ALIA Biennial Conference, Sydney Australia, 10 to 13 July 2012

This is a trip report submitted by Foo Soo Chin:

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller, American writer , 1891-1980.

Monday 9 July 2012 – Travel & Accomodations

Journey to Sydney – The flight was early at 7am (Singapore time).  I was filled with excitement as I read up on the conference contents, about Australia’s National Year of Reading 2012, as well as the tour to 3 libraries (Ryde Public Library, Macquarie University Library and Chatswood Library) in northern Sydney that I would be visiting the next day.  As I arrived at Sydney Airport around 4.30pm (Australian time), the skies had already started to turn dark.

Metro Hotel at Pitt – The winter air was chilly as I quickly made my way to the Metro Hotel at Pitt, where I would be staying  throughout the conference.  The conference was held at the nearby Hilton Hotel, which was just about a 3-minute walk away.

Tuesday 10 July 2012 (Tour of 3 librariesin northern Sydney)

My fellow conference delegates and I met at 11.45am at the Hilton Hotel and embarked on the bus journey that would take us to the 3 libraries.

i) Ryde Public Library

The library is located at 1 Pope Street, Ryde NSW 2112 (within the Top Ryde City Shopping Centre).  Newly opened in 30 April 2011, it occupied 2,031 sqm with a layout that lent itself to the development of 2 distinctive zones. The library tour started at the busy northern end, which featured the entrance, high ceiling, natural light, children’s area and popular collections.  The queiter southern end featured the major collections, meeting rooms and youth space.

Interesting programs held at the library included Game On!, a children’s game program held every Saturday afternoon and included Chess, Snakes & Ladders, Uno, Connect 4, Ludo, etc.  There is even a giant chess set within the library for chess players!

Game for chess? Giant chess board is a highlight of Ryde Public Library

In addition to board games, there are Wii Games sessions for youths every Friday afternoons.  If you are a Wii game fan, you are in for a treat with games like Sword Play, Bowling, Mario Kart, etc. being offered.

ii) Macquarie University Library

Macquarie University Library is one of the largest academic libraries in northern Sydney.

Macquarie University Library has a collection size close to 1.8 million print and electronic items.  We were brought on a library tour of its 5 floors and were impressed with its environment friendly and modern design. 

The ambience of Quiet Space area is enhanced with lots of greenery and natural light from the glass walls.

The highlight of the tour was that of its special collections – the Brunner Collection,  Paleontology Collection, Rare Book Collection, Map Collection, Curriculum Collection and Thesis Collection.

With its big collection, how did the Library managed its storage?  Our curiosity was soon answered when we visited the back end operations of the Automated Retrieval Collection (ARC) system.  The ARC is an automated storage system that had effectively freed up a significant amount of shelf space, which allowed the entire collection of 1.8 million items to be on site and within easy access to its users.

The Automated Retrieval Collection (ARC) system used in Macquarie University Library

 iii) Chatswood Library 

Fellow conference delegates having a discussion at the entrance of Chatswood Library.


Willoughby’s central library is located at  Chatswood, with branch libraries located at Artamon, Castle Cove, Naremburn, Northbridge, West Chatswood and Castlecrag.

Chatswood Library has an impressive Community Languages collection of 12 foreign languages to cater to the reading needs of their multicultural community profile.  We had a good time browsing the items in Armenian, Chinese, Croatian, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Polish, Spanish and Vietnamese.

A display of children’s artwork on the theme of “A Sustainable Willoughby” at Chatswood Library.

In addition to the variety of language collection, Chatswood Library also has  a Chinese-English bilingual catalogue known as iBIMS.  Library users can search for Chinese books at all the OPACs in the library and on the web by typing English, Hanyu pinyin or Chinese characters in the catalogue. 

A close-up look of the iBIMS (The Chinese Bilingual Library Catalogue).

Wednesday – Friday 11 to 13 July 2012 (Conference)

Keynote speeches and concurrent sessions:

In line with the ALIA Biennial Conference theme of discovery, the conference started with a keynote address by Dr. Tom Chatfield on the theme of discovery in a digital age.  He spoke about the current challenge to preserve public libraries and highlighted emphasis is required to stress that libraries are a space, and not just a facility.  An application for better use of space can be by making use of technology in order to have interactive experiences.  And how can we create better experiences?  It can be possibly achieved through better interactions with each other and technology, as well as privileging discovery over data aggregation.  Dr. Tom Chatfield ended off his speech with an apt quotation by Daniel Boorstin:

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.”

