In February this year, I was fortunate to be able to attend VALA2012 in Melbourne. This was my second VALA conference, having also attended VALA2010. And just like last time, I found VALA to be an amazing experience in terms of content, presenters and attendees.

My attendance was funded by my employer, Charles Darwin University (CDU) Library, this time around (I paid my own way in 2010), so after the conference I put together a summary of some of the major themes of the conference as they applied to academic libraries for our management team. I picked out three top themes, but also cherry picked a bunch of other interesting topics that I thought were relevant to my workplace.

For me, the top three themes that came out of VALA2012 were:

Research data - There was a big focus on increasing the role of academic and research libraries in providing research data management services to assist researchers to organise and protect their data. Liz Lyon (UKOLN) noted that many research grants now require research projects to have data management plans in place as a condition of funding. Libraries can take a leadership role in this. Libraries and librarians need to re-skill for research, to meet the skills shortage in data informatics.

Organisational objectives - A challenge for the future: if the library doesn't work towards achieving organisational objectives, and measure (demonstrate) progress against those objectives, then its parent organisation has every right to question the library's existence and funding. The director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences told library staff "don't stay in your library if you want continued support" - they now have embedded research support in every institute, and their services are evaluated by their clients. The Guinness Archivist stressed the importance of being clear on the organisation's mission, and applying metrics re: value to the institution.

Staffing & professional development - There was much discussion about staffing models, especially related to the online/physical divide. If the majority of our collection is online, the majority of our spending is on online resources, and (in CDU's case) the majority of our students are studying online, then why do our staffing models still lean so heavily towards the physical collection and on-campus services? Librarians need skills in strategic management. Understanding emerging technologies is important for all library staff, not just liaison librarians. Informal learning sessions (eg. lunchtime sessions, technology petting zoos) should be encouraged and participation recognised/acknowledged.

Other themes raised at VALA2012 and worth noting/considering:

The catalogue - There was debate at both VALA2012 and Library Camp 2012 about the future of the catalogue. Is it for users, or is it really just inventory control? Is it a special resource, or just another database of metadata? There's a lot of data duplication in the current system - why not point to records rather than store them, they could be added straight into discovery systems. And then we could use a simpler inventory system, or even stop lending materials out(!). Another question: Why isn't our catalogue content discoverable through Google?

Streaming media - University of Tennessee, Chattanooga has similar student numbers to CDU but mostly internal: 82% of library visits are online, more than half of on-campus bandwidth use was streaming media (mostly video). Curtin University has a videostreaming libguide - they say that faculty expects the library to take up the challenge of providing streamed video content (and pay for it).

Gaming - There were some very compelling arguments for gaming as a literacy tool. And for professional development (eg. library seminars held within World of Warcraft).

Content creation - In the past, libraries brought the world to their communities. In the future, libraries will bring their community to the world (through local/special/rare collections and community-created resources). What would the library look like if we spent half our collection budget on creating experiences for our community?

Access - Experiences create expectations, young people expect to be able to access media from anywhere. Services already exist to share books and journal articles on a 'fair use' basis outside database subscriptions. We need to understand that we can't always control access, and that libraries are no longer the cheapest and easiest way to access content.

New interfaces - People are now accessing content using touch-based interfaces (smartphones & tablets), gesture-based interfaces (XBox Kinect), and voice-based interfaces (iPhone4s). Libraries should be considering this when designing services and resources.

The reference desk - UNSW replaced their reference desk with a help zone that could be easily converted into student space when not staffed (their library stays open beyond staffing hours).

Trove API - The Trove API will be released around Easter, and it looks like there will be great opportunities to integrate Trove content into our own online environment.

Tablets and mobile devices in teaching - It was noted at the University of Adelaide that student use of tablets and mobile devices in class allows teachers to use lecture theatres but still do hands-on activities.

Discovery - The National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has an integrated discovery service, where if an item is not available in full-text online, there's a button right there to request ILL (the button is colour coded to indicate delivery time).

Many of these themes were raised across multiple presentations, as well as at Library Camp 2012 and in conversation. So the links I've used here are not intended to be a complete reference list. This list of themes / topics was compiled for my own workplace, so the subject matter reflects that. And of course I couldn't attend every presentation, so for that reason too my takeaway messages will probably be quite different to those of other attendees.

I would like to make special mention of a presentation that I especially enjoyed from a colleague at my previous employer, the Victorian Parliamentary Library, about semantic tagging. My colleagues there also delivered a VALA Showcase presentation on their open source reference software. I didn't include them in the above list since the content matter didn't directly apply to my current work - but both presentations were terrific, and I'm so proud of the work that's being done there.

Abstracts for all of the presentations are available on the VALA2012 website, and it looks like many of them (or perhaps all of them) already have the papers uploaded and video recordings of the presentations available. I strongly encourage you to check them out!