Friday, July 06, 2007

Whooping it up at the Librarian Conference in Wellington

After a prolonged debate, it was finally decided that I would get to attend the School Librarian Association of New Zealand (SLANZA) conference in Wellington. At first, my colleagues and I assumed that the boss would go. Then she didn't want to go. Since it looked like nobody was going (and there was money in the budget), I told her that I was interested in attending ... but I was the employee with the least seniority, so she needed to offer it to Lara, Barbara, and Lucy first. Eventually it was decided that Lucy and I would BOTH go, which I never imagined would happen. We hurriedly reserved flights, booked a hotel, and registered for the conference before anyone could change their minds.

The big adventure began with me having to get up at 4:30 to get to the airport by 5:30 for a 6:00 flight. I am NOT good at getting up early. I am SO not a morning person, and I reminded Lucy of that repeatedly throughout the day. On the other hand, I could hardly believe that you only needed to check in 30 minutes early for an NZ flight! It's great living in a small country that isn't hyper-sensitive about security and terrorists. Curiously, Lucy and I were not seated together, but that's OK because I probably wouldn't have been very good company at that hour of the morning anyway.

Once we landed in Wellington (1.5 hours later), Lucy escorted me into the Koru Club, Air New Zealand's first-class lounge. Lucy's husband is a more-than-frequent flyer and he's a gazillion-mile member of the Koru Club or something like that. Anyway, Lucy gets access too, so she suggested that we go there for free breakfast. I'm all over that idea. It was my first time in a first class lounge and now I know what I've been missing all these years: cushy armchairs, hundreds of free newspapers, unlimited free food and drinks, fancy restrooms ... the works. I ate some really good muesli (granola) with yogurt and was tempted to find out which brand they serve because it was the best muesli I'd ever had in NZ. Mmm mmm. Alas, we had to get to the hotel before I could gorge myself further.

We took a taxi to the hotel, dropped off our bags, and walked to the high school where the conference was being held. We arrived just in time for the powhiri, a traditional Maori welcome ceremony. After the keynote speaker, it was time for morning tea: scones. Then we headed off to our first session. I went to a session on copyright laws in NZ (I know it sounds boring, but it's stuff I need to know) while Lucy learned about new IT developments in libraries. Then it was time for lunch: mini quiche and tarts. There was another session, then afternoon tea: muffins. Don't you love this country! After our 3rd session, there was even wine and cheese. They sure fed us a lot.

Like most conferences, some sessions were better than others. One frustrating presenter told us how to use an online database, but didn't even let us log on and try it ourselves. We just sat there in the computer lab and watched him do it. Ugh. The same is true of the different speakers; some were fascinating, some were funny, and some were boring. I still like going to conferences, however. There's things to learn, and new products to see, and inspiring speakers. Either I get great ideas for what I'd like to do differently, or I get validation that I'm doing some things well already.

My favourite speakers are usually the authors. In May, I went to the Auckland Writers and Readers Conference and got to hear about 25 different authors speak in various sessions. Joanne Harris (Chocolat) was wry, and Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin) was appropriately intense. Joy Cowley, an NZ children's author, told about her childhood when she always read a book while walking, and even read a book while riding her bike! (then she crashed into a parked car). I know it's nerdy, but I like to hear authors speak. At this conference, there was an entertaining speech by author Kate DeGoldi, and also Apirana Taylor, a poet who played various flute-like instruments as part of his poetry performance.

Often, the best part of a conference is the vendor tables with all their exhibits. I know they're just trying to sell me something, but they give away so many freebies that I don't mind stopping to talk to them. Lucy and I ended up with a shoulder bag full of pencils, pens, rulers, bookmarks, posters, hats, jelly beans, books, reading lamp, calculator, and notepads - besides the product information. We made a haul.

The conference ended early on the second day so the participants would have time to enjoy Wellington. You'll never guess where Lucy and I ended up - the Wellington City Library. We tried shopping, and even went into a store or two but then decided to see what the city library was like and ended up staying there the rest of the afternoon. We were interested in how they displayed their books, what kind of signage they used ("Dewey Love Non-Fiction? Dewey Ever!"), and the names of the various sections (Nostalgia Collection = classics). Lucy even took a few pictures, which brought a supervisor over who asked what we were doing. When we explained that we were school librarians admiring their set-up, she was really nice and said she was happy to answer our questions. (In America we would have been questioned to see if we were making plans for a terrorist attack) We browsed their shelves until we got bored and then started walking back. We're such library geeks. In our defence, we did go to a Belgian pub for dinner, which sounds much more happening than it was. I better skip the part about dancing on the tables and picking up cute (younger) guys in case our husbands read this. No, seriously.