The highlight of keynote addresses was probably that by the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG on 11 July afternoon.  He spoke passionately on the impact of libraries in his life, as well as the role of librarians in shaping his lifelong love of reading.  It was an inspiring speech that made me feel glad that I am part of the library profession!  I bought a copy of his autobiography – “A Private Life: Fragments, Memories, Friends” at the conference bookstand and finished reading this interesting book on the plane ride back to Singapore on 14 July.

I bought a copy of “A Private Life: Fragments, Memories, Friends” at the conference bookstand. The book was written by The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG, who gave a most memorable keynote speech on 11 July afternoon.

Another keynote speech was given by A/P Mitchell Whitelaw from University of Canberra.  In his speech on interfaces for discovery, he shared his insights on how information retrieval, information experiences and discovery interfaces have an impact on the information discovery process.  He also highlighted the concept of an information flaneur (Dork, Carpendale and Williamson, 2011) which “…represents curious, creative,  and critical information seeking” and how the resulting information seeking model links up the interrelated nature bewteen information activities and experiences.

Another keynote speaker was Dr. Alex Bryne from the State Library of New South Wales.  He shared that increasingly, emphasis is on the new directions in the e-platforms (such as e-databases, e-journals, e-books), as compared to the traditional focus on print or physical collection.  The electronic resources would be highly relevant in the libraries and information organizations of tomorrow.

 For the concurrent sessions, I attended the sessions – “Discovery Partnerships and Connections”, “Discovery Dilemmas”, “Reimagining the Future” etc.  Some highlights are as follows:

A particularly interesting idea of an international virtual reference service – “Chasing the Sun” was highlighted by Linda Mulheron from Westmeal Hospital in her presentation “Time is of the Essence”.  Westmead Hospital is the teaching hospital of Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney.  Since 2004, for very urgent health or medical related enquiries outside of the library’s operating hours, clinicians can email to librarians who are members, in the various parts of Australia and UK.  It takes advantage of global time differences between countries to offer out of business hours librarian support for users seeking urgently needed information.

Another interesting session was “Opportunities Outside Your Special Library: A Case Study” presented by Hayley Morten of SA Water Corporation Library.  In 2007, the library had the opportunity to be involved in developing a comprehensive water sustainability program known as the Brainwave, in South Australian schools.  The program included science labs, performing arts, hands-on workshops, tours, school visits and professional resources for teachers. This collaborative project work had effectively raise awareness of how special libraries can adapt to remain valued and relevant to their organization and community.

Daniel Rozas from the City of Joondalup presented “Discovering Digital Heritage Treasures” where he shared his experience in the project to digitalise the City’s local history resources using advanced technologies.  We were also treated to a sample of pictorial display in “Picture Joondalup”, which is a web-based pictorial catalogue that helps to raise awareness of the community’s rich heritage.

Dr John Tierney shared his thoughts on the challenges and strategies for information professionals in the online world.

At the conference exhibition, there were more than 70 exhibitors who are the major players of the library and information field like Proquest, Springer, Ebsco, Elsevier, Emerald, Ex Libris, Taylor & Francis, Oxford University Press, etc.  During lunch and tea breaks, we had a good time visiting the booths to acquaint with their latest products and services.   There was also a bookstand by Abbey’s Bookshop, where delegates could get to buy the titles written or recommended by the conference presenters.

More than 70 booths over 2 floors in Hilton Hotel were set up by market leaders in the library and information field.


The social events started with the First Timer’s Breakfast on 11 July morning, where we get to know each other over a hearty meal.  The Welcome Cocktail Party on the same evening was enjoyable, and we had a good time over the delightful finger food as we shared the day’s learning points with one another.

The highlight of the social event was the Conference Dinner at the famed Art Gallery of New South Wales on 12 July evening.  We also had a good time at the Thank You/Happy Hour on 13 July evening, as we sadly bid farewell to the friends that we had recently made.

With fellow conference delegates at Thank You/ Happy Hour.

Saturday, 14 July 2012 (Home)

With the pleasant memories, learning points and a lot of goodies for family members and friends, I reluctantly boarded the plance back to Singapore.

I am grateful to the Library Association of Singapore for the sponsorship to attend this enriching and informative conference organized by the Australian Library and Information Association.  Thank you LAS!

Reported by Foo Soo Chin.