Monday, 10 June 2013


This year ALIA Sydney, ALIA New Grads NSW and ALIA NSW Library Techs are jointly presenting unmeash2 unconference at UNSW Kensington Campus on 20th July (Registrations open today at

The astute amongst you will notice that this is unmeash2 which implies there must have been an unmeash1 - this is actually the 5th unconference I have organised, the other 4 being for the ALIA NSW Library Technicians Group. So, I'd like to explain how I got started on this journey and how the unconference model came to the NSW Library world.

Back in 2005 I was involved as one of the organisers of the neXt 2005 National Library & Information Technicians Conference for ALIA which was held in Sydney. I was interested in narrative storytelling techniques that were being used in a corporate environment by people like Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge/Cynefin in the UK and Shawn Callahan of Anecdote in Australia. I had written what amounts to a treasure hunt for the neXt conference that was based on a story that involved two book detectives (Follows and Leeds) who tracked down long overdue books and reunited them with their Libraries so had evolved an elaborate back story to the game. One of my co-organisers said that people would remember the narrative of my story as one of the underlying themes of the conference (not that I'm sure anyone does!). Anyway, as I was exploring this I subscribed to Anecdote's email (at and in one of their posts that year they talked about the concept of an unconference.

The gist of their post was that if you have ever gone to a conference often the best bits of a conference are often the spaces between the sessions when you sit around at morning tea, lunch or afternoon tea with people you've met up with, discussing the matters that matter most to all of you at that time. They then wondered what would happen if you took away the speakers, the organised sessions and the high overheads and costs and just had the 'spaces inbetween' when people can gather and talk in small groups about the stuff that mattered to them and share stories and ideas and information.

It was too close to the conference to add an unconference element so I let it go but the idea appealed and I let it 'fester' away for a while. My wife and I went to the UK for 4 months in 2006 and then in 2007 I started to investigate the idea further about unconferences for Library people. In 2008 I mentioned it at an ALIA NSW LT Group committee planning meeting saying we should do one - and they politely said 'well, as you are the only one who knows what you're talking about, you can organise one!"

So. I did. In 2009 I organised what was the first Library-related unconference in NSW - one8nine on 1st August 2009 (hence the name). We had 25 people turn up at the Australian Catholic University at North Sydney and it went really well. Although the 'rules' of unconferences are that there are no speakers, as I hadn't actually been to an unconference I broke that rule and had a speaker. Amy Luscombe had recently left BlueScope Steel (where I was working in the Library) and had started work at an environmental sustainability company in North Sydney and she generously came and gave us a talk about sustainability which very much pertains to Libraries and she helped set the tone for the first unconference. At the end of the day, we asked people if they'd want to do another one... and as this will be the fifth...

What makes this year's unmeash2 unconference exciting is that we (ALIA NSW LT Group) are joining with ALIA Sydney and ALIA New Grads NSW to jointly present and promote the unconference so we will have Librarians, Library Technicians and Information Professionals together in one space from many varied Libraries and backgrounds pooling their ideas and stories and experiences. It is a great collaborative and networking opportunity.

If you've ever been to any of the previous incantations of the unconferences at ACU North Sydney this one will build on the lessons learnt from them and be (hopefully) bigger and better and just as much fun and a fantastic learning experience for all who are there. 

So do yourself (and your career and your professional development) a favour and register today (or tomorrow) and be a part of unmeash2. You won't regret it!

Every unconference has been different but each of them has been a learning experience and professionally they are such an intensive boost to my knowledge of Libraries across Sydney - and beyond! One of the best things is to be in a room full of people who are all speaking the same language! It is very empowering!

Rob Thomson

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