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Day 13 of blog every day in June 2012

Is There a Future for Libraries?
Forum report

National Tertiary Education Union WA Division Libraries Forum
Friday June 8, 2012
Curtin University, Bentley, University Club Room
Session One: The future for Libraries

Chair: Lyn Bloom, NTEU WA Division Secretary

Garry Conroy-Cooper, Manager LINC Tasmania
Barbara Combes, Lecturer, Charles Sturt University, WASLA President
Jill Benn, Associate Director Research Learning and Support, UWA

Garry Conroy-Cooper
Keynote address

Special guest, Garry Conroy-Cooper opened the forum with a keynote addressing the many issues affecting the future of libraries. In particular, he looked at the marketability of the ‘library’ brand and the hierarchical divide between professional (qualified) and non-professional (no library qualifications) staff. Using LINC Tasmania as an example, Garry showed the forum how they dropped the term ‘library’ to remove a community barrier and open up the service to those in low socio-economic backgrounds and the broader multicultural community. Evidence used to motivate this shift has come from actual research on the community rather than a “touchy-feely” perceived notion.

The LINC Tasmania provides a wide range of services to the community, focusing on those with low or poor literacy skills (42% of the Launceston area). Creating social spaces and a safe area are key in the library’s future, as ‘books’ and ‘library’ scare off those who are in need of these services the most, by dropping both and moving away from the stereotype (that only resonates with the white, upper-middle class), the LINC is able to expand its consumer base and support its community in practical ways.

Touching on the future of the library profession, Garry mentioned that many of his staff do not hold library qualifications and come from varied non-library backgrounds. As manager of LINC Tasmania, he encourages strong leadership and responsibility in all of his staff, noting that qualifications only contribute to staff’s ability. They also need to bring other attributes to the job. One benefit to the service is a wide and varied staff roster that openly encourages leadership and the fostering of new ideas from not only management but clerical staff as well.

A final key point was made in regards to marketing and communications. Strong brand recognition (LINC Tasmania) and market research on your target audience helps to promote and ensure the future of the service.

Key points

·         Take away class system in libraries (a cleaner can have opinions if they have solutions, don’t limit people based on qualifications)
·         Is the L-word (library) working for us?
·         24/7 access – supporting the clients need
·         Social spaces – social interaction remains core in the future of libraries
·         Qualifications can only contribute to your job, you need to bring other attributes
·         Review your literature/marketing – death by text is rife in libraries, use the 10 second rule to get people’s attention.
·         Difficulty/constraints including a lack of funding result in solutions (necessity is the mother of all invention)
·         Social media is a great way to distribute to the client (push/pull system)
·         Literacy developments increase your client base – the more literate your community the more your library is needed
·         Staff management divide – is it necessary, does it help the clients?
·         Why do we take so long to do something? In business if you have an idea you run with it, else someone will beat you to it
·         Research our community/client base – act on this rather than go with ‘perceived notions’
·         We should be teaching our clients critical thinking
·         A library is the only place a person can go, sit all day and not be asked why they're there - libraries as safe spaces
·         Start speaking in the language of our investors/funders
  • You need to be able to articulate your attributes outside of your qualification (e.g. Myers Briggs)

Action items

·         Look at hosting ‘critical thinking’ sessions/talks
·         Open forums for staff to communicate ideas and solutions
·         Take time to research our non-clients – why are they not using our service?
·         Focus on service delivery (not books)
·         Continue to promote social spaces in library
·         Literacy development for our community – talks/sessions/lessons (Garry referred to this as the decade of literacy and advocated finding opportunities to attach literacy to events and programs)
·         Take risks!

Barbara Combes

This presentation focused on the growing number of online services and competing formats available to the general public, and how the library of the future needs to be able to cope with this information overload. The list of technology available is growing faster than libraries can keep up, we also have to deal with old formats (microfiche, faxes) alongside the new (social media, eBooks). The world is suffering from information overload with the information landscape continuing to grow in depth and complexity, libraries are seen as a beacon through this and we are expected to know all and teach our clients how to navigate through new technology.

