My NSW public library conference was in May 1994 in Deniliquin and I had not long been appointed to the position of Manager Central West Libraries. The minute I arrived I knew I had found my ‘tribe’ and 27 years later I still feel the same. Of course in 1994 the conference I was attending was organised by the Country Public Library Association of NSW (better known as CPLA). In those days we had two associations – the CPLA and the Metropolitan Chief Librarians which morphed into the MPLA. It didn’t matter if you were country or metro everyone was welcome at all conferences – which is how it should be!
The first CPLA conference had been held in Parkes in 1989 when the Association was formed by a group of elected representatives and library managers determined to get additional funding. They invited the then Minister, Peter Collins, to successfully plead their case and the role of the Association as an advocate for the sector was born.
After that first conference in Deni (a sign saying ‘Do it in Deni’ welcomed people to town and really took my fancy!), I was determined to host a CPLA conference in Orange. The amazing Central West Libraries team were right behind me and in 2001 we welcomed 350 delegates to ‘Australia’s Colour City’. We had promised delegates snow and as if on cue it arrived. I remember my then GM saying ‘ I always knew you were good, but not that good’! One of the highlights of the social program was a performance by The Heavenly Divas at the Orange Ex-Services Club. Singing torch songs of the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s they had expected a quiet crowd who would sit back and listen – boy were they wrong! They are still talking about ‘that library conference’.
In the early 2000’s the NSW Library Marketing Group which comprised representatives from CPLA and MPLA plus the Victoria Anderson from the State Library was particularly active. We all fancied ourselves as thespians and decided to enrich the conference programs with skits which demonstrated the importance of marketing your library. I could be cruel and say it was all about the costumes but I digress. When the 2003 conference was scheduled for Tweed Heads we immediately went into overdrive to create an all singing, all dancing routine. My particular number was Hey Big Lender. Given that I can’t sing to say my life Melinda Maybury sang and I flounced around on stage. We were taking our curtain call when I felt a piercing pain near my right eye. Conan the Librarian to my right had moved his real sword at just the wrong time and I had a nice slash. This required a visit to the hospital and a rather lengthy explanation to our WHS officer back at Council. Conan (aka Chris Jones) was mortified – and continues to be as I remind him of it often. For a taste of our cleverness why not listen to our own Roger Henshaw singing one of the songs from that hit show at Tweed Heads (A Bookish Kind of Love) – take it away cousin.
In 2011 the conference organised by the MPLA at the beautiful Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains was impacted by the September 11 bombings in the USA. A number of speakers were unable to attend and the mood was sombre.
On an historic day in June 2014 the two associations became one. Five months later we had our first joint conference at beautiful Mudgee in Central West NSW.
Twelve months later the conference was held in Sydney with the nautically themed conference dinner at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney – what a hot night that was!
One of the most important components of our conference is our sponsors (and I am so delighted to be one this year). Its fabulous to catch up with our colleagues who support us through thick and thin. I treasure this beautifully monogrammed journals which was a gift from our friends at Bolinda at the 2019 conference.
Sadly in 2020 SWITCH too fell victim to COVID but its back bigger and brighter than ever this year and a huge shout out to the NSWPLA EO Adele Casey who has done an amazing job of taking us online.
Final question, final hint – who is always the first person on the dance floor at any library conference? Hint: Initials RSK, position, Director Riverina Regional Library.
Good luck with the quiz – the entry form is online and will be open from 8am – 6pm Thursday 18 November 2021.
If you have a moment I’d love to hear your memories of our NSW conferences. Friendships are made in libraries. – I can see an oral history project on the horizon!