CONSAL XIV Hanoi Reflections Part II: The Social Life of Documents

The 14th CONSAL conference in Hanoi was a large gathering of librarians from Southeast Asia, trainers, educators and other information professionals who are involved in the ongoing library science education.

It is a tremendous achievement on the part of the organisers and our host, the National Library of Vietnam, to have made this conference so successful in terms of programming and schedules. Of course there were some hiccups, as you would expect given that there were more than 300 participants, but at the end of the day, they were inconsequential.

 CONSAL at the opera

As I work in an academic library, I was naturally drawn to papers that were relevant to my work, in particular, the paper on climate change and Vietnam’s coasts by scientist Dr. Boris Fabres because his core topic falls into the multidisciplinary field of environmental science — a subject area that I have been struggling with in collection development.

We hear about and experience the effects of climate change and know instinctively something is awry — the extreme temperatures and rainfall, extensive bleaching of coral reefs, loss of habitats — to name a few. But finding scholarly and scientific literature to support what we know intuitively is not as straightforward as you imagine it to be. Dr Fabres highlighted the key obstacles in the knowledge ecology and called for more engagement between information professionals and the scientific community so that environmental issues can be elevated from hearsay to research objectives, policy agenda, and curricula in schools.

While the university environment is ideal for such an engagement, in practice, it requires a lot of hard work and time. Given the time demands at the workplace and the nature of institutions (including libraries), it is necessary to make a concerted effort for engaging in a dialogue as well as searching and evaluating sources such as grey literature produced by NGOs working in developing countries. One of the tools that libraries have is subject or research bibliographies.

Compiling bibliographies seem a little old fashioned in view of automated indexing through web crawlers and sophisticated software, but I see compiling specialised bibliographies as an invaluable way of initiating dialogue with people who work in the field. If we have a target audience, as I do in an academic library, it is an added bonus knowing that the resulting bibliography is relevant and useful to a group of people. The social life of documents is an aspect of information and library science that we seldom hear about amidst discussions on processes, services and technologies. It would certainly put a human dimension to how resources are organised and made more accessible in libraries in the context of production of knowledge. In short, knowledge is social and libraries are an integral part of the cycle.  

 By way of a postscript, I was wonderfully surprised that the Library Association of Singapore (LAS) agreed to sponsor my participation in CONSAL XIV, and I would like to express my sincere thanks for the opportunity to attend and see for myself the potential of such meetings in bringing together information professionals to share industry knowledge and experience despite, or perhaps because of, varying levels of expertise.

 Fabres, Boris (2009) “Climate change and Vietnam’s coasts” in The 14th Congress of Southeast Asian Libraries (CONSAL) conference proceedings. Conference held in Hanoi, 20-23 April 2009.

 Contributed by Winnifred Wong. NUS Libraries