I could write another book, easily, on my experience of the 44th ACURIL conference held from 8 – 12 June 2014, in Nassau, Bahamas, so bear with with me, as this is going to be a long post.
When Dorcas Bowler, President of the ACURIL (Association of Caribbean University, Research and Institutional Libraries) contacted me at the end of last year to request me to be a keynote speaker at this conference, I almost could not believe it. The work I have been doing in this area is new – or a new combination – plenty of people have researched and worked with either Information Literacy or Cultural Heritage, but not the two in combination. As with anything new, it takes a while before people catch on to it, and I was amazed there was going to be a full conference entirely around this theme! That the Caribbean has embraced this is absolutely thrilling to me, and they are pioneers in this area, setting a trend.
Image above: Dorcas Bowler, President of ACURIL 2013 – 2014
Several logistical arrangements later, including all the paperwork for a Transit Visa to travel via the UK, I was on my way, and nothing could have prepared me for this incredible experience, an absolute highlight, and unforgettable.
The conference took place at the stunning Melia Nassau Hotel, Cable Beach, New Providence, in the Bahamas, and when I arrived, exhausted from the long journey, I was warmly welcomed, and ushered to my room – the special room, for special guests. I was almost overwhelmed by their kindness, friendliness and hospitality. It started at the airport, where there was a lively band playing local music, and the normal dreary and dismal business of passing through border control and customs was made far more enjoyable by the lively music. Everyone, no matter how tired from their journeys, was smiling, and tapping to the beat. Now THAT is enlightened.
Upon arrival in my room, this was my view:
No words need to be said! I did not have long to gaze at it though, as I needed to sleep to be fresh for my first keynote presentation at 10.30 am the next morning.
Monday, 9 June 2014
After listening to the opening remarks and presentation, it was my honour and privilege to give my first keynote presentation. My presentation was well received, and I had several delegates speak to me about it afterwards.
The PowerPoint which guided the presentation is here:
Following that, I could relax and listen to the regional speakers from all around the Caribbean, and that was an absolute privilege, as I came to understand more about a region I had previously not known much about. I moved around the Special Interest group sessions, and found each of them lively and informative. They have special interest groups in: Academic Libraries; School Libraries: National and Public Libraries and Special libraries, which is a good grouping of interests as it allows for the various specialities of each of these to be covered. They also have Special Interest groups which are looking at creating Virtual Communities of Practice – ACURIL Special Libraries Virtual Community of Practice, ACURIL Archives and Documents Management Virtual Community of Practice, and ACURIL Information Technologies Virtual Community of Practice. This is an excellent idea and way of harnessing the technology available to us now.
The afternoon sessions consisted of several content area roundup meetings, and I was so impressed with how well developed and mature the Caribbean library sector is. Content areas included: Agriculture/green libraries; Continuing education and professional development; Cultural Heritage (Hallelujah!!!!); Health Sciences and Evidence based practice; Law and Social Sciences and Virtual Reference services.
Following a day of lively discussion, the Official Opening of the conference took place that evening, and what an opening it was!!!
Dr Berthamae Walker was the Mistress of Ceremony, and the proceedings began with the singing of their beautiful National Anthem, followed by a parade of flags, brought in by the young Bahamas military servicemen and women, where flags from each of the countries attending the conference were presented an placed at the podium.
Mrs Dorcas Bowler, President of ACURIL gave her Welcome address, followed by a moving salute and tribute to the Information Specialists and Cultural Icons of the Bahamas.
The Minister of Education, Science and Technology, the Honourable Jerome K. Fitzgerald then blessed the conference with a prayer and gave his opening remarks. It was such a pleasure to hear such an enlightened Minister speak – he just radiated integrity, good governance, and concern for the wellbeing of his people, and it especially warmed my heart and soul to hear that the Bahamas have made Information Literacy and Cultural Heritage part of their government policy, and a top priority for the further development of the Bahamas.
