ALIA Information Online 2017

I didn’t hear a single presentation pondering the future of libraries at the ALIA Information Online conference this year. What a relief! The profession seems to finally be stepping out with confidence and just getting on with things.

There were a few years there where everyone was anxious about the future relevance of the library. Perhaps that was a natural reaction to, dare I say the word, disruption. We took a good look at ourselves, had a shake up and now we are moving ahead.

I tweeted my takeaways themes from the conference. 

The stand-out theme for me was prototyping and experimenting, having a minimal viable product, and being quick to market. This theme came up in a number of talks including Paula Bray’s keynote.

Slide from Paula Bray’s keynote

Perhaps the newly embraced confidence of the profession means we are finally willing to let go of perfection, loosen up and experiment more.

Copies of the papers and presentations I co-presented are up on the conference site. The New UX at State Library Victoria gives the inside story on our in progress major redevelopment project. Around the world in not-quite-80 libraries looks at major trends in library spaces across North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Check out the conference program for the latest thinking and interesting projects in the Australian library sector.

Unfurl that frame keynote talk on ‘participation’

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These are my speaking notes from a talk I gave at the ‘Unfurl that Frame’ symposium at the National Library of Australia on 11 December 2014.

My talk today is going to be full of questions for you to reflect on. It also includes a call to action.

The theme for this session is ‘Participation: shaping, creating, learning to share spaces and resources in new ways, with new people’

My first question is “What does participation feel like?”

I ask that question because participation is an emotive word.

  • participation feels involving and engaging
  • it is the act of sharing, taking part, and it implies being an equal, and being respected
  • participation feels like being invited to be part of something bigger than yourself
  • it feels like a supportive and nurturing environment
  • it feels active, which by deduction means it can’t be passive
  • it feels positive, which means there is a benefit or value to it and it is enjoyable
  • to participate in something you have to be present – in body and mind!

My next question is “If participation feels like that, then what does it look like in a library?”

I believe there are 4 frames of participation. You are very welcome to challenge them or unfurl them, or even break them completely because I have made them up and they aren’t grounded in any tested theory. These frames will be enacted differently depending on the type of library you work in. I will explain each frame, and give you some examples from the State Library of Victoria to illustrate these.

The 4 frames are:

  • Social participation
  • Cultural participation
  • Staff participation
  • Personal participation

1. Social participation

By social participation I mean opening up the possibilities for people to have a voice. Giving people the opportunity to take part in social, cultural, educational or economic activity. Supporting people into social mobility, and feeling included in something bigger than themselves, and as a consequence, building a more civil society. It’s about giving people hope. These might sound like lofty ideals (and they certainly aren’t very popular with governments of certain persuasions) but I believe this is the business of libraries.

Let me give you some examples from The State Library where we are inviting people to participate:

Purely on numbers we are increasing participation. We are the busiest public library in Australia. In 2013/14 we had close to 1.8 million visitors through the doors and over 3 million visitors online. We expect both of these figures to continue to grow as Melbourne grows and as we reach out to new audiences.

At a simple level, we give people shelter and a safe place to hang out, with no expectation that they have to spend money to justify being there. Last summer during a heatwave, we and other people in the community took to social media to promote the library as one of the few free places in the CBD where homeless people were welcome to come in and get out of the heat.

We run an ‘open access’ program that brings kids from disadvantaged schools into the library for a memorable and emotionally resonant ‘rite of passage’. The aim is to activate their learning and critical thinking, and to encourage life-long engagement with the Library. Their library. It is free. It is their first visit to the library. It is profound.

The Library has just launched a new website which moves from being a place to curate information and present it for people to view, to being a platform that opens up our collections and content, and asks people for their ideas and input. It lights the fire of curiosity and rewards that curiosity in spades. A new section of the site will launch in the new year called “contribute and create” which will focus on crowd-sourced and community created content.

We recently ran an event called ‘Hear the people sing’, an open invitation mass choir inspired by our Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage exhibition. We were attempting to create the biggest public performance of a song from the musical. Everyone was welcome. Around 1000 people crowded the forecourt for this joyous community singing event.

At a strategic level the Library has just re-branded itself to align with its strategic direction. As well as updating the style of our communications to be more contemporary, we have a new positioning ‘tag’ which is ‘What’s your story?’. This is an invitation to the public to share with us, and to have their stories and voices heard. We are collecting stories from the public and from our own staff. These stories will appear both on the website as videos and in an exhibition we have planned for early next year.

My question for you is “How does your library activate social participation for its community?”

2. Cultural participation

By cultural participation I mean how your library engages with your city or town, your university, or how it partners with other institutions or organisations. Being part of the cultural fabric of your community.

At the State Library we participate in major cultural events and festivals in Melbourne and Victoria. Earlier this year we took part in White Night Melbourne. Half a million people packed the Melbourne CBD for this arts event. We turned our domed reading room into a huge blank canvas for a projection piece called Molecular Kaleidescope. Giant viruses crawled over the walls of the dome accompanied by a suitably creepy soundtrack. On that one night 21,000 people came through the library, many were first time visitors. And tens of thousands of people took in the projections on the library’s Swanston St facade.

