Trips from Aberdeen to most places take a long time. Not being one to turn down the rare opportunity to travel abroad in my library's interest, I journeyed for 12 hours via three Flughafens and four Bahnhofs, two planes and three trains to a conference on Electronic Publishing and Libraries in Bielefeld, Germany. It's very cold in Northern Germany in early February, much colder even than Aberdeen. The temperature outside did not rise much above -9oC during my visit.
The conference was billed as being presented in German and English with simultaneous translation. The uncomfortable reality of life as an MEP or a UN delegate hit me as I sat glumly in my headphones following each successive Powerpoint presentation.
Civil servants, telecommunications specialists, lawyers and computer engineers as well as publishers and librarians were among the presenters and participants from several European countries. There was 'passion' for copyright and antagonism for German Telecom. One view saw the Internet as allowing a return to the ideals of 17th century scholarly publishing by encouraging free communication among scholars. Understandably, at a conference for librarians and publishers, a common theme was the key role of both in bringing order to the chaos of the Internet (provided that neither becomes extinct first). What did I learn? Never speak at a conference on electronic publication without back-up overhead slides. Several exponents of the brave electronic future were let down by the limping technology of today. Also, don't travel to winter conferences in Germany without thermals. And never assume that the language of networking is international.
The return journey (travelling time – five hours, hanging about between connections – six hours) was frustrating. In a curious way, however, it seemed appropriate.