied their learning or partnership locally and any changes they needed to make, and the impacts they are seeing as a result. My hope is that, as a field, we begin to build on our collective learnings over time; that we can learn more about innovative practices and partnerships as they are applied in different settings, and how to consider necessary adaptations to make something meaningful within our communities.

In 3 words, why should people attend National 24?

Connection, Contribution, and Inspiration!

The ALIA National Conference 2024 will take place from Monday May 6 to Thursday May 9 at the Adelaide Convention Centre, South Australia. The conference program and speaker line-up can be viewed on the conference website. Registrations close on 29 April 2024. Please read the registration terms and conditions before registering.

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