We partner with many institutions and organisations across the state, from public libraries, to universities, to arts and cultural institutions, and community groups. We partner closely with the University of Melbourne on exhibitions, programs and creative fellowships. This year we held a joint exhibition at the library on Piranesi, an 18th century Italian printmaker. The exhibition was accompanied by public programs and lectures, a symposium and other events that reached a wider and more diverse audience than we could reach on our own. 4,000 people came through the Piranesi exhibition on White Night alone.

My question for you is “How does your library participate in the cultural fabric of your community.”

3. Staff participation

By staff participation I mean how do you design jobs, goals, teams, projects, meetings and decisions to be participative, collaborative and peer-based. And to be clear, I don’t mean democratic, or deferring authority to a group. I mean, giving your staff a chance to have a voice and taking accountability for that voice.

When I started working at the State Library 18 months ago, my department had 4 layers of management. It’s very hard to hear the voices of staff when they are so many layers removed. We now have a flatter structure and more forums and opportunities for staff to have a say directly to me.

All of us on the Leadership Team have committed to role-modelling a more participative way of working. We have been trained in and have introduced a more open style for meetings where everyone is encouraged to contribute to discussions. Staff are respectful of their peers. The meetings are less authoritative and hierarchical, and a lot more rewarding and enjoyable. I think we make better decisions too.

This year we ran a project to review our service model at the library. The starting point for this work was the recognition that library visitors have different needs. As our community becomes more diverse and we reach out to new audiences, we experience tensions in our services and spaces. We needed to understand and resolve these tensions. We used a design thinking approach for this review. Penny Hagan is speaking on design thinking tomorrow so I won’t go into too much detail about what that means, except to say that it’s a customer centred approach to designing services, and is highly participative. Around half of the 300 staff at the library helped to identify issues with our current service delivery and turn these into opportunities and service concepts. Building on staff ideas we co-created a new service model which is a blueprint for service development. Staff were very positive about the process and the level of input they had. It was a very different approach to past service reviews which ended up bogged down in industrial conflict.

My question for you is “How do you support your staff to co-create your library?”

4. Personal participation

By personal participation I mean what you, as an individual, bring to your library, your team, your peers, your profession and yourself. Being present, attentive, positive, active, supportive, generous and respectful. I don’t just mean towards others but towards yourself as well.

I don’t feel I need to give examples for this one. You are here today so I’m preaching to the converted.

However, I will say a couple of things.

Women (and let’s face it libraries are full of women) are generally good at getting others to participate, but no so good at being confident to step up and participate themselves. Their confidence doesn’t always match their high levels of competence. Women can be self-defeating, shun recognition, worry too much and be afraid of failure.

Does any of that sound familiar?

I believe we can make our profession stronger by building our collective confidence.

So I’m not going to ask you a question about personal participation. Instead, I’m giving you a call to action.

Let’s make our profession stronger. Build your confidence. Build the confidence of your peers and your staff. Build the confidence of your community.

 

Transforming yourself for the future library: VALA 2014 bootcamp

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Bootcampers hard at work

What does the library of the future look like? How can librarians prepare themselves for leading the library of the future? These are the questions I asked a group of around 30 attendees at the bootcamp ‘Transforming yourself for the future library’, which I ran at the VALA 2014 conference in Melbourne. My slides for the presentation are below.

Joe Janes’ book Library 2020 was an excellent jumping off point for thinking about how libraries might look and work in the near future. I asked the bootcampers to imagine their library in 2020 by completing the sentence “My library in 2020 will be…”. You can see the diversity and imagination of their responses below. My personal favourite is the first one, so I’ve included the original post-it note. I’m hoping to discover the author.

Who is the mystery author of this post-it?

Who is the mystery author of this post-it?

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@infoseer checks out the “My library in 2020 will be…” responses

After imagining their library in 2020, I put out the challenge to the bootcampers to think about their own skills and knowledge. The bootcampers identified a fear to overcome and a passion to embrace that would help them prepare for leading the library of the future. They then came up with ideas for creating transformational learning experiences to face their fears and pursue their passions.

It is confronting to speak with your peers about your fears. I was heartened by the honesty and openness of the bootcampers and their willingness to talk about their work related anxieties. The fears people named centered around themes such as: interpersonal communication and networking, public speaking and presentations/training, leadership and decision-making, reference skills, writing, time management and juggling priorities, and managing data, paperwork and finances. Perhaps these are the areas that library leaders, educators and professional associations could focus on for professional development opportunities for library staff.

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The passions people were not surprising given it was a group of librarians. The themes were: empowering, educating and connecting others, information/digital literacy, research, writing and publishing, sharing knowledge, collaboration, design, heritage, and technology. The bootcampers are clearly in the right profession to match their passions.

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Running the bootcamp was great fun. I felt privileged to lead a group of passionate and engaged librarians through thinking about the future of libraries and their own professional development. I hope the bootcampers went away from the session with some practical ideas they can use when they get back to work.