The evening wrapped up with a vote of thanks from one of the cultural icons of the Bahamas, Mr Charles Carter, and we were treated to a stunning performance of “Junkanoo Rush out”. It was beautiful, very, very powerful, and impossible to sit still! Junkanoo is one of THE key parts of Bahamian cultural heritage. I have included a short video clip here to give an idea, but watching it on YouTube is nothing like experiencing it in real life – the sheer power and vibrancy goes through your very bones. This IS cultural heritage, live!
From the evening:
This short video clip gives the feeling of it, live.
Tuesday, 10 June 2014
The morning began with some fascinating presentations : from the most engaging and endearing Director of the National Library of Aruba – the “Green Education Project” (how their National Library is driving a programme to get communities growing their own healthy organic food, and adhering to responsible environmental practices); a fascinating presentation on “Universal Modernism and the Architecture of Access” by Adowa Adusei, an overview on “Cultural Heritage and the role of libraries in the Bahamas” by the College of the Bahamas and “Conserving the Intangible Cultural Tradition of Ramlela in Trinidad: the role of Libraries, Museums and Documentation Centres” by the Alma Jordan Library, Trinidad and Tobago.. I enjoyed the high quality presentations, which were a refreshing display of original conceptual thinking, something very much needed in this profession. The Caribbean is definitely a world leader in original thought and implementation in our profession, and I definitely add them to Singapore as a well developed example of best practice.
Following these excellent presentations, I thoroughly enjoyed attending and observing the 1st ACURIL General Assembly where the business of ACURIL was discussed. It was very interesting to observe the professionalism of this Library Association.
After a break for lunch, I gave my second presentation, which was more informal, as the theme for this session was intrinsic to the Caribbean, and so I shared my experiences and observations from the survey research I have recently been conducting in Cape Town South Africa, which I was happy to hear was of great interest to delegates.
The afternoon continued with presentations of excellence, and I learned so much from them. They were: from the College of the Bahamas, “Information Literacy in the Bahamian context: Exploring its history and offering suggestions for partnerships between libraries, archives, museums and cultural heritage organizations”; from professor Fay Durrant of Jamaica, “Perceptions of the role of library/information specialists in Media and Information Literacy (MIL) education for use of government services”.
I particularly loved the presentation from the Philipsburg Jubilee Library, St Maarten, “Cultural Heritage and information Literacy on St Maarten: the role of the Philipsburg Jubilee Library”, which showcased an outstanding example of how a library has taken action to capture oral history and the memory of the Elders of the Island, and produced a DVD by Laura Bijnsdorp entitled “Back in the day: Sint Maarten”. I was delighted to be given a copy of this DVD, which I would simply love to show to South African cultural heritage workers as a fine example of what can be done. The link to more information about the DVD is here.
A planned cultural evening was rained out, but nothing dampens the spirit of the Bahamians, so instead there was a lively party with music in the conference room, and all who attended danced and celebrated. I was seen also to be dancing and getting on down, and we had a wonderful time!
Wednesday, 11 June 2014
The keynote speaker for this morning was Patricia Glinton-Meicholas, of Nassau, Bahamas, and I could have listened to this lady for days. She is a cultural icon of the Bahamas, with incredible memory of all the history and culture of the Bahamas, and has written several books to preserve this memory. I was honoured to be given a copy of her book “How to be a True-true Bahamian”, which is a delight to read, and gives one a unique view of Bahamian life, culture, history and heritage. Her presentation was entitled “Cultural Heritage in the Bahamas and the Caribbean: the ties that bind”, as the title suggests, she spoke to how the culture of all the indigenous people in the Caribbean links them together as one people.
Following this, there were further meetings of all the Special Interest groups mentioned earlier, and these were a pleasure to observe.
Following lunch, we had more excellent presentations: “Heritage collections as a means to teach Information Literacy”, from the Director of User Services, Special Collections, National Library of Jamaica, and from Marion Bethel, author and lawyer, a fascinating presentation of “Womanish ways, Freedom, Human Rights and Democracy: Documentary on the Women’s suffrage movement in the Bahamas 1948 – 1962”.
Thursday, 12 June 2014
We all dressed in green on this day, as it has become a tradition of the ACURIL annual conference to dress in green to show solidarity with their colleagues in Haiti.
