Life interrupted – 3

The subtitle to this edition is: nice things during self-isolation.

As a single person you kind of get used to your own company, but in the first week of self-isolation it was a struggle, I didn’t know how I was going to do this for months on end. Now, I’m kind of loving the peace and quiet and the more gentle pace of life. It feels like a gift and a time out of time to pause, reflect and just be.

I’m lucky though, I live somewhere with a bit of space around me. I’ve got a backyard and right opposite my house is a wetlands area with walking paths, frogs and birds. Side note: anyone else noticed the quiet and how lovely that is?

Like most people, I’ve been trying to do nice things to help get through the difficulties. Nice things for me make me smile or laugh, give me soul a little lift and remind me we are all in this together. I’m grateful to all the people who are lending their talents to entertain and ease my anxieties during this time.

So here’s a list of things, I’m finding that is bringing me joy during these hard days. (Will periodically add to this list as I come across things).

  1. I can’t go to the Ballet at the moment but I can stream it, thanks to The Australian Ballet streaming their productions for free.
  2. Samuel West is reading me poetry every night. He has a soothing voice and I am loving the ability poetry has to capture a moment, a feeling, to give hope and  perspective on the world. (Who’s Samuel West I hear you ask? – Mr Elliot in Persuasion and a bunch of other stuff too)
  3. Patrick Stewart is reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets and I can’t tell you how much I love this, it’s unedited, he makes mistakes and starts again and it’s completely delightful. You can find that on all the socials.
  4. During an afternoon work break, I sat in my reading chair and rubbed Heminway’s tummy for ages. He was enraptured and so I was.
  5. #ThorntonThursday – rewatching North and South with a bunch of likeminded humans on Twitter. I’m aiming for Wentworth Wednesday at some point too.
  6. Getting to make a pot of tea and drink out a tea cup every morning. Usually reserved only for weekends, I now have the time to make a pot of tea with leaves and drink it from a tea cup.
  7. Mozart – always
  8. Marigolds they are stunning with their orange and burnt umber flowers.
  9. Meeting some new trees in my neighbourhood
  10. Watching families together out for walks on my estate
  11. Having time to read
  12. Jigsaws – it feels very much like we have gone back in time and it’s utterly charming
  13. The place I bought roses sent me their brochure and can I just say I’m going to need more roses in my life.
  14. (New nice thing) Anyone notice how beautiful the autumn leaves are this year. Particularly loving the claret ash and their magnificent colours.
  15. (New nice thing) Households putting soft toys and rainbow drawings in windows and on pavements to let little people know that it will be alright. If there was a stronger symbol that we are all united and in this together I don’t know if I could find one.
  16. (New nice thing) Going to church in my pyjamas and doing Communion with whatever you have on hand. I’ve done it with a cup of tea, hot cross buns, oat cakes and water.
  17. (New nice thing) Some married friends are making funny videos of their self-isolation world, includes K-pop dancing, meat BBQing and it has a level of irony and snark that I need.
  18. (New nice thing) Seeing the cobwebs glistening on the grass on an autumn afternoon.
  19. (New nice thing) Watching Fitzgerald stalk cabbage moths and hide in the garden beds

So that’s it for now… I know this time is extremely worrying  and I’m in a very privileged position, there is much to be anxious about but I hope like me you are finding time for a few things that make you happy too.

Take care, stay home and breathe.

 

Life interrupted – 2

I put the iron away the other day. I’d pulled it out a few weeks ago to iron my summer work clothes but it seems I’ll be doing work meetings in casual gear for the foreseeable future.  By the time we get out of self-isolation, it will be winter or maybe even spring.

Working from home is not as much fun as they said it would be on the packet. It’s a strangely dehumanising experience, where your colleagues are now just a small square on a computer screen and the nuances of your interactions are blunted by technology. Getting technology to work, and consistently, adds to the stress and emotional labour.

The nature of the work I do means my team talk a lot during our work day.  Those conversations are now much harder and strangely formal, channeled into a few meetings or on a chat stream. They are okay but cannot replace the knowledge sharing, learning and rapport building which comes from a face-to-face interaction. And without these, work feels like it has been stripped of what makes it pleasurable and distilled down to a series of tasks: we may as well be robots.