The truth is that I'd been sneezing and blowing my nose all day so I took some antihistamine back at the hotel and fell asleep while Lucy was still watching CSI. Sharing a hotel room was not a problem for us, but I'd asked Curt if he ever shared hotel rooms with other guys when he went on site visits and he said No Way!. Apparently sharing a room is a girl thing.

On the last morning, the alarm went off as scheduled. I hate alarms. I hate getting up. At home, Curt gets up first, takes a shower and turns on the heater in the bathroom (this way it's nice and toasty when it's my turn). When he comes out, he gets dressed and starts to make the bed ... except I'm still in it. He folds up the duvet. Brrrr. Finally, he has to "hug" me, then sit me up, then stand me up (still hugging), and finally send me to the now toasty bathroom. It's our tradition. In the Wellington hotel room, I didn't have anyone to drag me out of bed. I explained the routine to Lucy, but she refused to perform Curt's duties. Anyway, I had to get out of bed all by myself and I performed admirably. Lucy threatened to tell Curt that my whole routine is fake, and that I'm perfectly capable of getting out of bed by myself. Uh oh.

On this particular morning, Lucy turned on the TV to watch the replay of the America's Cup race that took place in Valencia at about 2:00 in the morning. We didn't care enough about the race to stay up and watch it live (although lots of Kiwis did) but we wanted to know the outcome so we watched the replay. At this point, the New Zealand boat was down 4-2, and the Swiss boat only needed one more race to win overall. When we turned it on, the Swiss boat was ahead. It looked like it would be all over for the Kiwis. But no. Something happened to the Swiss boat ... they were losing ground ... the Kiwis passed them! It looked like the Kiwis might win after all. The Kiwi boat kept gaining ground (do they call it gaining ground or is it gaining water?) and had a comfortable lead as they neared the finish line. But apparently the Kiwis had a penalty against them from an earlier infringement. This meant they'd have to make the boat do a pirouette! So just before the finish line, they cranked it hard to the right (starboard? port?) and the boat turned in a tight circle. Unfortunately, this allowed the Swiss boat to catch up and pass them BY ONE SECOND. The Swiss boat won the America's Cup.

That was a pretty exciting finish, considering I don't even care about this sport. But boy, the rest of New Zealand sure cares. The whole country would be in mourning after this. If it's any consolation, most of the crew members on the Swiss boat were poached from New Zealand (but everyone here considers them traitors). I guess New Zealanders dominate the crews on pretty much all the boats. Sailing is HUGE in NZ. One more thing - why does Switzerland have a boat when there's not even any oceans in that country???

Today's date was July 4th, which doesn't mean anything in NZ, but would be a big holiday in the US. Since Wellington is the nation's capital - and the location of the American Embassy, I wondered if there would be some sort of 4th of July celebration there to mark the occasion. Coincidentally, the US Ambassador is from Portland, but he was appointed as a reward for his service to G. W. Bush as campaign finance chairman or something. So he probably wouldn't be amused but my explanation of why we moved to New Zealand. I guess it's just as well I didn't try to attend anything at the embassy.

Back at the conference, we had one more speaker, morning tea, another sessions, lunch, one last session, and a closing panel. Done. Our flight wasn't until 7:00 so we had some time to kill. No, we did not go to the Wellington City Library this time. We went to Borders Books. Which is almost as pathetic, I guess. For dinner, Lucy proposed that we go to the airport early and have free dinner in the Koru Club. Sounds like a plan. I got to gorge myself one last time before we flew home. This time, Lucy and I were seated together and we debriefed: good conference, lots of loot. We can't wait to share all our new ideas with our colleagues. Lucy said she'd make a Power Point of the pictures she took. I told her to remember to remove the picture of the cute guys that we picked up at the pub, or our fellow librarians might think we had too much fun.