I gave the keynote at 9.00 am, focusing specifically on the Model of information Literacy and Cultural Heritage for Lifelong Learning, and a copy of my presentation which guided the talk is here:
I also dressed in green, and this is a picture of me with two colleagues following question time at the end of my presentation.
Following this, the second ACURIL General Assembly took place, and I again attended as an observer. I was again so impressed with the maturity and professionalism of this library association. There was some vigorous debate at times, but no one was silenced, and all views were heard and considered before final decisions were made.
There were further excellent presentations, which I will not describe further as this blog post is long enough as it is, but the full conference programme is available here .
The final official closing ceremony took place, with a banquet in the Ballroom, and the showcasing of all the cultural icons in the Bahamas. Also, several members of ACURIL were honoured for their achievements, and recognised as ACURILean Stars. I was honoured again, after all that had already been done for me, to be presented by the outgoing President of the ACURIL, Dorcas Bowler, and Dr Luisa Vigo-Cepeda, Executive Secretary of ACURIL, with a thank you gift of a set of exquisite book holders decorated with shells from the ocean.
It was interesting that the ACURIL president serves for one year – understudying in the previous year as Vice President, setting the theme for the upcoming year, and preparing for that one conference before handing over the baton after their conference. I consider that an excellent practice, as it gives many more people the opportunity to serve, and with so many ACURILean Stars, there are many who deserve the opportunity! It also allows each president to fully own their theme and conference, without handovers taking place in the middle of events.
ACURIL is outstanding – they demonstrate how to combine being professional, with being human, and they are wonderful, warm, generous and friendly people. It was like being part of a family for a week, and I loved ACURIL so much, that I have joined as a non-voting international member, and will always be a member as I feel connected to them for life.
There was only one aspect that marred the conference, and I need to mention it, as it was significant. My book was published by Chandos in the UK, and I was truly grateful to Chandos for being my first publisher – I really loved working with them. Towards the end of 2013, Elsevier bought out Chandos, and thus my book is now being sold by Elsevier. Before the conference, both Dorcas and I tried our level best to get Elsevier to attend the conference in order to be able to sell copies of my book. It was thus very disappointing when they said that they would not be attending. So many of the delegates wanted to buy my book at the conference – they would easily have sold over a hundred copies, and delegates could not understand why the publisher was not there. There will no doubt be some sales following the conference, but nowhere near as many as there would have been had delegates been able to buy a copy at the conference.
As one delegate said to me: “I live on a remote desert island, and I would have definitely bought the book here, but it is very difficult for me to order over the Internet, and thus I will not be able to buy the book now”. She was not the only delegate in that position. The selling of the book for me is not about the money – the royalties are minimal, especially for a first time author in a niche academic field, but it IS about the availability of the book for people who are interested. So that was really disappointing, and a unique opportunity which is unlikely to reoccur was lost.
For those colleagues from the conference reading this, the link to purchase my book from the Internet is here.
Apart from that one negative, in summary, I can say that this was a life-changing experience and professional highlight without comparison for me, and I will be forever grateful to Dorcas Bowler and the ACURIL organizing committee for inviting me, sponsoring me, and giving the most heart-warming, as well as intellectually stimulating experience in years. I am officially in love with the Bahamas and the Caribbean – the people and the place, and they have joined my list of special places previously occupied by Singapore and Buenos Aires. I have also learned so much and have assimilated a lot of new information and ideas. I already have the seeds of an idea for my next book germinating, and the work already done in the Caribbean in Information Literacy and Cultural Heritage has given additional direction and inspiration on what needs to be done next.
The 45th ACURIL conference will be held next year in Suriname, led by the new President of ACURIL, Mrs Jane Smith, and the theme is: “Collaborative Continuing education: learn, act, inspire – Professional and Personal development opportunities for Lifelong Learning in Libraries, Archives and Museums in the Caribbean.”
In closing, here are some of my photographs from the trip. If you have the means to travel, I would highly recommend the Bahamas, and in fact a tour of all the islands in the Caribbean, as one of the best holiday destinations ever.