It’s a real privilege to have the opportunity to see into my colleagues private spaces and seeing a part of their lives that you would rarely get to see. And the guest appearances by children and pets, is a little light relief. But I find I’m struggling with this, even as a person who is reasonably generous in sharing aspects of my life.

Right now, I want to burrow and protect myself and sharing images of myself in my house feels like I’m way too exposed. Don’t get me wrong, I like my team, but I’m deeply uncomfortable with the smudging of the lines between personal and professional. My home is a reflection of the raw and no barriers version of myself, and work feels like an intruder forcing itself into the sacred spaces where you are your most vulnerable.

Everyone I’ve spoken to is finding concentrating hard and productivity low. I  feel like I’m doing less than ever and are more exhausted by that small effort. I really want to be the person I was at work three weeks ago but honestly right now my heart just isn’t it it. I feel as if I need to focus my energy on surviving a global pandemic, not work.

I spoke to a friend on the phone, and she said everyone needs a bit of time to come to terms with what’s happening. She’s right, we are in shock and need time to process. Things have changed so rapidly that it is dizzying, just keeping up with the changes is a challenge, let alone having the time to process them emotionally.

I’m grateful that I have a supervisor who understands this, who has said we need to be kind to ourselves right now and just get through these next few months. My team is pretty indefatigable; we will do our best, rise to the challenge and all that but these first few days are hard. I’m looking forward to the Easter break.

Quite a few of my friends live alone, and we are all feeling the isolation. Even though many of us like our own company, a week or two of that will be enough to have us climbing the walls. We have organised regular catch-ups over Zoom or text. It’s been great in helping me feel less alone, and seems so so necessary to check in and make a safe space for people to say how they are feeling.

But I feel a deep sense of loss that I can’t just run up stairs and say hi to them, or eat lunch together in the tea room. Through government regulations and our choice to abide by them, we just can’t have the freedom to move about or go anywhere right now. We know it’s for the good of all but that doesn’t make it easier.

At MPOW, there are some good souls who are organising the work drinks, and the morning teas, who are posting fun stuff in the group chat area, and honestly we just so need them right now. Staying connected and supporting each other isn’t just nice, it’s necessary, for everyone’s physical and mental health. Because despite our thoughts that this will be weeks, it’s likely to be months and we need to make sure we have a workplace worth being at to come back to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life interrupted

It was my birthday yesterday. But I didn’t much feel like celebrating. News from around the world is grim. I spent it pretty much on my own, although with a couple of new four legged friends called Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I’m okay with that, as it seems that it’s a time for quiet reflection and prayer.

Corona Virus – so tiny you need an electron microscope to see it, has turned the world on its head. It’s ironic, when you think about it – how something so small has had a power greater than all the rhetoric, philosophy and religion to bring upheaval.

As a science graduate, this stuff is endlessly fascinating. We studied the plague, the Spanish Influenza epidemic and all of major outbreaks of disease throughout history. Science, which is ignored when inconvenient, now is the only trusted source decision makers can rely on – as it should be.

Last week seemed like a lifetime. There was an anxiousness, I barely concentrated at work. I kept checking the news. Everything changed so fast, even the news presenters struggled to keep up. Social distancing and flattening the curve are new but unwelcome additions to the lexicon.

I’ve been trying for days to gather my scattered thoughts. Like a lot of people, I’m a bit scared. If we thought the hellish fires of summer were the worst of it, well, the world had other plans.

On Saturday we had an extraordinary parish council meeting to discuss the new government regulations on social distancing. I voiced what we all wanted, to stay open; others voiced what was needed, the decision was rightly made to suspend services. There were tears.

A number of people have said how this is an opportunity to do church differently. And how if two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am (Matthew 18:20), all it did was reinforce to me that a church is not a building or a service but a group of people.

In our live-streamed services yesterday, our vicar, talked about Psalm 137 where the Israeli captives in Babylon were wondering how to sing praises to God in a strange land. We are in a very strange land and like them I don’t feel like singing.

I can’t help thinking about all the warnings we have ignored. We didn’t listen, just kept walking down this path thoughtlessly and now we are being made to listen. We valued celebrity over checkout-chicks, CEOs over cleaners; we put stuff before people and we are now needing to re-evaluate.

As humans we believe we are in control and that we can bend Mother Nature to our will. But Mother Nature takes orders from no one. If there is one lesson I hope we all learn out of this, it’s that we control absolutely nothing, and that God, the uncaring universe or whatever you want to call it, is a force more powerful than all the schemes of people.

Everywhere you look there are stories of loss, postponed weddings, dream holidays cancelled, families separated by borders closing. Things that lift people’s spirits like arts and sports are being cancelled, so many people have lost their jobs. People’s mental health is suffering, there’s been a huge increase in domestic violence. The stories out of Italy are horrific. Death of our most vulnerable looms large in our minds.

If you have been to the supermarket it’s unnerving. Seeing empty shelves, as people stockpile food and toilet paper (!!), is the dystopian future we’ve all seen in movies. For people used to having everything laid out for them, it must be a rude shock to realise there’s not an endless supply of everything (imagine that).

Right now, it’s hard to see how we get ourselves out of this mess. I keep thinking about this being the moment to stop and reflect on our choices as individuals, communities and countries – indeed as the world. Perhaps realising that we have responsibilities to our neighbours and communities is the wake up call we need right now.

If you ever needed a reminder that you are more than just an individual, Corona virus is the strongest indication ever that you do not just belong to yourself and your family. Across the world, each of us belongs to each other, all tied together with an invisible piece of string. I find that so comforting because I think it says that there is some other bigger force in the universe. And that is the most beautiful thought ever.

The world is a bit too much for me right now… So I’ve gone small. Forcing myself to think about today only. Right now, I’m thinking about what to make for dinner tonight (steak and veggies). My solar has been installed, Hemingway is purring away beside me, Fitzgerald, in perhaps a mood we are all expressing, is hiding under the couch.

Friends have messaged me, my family brought up cakes. They have organised a zoom meeting to sing me happy birthday tonight. We have another extraordinary parish council meeting.

And tomorrow, tomorrow I start to work from home.

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!

______________________________________________________________________________

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.

 

 

Ten things I hate about you – part 2

It seems fitting, as I reflect on 10 years in libraries that it’s also the end of the decade. So much of my life has been focused around my career that in reflecting on my time in libraries, I’m also reflecting on my life in general. My first post was about the patriarchy and capitalism at the heart of the industry, this time I wanted to say something positive.

I am not the person I was ten years ago. That says both everything and nothing at all. Nobody is the same person they were ten years ago, because life and other catastrophes  changes you. But I’m not the same person largely because of my profession in both good and bad ways.

Ten years ago my world was certainly very different. I grew up in a white middle class town, with white middle-class views. While I’ve always been a swinging voter, I probably leaned more towards the right. I would not have considered myself a feminist in anything but the most general terms.

In public libraries, you are confronted with the hardest things in the community; refugees trying to make a go of it, unemployment, language barriers, drugs, mental-health – you name it and public libraries are dealing with it. And the thing about seeing and dealing with it, means you end up understanding it or at least trying too.

Understanding it, means you come to see how political and societal systems negatively impact the community you are supporting. And this is at both a personal level – that is how your views and votes matter, and in the bigger picture view. Librarianship changed that for me, as I could see the direct result of the harm being done by government policy in a range of areas. It made me intentional in aligning my politics to my values.

Exposure to different world views has be key to changing perspectives and this has come from the relationships I’ve built both in person and online. Twitter is often a bin-fire, but it’s also been a place of learning and information gathering, which I’ve used to learn and grow.

I’ve often called on library twitter for help with an issue and always found useful advice and connections. But it’s also been a primary source for news and connecting with people from across the world and with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Getting the chance to read and sometimes discuss but often just learn has been at times confronting but also a joy.

The single best thing about the library profession is the people who work in the industry. I want to say that again… The single best thing about being a librarian is the people you share the journey with. Generous with our time, supportive, ready to advocate and argue for what is good and right; we accept everyone (although there is a strictly enforced no dickheads policy), we especially look out for the quiet ones who may not feel they fit in anywhere else.

But it’s more than just acceptance though – it’s welcoming, it’s saying come sit at the table with us. It makes complete sense – in an industry where we deal with community at both its best and worst, it would be difficult to not have the same compassionate and welcoming stance with each other.

In libraries, I’ve found a safe space to be creative, shape my talents and use my voice. Ten years ago I was would have been too scared to share my opinions in a blog. But through the acceptance of the industry and the gentle encouragement of friends and colleagues, I’ve found out who I am, what matters to me and I’ve become bold enough to speak up.

The courage I’ve gained through finding a place among librarians has had a real world impact. This year, as a member of parish council, I raised the issue of Acknowledgement of Country at services. It was a bumpier road than what I was expecting but we are now saying a prayer, which acknowledges the traditional owners of the lands where our church meets.

Key for me pressing this issue, was the knowledge I’d gained about it’s importance through my learning and conversations with other librarians and GLAM sector workers. I knew many of you were supporting and encouraging me to be brave and raise issues that meant something to me – as you always are, on a range of issues.

In a ten year career, you meet a lot of people some become friends and others just pass through. If I was to thank everyone, it would be a long list and I would probably forget to name someone anyway – also not an Oscars acceptance speech. But there are key influencers, mentors and advisors I’ve turned to for help and support, who have shaped my career – sometimes literally, my thinking and my life.

These people have qualities that I admire and desperately hope I have and want to mentor others to have. They are deep thinkers about library services and the world in general. They like to get stuff done the easiest way possible without necessarily caring too much about the hierarchy. In all cases they have given me plenty to think about and the safe space to work things through – and that is a precious gift.

So thank you to those people (you know who you are) and to everyone else as well. For ten years of acceptance and for challenging me to be a better librarian and more importantly a better person too.

For all the difficult things facing this industry and the uncertainty I feel going forward in it, I still find myself breaking into a smile when someone asks me what I do for a living. Because I’m a librarian, which has been both the greatest gift and the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it’s all been made easier because of all of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On LIS careers and volunteering

Many people on Twitter saw this thread by Megan Chorusch, on the dilemma and cost of LIS Volunteering.

It hurt my heart and made me angry to think that we have people who are have to consider giving up so much for a chance in this industry. It also made me think about my own journey and the way we all contribute to this problem. @Lissertations has also written on this and I encourage you to read her wise and angry words.

The first thing I need to say that Megan’s story is the story of so many, including my own. The fact that ten years has gone by and we are still in the same spiral is alarming and a sad indictment on the industry.

When I started studying librarianship, I knew I would need to get a library job as soon as possible. I left a permanent job, for a 12 month part time contract – it became much much longer and full time but still casual.

I took another casual job at a librarian level. While I was finishing my masters and working two jobs – I was so stressed I developed eczema around my eyes. It was horrendous and I was exhausted running from one job to another and trying to study.

While studying I also did voluntary work at a couple of places. One project I loved and did for six months or more. It was as much for interest as for my CV.  I volunteered to be on an ALIA committee, I showed everyone I cared, was enthusiastic, engaged. Was active on social media. And all of this still wasn’t enough…

I went for a job, didn’t get it, was offered casual work… Took that (happened twice). From 2011-2012 I worked casually at three public libraries. Worse, I was competing with others in the same boat and we’d play a game of fastest finger first to see who would get that day’s offered shift.

If it wasn’t for the cheap accomodation and support of my family, I would not have been able to do this. But it was also disillusioning and made me question who I was, and the industry as a whole.

When I managed to get a permanent part time job I still felt that this wouldn’t be enough because there was limited desk work, so I continued working my casual jobs as well. At one point I had four jobs.

And from 2012-2016, most weeks I worked six-days-a-week. The longest stretch I ever worked was 10 days and then had one day off before working another six. I was perpetually exhausted and had no life. Thought it was worth it though and I’d be rewarded for my hard work.

But all of this still wasn’t enough… (Honestly whatever public libraries are looking for, clearly I don’t have it).

I’d like to tell Megan and co. not to volunteer, or give up too much for the industry on the hopes that it might lead to something because it’s not worth it. But of course I can’t. The reason this model exists is because out of it jobs do come – sometimes.

Part of me wants to see what would happen if we all went – about that volunteering that keeps the industry running; yeah, nah we aren’t doing it anymore. But there’s almost no chance everyone would agree to that. And then we’d have a situation where we’d all feel like we have too, to be seen as one of those who are engaged. Thus creating the problem we have now.

I still do casual work and volunteer, though it’s much more manageable these days. I also think about it differently now – I’m not trying to impress anyone or show them I’m engaged. It’s about giving back, increasing my own knowledge, helping new grads avoid the pitfalls and maybe changing things a little.

One of my volunteer roles is reviewing CVs for ALIA. As well as talking about their translatable skills, I often tell them to volunteer or take casual work. I see now that this is bad advice that perpetuates exploitation and gives false hope to new graduates. But there’s nothing else I can say…

There are no paths into the industry that don’t require years of slog and a whole lot of good luck. I often review CVs knowing there’s little chance of them getting a job in a public library at all. (I’ve only ever reviewed CVs for people interested in public library roles). This is not to say they wouldn’t be great at it or have translatable skills that would be an asset, just that there are others at the same level or better.

It’s unendingly depressing seeing the enthusiasm of students and new graduates, knowing that the jobs aren’t there and they’ll likely end up with their hopes dashed. I often want to tell them to run, run as far away as they can; that they have been sold a myth and only a very lucky will find the promised land.

I don’t have any answers on how we can change this. Beyond the twitter echo chamber, I doubt many see this as a problem. And without recognition from those in positions to change things, well, we are tilting at windmills.

A major issues with librarianship is that there is no single voice to advocate for workers. We have our sector unions but these can never address the totality of issues within the industry. A voice that actually speaks for us, a library union, is needed to support workers and make real changes in the industry.

As for me, working so much contributed to burn-out. But the disillusionment started long before, when I realised that all the volunteering and extra jobs was not getting me anywhere. It was never going to be enough.

So my advice to new grads and students is don’t give up everything for a career in libraries; think more broadly about your skills, don’t tie yourself to a particular library sector and if you are going to volunteer do it because you want to not with the hopes of getting anything out of it.

And remember that no library job is more important than life or your relationships… You are enough.

 

 

 

 

Ten things I hate about you – (part 1)

I’ve been in libraries for ten years this year. Ten years, which feels like both yesterday and a long time ago as well. There’s much to say about all of that so here’s my attempt in a multi-part series to reflect on ten years. Part one is careers, capitalism and the patriarchy.

The first thing I need to say is, I’ve had two permanent jobs in ten years. That’s right just two – I’ve gotten through the rest of the time with casual work and contracts. There’s a whole blog post in all the feels I’ve gone through around that situation which I’ll write, eventually. And I know it’s not just a library profession issue but let’s just say it’s been tough and I’ve often considered walking away, if I could ever work out what I want to do.

When I decided to become a librarian, it was because I loved books and between editing and librarianship, it seemed the more stable profession. Oh how I laugh now about that naivety because getting work in this industry is tough. There are more people than there are roles. For ten years I’ve read the ALIA employment trends report and looked for the promised land of “boomers retiring™” but although this has started to happen, the jobs still aren’t there. The industry is shrinking, caused by a range of issues including funding, outsourcing, and automation.

At my graduation, the keynote speaker talked about librarianship being a skill needed in the future. And it’s true – our ability to curate, analysis and contextualise information should see us in many non-traditional industries, as well as in libraries (whatever they look like in the future). But library degrees from my experience don’t seem to provide the broad level skills needed and unfortunately as an industry we are still far too much tied to the romanticism of libraries to really adapt.

Libraries are conceptually a very romantic idea. Everyone (in theory) is allowed in, and within the four walls is a representation of all human knowledge to a greater or lesser extent. Libraries, even more so than galleries or museums capture people’s imaginations. And yes libraries can and do play an important role in providing access to information, which is a core principle of democratic society.

While all that is lovely, it’s built a mythology around librarianship that is very bad for the industry and the people in it. It makes librarianship out to be a calling, not a job: you’re a freedom fighter doing something big and important. But the truth is, the myth doesn’t hold up in reality.

Burnout caused by “vocational awe” amongst librarians is very real. My own experience of it was brutal and I’ve watched friends and colleagues go through the same heartbreak. It’s appalling to me that we as an industry we could want this. But we feed off vocational awe, manipulating idealistic newbies into the belief that they can change the world.

As a profession, we are deeply rooted in the patriarchy with all the gender stereotypes that go along with it. From my own experience, we particularly love the imagery of women in libraries as the “lady bountiful”, centring women as nurturers, doing the emotional labour for their workplace and their communities. It’s not necessarily intentional but all of us continually re-enforce this because of how we have been socialised to understand the world.

The #critlib movement has done much to raise the knowledge of the patriarchal and colonial mindset that forms the basis of library and information services. But it is often individuals who advocate and highlight these concerns both in their workplaces and in the broader industry.

Professional associations should be on the front line of this movement but while they seemingly embrace it on one level, they also largely continue to re-enforce the status quo. Earlier this year ALIA released the diversity trends report, which among other things recommended that we need to hire more men, in the interests of diversity.

The same report highlights pay inequality and across all sectors of GLAM there is one. Unsurprisingly (though depressingly), it’s not women who get paid more, despite making up 84% of the industry. The fact that in a predominately female industry one exists at all is infuriating, while it’s equally alarming that it’s not being addressed.

As a career-long member of ALIA I was deeply offended by the report, feeling it was demeaning to women who turn up everyday and keep the industry running. I raised some concerns about it with ALIA but was told it is about diversity and not equality – as though they are not two sides of the same issue.

Their extraordinary bad take on this and other recommendations in the report shows, an organisation out of touch with its members; history, and societal context of the industry they advocate for. How no one thought that telling a predominantly female profession that it would be a better industry if it hired more men, shows a level of disconnect that is both astonishing and distressing. I’m certainly not suggesting that ALIA was anything other than unthinking but it also fits the patriarchal mindset to devalue the role of women, even in an industry that is predominately female.

Libraries, I believe, think that because we hire more women, we are somehow above all this and we have dealt with these issues and are all about female empowerment. But this is clearly untrue. We know gender oppression in libraries is very real, women in the industry face harassment particularly from the community, and from my own experience that library tech and leadership is disproportionately male in comparison to their participation in the industry.

Female library leadership and libraries sit within the patriarchal system and abides by the same rules. Women have only as much power as the system grants us and we play our roles in re-enforcing the gender roles we have been told to play.

While all of that might sound unendingly depressing… There’s an upside.

Once you go through the fire and emerge singed and cynical, it’s still completely possible to function, engage with the industry and be good at what you do. In fact, I believe now without the emotional baggage of trying to make the world a better place I’m way more effective. Sure, feeling like you are just a cog in a big fat capitalist wheel is no way near as much fun, but it is safer and does give you a clear-eyed perspective on your value.

While I dislike intensely the idea that we are commodity, in a neo-liberal capitalist system when you’re unemployed, you need to get very real about things – including your value. For me, I recognised my value and, in fact, what all the years in libraries had taught me, by looking at my skills from a broader perspective then just libraries.  What I found was real bankable skills that make me employable in the age of information.

My skills include developing and implementing processes and systems, people management, relationship development and maintenance; tech skills, information gathering, organisation and dissemination, as well as analytical, problem-solving and creative thinking skills. These (and many more) are needed and useful skills that all librarians have but we are not encouraged to shout them from the rooftop or think of them pragmatically.

Recognising these skills means I’m more confident in my abilities, and have been able to thrive in a completely new sector. I’m now in a non-traditional library role, where I rarely see books but it suits my skills, and challenges me everyday and in all the ways I love.

If there’s anything I could hope for going forward is that we lose romanticism that ties us down and actually focus on our knowledge and skills and all the ways we can use them. For a million reasons we’d all be better off and we might just have a chance to really change the world.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s no secret: I love romance

At the Melbourne Writers Festival this year there was a fantastic “Day of Romance” dedicated to romance writers, readers and books. I wasn’t able to go to all the sessions I wanted to because, life but I went to three, which were fascinating.

A few things struck me about the day – firstly that many attendees were super grateful there was a day dedicated to books we love but we are often shamed for reading. And secondly, a question from the audience about why they couldn’t get romance novels at their local library, which is what inspired me to write this post.

I’ve been a romance reader since I was a teen. The first book I bought was written in the 1970s and set in the French Revolution. Part of the appeal of it was that it looked and sounded dodgy. And frankly it was – consent was apparently not a thing and “passionate rape” could lead to love.

Even more so then because I clearly naive and was easily influenced, reading smutty books was frowned on – all the sex and romance could have a terrible effect on outlook and character. But I loved them as a way of escaping they were just fun, naughty and I felt rebellious choosing them.

As the genre has grown and changed over the years, the appeal of these books essentially hasn’t changed. I still feel rebellious reading them and still like them because they make me laugh.

Sometimes they aren’t meant to make me laugh but they are written with sincerity and sense of joy, they honestly just make me happy. It’s no more complicated than that. They are a fantasy where everyone lives happily ever after, the sexy times are always plentiful and no one ever needs to go to the bathroom or spills lunch on their top.

As a librarian into romance I’ve encountered much side eye because of my love of the genre. Once someone said they wouldn’t take manga recommendations from me because I read romance. As though my understanding and knowledge of one genre is clearly affected by my seemingly poor taste in reading material. While many are not so openly rude, the secret biases against these books are often discernible in collections.

At best collecting romance seems haphazard. If someone has a passion for it, you’ll get a decent collection, mostly it’ll be by coincidence rather than on purpose. Librarians like many in the general population don’t think romance novels as proper literature. Though there are other factors like profile buying, and format size that also play a role – seriously this is a thing.

It’s hard to understand why. Romance novels cover diverse topics like rape, child abuse, depression, war, relationships, consent and most of all the role of women in society – in everything from fantasy to historical contexts. If you’re into shape shifting hedgehogs or aliens you can find that too.

These stories centre the role of women; fighting against the constricts of society, their families – this is highly relatable, even if done in a way that is formulaic. And formulaic doesn’t mean poorly written – it’s as hard to write a romance novel as any other book. And I’d argue that all books are more of less formulaic anyway – so let’s get off our high horses about that.

Collection acquisition plays a role in re-enforcing these biases as well. With libraries largely outsourcing collections, there’s not enough time or resources for that personal touch. Standing orders are a necessity because there are authors you just want but these need to be reviewed every year for new authors or trends.

Profile buying is the worst and should die a thousand deaths. While convenient for saving time and money its ensuring libraries are becoming homogenous, with bland collections, not tailored to community needs. And don’t get me started on ebooks – you buy a package and leave it up to the platform to choose your collection – as though that’s going to lead to anything good.

And because there’s a perception around the quality of romance novels in publishing, this perpetrates into libraries as well, despite the fact librarians think they are somehow immune to these biases. Librarians don’t necessarily want to believe they have inherent biases but we do. As much as we try for balance the biases are real and it’s as apparent in our collections as it is in our programming, which is a much bigger issue than I can cover here.

As an example, when I was doing acquisitions I brought things that appealed to me, a middle class white woman, that I thought others might like. The problem with this is obvious, though in some cases it worked – the romance novel collection I started was a great success, the coffee table books less so.

Stuart Kells, in a recent talk as part of the Pulp Fiction exhibition at La Trobe University talked about how libraries have long ignored the collection and preservation of romance pulp fiction because it was seen as too lowbrow for collecting. While this has started to change in a historical context, it still holds true for contemporary romance novel publishing.

Librarians should know and do better than this. Romance and erotica, make billions of dollars in sales. They are super popular and efforts should be placed into curating romance collections that appeal to their community. And not just for the perceived readers – older women who want large print Mills and Boon but actual readers women between the ages of 30-54.

As an industry we are doing a disservice to our communities if we look down our noses at women who choose to read romance rather than the latest literary sensation. Just because something is literary doesn’t mean it’s good or appeals to all readers. Worse, we are contributing to the patriarchal and colonial world view that we know what’s best for women and that is improving literature.

As a public library user rather than worker now, I want to see my interests and tastes reflected in the collection. I also want to be surprised finding books by diverse authors and stories. It doesn’t matter whether romance novels are your thing or not, they appeal to a lot of people and it’s time we understood them better and showed them a little love.