This is part two of a series on the LIANZA #Open17 library conference, and my alternative keynote at that event. These blog posts should help you find ways to create your own participatory sessions.
So, it’s the afternoon of Sunday 24th September, 2017, at the Addington Raceway in Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand. Laurinda Thomas has just given an excellent talk about librarians’ professional identity and I’m invited to the stage.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and say a few words in te reo Māori.
Then this appears on the conference screens:
As the song comes to an end, I tape my mouth shut and invite Lesley Acres of the State Library of Queensland to the stage.
Lesley reads a passage from Theodor Adorno’s “Marginalia on Mahler” to the room:
As the dead are defenceless, at the mercy of our memory, so our memory is the only help that is left to them.
They pass away into it, and … every deceased person… is also like someone whose life we must save, without knowing whether the effort will succeed.
The rescue of what is possible, but has not yet been — this is the aim of remembrance.
Then another song plays – Meredith Brooks’ 90s hit ‘Bitch‘. When I was in high school, a friend made up a dance to the song, with actions pantomiming the lyrics. That friend died when we were thirty years old.
I get the audience to join in the dance as an act of remembrance, building on Mahler’s words to suggest that it was possible to use our bodies as memorials and that you could even dance yourself a library.
Once the dance is done, Lesley and other helpers planted in the audience help me to distribute bookshelves and shopping trolleys laden with books around the room.
The resources had been hidden backstage earlier in the proceedings by Christchurch Libraries’ Jane Hackett, Danny McNeil, and me.
My colleagues and I set up a desk, chair, and beanbags alongside the “mobile library” shopping trolleys. We deputise some of the audience to work as librarians before announcing to the room that “the library is open” and they are welcome to visit their local branch or mobile library.
People are starting to grasp what is going on.
I share a tale of how David Bowie and Carlos Alamar created ‘Golden Years’ by juxtaposing items from their own music libraries. Kiwi Librarian Stephnie Burton volunteers to come on stage and teach the audience a song – ‘Oma Rapeti‘ – to show that musicality is about sharing and collaboration, not just stars on a stage.
The great Cath Sheard nails the thinking behind that part of the session:
Mindful that everything so far could be interpreted as having a public library focus, we explore Ann Magnuson’s The Jobriath Medley, an album which is an account of America’s first openly gay rockstar, as an example of using music as a research output.
Then it’s time to get to serious work. Using a playlist of five three-minute pop songs, we challenge everyone in the room to design a new library programme on a handout based on the State Library of Queensland’s Welcome Toolkit (PDF).
That’s around five hundred new library programme ideas developed in a quarter of an hour, with everyone in the room having a chance to articulate their own vision instead of just sitting back and letting the speaker’s words wash over them.
After all that hard work, it’s only right for the audience to rest their pen hands. Dynamic duo of library innovators Turbitt & Duck take the stage with a group of volunteers who had secretly been planning improvements to the mobile libraries which were used at the start of the session.
New and exciting connections are made between the volunteers and the audience.
And finally, it is time for me to say a few words…or is it?
They speak about their work with musicians and the homeless community in New Zealand’s largest city.
Rachael concludes their joint presentation with a whakataukī – a Māori proverb:
Ma te kōrero ka mōhio.
Ma te mōhio ka mārama.
Ma te mārama ka mātau.
Ma te mātau ka ora ai tātou.
Through discussion comes awareness.
Through awareness comes understanding.
Through understanding comes wisdom.
Through wisdom comes wellbeing for all.
There is applause, and everyone gets on the stage to receive deserved credit.
But even that isn’t quite the end of the story, because by lunchtime the next day the national news wants interviews from us. Find out why in the next instalment.
You can watch a Youtube Playlist based on this keynote here. There is also a great write-up of our session from Christchurch Libraries’ Donna Robertson: