Life interrupted – 7

It’s not been a great week. Dominic Cummings was not sacked for breaking lockdown in the UK, another unarmed black man was killed in the US and lest you think Australia is so much better, Rio Tinto blew up 46000 years of history. And that’s just a few things, not counting the thousands of people who are still getting sick and dying from a deadly virus.

I am unequal to the task of commenting on world events other than to say my heartaches at the news. I also feel a bit disheartened because I was desperately hoping for something better, which seems a bit silly when it’s clearly more broken than ever.

In my city of Melbourne, restrictions have begun to ease. While this is great for businesses, it’ll make very little difference to me. I’m still working from home and remain circumspect about going out. People are doing their best, but boy have we already forgotten about our physical distancing practices.

Working from home remains hard – the flexibility is great but the mechanics of doing the work I do is better suited to an office. My team is working on a major project and I’m worried that we are going to miss something vital because of the difficulties working from home creates.

The sector I work in is in for a rough few years. The government actively cut us out of Jobkeeper, though there are some deep seated issues that even payments of this kind would not have addressed.

I have been attending a lot of union meetings lately, both official and not so much. The National Tertiary Education Union negotiated the National Jobs Protection Framework with Vice Chancellors and let’s just say it’s been an unmitigated disaster. Universities have refused to sign up and members of unions across the country have voted against the framework.

As a newish union member a lot of what happens at meetings goes right over my head. I have absolutely no idea what standing orders are and the first meeting I ever went to was just a lot of people (virtually) shouting at each other about conducting the meeting properly. I left early because it did not feel like it was my world.

I’ve persisted in going along because friends have been heavily involved in a grass roots campaign against the NJPF and I wanted to support them. While meetings have been fractious and I still mostly have no idea what’s going on, they have also been fascinating. From an objective standpoint watching the political machinations from both sides has been riveting.

At a meeting last week, a quorum of members overwhelmingly rejected the NJPF. Under union rules this should have been a binding decision. Despite this, the national executive is pressing ahead with another vote anyway, because you should totally keep asking the question if you don’t like the answer you got first time.

It’s quite alarming that they would take this path given their stated aims is to be a voice for members. Indeed it feels that they are just like all the other organisations that do whatever they want when it’s convenient to them, which is bitterly disappointing and not what I expected when I paid my (rather expensive) membership fees. For this reason, I am already considering resigning my membership.

I’ve been intending to write about libraries, but I find myself with almost nothing to say that has not already been said by others. Except that I have decided to not renew my membership to ALIA this year, for the exact same reasons I am reconsidering my union membership.

ALIA is a member based organisation that advocates and lobbies for libraries but not library workers, which seems a bit weird to me even though they are not a union. I have long been critical of them but it’s become even more apparent during the pandemic that they are an organisation that does not fit with what I want for my profession. 

Many libraries are reopening now and ALIA have put out a stack of guidelines about how to do this “safely”. Almost none of it mentions staff, outside considering shorter shifts and providing hand sanitiser.

This is simply not good enough.

Re-opening the library puts the emotional and physical health of library workers at risk, they essentially become frontline staff in a global pandemic. Under the circumstances, their safety and needs should be the first priority, not services or promoting the “library brand” – whatever the hell that is anyway.

I’m tired of the system winning and super rich people riding off into the sunset, while workers bear the costs. I don’t have the energy or will to continue support institutions that prop up the very broken status quo anymore and don’t stand up for their values.

I’m angry enough right now that I want to set the world on fire. And out of the ashes be part of making something new.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speak up. Even if your voice shakes.

I received a compliment the other day someone said they liked me because I say what I think. It made me smile. Both because who it came from and well, forthrightness is not often seen as a virtue, particularly not in women and and especially not in Christian women.

Speaking up has been on my mind a lot lately. Ever since Cecily Walker’s closing keynote at VALA2020. If you haven’t seen it here’s a link to the video and the essay on her website. I urge you to watch it and then watch it again.

It was an earth shattering keynote and I’m still grappling with it. Firstly, all the ways I’m privileged as an able-bodied cis-gendered white woman. Secondly, all the ways I might  not have supported my BIPOC colleagues in the past because I don’t understand my privilege. Thirdly, how I can – to put it in Cecily’s words – be the goose – in the future.

A few discussions afterwards focused on the safety of speaking up. Everyone feels it’s not safe, our BIPOC colleagues in particular. This is something I’ve grappled with too, and why I freak out every time I publish a blog post that might be controversial. I’ve talked this over with a friend who says that we probably overplay the danger of speaking up, he’s right but he’s also a white man.

I don’t know how I’ve become a person who says what they think. I mean it wasn’t a deliberate life choice. But when faced with staying silent and speaking up, I always think there’s no point in not saying it, I’m certainly not going to die wondering. And it comes from a place of sincerity, from a deeply held belief that maybe by speaking up I can make a difference.

Momentarily as well, it helps ease the burning sensation inside my chest. Which sits somewhere between my heart and my stomach and hurts like hell: it’s anger, despair, helplessness. A constant awareness of injustice, caused by seeing how bloody unfair the world is for most people, and how little I can do to change it.

It started in earnest the moment I realised the libraries weren’t the dream promised. It started when I sat in the pews week after week and saw men preaching and leading while women’s voices were mostly in the background. It’s everywhere and all the time, sometimes a dull pain, other times it roars like an all consuming blaze.

I can of course not fuel the fire – look away, not engage. Sometimes out of necessity I must but I’m drawn back in because this feels like the fight I must have. And maybe,  against all evidence to the contrary, I can maybe make things better.

If “I” was “we” though, if more of us who can speak up were willing to speak up (hello men in libraries), there’d be less risk. We know from activist campaigns that collective groups have more chances of success. And we know that we have in the past successfully forced change when we speak up together.

During the same sex marriage plebiscite campaign in 2017, many of us came together in response to our professional association’s appalling statements on the issue – if you can’t remember what happened, Lissertations has all the details on her blog. Collectively, we forced the board to issue a second statement – it still fell short of what was needed but it was the best we could get from them.

The point is, lone voices can be seen as outliers but if we all speak together it’s harder not to listen. We can only really enforce change if we gather, organise and work together. One voice crying in the wilderness when joined with others becomes a chorus and a louder voice for positive change.

Being the only one speaking up is hard, I know this from personal experience. Last year I raised the issue of saying an Acknowledgment of Country at church services. Everyone voted yes to be polite but then reneged – when it came to it, I was alone – even the vicars after initially agreeing bailed. It was devastating.

Speaking up has probably cost me a job – I mean if you ask difficult questions, in the interests of doing better things, you are often not popular. Once I was told I was terrifying and difficult to work with because I refused to compromise on what we were trying to achieve. Last year, a man I liked decided he wanted nothing more to do with me after I published a blog post about how patriarchal libraries are.

These things hurt. But, to be clear, they are nothing compared to the racism and silencing our BIPOC colleagues face every single damned day. They are nothing compared to working in an industry, which paints itself as inclusive but is really built on colonial, patriarchal and overwhelmingly white ideals.

Everyone needs to decide for themselves whether they are prepared to wear the costs of speaking up. In reflecting on Cecily’s talk, I realised that I don’t want a career in an industry where our BIPOC colleagues feel like they don’t belong. Where patriarchal systems and library nice (image from Walker’s Keynote address) are the status quo.

We must do and be better than this.

So I’m going to keep speaking up, and calling things out and trying to make a difference. And sure, I might get a reputation as a troublemaker and difficult but I can live with that.  Because I have too. Because it matters too much.

I urge everyone to add their voices for real and positive change, and to amplify and support the voices of our BIPOC colleagues

Be brave. Speak up. Even if your voice shakes.

 

#ALIAVotes2020 – responses

Here are the responses from nominees for the position of Director to the ALIA Board. The questions to the nominees can be found here. I will be updating this post to include new responses – and responses will be posted in date order. Note any editing is for readability only eg – bolding of questions.

18.1.2020 – to make it easier to follow, I’ve included a table of contents which I will be updating with any new responses. I’ve also reversed the order so the older responses are at the bottom and newer at the top.

Number Name Date Received 
1. Claire Thorpe 10/1/2020
2. Justine Hyde 14/1/2020
3. Helen Ebsworth 15/1/2020
4. Annette McGuiness 15/1/2020
5. Emily Wilson 18/1/2020
6. Stefanie Gaspari 17/1/2020
7. Atlanta Meyer 20/1/2020
8. Sophie Farrar 22/1/2020
9. Vanessa Little 31/1/2020 (NEW)

No response received as of 31/1/2020
Diane Velasquez

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9. Vanessa Little (received 31.1.2020)

1. There is a very top down approach to ALIA professional association, do you have any ideas or proposals for enabling more ALIA members to be directly involved at a grass roots level in developing ALIA policy and the running of the organisation?

My experience, from a public library perspective, is that ALIA is not always ‘top down’ but there are always opportunities for improvement. As a national body ALIA would need to use online tools to involve more members in policy setting. It is an interesting idea that I would like to champion through the Board.

2.     ALIA has a relevancy and retention problem with many library workers choosing to not be members. What changes to ALIA do you feel need to be made in order to make it a more appealing organisation to a wider range of people in the industry?

I can only say that I see such benefits in ALIA membership for my librarians, that our organisation has paid for their membership. This gives them access to training and information that enhances them as professionals. Perhaps we need to market membership to senior people as ideal professional development for library teams?

3.     In the draft report on the ALIA sustainable development goals, ALIA has made open access a priority for library services. Should ALIA be leading by example and making all research publications with ALIA branding including JALIA open access and why/why not?

Of course ALIA needs to lead by example but the association needs to be financially responsible too. As a Board member I would advocate for the maximum possible open access and look for ways to make up for any financial implications from doing this.

4.     ALIA released the Diversity Trends Report last year, which made a number of recommendations about diversifying the industry. What do you feel is a way forward that both ALIA and the industry can do to attract and retain people from diverse backgrounds?

My pet topic!! We need to change the perception of the industry for young people and their career advisors. It is a huge task but I think we can learn al lot from how the nurses changed the perception of their profession. It would be great if a student in our industry would make this their research topic.

5.     In the same report ALIA identified that the industry is made up of 17% of people who identify as men and 83% who identify as women. The report also highlighted that men are paid more than women. What issues do you believe this highlights for the industry and what steps will you be taking to address the unequal pay issue?

I see this as two issues. Firstly we need to advocate for women to be able to build careers around their family responsibilities. In the public library world I see that we couild possibly partner with the Australian Local Government Association to develop initiatives and policies to support this.

The other issue is that we don’t have enough men in the industry and when we want our communities to see themselves in the staff of the library, this is something to address. Of course I acknowledge that ‘at the top’ there can be an overrepresentation of men, so as a profession we must address this too, assisting women to build careers around family responsibilities and building their skills and reputations to win the ‘top’ jobs.

6.     Do you believe that LIS education programs are producing graduates with the skills needed to work in contemporary libraries or as information professionals in a range of other industries? If so, what are those key skills and if not, why not?

Our LIS educators do a great job but they are in systems that don’t allow them to be agile in response to industry needs. I have been involved in providing feedback to Charles Sturt University on this very matter. Skills relating to people management, technology and strategic thinking are required. An aptitude for reading organisations cultures and strategic directions and aligning the library with decision makers is also needed.

7.     #Critlib has become a needed movement for reflection and change within the library industry. What does critical librarianship mean to you and how will it help inform your role as an ALIA board member?

Critical librarianship to me means careful balancing of our traditional neutral role with the need to support alternative, different and sometimes marginalised voices in the community. It isn’t easy and requires careful consideration on a policy and practical level, something that I balance in my working life and would bring to the Board.

8.     What is your opinion on the state of employment in the library industry? 

There is a disconnect between the needs of industry and the some of the people entering into the profession. Industry can’t just complain about the lack of qualified librarians and the skills that they have. Industry needs to be part of the future solutions.

There seems to be a decline in the numbers of qualified librarians in some library sectors and this needs to be addressed by all ALIA members. Is this about a lack of understanding about what our profession does? If so, ALIA and its members needs to educate decision makers about the special skills of the librarian,

Research into why senior positions are going to people outside of the industry is needed.

9.     Many library workers become disillusioned and burnt out by the industry after a few years. What do you think are the causes of this and how can ALIA help address this problem?

I think that I need more information or data about this question. Is there a particular sector where people are being burnt out?

10.  Climate change is a major concern going forward into the new decade, how should ALIA respond to this challenge?

Firstly, we need to really promote that libraries are the ultimate recyclers! We have been re-using hardcopy resources for many years and we have something to celebrate.

ALIA as an association can focus the industry’s attention on sustainable services, resources and facilities through training, seminars and advocating to governments.

11.  Is there anything else you would like to add?

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8. Sophie Farrar (received 22.1.2020)

Has provided this response and welcomes anyone to contact her via twitter or email.

Thanks also for your invitation to contribute to your blog.  ALIA gathered further information from candidates at the end of the year and this was recently released on their website and via social media channels: https://www.alia.org.au/2020-candidate-update.  I hope this goes some way to providing more of an insight into my views, background, and key issues I consider important.  Feel free also to follow me on Twitter @SophiSofar.

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7. Atlanta Meyer (received 20.1.2020)

Thank you for the opportunity to give my thoughts on a few of the challenges facing ALIA and the industry in general today, why it’s worth being a member, and why I can add value as a Board member.

I have decided to respond differently for two reasons.

Firstly, there are eleven questions and ten nominees and if everyone respond, members will have to read over a hundred responses.

Secondly, retention of workers, unequal pay, state of employment, burnt out workers and climate change are global issues that many different industries face.  My views and thoughts on these issues will not provide more information about me, but will only tell you what I believe we should do.

When I look at issues, I see challenges and opportunities.

I was extremely privileged to attend two IFLA’s Global Vision Workshops, and Opportunity 8, in the report summary has recently become my biggest challenge and the motivation behind my nomination for the ALIA Board.

Opportunity 8: “We need to challenge current structures and behaviours – overcoming our passive mindset and embracing innovation and change will allow us to tackle the challenges facing the library field.” https://www.ifla.org/globalvision/report

In order to respond to trends and changing environments within the industry, we need to change our mindsets, and allow change to happen.  We need to embrace those innovative ideas, be bold and be an example of how an industry can adapt to the changing environment. I can start in my workplace, the committees I serve within Public Libraries WA, IFLA and ALIA as a member or a director if I am successful in these elections.

Librarians are very good at telling the wonderful stories that unfold within our libraries – how we adapt our services to the needs of our communities, and how we’ve changed their lives.

I want to tell ALIA’s stories. What ALIA is providing for its members; how ALIA supports its members with professional development; creating Australia wide networking forums; and how ALIA embraces innovation and change to name a few.  If we tell the ALIA good news stories, maybe the members’ who feel they aren’t involved in ALIA, as mentioned in question 1, and the retention problem mentioned in question 2, will be addressed.

I would like to finish by asking all members to please vote in this election. There is a wonderful line up of nominees with the many skill sets needed to take ALIA one step forward for its members!

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6. Stefanie Gaspari (received 17.1.2020)

1. There is a very top down approach to ALIA professional association, do you have any ideas or proposals for enabling more ALIA members to be directly involved at a grass roots level in developing ALIA policy and the running of the organisation?

One of my goals in nominating as an ALIA Director is to place the spotlight on strategic leadership on the expectations and delivery of ALIA membership experiences. User experience is at the forefront of many industries and, at its core, is about ensuring there is a process and a mindset of involving people. In many of our libraries we are driven by the needs of our users. The same holds true for ALIA, in that we must be driven by the needs of our members. My understanding of the current governance and structure of ALIA is that there are several committees whereby members can get involved in influencing the running of the organisation. However, we don’t have an association if we don’t have members, so I’d love to ask the members what is working well and what ideas or opportunities may be leveraged in the future.

2. ALIA has a relevancy and retention problem with many library workers choosing to not be members. What changes to ALIA do you feel need to be made in order to make it a more appealing organisation to a wider range of people in the industry?

On a personal note, this question resonates deeply. There was a time when I chose not to be a member as it was unclear to me how what I had to give may be relevant to the organisation and if membership would, in fact, add any value to my professional life. It saddens me to think that many library workers may share this sentiment. I feel membership may be more appealing if we could leverage synergies across the sector and create a more inclusive culture amongst people in the industry. I’d also love to see ALIA pursue collaborative partnerships with governments, education and industry to raise the profile and highlight the professional value of LIS workers in our communities. My motivation to become a member and to seek election as an ALIA Director is heavily influenced by the Lily Tomlin quote “I said “Somebody should do something about that.” Then I realized I am somebody.”

3. In the draft report on the ALIA sustainable development goals, ALIA has made open access a priority for library services. Should ALIA be leading by example and making all research publications with ALIA branding including JALIA open access and why/why not?

There is so much ALIA is doing to support the sustainable development goals! Without knowledge of what ALIA may or may not have in motion with regard to research publications with ALIA branding, I will limit my response to a short, in principle, yes — with the caveat that I acknowledge I have limited expertise on managing the various types of open access but I appreciate the provocation here and hope it is a conversation the organisation will pursue.

4. ALIA released the Diversity Trends Report last year, which made a number of recommendations about diversifying the industry. What do you feel is a way forward that both ALIA and the industry can do to attract and retain people from diverse backgrounds?

A proactive employment diversity strategy is pivotal if we are to see change within the industry. Whilst many organisations that employ LIS staff are leading the way in this area, there is still a long way to go. The recommendations made in the report help to highlight where we can focus our efforts on change. I personally feel that encouraging people to consider library and information as both a first and second career is a promising way to diversify the industry. However this relies heavily on the quality of LIS education programmes. See question 6! In the case of second career options, this relies on ALIA leveraging the skills, experiences, and networks of our new members previous careers to support in the drive for diversity.

5. In the same report ALIA identified that the industry is made up of 17% of people who identify as men and 83% who identify as women. The report also highlighted that men are paid more than women. What issues do you believe this highlights for the industry and what steps will you be taking to address the unequal pay issue?

A contentious issue! And not an issue confined to our industry alone. As a woman who has been subject to this issue in the past, my learning from the experience rests in ensuring transparency in the recruitment process and making sure all people have an opportunity to develop the necessary skills to negotiate commensurate pay and conditions. I am grateful to ALIA for being bold enough to disclose the issue — this offers those women who may be facing the issue a platform to start a conversation, and presents the people who identify as men an opportunity to advocate for pay equality and to champion change on the issue.

6. Do you believe that LIS education programs are producing graduates with the skills needed to work in contemporary libraries or as information professionals in a range of other industries? If so, what are those key skills and if not, why not?

Sadly, no. I would love to see ALIA work with higher education institutions to see the skills pertaining to LIS professionals embedded in other education programs. For example, all primary and secondary education programmes could benefit from subjects around information organisation and/or digital records management. And STEM education programmes could benefit from subjects such as project management. It would be ideal if LIS education programs could lead the way on transdisciplinary units — this would mean that students of other disciplines could gain an appreciation of the skills of LIS graduates and LIS students could have exposures to other industries. In the same way I would love to see LIS education programs incorporate units from other education programs, I am currently completing my Master of Business Administration and the skills gained from units on leadership, strategic growth and financial management have proven invaluable to my library role. To steal, R. David Lankes phrase, I believe it’s time to ‘expect more’ from LIS education programs.

7. #Critlib has become a needed movement for reflection and change within the library industry. What does critical librarianship mean to you and how will it help inform your role as an ALIA board member?

I really enjoyed reading about the breath of perspectives on #Critlib in the January/February 2020 issue of INCITE. It excites me that we are having a conversation about what is essentially a core element to being a librarian. Robert Knight’s piece stated “Asking why things are the way they are is a good start to discovering if they should be challenged” — this reminded me of a conversation with a manager I had years ago who instructed me it was my job was to ask “Why?” or, sometimes more importantly, ”Why not?”. I am curious by nature and conscious that true learning comes from questions (not answers), and I hope the fact that I am comfortable asking critical questions will help inform my role as an ALIA board member.

8. What is your opinion on the state of employment in the library industry?

Big question! I did a Seek search recently for Library Services and Information Management and found a whole 51 jobs (across Australia!). However, I do not think we can make a judgement on the state of employment simply based on the number of jobs. We live in a knowledge economy and the future of work is dependent on human skills. LIS professionals rank highly when it comes to interpersonal skills, service orientation, ICT and problem solving capabilities. The number of jobs in libraries may seem few, but I predict the number of jobs requiring the skills of knowledge professionals will be on the rise in other industries.

9. Many library workers become disillusioned and burnt out by the industry after a few years. What do you think are the causes of this and how can ALIA help address this problem?

This has not been my personal experience but I acknowledge it is a common reality in many industries. I think, in part, there is a natural lifecycle to careers and, in part, it is about cultural fit. Both organisations and people change, and if they don’t change at the same rate or along the same trajectory it can be easy to become disillusioned or burnt out. I would like to hear more from members about this issue to understand the magnitude and to learn more about what might be the cause(s) in our industry. My initial thoughts are about the role of ALIA in supporting members to experience a sense of belonging regardless of their employment relationships and how we may be able to setup professional opportunities, such as learning communities.

10. Climate change is a major concern going forward into the new decade, how should ALIA respond to this challenge?

Again, big question! More recently, I have been reading a lot about the circular economy and circular design which may serve as a business model ALIA might want to explore and/or champion within the industry moving forward. However, the more I read about climate change, the more I realise how little I know and how much there is to learn! I am a huge fan of R. David Lankes work and his advocacy for conversation theory, that is, the notion that learning occurs through conversation. My hope for ALIA is that we have the courage to acknowledge climate change is a major concern and to participate in the conversation.

11. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you for the opportunity to hear from and engage with members through these questions, and the provocation to reflect on what I have to give to the role of ALIA Director.

And, should you choose to vote for me, thank you!

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5. Emily Wilson (received 18.1.2020)

After initially declining the invitation to participate, Emily has provided these responses on 18.1.2020

1. There is a very top down approach to ALIA professional association, do you have any ideas or proposals for enabling more ALIA members to be directly involved at a grass roots level in developing ALIA policy and the running of the organisation?

ALIA functions as a healthy democracy electing its Board members from its membership base. Its conferences are organised by members and its symposiums are an excellent example of grassroots action as they are completely designed and run by enthusiastic members, with assistance, but not direction, from ALIA House. The ALIA Groups, NGAC and other advisory committees give members a voice and the chance to be involved. Perhaps more of a consultative period is required prior to the AGM so that members can provide feedback and ensure they vote/or nominate a proxy to vote on key issues. I want an association that encourages discussion, values opinions, but still has the ability to make decisions at crunch time.

2. ALIA has a relevancy and retention problem with many library workers choosing to not be members. What changes to ALIA do you feel need to be made in order to make it a more appealing organisation to a wider range of people in the industry?

I haven’t seen these numbers, but I fear this is a trend in professional memberships and trade unionism too. I’m an old school believer in the power of the collective and that ‘together we are stronger’. If we want a vibrant sector that has advocacy, and is remembered when funding decisions are being made, then we must take part. I see my ALIA membership as an investment in the future of libraries, the PR work they do for our sector is invaluable.

3. In the draft report on the ALIA sustainable development goals, ALIA has made open access a priority for library services. Should ALIA be leading by example and making all research publications with ALIA branding including JALIA open access and why/why not?

JALIA is Green Open Access. The process of evaluating, editing, and publishing research papers has a cost; so there are always budget decisions. Like a museum or gallery charging admission for a well curated exhibition. That’s the pragmatic approach. But I am a big believer that practitioners (and others who are interested) should be able to access the latest developments in their field without paying huge amounts in subscriptions. Information shouldn’t be controlled by large businesses who restrict access for profit. A sustainable open access model is the ideal.

4. ALIA released the Diversity Trends Report last year, which made a number of recommendations about diversifying the industry. What do you feel is a way forward that both ALIA and the industry can do to attract and retain people from diverse backgrounds?

Yes, an industry that reflects the diversity of the community it serves is an important goal. And people should be able to bring their authentic selves to work and have equitable access to the opportunities that allow them to reach their full potential.  To achieve this, we need to begin by listening and responding to diverse voices.

5. In the same report ALIA identified that the industry is made up of 17% of people who identify as men and 83% who identify as women. The report also highlighted that men are paid more than women. What issues do you believe this highlights for the industry and what steps will you be taking to address the unequal pay issue?

The gender pay gap is a broad and complex issue and not something easily solved. I think ALIA could share stories of workplaces that demonstrate best practice, and I would love to see support for LIS research on the development of a gender equity business case for sector.

6. Do you believe that LIS education programs are producing graduates with the skills needed to work in contemporary libraries or as information professionals in a range of other industries? If so, what are those key skills and if not, why not?

The roles in our field are diverse and varied and graduates need to be creative in their job search. LIS education provides a foundation to build upon – we do not learn everything we’ll ever need to know at university and need to be life-long learners. I found masters studies in Library & Information Management to be invaluable, gaining a good base knowledge of the GLAMR sector and the critical thinking, communication, leadership and problem-solving skills required in employment.

7. Critlib has become a needed movement for reflection and change within the library industry. What does critical librarianship mean to you and how will it help inform your role as an ALIA board member?

I support the role of libraries in promoting social justice– through their collections, services, spaces, displays, events and community connections. We need to listen and respond to diverse voices, learn, and incorporate this into our practice.

8. What is your opinion on the state of employment in the library industry? 

The Australian labour market is a considerable distance from full employment and in every sector there is an increasing trend in short-term and casual contracts. There is a competitive, crowded labour market. Again, like the gender pay gap, this is a complex issue and not easily solved. This is why a professional organisation that advocates for the sector and demonstrates the relevance and necessity of library professionals is so important.

9. Many library workers become disillusioned and burnt out by the industry after a few years. What do you think are the causes of this and how can ALIA help address this problem?

Burnout is a serious workplace issue and we need to recognise the signs and symptoms and be equipped with the tools to deal with it. Again, I think ALIA could share more stories about supportive workplaces (Employee Assistance Programs, and other workplace strategies for supporting mental health). Frontline management can have significant influence over the factors that impact burnout -and in sharing cases where this has been done well, other workplaces can begin to change.

10. Climate change is a major concern going forward into the new decade, how should ALIA respond to this challenge?

This is a critical issue that no one can choose to ignore. Developing climate action resources and making changes to develop sustainable practices needs immediate consideration and implementation.

11. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Danielle Johanesen for her tenacity and for providing this platform for us to discuss these important topics. Her dedication to the process ,and passion for the industry is great to see.

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4. Annette McGuiness (received 15.1.2020)

Disclaimer: Almost all of my library and information management experience has been in university libraries so this is the primary lens through which I share my views. However, due to my 25 years of connecting through networking and professional activities (a core of which were) facilitated by ALIA, I have made many friends and professional connections with people from a range of different library and related industry sectors and this has allowed me an understanding of many of the different as well as shared interests and issues.

1. There is a very top down approach to ALIA professional association, do you have any ideas or proposals for enabling more ALIA members to be directly involved at a grass roots level in developing ALIA policy and the running of the organisation?

I have to say that I have always found ALIA to be quite a ‘grass roots’ association and very active in canvasing views from its members – whether it be through sharing drafts on the web or through social media, through the ALIA conference, PD activities and general surveys, through the AGM preparation and papers, and of course through the various ALIA groups and advisory committees. At any time, there are close to 250 volunteers that are actively involved with association activities. Nationally there are a number of voluntary ALIA groups that are always looking for interested members to get involved, share their views, energy and passion. The number of these groups is around 40 I believe and they are a great way to be directly involved in the work of ALIA. Better promotion of these avenues of contribution would certainly help and I am sure there are plenty of other ideas of pathways that members can share too!

2. ALIA has a relevancy and retention problem with many library workers choosing to not be members. What changes to ALIA do you feel need to be made in order to make it a more appealing organisation to a wider range of people in the industry?

I have been an ALIA member since my initial library studies (over 25 years ago) mainly because I want to support my professional association to support the industry, our perspective and our service and resource contributions to Australian communities. Having a strong and united voice that can lobby government and promote our skillset is particularly important as society adapts to an increasingly digital world. I do appreciate there are a number of reasons (anecdotally) for why people are not choosing to individual members of ALIA. One main reason relates to cost – even though an ALIA membership fee is tax deductible, it is still an extra bill against the annual budget. Since the direct debit pay-by-the-month option came in I know I have found it far easier to cover this cost.

I have also found that many library professionals and para-professionals don’t become personal members because they work for a library that has institutional membership and this covers the individual’s needs. We are also an industry focused on collaboration and cooperation so we do all network and share information and experiences regularly and often freely with each other – and with associated industries as well (i.e. the GLAMR sector). Currently one of the main benefits I see is around the compiled toolkit based resources (e.g. for advocacy campaigns) and the training and development activities that we can access either freely or at very reasonable costs and this is something I would like to see strengthened. In terms of increasing appeal more information is needed from non-members and from then, more changes can be made.

3. In the draft report on the ALIA sustainable development goals, ALIA has made open access a priority for library services. Should ALIA be leading by example and making all research publications with ALIA branding including JALIA open access and why/why not?

Open access is a goal that many information and knowledge creation organisations (including government departments, associations and universities) have as a priority as it means that authors, researchers and thought-leaders can share information and research more widely, which in turn creates opportunities for more ideas generation, knowledge building and R&D. Open access provision does however currently come with explicit costs, costs that need to be covered somehow, if not by direct subscription (usually by the author, researcher or their affiliated institution/organisation). ALIA does already appear to have a number of publications, reports and toolkits available on an open-access basis, and JALIA is available to personal members at a discounted rate. I expect they can be canvased to make JALIA open access too but there needs to be a recognition that this impacts a revenue/benefit scale and may impact other activities that ALIA can cover.

4. ALIA released the Diversity Trends Report last year, which made a number of recommendations about diversifying the industry. What do you feel is a way forward that both ALIA and the industry can do to attract and retain people from diverse backgrounds?

There is definitely a need for, and value to enhancing diversity in the workforce of GLAMR sector. While the size of organisations and their GLAMR teams are tending to get smaller rather than bigger, which impacts availability of positions – permanent, and contract/project-based, I believe there are changes occurring in the GLAMR employment mindset/culture in relation to diversification of staffing.

While these changes are not occurring overnight, they are progressing as more organisations are offering cadetships and graduate programs, as well as reconsidering how and where they are advertising their positions and employment programs, as well as reviewing and introducing new recruitment processes to attract a more diverse workforce. Further work needs to be done on improving retention through good induction and training programs, and being able to provide better and more career development opportunities. ALIA has expertise and resources that can and should be drawn upon to advance and increase diversification across the industry.

5. In the same report ALIA identified that the industry is made up of 17% of people who identify as men and 83% who identify as women. The report also highlighted that men are paid more than women. What issues do you believe this highlights for the industry and what steps will you be taking to address the unequal pay issue?

I would have liked to have seen more information around this data point in the Diversity Trends Report as I find it interesting that with a fairly standardised wages environment such as the one we have in Australia currently that there would be a difference based on gender (assuming the same positions being compared)? Other questions would be: Were the comparisons against the same full-time equivalency (as women tend to be the ones who work less or more flexible hours); Were these positions impacted by individual agreements or included allowances and/or bonus agreements?

There could certainly be some more support/training (aimed primarily at women but available to all) around such topics as: influencing and negotiating for better work arrangements; reducing imposter syndrome and improving self-confidence; and conveying individual and service value to stakeholders.

6. Do you believe that LIS education programs are producing graduates with the skills needed to work in contemporary libraries or as information professionals in a range of other industries? If so, what are those key skills and if not, why not?

If you have time, it is worth downloading ALIA’s Future of LIS Education paper. I know that there substantially less LIS education programs (through universities and VET pathways) now than in the past and those that we have are primarily online and need to cover a really broad spectrum of subjects (at least for the undergraduate programs). Does it mean graduates have the skills needed? I think it does mean that they have a good theoretical foundation (and have developed good study, research, writing and communication skills as well), however I also believe that some practical experience is key. For this reason, professional placements are invaluable, even ‘critical’ although difficult to manage if they impact other paid employment. This is also an issue for many other disciplines that are also practitioner-based (e.g. nursing, social work, etc.) so flexible options are necessary. This is a little different with those who have already completed an undergraduate degree and are doing librarianship or information management as a post-graduate course – although again, practical library experience is highly valuable here too.

In my experience, the required key skills for each library job is impacted by the size and type of library – a library worker in one-person library needs a broad range of professional skills and knowledge, staff in a medium library may have more targeted LIS skills needed in their role (e.g. data management; digital experience and/or services; technical services; research and reference, etc.). A larger library will have people in these roles but also have other staff with non-LIS skills and expertise (e.g. systems, educational technology; project management, etc.).

The above has highlighted some of the key skills that I think are valuable for working in contemporary libraries, but I wanted to highlight that in addition to these we need to remember that there are other skills and qualities that are also seen as essential or desirable. These can be taught to some degree but they are heavily influenced by practice and support. For example general office technology skills are critical for success and more and more attention is given to having effective behaviour-based skills (e.g. you need to be able to display respect, demonstrate excellence, embrace change and has resilience, etc.) and adequate interpersonal and communication skills to function effectively in the workplace. Change management and the ability to adapt are also essential skills as today’s workplace rapidly evolves. Enrolling in ALIA’s PD scheme is an excellent way to build on the theoretical foundations, take charge of your own professional development and keep skills current.

7. #Critlib has become a needed movement for reflection and change within the library industry. What does critical librarianship mean to you and how will it help inform your role as an ALIA board member?

Critical librarianship to me is encapsulated even more simply by the word ‘librarianship’ – to me it is not just a noun, it’s a verb. Big generalisation here but most librarians and library workers are in this industry not just because they practice critical thinking, they have curiosity and ask questions, they have great information/digital literacy skills are focused on lifelong learning skills, they engage with diversity and value access to information, but because they want to support others to achieve this as well. All of the above would be well applied by any board role including the ALIA Board.

8. What is your opinion on the state of employment in the library industry?

I think the library industry is facing similar challenges to a lot of other industries – i.e. there are less permanent jobs available, more contracts and casual positions for operational tasks, more outsourcing and so on. I wish there were more stable jobs available, especially for people starting out in libraries. It is hard when you have no or little experience, or on the flip-side, you have lots of experience but competition for positions is heavy. As many libraries are support services rather than revenue raising enterprises (save our fines and fees and most of us don’t want those anyway!), there are more requests for ‘justifying’ positions and their value to core business. This justification requirement is not unreasonable and not unique to this industry, but it has seemed that as more libraries get smaller or are closed that we have not been able get our value messages out as strongly as we need to. ALIA has done some good advocacy work but it is an area in which we all need to continue to progress and promote.

9. Many library workers become disillusioned and burnt out by the industry after a few years. What do you think are the causes of this and how can ALIA help address this problem? 

This question saddened me – and surprised me – particularly the “after a few years” timeframe. Certainly I myself, and other staff in libraries are dealing with a considerable ‘change fatigue’, with expectations of doing more [services/tasks] with less [time/resources], with juggling family/work commitments’ and also perhaps dealing with the lack of security of employment highlighted above – and that this has contributed to disillusionment and stress. Addressing the problem is a shared challenge with the main players being the individual staff member and their employer (or employers), supported by organisations such as ALIA and employee assistance programs.

Others may see it differently – I see ALIA’s role as a professional support network that can help individuals connect with others to share ideas and compare strategies for combating workplace stresses, enabling numerous avenues of connecting to communities of practices and resources to help them in their present and future work activities.

ALIA’s commitment to continuing programs and services such as the advocacy work; the mentoring program, career accreditations, development and advice; and providing access to trend reports around skills, education and employment and also relevant and practical training courses – in resilience, well-being and change management as well as the more specific library skills related courses, is important for keeping people supported, engaged and contributing in their workplaces and the industry.

10. Climate change is a major concern going forward into the new decade, how should ALIA respond to this challenge?

ALIA has already taken steps in this direction (see: https://www.alia.org.au/advocacy-and-campaigns/think-global-act-local) with all of the work it has been doing to support and in turn to help Australian libraries and their staff support the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (#13 being Climate Action) of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is work that needs to be supported to be continued and enhanced. ALIA was also quick to offer support to communities affected by the recent bushfires. Libraries are well-placed in most communities to be a place of refuge in times of crisis.

11. Is there anything else you would like to add?

For me, it is all about what can be achieved as a community and I have found that those who work in the library and information industry (like many of its GLAMR colleagues) have an amazing ability to collaborate and create a ‘whole that is so much greater than the sum of the parts’. This is the possibility I see with my potential work on the ALIA Board, noting of course that Board is simply one of many parts of a greater whole to make a difference – locally, nationally and even internationally.

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3. Helen Ebsworth (received 15.1.2020)

1. There is a very top down approach to ALIA professional association, do you have any ideas or proposals for enabling more ALIA members to be directly involved at a grass roots level in developing ALIA policy and the running of the organisation?

It’s always possible to do things differently. As a widely dispersed, national association, people in smaller locations can feel they are a long way from the perceived ‘centre’. We need ways members feel connected to decision making if the current systems are not effective. I think having the AGM in Sydney during the week of the ALIA National Conference 2019 is a welcome move. I’d like to see technology used to encourage more direct participation but there have been some difficulties in enabling that to happen seamlessly.

There is no doubt we need to look to the future. Promoting diversity amongst group members and the Board is important.  The range of candidates for the election is encouraging. Any of the current Board members would welcome discussion or contact from groups or individual members and I would continue with that message if re-elected.

2. ALIA has a relevancy and retention problem with many library workers choosing to not be members. What changes to ALIA do you feel need to be made in order to make it a more appealing organisation to a wider range of people in the industry?

Understanding what appeals to current and future library and information workers is critical to our Association. I know people want an Association with strong values that contributes to the greater good. I know members want to see benefit in membership for themselves and their organisations. People may want more of a ‘just in time’ or niche package of membership. However, the Association relies on membership fees to fund the benefits, so will need to manage any changes. The Board is already considering ways to retain a strong membership base and a secure future. Many other associations and formal institutions are struggling with declining membership. We need to understand in more depth what current and future workers are looking for. So please give us your ideas!

3. In the draft report on the ALIA sustainable development goals, ALIA has made open access a priority for library services. Should ALIA be leading by example and making all research publications with ALIA branding including JALIA open access and why/why not?

ALIA supports the aspiration of open access. ALIA outsources the publishing of JALIA and, as part of the broader world of publishing, needs to consider the impact of each decision made. Sometimes incremental steps are required to achieve goals.

4. ALIA released the Diversity Trends Report last year, which made a number of recommendations about diversifying the industry. What do you feel is a way forward that both ALIA and the industry can do to attract and retain people from diverse backgrounds?

This is a broad societal issue and I think it’s important to determine what is within our power. Employment practices amongst LIS professions are also a reflection of society and many library and information workers are employed by organisations in a broader sector eg government or industry. So the Board can lead by example, encourage discussion and advocate strongly for the profession through targeted activity to influence government policy and employer behaviour.The Association has established the ALIA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scholarship program to encourage and support entry into the profession https://www.alia.org.au/about-alia/awards-and-grants/17809/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-student-scholarship and have recently awarded a Research Award for a ‘National Survey on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment in Australian Libraries’. https://www.alia.org.au/news/19744/2019-alia-research-grant-award-goes-kirsten-thorpe

Established members of the profession should encourage the next generations of library workers and leaders. I do this directly in my workplace and I support ALIA’s views and approaches.

5. In the same report ALIA identified that the industry is made up of 17% of people who identify as men and 83% who identify as women. The report also highlighted that men are paid more than women. What issues do you believe this highlights for the industry and what steps will you be taking to address the unequal pay issue?

Despite being a heavily ‘gendered’ workforce, we are not immune to the glass ceiling. We need to understand what sits behind the statistics. Are women being denied leadership positions? Is it because of choices to take part time or flexible work or flexible work practices or are there other workplace elements that lead to these outcomes? As a Board member, I would support ongoing discussion, research and advocacy as appropriate.

6. Do you believe that LIS education programs are producing graduates with the skills needed to work in contemporary libraries or as information professionals in a range of other industries? If so, what are those key skills and if not, why not? 

I believe critical skills into the future will be around adaptability and an inquiring mindset alongside any particular technical skills and specialist knowledge. I’m not sure I can give a definitive answer at the moment but this is fundamental to our professional futures.

ALIA recently released a report on The Future of LIS Education and is currently seeking feedback. The findings and other information, including a forum in May, will inform future discussion and action. This is critical work for ALIA as it accredits courses and monitors the education programs. We need a clear picture of the key skills required and possible Education pathways into and within the profession.

7. #Critlib has become a needed movement for reflection and change within the library industry. What does critical librarianship mean to you and how will it help inform your role as an ALIA board member? 

For me the fundamental aspect of critical librarianship is to think critically and challenge our own and our organisational assumptions and biases. We need to hear diverse voices within our communities. We need to advocate for all members of our society to have access to services, collections and spaces. We need to keep the principle of freedom of information at the forefront of our work because information is power. Libraries not only manage information but we encourage debate and ideas. I expanded my views in a TIK blog in March 2019 https://fair.alia.org.au/freedom-information

I believe libraries need to be on the front foot as the digital world continues to disrupt aspects of a democratic society.

My professional life has focussed on education and librarianship because I believe in a fair and just society. I’m passionate about building literacy in all its forms. We have a fundamental role in information literacy. This view informs all my work. Libraries Tasmania, where I am a Director, delivers an adult literacy program, a focus on digital literacy for all who need it and programs to support groups of vulnerable people amongst its range of services. We are the first in Australia to abolish library fines statewide.

I’ll continue to support and push for ALIA’s advocacy and programs on a wide range of issues as they relate to the information professions.

8. What is your opinion on the state of employment in the library industry?

I think we need to explore and understand different aspects of the library industry. Our industry has been severely disrupted and this is likely to continue as automation and artificial intelligence develops further. Some aspects of our jobs will go or move to other sections of the industry. New roles and responsibilities are already emerging. We are not alone in this disruption – we need to stay informed of trends in future work. There are particular parts of the industry such as school libraries where the situation is dire. I’m concerned by the lack of teacher-librarians in many schools and I think it is a poorly understood role. I hope it’s possible to convince policy makers, funders and school communities in order to reverse the trend.Every part of our industry needs to focus on the difference we make to users -then shape their particular message and market, promote and advocate to funders, employers and policy makers as strongly as possible.

9. Many library workers become disillusioned and burnt out by the industry after a few years. What do you think are the causes of this and how can ALIA help address this problem?

I’m not sure of the details of this issue and therefore what the causes or possible solutions might be. There is an emotional and cognitive toll in direct customer service, particularly as we encourage new and different ways of working. There may be aspects of the industry which could lead to disillusionment – funding cuts, casualisation, lack of career progression, perceived lower status in relation to other professions, a mismatch between employee expectations and the actual roles – but I’d like to have more information about the scope, scale and details of the problem before ALIA takes action.

10. Climate change is a major concern going forward into the new decade, how should ALIA respond to this challenge? 

None of us can ignore the current situation of drought, heat waves and bushfires! ALIA should and will continue to promote, advocate and work towards the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, of which number 13 is Climate Action. Many other goals are closely linked to preventing or dealing with the effects of climate change.

ALIA can encourage all members and organisations within the profession to promote valid and reliable information and to develop strong information literacy amongst our users. As I suggested in an earlier response, libraries can encourage and promote informed debate. Public and state libraries are actively playing a role as the ‘town square’ where ideas and issues can be explored.
ALIA can encourage members to take local action and respond to community led sustainability initiatives. I think we’ll see more ideas and suggestions emerge over the next few years.

11. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I consider myself a quiet reformer. I have always sought to influence through deep understanding, cultural change and clear decisive action. I believe a second term on the Board would allow me to encourage new approaches while providing continuity for the Board around decisions and actions that are already in train. I know what it’s like to live and work in a regional area where you might feel the main action is happening elsewhere. I’m very keen for the association to explore ways to engage more effectively with the broad membership base.

I love libraries and I think we have a great association. I’d like to contribute where I can to a strong future.

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Justine Hyde (received 14.1.2010)

1. There is a very top down approach to ALIA professional association, do you have any ideas or proposals for enabling more ALIA members to be directly involved at a grass roots level in developing ALIA policy and the running of the organisation?

I think the ALIA new generation committee is an active and successful example of a more grassroots approach to engaging with ALIA members. It is member-driven, but supported by ALIA. Perhaps there are more opportunities for ALIA to support other, similar interest groups and committees.

There are possibly more opportunities to include ALIA members in strategy and policy development through ‘town hall’ style consultation forums across the states and territories. These could be organised by the local ALIA chapters and supported by ALIA Directors developing closer relationships with members in their state in order to listen to feedback and hear their ideas. I would be happy to participate in helping to facilitate such sessions as a director.

It might be useful for ALIA to put together some templates or toolkits for ALIA members to use to put forward policy and strategy proposals and for ALIA to put out an annual EOI for these submissions.

I’m interested to look into how other professional associations such as ALA engage with their members to see if there’s anything we can learn from them.

2. ALIA has a relevancy and retention problem with many library workers choosing to not be members. What changes to ALIA do you feel need to be made in order to make it a more appealing organisation to a wider range of people in the industry?

I suppose my first question is whether membership is cost prohibitive for many people and how this could be addressed?

It’s critical for ALIA to offer value to its members for their membership dollars. Key to this is understanding what members want.  The best way to find this out is to ask, and then to make changes based on this feedback.

I think the organisation is seen to be too conservative, fairly elitist and disconnected from much of its potential membership base, particularly younger professionals. The best way to change this is to alter the composition of the Board, and then for the Board to more actively represent the views and core values of the profession in a contemporary context and to do this publicly.

3. In the draft report on the ALIA sustainable development goals, ALIA has made open access a priority for library services. Should ALIA be leading by example and making all research publications with ALIA branding including JALIA open access and why/why not?

In principle, absolutely yes, in order to role model the principle of open access. I am not across the current commercial reasons for this not being the case but I will make it a priority to find out why and to advocate for change.

4. ALIA released the Diversity Trends Report last year, which made a number of recommendations about diversifying the industry. What do you feel is a way forward that both ALIA and the industry can do to attract and retain people from diverse backgrounds?

The Diversity trends Report identified that the industry has an older, female dominated workforce with a low representation of indigenous professionals, as well as those from culturally diverse backgrounds, and people with a disability. These trends are not unique to the LIS sector. It would be useful for ALIA to identify other sectors where these trends have been addressed successfully to see what we can learn and apply.

A positive first step would be to ensure the ALIA Board is diverse and represents those groups we wish to attract and retain in the sector. Secondly, for ALIA to support LIS workplaces in developing inclusive workforces through advice on their recruitment strategies and ways to create culturally safe workplaces for those staff they do recruit, e.g. staff diversity training and organisational policies.

ALIA could also advocate for tertiary scholarships, paid internships and graduate programs that target indigenous and culturally diverse professionals and people with a disability.

5. In the same report ALIA identified that the industry is made up of 17% of people who identify as men and 83% who identify as women. The report also highlighted that men are paid more than women. What issues do you believe this highlights for the industry and what steps will you be taking to address the unequal pay issue?

The LIS sector is an industry dominated by women and there is a pay gap for these women. This is not exclusive to our sector. A pay gap for women exists in most (if not all?) industries in Australia.

The main issue it raises is that we live in a patriarchy. I plan to smash the patriarchy.

Mentoring and support from senior women in the sector is critical to support the next generation of women to seize promotional opportunities and not get caught by imposter syndrome.

6. Do you believe that LIS education programs are producing graduates with the skills needed to work in contemporary libraries or as information professionals in a range of other industries? If so, what are those key skills and if not, why not?

No, I don’t.

There needs to be more focus on skills around advocacy, marketing, project management, commercial skills, business development and financial management. In my experience, these are the skills that employers are looking for that mean library professionals are overlooked for senior jobs in favour of professionals from other sectors.

Graduates are not diverse enough and don’t represent the communities they are serving. I think LIS graduates need a better education in contemporary approaches to topics such as mental health, disability and diversity in order to create truly inclusive and equal LIS services. For example, ways to approach decolonising LIS collections and developing community-driven programs.

7. #Critlib has become a needed movement for reflection and change within the library industry. What does critical librarianship mean to you and how will it help inform your role as an ALIA board member?

#Critlib directly challenges the false assumption that libraries are neutral. It also questions systemic and structural inequalities in libraries using a critical, social justice lens. To me personally it means questioning the status quo and looking for ways for librarianship to be more inclusive and representative of all Australians. As a queer feminist, I have a particular interest in the representation of LGBTIQ+ stories and voices in librarianship and in library and archival collections.

In my role as an ALIA Board member #Critlib will provide a framework through which to interrogate the Board’s decisions and their potential impacts on members and the communities that the LIS sector serves.

8. What is your opinion on the state of employment in the library industry? 

The library industry is not huge in Australia and my opinion is that it is quite parochial. I would encourage LIS professionals to develop their careers by working outside of the sector to gain broader experience that they can then bring back. There is a lot of complaining within the sector – particularly from those who have not worked outside of it – about employment conditions and salaries, which I think is unjustified.

Developing the next generation of library leaders is critical to help address the likely skills shortage as the current senior members of the LIS community hit retirement age.

9. Many library workers become disillusioned and burnt out by the industry after a few years. What do you think are the causes of this and how can ALIA help address this problem?

Many workers across a range of industries become disillusioned and burnt out. This is not unique to the LIS sector. Burn-out is generally caused by feeling overworked and/or undervalued. ALIA could focus on developing resources and advice to help LIS professionals to build their resilience and manage their mental health.

Sessions at ALIA conferences on wellbeing are useful. Perhaps ALIA could also support the development of some state and territory peer support networks for members to meet and discuss difficult work situations in a safe and supportive environment.

I believe if ALIA was able to more actively demonstrate and promote the core values of members and help them feel proud to be part of the profession, thereby supporting them to create more meaning from their work, this would help address the problem of burn-out and disconnection. I think ALA does this really well through their advocacy efforts, at their conferences and through their member communications.

10. Climate change is a major concern going forward into the new decade, how should ALIA respond to this challenge?

This summer has already shown that the climate crisis is the biggest issue facing all Australians. ALIA should lead the profession by identifying ways that we can give practical support to our communities in times of catastrophe and crisis.

I also believe it is critical for ALIA to develop a strong voice and position on climate change and to participate in public debate where it is relevant to the LIS sector; whether that relates to how the public accesses information about climate change; or best practice guidelines for libraries on reducing waste and carbon emissions; or support advocating to decision-makers on climate positive library practices.

11. Is there anything else you would like to add?

It would be lovely if you decided to vote for me!

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Clare Thorpe (received 10.1.2010)

1. There is a very top down approach to ALIA professional association, do you have any ideas or proposals for enabling more ALIA members to be directly involved at a grass roots level in developing ALIA policy and the running of the organisation?

I do think there should be more consultation between the Board and members around proposed changes to policy, the constitution and strategic planning. For example, proposed changes to policies could be made available on the members’ section of the ALIA website for review with feedback invited from members during a consultation period (e.g. 2-3 weeks). I think there is scope for more transparency from the Board and National Office to develop a shared understanding among members about ALIA’s priorities and directions.

2. ALIA has a relevancy and retention problem with many library workers choosing to not be members. What changes to ALIA do you feel need to be made in order to make it a more appealing organisation to a wider range of people in the industry?

As a long-term ALIA member, I am absolutely the wrong person to be answering this question! I agree that ALIA should review its membership offer to make it attract and relevant to library workers. What I would like to do is to ask and listen to non-members and former members about what they want from their professional association and use this evidence to make ALIA membership more valuable and rewarding. I think it is also worth benchmarking ALIA’s membership offer with other professional association to identify potential gaps and opportunities.

3. In the draft report on the ALIA sustainable development goals, ALIA has made open access a priority for library services. Should ALIA be leading by example and making all research publications with ALIA branding including JALIA open access and why/why not?

I absolutely agree that ALIA should be living its values. One of the values highlighted in last year’s TIK campaign was open access. I personally see a disconnect between the espoused value of open access and the JALIA’s current publishing model (Green Open Access) and I think we need to have a conversation about the current arrangement. It’s great that ALIA’s research reports are made publically available on ALIA’s website and also contributed to Analysis & Policy Observatory (APO). We need to practise what we preach.

4. ALIA released the Diversity Trends Report last year, which made a number of recommendations about diversifying the industry. What do you feel is a way forward that both ALIA and the industry can do to attract and retain people from diverse backgrounds?

I think we need to identify the barriers that prevent people from joining our industry and work out how to remove these hurdles. One of the current barriers that needs challenging is the professional placement requirement of library degree programs. In 2020 there are many different ways in which work integrated learning can be incorporated into curriculum and I would challenge ALIA and library educators to consider alternative WIL approaches that don’t require people take time away from employment to undertake unpaid professional placements. I think there’s also a role for ALIA to play in working with employers to look at cadet or graduate placement roles to provide entry level employment for early career librarians. (I know there are some of these around but not a lot). I think ALIA could also initiate conversations with employers about more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identified roles in libraries (again these are not necessarily common across our industry).

5. In the same report ALIA identified that the industry is made up of 17% of people who identify as men and 83% who identify as women. The report also highlighted that men are paid more than women. What issues do you believe this highlights for the industry and what steps will you be taking to address the unequal pay issue?

This is a complex issue and high level data at industry level may not always tell the full story of the industry. We do have a large female workforce, many of whom earn less because they are employed at part-time or reduced hours arrangements. If this is by choice, that is people are choosing flexible working arrangements to meet their caring or lifestyle needs, then this is positive. However, if is because there is a trend of casualization and understaffing of our libraries, then this is something that ALIA should be advocating against. I don’t know enough of the detail to be able to say which scenario is more prevalent. ALIA does provide recommended salary scales and work level guidelines to members and its mentoring scheme is a fantastic program that supports many women in achieving career success. What can I do personally to address the pay issue? I don’t have a magic wand. What I do already do is mentor and sponsor staff in their careers to help increase their current and future earning potential. As an employer, I support staff to take advantage of flexible working arrangements that suit their personal circumstances. Perhaps there is an opportunity for ALIA to investigate more deeply the current state of employment across industry to understand how we can cooperatively address the pay gap.

6. Do you believe that LIS education programs are producing graduates with the skills needed to work in contemporary libraries or as information professionals in a range of other industries? If so, what are those key skills and if not, why not?

The new graduates and early career librarians that I’ve employed have had appropriate foundational skills and knowledge from their studies. A degree can only ever provide the foundational basis for a career and the lifespan of a library qualification is shrinking. That is why professional development and career long learning is so important. As the accrediting body for our profession, ALIA works with library educators to ensure that degree programs are regularly reviewed and refreshed in response to the changing environment. ALIA’s commitment to supporting the professional development of its members is one of the things that I appreciate the most about ALIA. Professional development is something I am passionate about – we work in an industry where we never stop learning and that’s one of the things I love about working in libraries.

7. #Critlib has become a needed movement for reflection and change within the library industry. What does critical librarianship mean to you and how will it help inform your role as an ALIA board member?

Critical librarianship challenges us to question our assumptions, invite alternative voices and perspectives into the conversations about the services, collections and spaces in our libraries. I am white, female, able-bodied and financial secure. I view the world through a lens of privilege – I know that is not necessarily the lived experience of my clients or colleagues. However I am by nature a questioner so critical librarianship matches my personal values to always question why we are doing what we do and to ensure that we are listening to as many diverse voices as we can. ALIA doesn’t have an Indigenous Advisory Committee and is yet to release its first Reconciliation Plan. We need to fix that. What other voices are we missing if we are to accurately represent all of our profession? My staff joke that my eulogy will read “she liked to kill sacred cows” and I plan to bring a critical questioning approach to my role on the Board.

8. What is your opinion on the state of employment in the library industry? 

Another big question that I am underqualified to answer. Here’s what I worry about – that libraries are undervalued by our funders and that jobs will disappear if we don’t make a case as to why librarians make a difference. We see this happening in the school libraries sector. I also worry about the implications of widespread contract and casual employment. I am lucky to have mostly had ongoing appointments in my career but I know that is not the experience of many. We need to get better at demonstrating the value of our libraries their communities so that we are funded sustainably and consistently to be able to provide secure employment for our staff. ALIA has a role to play in this space in building the evidence base and advocating for the employment of qualified librarians in schools (and other sectors).

9. Many library workers become disillusioned and burnt out by the industry after a few years. What do you think are the causes of this and how can ALIA help address this problem?

We do need to recognise the emotional labour involved in libraries, particularly for staff involved in frontline client service. Supporting the mental and emotional health of our staff is an area where employers can do more. I’d like to see some evidence about the scale of this problem (what is “many”?) and to compare our industry with other service industries such as hospitality and health care (do we have a higher or lower rate of burn out?). Perhaps ALIA could do some research around the scale of burnout in the industry, provide professional development around resilience and work with both employers and members to develop strategies to address this. It’s a good issue to raise and I don’t think it’s one that has been talked about much during my time in libraries.

10. Climate change is a major concern going forward into the new decade, how should ALIA respond to this challenge?

I’d like to see ALIA develop guidelines and toolkits about sustainable practices in libraries. We should be identifying best practice in sustainability for all library services, facilities, spaces and collections and sharing this knowledge across our industry. We should also be celebrating and recognising library services, vendors and individuals who are leading the way and making a difference in this space – how about our own version of IFLA’s Green Library Awards?

11. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’d encourage all ALIA members to vote in this year’s election. The quality of this year’s candidates is exceptional – they would all make fantastic Board members. Please don’t miss out on the opportunity to vote.

Dear ALIA Board Nominees – I’ve got some questions

It’s ALIA Board Election time again. And this year, rather than just making my mind up on the scant information provided by ALIA, I want to know their thoughts on a bunch of issues within the industry.

For this reason, I’ve written 11 questions with the input of industry peers and emailed these to nominees. The email sent and questions are available below. As stated I will be posting responses to the questions without editing of contents. I will be using the hashtag #ALIAVotes2020 for any social media posts – the responses will be posted on #ALIAVotes2020 – responses.

I’ve been an ALIA member my entire career but have increasingly started to wonder if it is worth being a member. I desperately want ALIA to be an organisation that is grassroots, proactive and reflective of members needs, as well as responding appropriately to trends within the industry.

It seems to me that to be any of these things it starts with who is representing us on the board. And to ensure we are getting directors who meet these needs we need to know more than the brief information we are provided for by ALIA.

Text of email and questions are below

I wanted to thank you for nominating for the important role of Director of the ALIA board in our national professional association.

As a career long ALIA member, I want to be involved in an organisation that is inclusive, responsive and reflects the views and needs of members. While ALIA has provided some information about you, to make an informed choice on who to vote for I feel like I need further information about your views on some of the issues facing the industry.

The questions below represent some of those issues and were compiled by me and industry peers. For transparency the questions and any responses will be posted to my blog so that a wider audience of ALIA members can also understand your views on these issues. The questions have been sent to all nominees for individual board positions and responses will be posted without editing.

Participation, is of course voluntary but would be very much appreciated by myself and other members who often feel that our voices are not heard by our professional association.

  1. There is a very top down approach to ALIA professional association, do you have any ideas or proposals for enabling more ALIA members to be directly involved at a grass roots level in developing ALIA policy and the running of the organisation?
  2. ALIA has a relevancy and retention problem with many library workers choosing to not be members. What changes to ALIA do you feel need to be made in order to make it a more appealing organisation to a wider range of people in the industry?
  3. In the draft report on the ALIA sustainable development goals, ALIA has made open access a priority for library services. Should ALIA be leading by example and making all research publications with ALIA branding including JALIA open access and why/why not?
  4. ALIA released the Diversity Trends Report last year, which made a number of recommendations about diversifying the industry. What do you feel is a way forward that both ALIA and the industry can do to attract and retain people from diverse backgrounds?
  5. In the same report ALIA identified that the industry is made up of 17% of people who identify as men and 83% who identify as women. The report also highlighted that men are paid more than women. What issues do you believe this highlights for the industry and what steps will you be taking to address the unequal pay issue?
  6. Do you believe that LIS education programs are producing graduates with the skills needed to work in contemporary libraries or as information professionals in a range of other industries? If so, what are those key skills and if not, why not?
  7. #Critlib has become a needed movement for reflection and change within the library industry. What does critical librarianship mean to you and how will it help inform your role as an ALIA board member?
  8. What is your opinion on the state of employment in the library industry? 
  9. Many library workers become disillusioned and burnt out by the industry after a few years. What do you think are the causes of this and how can ALIA help address this problem?
  10. Climate change is a major concern going forward into the new decade, how should ALIA respond to this challenge?
  11. Is there anything else you would like to add?

 Thanks again for taking the time to respond to these questions, it’s very much appreciated. As voting opens on the 20 January, if your response could be received by that date, it would help to ensure people had enough time to read and reflect before they vote. I will post responses right through until the voting period (18 February).

Good luck with your nomination, I am looking forward to hearing from you.

I will be posting responses as they are sent to me. And again I thank the board nominees for taking the time to respond and engage with this process.

I hope ALIA members feel this is useful in helping them make informed decisions about who to vote for.

And I especially wanted to thank Hugh, Clare, Steven and Heidi for their input into these questions and for Hugh who many years ago decided to start this process.

 

 

#metoo and libraries

Trigger warning – discussion of sexual harassment

I started thinking about writing this a few weeks ago when I saw a tweet about how we were waiting for the deluge of #metoo stories from GLAM. So far, we have been fortunate that at least from a staff-staff perspective there have been only a few (that we know of. Yet!). For those who missed it, this one appeared a few days ago.

When I started in libraries I assumed because we were a profession that employed a lot of women such things would not happen in libraries (or GLAM). Because we were all about the women in power and leadership. And now I would laugh about how naive that was if this wasn’t all so serious.

There are three issues that I feel #metoo covers in libraries.
1. Staff-staff interactions. Not what I want to focus on here.
2. Gender bias, men in leadership in libraries, which I feel deserves a blog all of its own.
3. Staff-community interactions – the focus of this post.

I’d like to acknowledge Katie MacBride’s post #TimesUp on Harassing Your Public Librarian. As well as this by Kelly Jensen. I wanted to thank both of them for writing on this important issue. My post possibly covers very similar ground but since there is a lack of Australian perspectives in libraries I thought I’d add my voice.

If you are a woman working in public libraries, you have “those stories” the ones we have either experienced ourselves or heard from colleagues. The creepy guy looking at pornography, the one who needs help with their photos and it’s full of pictures of naked women. The weird sexualised comments and looks.

And that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky it goes further. I heard one story about someone who was shelving, and a customer came up behind her and rubbed himself against her. When she told her colleagues about it she said he smelt of alcohol. Horrifying.

There is often a pattern with these stories. The common theme being that up until now this behaviour has been seen as just one of those things – a by-product of working with a diverse community with a range of behaviours. And when the members of community are clearly drunk or drug affected or mentally unwell, this is used to excuse the behaviour.

Some people can laugh these incidents off, they don’t take them personally. Or they have the confidence to call out this behaviour and set boundaries. To those people I say all power to you. But eventually everyone gets weary of it because as a colleague pointed out, this isn’t what we signed up for. And unfortunately the emotional cost of our jobs is often undervalued by supervisors and managers. If we talk about it, it’s met with a shrug or you are seen as lacking in resilience, frequently both.

Every library leader I have ever met is interested in the wellbeing of their staff. But being on the frontline of customer service is not their everyday experience. They hear stories of incidents in snippets; this thing happened here, this other thing at another branch but they never hear all the stuff that isn’t reported. So perhaps by being one step removed, they don’t understand quite how draining it is when this is the tenth time you have dealt with it.

There is also an acceptance that this is how it is – the people using the library are just a microcosm of the community, so yeah anti-social behaviours (of which sexual harassment is one) is just part of the deal. We look at making ourselves resilient as though this is the answer, rather than thinking about how we can change things. But we need to do more, stand up for ourselves and our community – say we want to make our spaces free from these sorts of behaviours.

Library staff are passionate about access for everyone and that means we are pretty liberal in what we are willing to tolerate to ensure this. But that should not make us beholden to people who make us feel unsafe. Their right to access information is not greater than our right to feel safe at work.

Considering ourselves a service industry may be part of the problem. I personally dislike the word customer service because of its connotations of being of service i.e. subservient, giving power to the “customer”. And given the mostly female workforce, it’s easy to see how the term alone creates a power imbalance if not in reality then at least unconsciously. I’ve been trying to think of a few other terms to describe customer service shifts but frankly they are a bit naff. But we need something more empowering and accurate to describe what it is we do.

While it might seem this is the impossible mountain, I think there are some things we can do to start to address these issues.

Firstly, everyone needs to understand what is sexual harassment. The emphasis here is on what the receiver considers to be sexual harassment not what your colleagues or manager thinks. What you think. If a customer’s behaviour makes you feel intimidated, insulted or offended then it’s harassment. Note that while I’m specifically referring to sexual harassment here, the policy equally refers to other forms of harassment as well.

As this article states employers are legally obliged to make our workplaces free from sexual harassment both from other staff and from the community. Although how you would manage this in a library is less clear. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t the job of leaders and managers to work towards creating policies that keep their staff safe.

Managers need to lean in, listen and take complaints about sexual harassment seriously. Sexual harassment is under-reported, so if someone is coming to you about this they are brave and awesome. You might think it is no big deal but to the person it might be the last straw or triggering of previous incidents. Or they might just feel it’s their right to go to work and not be sexually harassed. Please use all your best compassion to deal with it. Take action if the person wants you too. Sometimes just listening is enough, sometimes action is needed. Don’t put this off if it’s required, it will let them know you are supportive and don’t tolerate behaviour that makes your staff uncomfortable.

We are all about empowering the community, so let’s start in our own backyard and empower our staff to deal with this. Let’s stop this mentality that the customer is right, we are of service to them (we work with them, we don’t serve them) or that we need to be tougher to cope. No, just no. That’s not good enough anymore.

Get your staff together and collaborate to develop strategies to deal with the behaviour, let them direct this without preconceived ideas of what you want other than a safer workplace for your staff. Maybe having some phrases they could use when they encounter this behaviour “that’s really inappropriate, if you continue I’ll have to ask you to leave”. “I don’t feel this is really appropriate conversation,” “I’m going to speak to my manager about this” etc. and give permission to use it. Also make it safe for them to speak up and report the harassment.

For the library staff – if you experience behaviour from a customer that makes you feel offended, intimidated or insulted – IT’S NOT ALRIGHT and YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PUT UP WITH IT. Sorry for the shouty typing but I wanted to be clear that legally (and morally) there are no circumstances under which you are obliged to tolerate that behaviour.

If you are sexually harassed by a customer, please report it. I know it’s difficult for a million reasons. But please consider doing it because you have the right to come to work and not be harassed by anyone. I know it will require strength and vulnerability and trusting that your leader is going to do the right thing and that’s hard. But if we don’t speak up we can’t change things and to change it we need to work with our leaders and managers. And if you do speak up, please know there are millions of women standing with you going – hey that was awesome thank you.

If you’re not reporting because you don’t think you’ll get a positive response from your supervisor, this is a massive issue. I know this is getting repetitive, but I’ll say it again – the organisation you work for is legally obliged to make your workplace safe from harassment. So, they are legally obliged to care – if you report an incident and you get a brush off, your supervisor should be reported to their supervisor, HR, or the union rep. Also check your organisation’s sexual harassment and discrimination policy staff-customer interactions should be covered.

Libraries have never been places that accept the way things are. Our fundamental reason to exist is our dedication to working towards more informed and engaged communities. We model that behaviour through lifelong learning and a million other ways. By saying #timesup to harassment and creating spaces where we and our communities are free from these experiences, we are also modelling the behaviour we want in our community. And maybe that starts the process of change.

As part of writing this, I contacted Sue McKerracher, CEO of ALIA to find out how they would be responding to #metoo and #timesup. She responded by saying they would be reviewing all policies about this later this year. I thank them for taking a lead on this important issue, I look forward to seeing their response.

Personal note: I’d like to thank Pamela, Meg and Gareth with their assistance in writing this article. Your feedback and contribution has made writing on this difficult subject much easier.

Oh yeah and #metoo

 

10 things I learnt as a tech librarian

I recently finished up a role as a tech librarian. Here’s 10 things I learnt.

I don’t love technology, I love problem solving
I like fixing things, working out how stuff works and making it work, I like analytic thinking and trial and error testing for a solution. Technology to me is something that needs to be useful, I try to look at things from a customer standpoint – are our systems easy to use and understand. Sure I get excited by the bright and shiny possibilities we could adopt but the thing I liked most about my job was problem solving.

You don’t need an IT degree to be a tech librarian
This is a bit of a shout out to all the women who love technology, digital literacy and it’s possibilities in libraries but think they couldn’t possibly do a tech job. I’m living proof you can. There’s no great mystery to branch tech in public libraries, despite what it might appear. My best three tech tips are: turn it off/turn it on, google to find out what it’s doing, call IT/systems/technicians. Still not convinced – how about ask questions even if you think you should know the answer, seek jargon-free explanations, do your own research to build knowledge and apply it. As long your willing to learn you’ll be alright – it’s just problem solving with stuff that plugs in and given that everything is just about locked down it’s very hard to break things.

Digital literacy is my thing
I love teaching digital literacy to the community. There’s something pretty special about watching them start to develop skills and grow in confidence. The people, who are generally older, who come to classes are so brave and I really admire them. One of the things I’d love to do is research into best practice for digital literacy teaching to inform my practice.

We need to tech people how to be literate with the technology they use 
A question I asked a lot last year was why are we still teaching people how to use desktop computers in the age of the mobile device. At one point someone told me it’s so they can use a computer when they come to the library. A response that confused me because it’s so not the right answer. Instead of teaching people how to use a computer we need to teach them how to manage, understand and be literate in the technology in their lives, rather than us imposing our understanding of the skills they need.

Working with men
I had never worked with a lot of men before even in my pre-library career… It was a different experience.

I can login to a server and reset a SIP connection without breaking stuff 
The first time I logged into the server to reset the SIP connections, I just about had a panic attack. But I did it and didn’t break things.

Libraries are behind on their technology and we need to do better
I’ve seen so many people struggle to use the library catalogue. They might be able to find the item (win) but then they can’t interpret the information on where the item is (lose). Or some other system barrier that means they don’t get what they want. Library catalogues are stupidly complex and need to be simplified or made into smart catalogues that actually assist people in the age of Google to find the material they want. Other library systems have to be designed for users in mind, computers need to have the latest software versions.

What you say to people matters
When I got the job I was told I was hired for my people and change management skills (soft skills) and could be taught the tech skills needed. I’m still not clear on what that those skills are or in what ways I don’t have them. But it’s not a great confidence booster to start position being told you don’t really have the skill set. Words have a massive influence on your confidence and attitude. I will try to remember the affect those words had on me and chose mine carefully in the future.

I wanted to know more
I was curious about how system and network settings made what you saw as a user work. During the LMS transition project I worked on the HLS module, I feed the setting needs to the project manager who set it up but I would have loved the opportunity to sit with them and work through the settings so I could have gotten the whole picture. For me not getting that deeper understanding and skills was a missed opportunity.

I’m still not sure whether tech is really for me
I always wanted to work in tech and systems in libraries but now I’m not so sure whether it’s the best use of my skills. I’m great with people but felt most of the year like there was something I was supposed to know that I just didn’t get. Maybe it was the environment, maybe tech isn’t for me. These are questions I continue to ask myself. I do know if I was offered that sort of position again, I’d ask a lot more questions before accepting the job. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in a situation again where I’m the only librarian and only woman on the team. It was just way too challenging emotionally.

Can I panic yet? 2017 in review

It’s that time of year when all good librarians start reflecting on the year that was. What did you learn, what are your highlights etc etc. So here’s mine.

Koha
One of the main reasons I took the contract job was to be part of the Koha project team. It was a unique opportunity and it might be the only chance to ever do this in my career. I could write a whole post about the experience but here are the main things.
-Trying to test a library management system while also trying to train people is chaotic and stressful.
-Having worked with lots of different LMSs and people was a huge benefit during this process. I was able to think from a users perspective about how staff interact with LMSs. I did quite well at testing and now know more about how LMSs work and what staff want when being trained.
-Projects like this show both strengths and weaknesses in teams and leaders. I showed good leadership and teamwork during the project. I was supportive, put in the hard yards, and tried to be helpful because I believed in it and wanted it to be successful. I hope I helped them achieve this.
-I don’t think I’d choose Koha myself. It’s super easy to use and a good LMS but there are a few things that stop it being a truly viable alternative for risk adverse public libraries.

I’m not sure I thrived in the work environment. 
I lost a lot of confidence in myself and abilities this year. I’ve written before how intimidating it is being the only woman on the tech team when your skills are people and problem solving rather than hardware and systems. Joining a well established team, and feeling like you can get no traction when you try advocating for things that you feel would improve your services to the community all contributed. That said my branch crew were amazing people; funny and supportive, I hope I contributed something positive to them because they did to me.

Librarianship is a job
I’m not a librarian, I mean I am but it’s what I do to make money so I can do all the other things that make me me. Librarianship is just a job. A job I want to be good at but nonetheless a business in which I am a commodity. This is a hard lesson to learn but ultimately a helpful one to understand. Why? Because it puts it all in perspective. Recent events have driven this home and in the future I’ll direct efforts to what is truly of value. This doesn’t mean I’m giving up or won’t put in 100%, it just means I’m not spending every waking minute thinking or engaging with my job or the industry – for one thing this leads to burnout, and leaves no space for other things that help make me a better librarian.

I have no regrets about this year
Who ever lives life with no regrets? So of course I have some. But my regrets are not the decisions I made, inexplicable as they are to people. I’m glad I stayed for Koha. Yep, I risked it all and lost. We are all wise in hindsight. Other people would have played it differently, I was authentically me. Sure being 40 way too trusting, passionate and naive is a character flaw of epic proportions but at this age not one I have the energy to change. Being a person who wears their heart on their sleeve means I’m going to get burnt – that’s life. Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.

I spent way too much of this year worrying
Mental and physical health wise this wasn’t a great year. I spent most of it anxious about what would happen with my job and career. Turns out, worrying about it didn’t stop it from going very badly wrong anyway – I know right, who knew – and instead just robbed me of my happiness. If I have a regret about this year, it’s that I did this and as much as I tried I couldn’t make it stop. There were times when I wished I could rip my brain out but alas this is not yet an option. Whatever happens in the future I need to work on this in particular, it’s exhausting having an argument with your own brain everyday.

Some quick fire lessons to finish
-Don’t gossip – no really. Yes everyone else is doing it but it’s not cool to either be doing it or on the end of it.
-In an industry that mostly employs women, men still have privilege. Yes it does totally suck.
-Being sworn and yelled should never be treated as a normal day at the office.
-I’m strong and resilient, also I have no fear when jumping in between women who are having a punch on.
-I regularly need to seek meaningful feedback, for career development and growth (more on this soon).
-No woman is ever a failure who has friends or family or a support network who cares.
-In the end nothing matters except how kind you were to other people. If you did that as best you could then you have had a great year.

How did I get here? Well that’s a story… 

(When I imagine telling my library origin story I’m in a bar; a disaster of some nature has happened and not only am I a librarian, I’m a hard drinking freedom fighter with scars and leather pants, meeting slightly dangerous men (in that classic romance novel sense), to carry out some covert task that would probably get me shot if I was ever caught. Yeah okay so I’ve probably over dramatized it but it’s my origin story okay?)

It happened a bit like this.

I’m not sure how I ended up as a freedom fighter, I mean it isn’t the job I dreamed of doing when I was younger. In fact, sometimes I’m still amazed that I am a librarian, given the twisty path I took to get here.

I actually wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. When I was eight, I wrote a story called Peter and Jane go off on an adventure or some such, my teacher thought it was great and ever since then I wanted to write and tell stories.

I wanted to go to Deakin and study their professional writing course but there was an interview component and at 17 I thought, who’d want me in their course anyway? How I came to think like that, is well, another story.

I also grew up in an era where you did sensible things – science was sensible, arts was a one-way trip to the unemployment queue. So, I ended up at Monash studying science, travelling daily from the other side of Melbourne for 8am lectures. I had heaps of fun but it obviously never really my thing. I realised halfway through my third year that I was probably on the wrong path.

When you are 20, you think there’s no way back from the terrible mistake of choosing the wrong career. At 40 you know that nothing is ever really wasted… (Well somethings are but this is not the time or place). I wanted to use my very expensive education and combine it with the thing I loved – writing. Apparently, science journalism was the answer.

Given what’s happened to journalism in Australia, it’s probably a good thing that I would have made a terrible journalist (also there were/are very few jobs). I would have been eaten alive in newsrooms and at the age of 25 was way too scared of my own shadow to do the tough work that journos do every day.

There’s an irony in all this for me, in that I’m renowned for asking tough questions; saying the thing that everyone else is thinking but no one wants to say. A great skill for a journalist but 15 or so years too late.

But I needed to work and doing anything was better than the sheer boredom of being unemployed. Seriously, this was the late 90s, there was only so much Oprah and Days of our Lives a girl could cope with. I ended up in admin at RMIT first with engineering and then the journalism department. The work was dull but the people were awesome. Many of my very very best friends come from those years.

It should come as a surprise to no one that administration was not my life’s purpose. And because we live in an era where finding your life’s purpose is a thing, for much of my time in admin I did wonder if life really was just pointless. It was kind of a hollow feeling in my chest and vague disappointment that this was the best I could achieve or hope for.

One day a friend asked me if you could do any job in the world you wanted what would it be… I said books without even thinking about it.

If I have a true love it would be books, a sustaining force in my life which made my sometimes difficult world easier. When reading I could be Danielle, the heroine, Danielle the adventurer, not Danielle who does admin and who was never quite brave enough to go for it.

I’m a classic “I became a librarian because I love books and reading” person. Yeah, I know, right? Worst reason in the world to become a librarian. But there you go…

I’m pretty much convinced that someone invented public libraries to torture all the book loving librarians. I mean the shelves are stocked with books, sitting there with their alluring shiny covers, just waiting to be picked up and read. And then… Someone asks you to help them print.

We often bemoan those book lovers who want to be librarians. Despite our focus on literacy, public libraries are not about books and reading (except they also kind of are). If we were to dig deeper, the love of reading isn’t the issue, it’s the lack of diversity within our industry, it’s the stereotype of who our industry attracts that is the problem. (I might write something on this one day).

As an industry, we can probably do a fair bit to counteract this, we need to be open about the realities of library work. We need to make it clear that shy and retiring isn’t really going to cut it. This is something I learnt with the help of mentors along the way, it’s changed me – probably for the better.

It’s like when I chose this career, a switch turned on in my brain and I kind of grew into myself, if that makes any sense. I’m way more confident than I used to be, I’m bolder. I actually like people (in moderation, let’s not be crazy).

In this career, I’ve found something that I love doing. Early on, I remember saying to someone that I felt that being a librarian was my calling. Yeah that’s totally romanticised but there’s something special in getting to be of service to others. We get a unique insight; a lot of the time it’s run of the mill, sometimes it’s memorable, and sometimes it makes for great laughs over a wine at the end of the day.

I can still honestly say I don’t exactly know how I ended up here, I just kind of did. And I’m very happy I did.

After all what other career would let me combine things I’m good at and are mentally stimulating, with doing  something useful for the world? And what other career would give you opportunities to paint yourself as a freedom fighting heroine in your own boring origin story…

So as I sit here downing my shot of vodka with my now enamoured slightly dangerous contact and finish my story.

“It’s kind of a natural progression from librarian to freedom fighter, I mean our profession is all about equality and making information accessible to all and when people try to take that away, well, we fight back because we are a lot of things but we are not neutral.”

He passes me the documents, which I tuck into my Keep Calm I’m a librarian satchel and I walk out into the cold starless night.

The End.

 

What’s in a name?

My name is Danielle. It’s the feminine form of the name Daniel. Daniel, for those interested in such things, is a Hebrew name meaning God is my judge. Anyone familiar with Dan’s story knows that back in the day he said a few things that people didn’t like and for his troubles hung out with some lions for a while, where he was, somewhat surprisingly, not eaten by them.

But lions or no – my name is Danielle, it looks similar to Daniel and yet is not the same. It’s also not Daniella, the far more exotic European version, just plain boring Danielle. Three Syllables Dan-e-elle.

For the last year or so I’ve had to repeatedly tell people  “actually it’s Danielle not Daniel”. Everyone has been doing it from the middle age white guy who’s building my house, to the technicians who come to do repairs on the library IT equipment, to, and somewhat unbelievably the woman who served me at the chemist.

In some of these circumstances it’s just laziness or carelessness. In people who speak English as a second language they probably haven’t seen the name before and are making their best approximation. Given the way I mangle non-English names I can entirely forgive the latter, but find it a lot harder to forgive the former.

What is more interesting is the look on people’s faces when they realise that no my name isn’t Daniel and I am in fact a woman doing IT in the library. It’s a look of surprise, often hastily smothered when they hear the words IT expert and then see me, unmistakably female, often in a fabulous dress. And yes it is as 25 kinds of awesome as it sounds being the IT expert and wearing a pretty dress.

But why all the fuss about my name – a rose by any other name would smell as sweet (finally working in some Shakespeare – bonus points). So I’m still essentially the same person regardless of what I get called.

Personally, I don’t think Mr Shakespeare got it quite right when he wrote Juliet’s famous soliloquy about what’s in a name. Although Juliet says that Romeo would still be her fella if he was called some other name, Romeo might feel differently. Romeo might essentially not be Romeo if he wasn’t called Romeo and was instead John. And if you can follow that congratulations, it’s my rather convoluted way of saying the name someone uses is important – it’s their first and perhaps most essential identifier.

There are countless instances throughout history where names or the removal of names have been used to deliberately dehumanise or stigmatise people. In another Shakespeare play – Merchant of Venice – Shylock is hardly ever referred to by his name rather he is called Jew. That is, he un-named and made other by the designation given to him rather than humanised by using his real name.

While I’m certainly not saying  being called name of the wrong gender is anything other than a bit annoying, the point is that names have power. And the name you call yourself (or rather your parents called you) has meaning.

Among my family I’m know as Dan or Auntie Dan to my nephews. These names come from a shared history, affection and understanding. From some people who I can’t be bothered correcting I get Dani (or Danny, Danni, Dannii) although this isn’t something I encourage, I’m not nor ever have been a Dani.

But in a professional context being called by the right name is important because of all the assumptions that come along with being called the wrong one. It’s an acknowledgment that it is possible for a woman to being working with technology and for the most part, being quite good at it. Yes, I have short hair but it is possible to have short hair and be female. (Honestly I could totally write a whole post on the ridiculousness of the whole women and short hair thing).

This  experience has been useful in understanding how important names are. And how my identity as a female, sister, daughter, auntie, friend, colleague and librarian is intrinsically linked to my name.

So what’s in a name? Well quite a bit really.

 

 

 

 

 

Tradition and technology – a librarian’s education.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that librarians love dissing their formal library education.

I have at times joined that chorus because studying librarianship was mostly really boring  and I really did learn more about being a librarian through the practical doing than through my degree. (Side note: having the qualification does allow us to call ourselves a profession, which means we have standards and ethics we adhere too and this is a good thing.)

I studied online for my library degree and I wonder whether this affected the experience and development of practical skills – I certainly knew the theory of how to conduct a reference interview but hadn’t ever done one, at a face-to-face course this might have been different.

Some of the reasons my library degree seems irrelevant is because I just don’t use those skills. By choice, I studied archiving and preservation. I was never likely to work in an archive but I thought it might be useful to have a broader range of skills just in case. It was (at least thus far) pointless and I would have been better studying event and program development. But the same could be said of learning Dublin Core or half a dozen more things that are not relevant to what I do everyday. Bur with a different career path those skills could be hugely relevant, so context is everything.

What do I wish I’d been taught at library school? Part of me thinks that question is irrelevant. Librarians need to know many things to be able to do their roles effectively and some of those things are still traditionally “librarian” – collections, MaRC, databases and keyword searching etc.

But…

I became a librarian because I love books and reading (cue eye-rolling) and that’s not really what I do. I’m not sure my degree did enough to really paint the picture of the industry in its current state besides the odd reference here and there to how the internet has changed librarianship. I feel that there was way to much focus on the traditional and it was way too easy for the tech stuff to be bypassed by book loving wannabe librarians (I did take web design, which was probably the most valuable skill I got from my degree but it wasn’t compulsory).

It should have been compulsory for me to learn and understand systems and programming because it would break down a lot of barriers that exist between tech and librarians. I have a great general knowledge of technology, I’m really good at troubleshooting issues with equipment or systems and assisting customers. But there’s a whole other level of knowledge about library systems that is integral to functioning in a modern public library and understanding that would be hugely beneficial.

When I was studying all that other level tech stuff wasn’t really of much interest to me and the friends I made during the course felt the same way. The unfortunate consequence of this is that tech and systems were not seen as integral to every librarian, or seen as massive barrier to access for our communities. Now I’m in a tech librarian role, I live and breathe the critical importance of this every day but librarians outside those employed in tech roles need to join the conversation.

Why? I think it’s fair to say that men do a lot of the tech roles in libraries. And while I’m not looking at opening that can of worms (one day I might be brave enough to write a blog post about all of that) I did once read an article that said while women don’t make up 50% of the tech roles only 50% of the problems in tech would be solved. (I don’t have a reference to that article other than to say it was hugely influential in my journey from book loving to tech nerd librarian).

It’s undoubtedly redundant for me to say technology inhabits every aspect of our lives. But the consequence of that fact is that technology skills and knowledge are the most important things you need to work in libraries. It’s more important than collections or program development or even reference interview. But while it’s considered the realm of tech librarians then only a limited amount of thinking can even go into solving some of the barriers technology and systems cause for our communities.

This is not a criticism of tech librarians but rather a comment on the number of people doing the thinking. If four people are focused on an area then you’ll get four people’s ideas – they may be good ideas but it’s still only four people’s ideas. But if you have 30 people interested and focused on an area then  you’ll got 30 completely different ways of thinking about something, which in the long run can only be of benefit especially if those people come with a diversity of interests and perspectives.

For example, take the library catalogue. The OPAC in and of itself is a massive barrier to accessing the library collection. In the age of google it doesn’t really feel that logical to have to search for and index information the way you’re forced to in a catalogue (hello MaRC haters). We also know that developing a catalogue that’s more like Google is still years away. But what if everyone who worked in the library was able to be part of that conversation. What if it wasn’t tech librarians, boffins and vendors but all librarians, would that speed up the development? If we all said this is of critical importance and here’s how we think it could work, would that help?

So yeah I kind of wish I’d studied programming, data management, information architecture and not archiving and I wish we all had to do the same.

Disclaimer 1: I finished my library degree in 2011, a lot could of changed by now. Also my experience is based on my choice of university I know there are some courses with a stronger focus on technology.