There are very high levels of low literacy and numeracy skills in Australia, which can either hinder or help the library of the future. Barbara focused on digital natives vs digital refugees and how information presented on screens can be a barrier to both the young and old (we still print out vast amounts of information because it is easier to read on paper).

Key points

·         Increasing amounts of new technology that sit alongside the old
·         Suffering from information overload
·         Low levels of literacy and numeracy skills in Australia
·         Didn’t like the phrase ‘Library 2.0’ (where will it end?)
·         Changing the name of eBooks to ‘Digidocs’ more accurately reflect what they are
·         Information professionals should learn tech skills as required or hire people who have these skills

Action items

·         Investigate what the library can do to promote literacy and numeracy in our community
·         Keep staff up-to-date with new technology and build an interest for future development.

Jill Benn

Jill Benn focused on the developments and progress of the UWA Science Library. Completed in 2009, the library has become a huge success (so much so the students created a song about it and they are now running out of space as students are often perched on chairs/sitting on the floor. Noticeably, the collections have been banished from the ground floor of the library, choosing to focus more on the social spaces as a first impression. Jill noted that where originally they library staff wanted more room for the collection (they even considered moving entire off-site collections back on site) they are now looking at how to reduce unused collections to increase social areas.

The library consists of both collection and learning spaces, the two co-exist but it is the learning space that is more important to the students. This is shown by the fact that the aforementioned song (written independently by students) does not mention the collection at all. Statistics on the collection show that 40% of items have been borrowed zero times since the library first opened in 1994, and a further 40% have been borrowed less than twice. This represents a poor return on investment, while the success of the social spaces is far more visible.

There is a change of direction from traditional attitudes that focus on the collection to instead focusing on the people who use the service and space. As our clients’ behaviours change, the library service needs to become more proactive to influence the change, rather than remaining reactive. By changing priorities to align more with our users (as opposed to what we as library staff consider priorities) we stand a better chance of surviving into the future.

Key points

·         Libraries need collections AND learning spaces
·         Learning spaces are more important/represent a better return on investment
·         How much of the collection has never been used?
·         The three P’s: Priorities; Proactive; People
·         Be proactive and influence change, rather than react to it
·         Success is success even if it isn’t what you expected
·         People are going to be central to our strategy

Action items

·         Look at our priorities for the next financial year, where is the focus?
·         Become more proactive in our policies/activities
·         What return on investment are our funders getting?
·         Continue to focus on learning spaces/services

Session Two: The future for Library Staff

Chair: Matt McGowan, NTEU National Assistant Secretary


Stephen McVey, University Librarian, University of Notre Dame Australia
Steven Fleming, Library Assistant, Curtin University
Gabe Gooding, NTEU National Vice President General Staff

Stephen McVey

Putting aside qualifications, Stephen McVey examined the attributes that universities should be instilling in graduates to help them thrive in a changing world. These are: critical thinking, flexible skills, leadership, cultural diversity and becoming active global citizens. As employers, we should be looking for these attributes in all of our new staff, it ensures that as new user needs/services disappear, the staff can change and evolve as they are constantly learning and experiencing. Along with these core attributes, both employers and the universities should be encouraging experimentation and fostering resilience (taking risks, it’s ok to fail). Open discussion and dissension should be welcomed among staff to foster ideas and encourage collaboration (both within the profession and externally). While professional development belongs to the individual it should be openly encouraged and supported to enrich the working environment and ensure the future of the profession and service.

Resilience and experimentation are required in the growing world of technology. As new software, hardware and expectations are created, our staff need to keep up with and preferably surpass the skills of clients. To help our clients better navigate the digital world we should learn and teach new IT skills. Resilience and critical thinking will enable us to define problems to understand and solve them, rather than letting technology lead us.

By encouraging these attributes from staff we will help to ensure a resilient workforce and a future for the library and information profession.

Key points

·         Help graduates thrive in a changing world
·         Create and hire resilient staff
·         Teach critical thinking
·         Promote leadership amongst all staff/graduates
·         Embrace cultural diversity and consider how it affects you
·         Become active global citizens
·         We should look beyond qualifications on job descriptions (look for leaders and critical thinkers)
·         Encourage experimentation and risks
·         Collaboration – collaborate with external organisations as well as internal
·         Learn IT skills and language
·         Teach IT people our skills
·         Encourage/promote mentors and role models
·         Let us lead technology, not the other way around
·         Openly encourage discussion and dissension
·         Read widely and discuss what we have learnt
·         Replace formal meetings with casual conversations

Action items

·         Create an environment where staff can ask questions without fear
·         Encourage/promote mentors and role models
·         Foster and promote resilience in our staff
·         Encourage all staff to be leaders and support those who step forward
·         Collaborate across all internal services and talk to our wider community
·         Enable staff to learn from each other

Steven Fleming

Steven offered a unique perspective on the topic of library staff as he is a library assistant at Curtin University. Focusing on non-professional and casual library staff it was noted that there was no ‘official’ career path for these workers (apart from completing a technician diploma or librarian degree), despite being considered valid careers by those working in them.

We were shown what was required to cultivate a genius (Da Vinci, Shakespeare, and Plato) and compared this to current working and teaching environments. A key ingredient in creating a genius was the free flow of ideas coupled with a great diversity. In the eras of the examples given it was noted this came in the form of large cities, new ports and shipping lanes, the modern equivalent of high speed internet and our diverse culture. Along with this freedom of information was the development of new teaching and learning methods, namely the mentor/mentee dynamic. If the library service wants to cultivate ‘geniuses’ (and we do!) what do we need to do?

Largely we need to promote the free flow of ideas and embrace diversity in our libraries, not just culturally but also professionally. Encouraging non-professional staff to be involved and provide solutions to problems enriches the learning environment for all staff. This new staffing model suggests a flatter structure and encourages non-professional staff take on higher duties. It advocates a rethink of the traditional ‘Librarian’ vs ‘Library Assistant’ roles. In addition the adaption of mentor/mentee relationships can help develop staff career paths and encourage open learning and free thinking.

Key points

·         Encourage free flow of ideas
·         Embrace diversity amongst staff
·         Look at new forms of learning/teaching
·         Mentorships
·         Risk and failure are not dirty words
·         Experiment with new staffing models
·         Majority of library workers aren’t librarians or techs
·         Cultivate your own geniuses

Action points

·         Actively promote ideas from all staff
·         Look for diversity in new hires (not just library backgrounds)
·         Encourage staff to try new things and learn from mistakes

Gabe Wooding

Using statistics from a university survey, Gabe showed how staff (both professional/management and clerical) felt about, among other things, recognition of acquired skills and career satisfaction. It was noted that libraries are the third biggest employers in a university setting.

From the clerical staff, almost 50% saw their job as a career while it was felt more strongly in the professional sector (which was expected of qualified professionals). Many across both sectors felt that their recognition for acquired skills and knowledge went unrewarded or unrecognised. It was felt across the board that staff are expected to up skill in order to keep up with increased workloads and the larger number of clients accessing the service. Additional training and development was often offered to management/professional staff, but frequently overlooked for clerical/non-professional staff, despite being required to keep up with client demands.

Key points

·         Libraries are the third biggest employers in a university setting
·         Staff want recognition for acquired skills and knowledge
·         Many non-professionals see their jobs as careers
·         Client demands often require up skilling of non-professional staff
·         Training and development should be offered to lower level staff

Action points

·         Encourage clerical staff to seek out and actively engage in professional development
·         Foster learning (and teaching) environments for all staff
·         Recognise staff when they acquire new skills and knowledge

b    By Andrew Kelly

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