Did you attend the bootcamp? What did you take away from the session?

The peer-reviewed paper that I wrote to accompany the bootcamp is available on the VALA 2014 website for conference delegates and VALA members. It will also be be available to the public in May, or you can contact me for a copy. The hashtag for the session was #vala14 #bcc.

Transforming yourself for the future library

VALA2014 is being held in Melbourne in February 2014. The conference is billed as the “must-attend event” for specialists, managers and leading edge thinkers working in information and technology in the GLAM sectors.

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I am facilitating a bootcamp at VALA2014 on ‘Transforming yourself for the future library‘. Libraries are transforming by rebooting their image, playing with new services and spaces, and trying to meet the demands of a generation of digital natives. What is the nature of these changes and how can librarians prepare themselves for the challenges ahead?

In the bootcamp we will explore the nature of transformational change in libraries. We will look at what is influencing this change and how libraries are responding. Participants in the bootcamp will imagine their libraries in 2020 and beyond and look at how they can future-proof their careers for the road ahead.

My premise for the workshop is that libraries are transforming and that librarians need to be ready to lead that change by transforming themselves. The workshop will be practical and interactive and will provoke some revealing small group discussions. I will challenge participants to be prepared to face their fears and pursue their passions.

My session runs on Tuesday 4 February 2014 10:50am – 12:30pm. The hashtag for the session is #VALA2014 #BCC

For more information on the VALA2014 conference, check out the program. I hope to see you there!

Seattle: conference wrap

‘Libraries make everything better,’ according to Joe Janes (@joejanes) the editor of the book Library 2020. Janes delivered the closing session of the AALL 2013 conference. In Janes’ book, he asked a number of contributors to write essays starting with the line ‘The Library in 2020 will be…’. Janes’ presentation summarised the divergent views expressed in these essays, organised around the themes of stuff, place, people, community, leadership and vision. Some of these views are optimistic, while others paint a bleaker picture of the future for libraries.

Janes’ view is that the library of 2020 will be characterised by the things librarians uniquely bring such as service orientation, organisation, literacy, quality, depth, authority and detail. He believes that successful libraries will serve niches and that their focus will move away from giving access and acting as middlemen, since middlemen are increasingly redundant. Just look at travel agents and record store owners as examples.

Janes’ session was a perfect way to close the conference. He was very entertaining and his ideas were provocative. Janes concluded by asking the audience to reflect on their own libraries and where they want them to be in 2020.

Another session I enjoyed over the last few days was a presentation on integrating iPads into an academic library at Duke Law. The presenters focused on reference services, classroom teaching and library services. Their papers are online.

Steve Hughes (@stevehughes) ran a session on giving great presentations where he focused on opening your session powerfully, tips for good presentations, making your session interactive, and being confident through body language and eye contact with the audience. Hughes was a engaging and funny presenter, and made the session interesting, practical and fun. The tips I found most useful were ideas for having an intriguing introduction to your presentation, and making the most of people’s natural curiosity to get them engaged, energised and interacting with you during presentations.

A panel discussion on ebooks raised more questions than resolutions. What I found most interesting was that American libraries are struggling with ebook lending, licensing and formats just as much as Australian libraries. Libraries and publishers alike have a long way to go to resolve a workable model for ebooks. I think ebooks will go the way of CD-Roms and be replaced by more sophisticated digital formats.

But conferences aren’t all about sessions, there’s also the social side of things…

Last night was the ‘Member Appreciation Event’, a big conference party. The event was hosted at the incredible Experience Music Project, a music museum. Food, drinks, music and the museum’s exhibitions made for a great party. My favourite exhibitions were the Nirvana and Women Who Rock ones.

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After the party, we discovered the fabled publisher hospitality suites in the conference hotel. A tip for anyone attending this conference in the future, find the hospitality suites. The big legal publishers rent out suites and provide fully stocked bars for delegates every night of the conference, open into the wee hours of the morning. No wonder they charge so much for subscriptions.

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The conference is over now and I am a little sad. My new found American library friends are headed back to their home towns across the country and now I’m solo in Seattle. But my library business is not over yet. Next up, a tour of the Seattle public library, and a meeting with one of the directors there. Stay tuned.

Seattle: getting down to business

Seattle, where marijuana is legal but there is zero tolerance for jay walking. Seattle, where there is a Starbucks on every corner but I can’t find a 7-11.

View from Kerry Park

View from Kerry Park

Seattle, the Emerald City and home of the AALL 2013 annual conference. Today, we got down to business with CONELL: the conference for newer law librarians.

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CONELL is organised as a pre-conference conference for delegates who are new to the profession or who have not attended the conference before. It’s a newbie fest that gives everyone the chance to meet new people in a more intimate setting than the conference proper. Think speed-networking, lunch and some get to know you activities. The day is also a marketing drive to recruit newbies into volunteering for various committees and activities for AALL. Motivating talks, inspiring tales of law librarianship and free food. These American law librarians know how to run the show.

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I enjoyed talking to a wide range of librarians from across the country working in a whole variety of roles and organisations. Some of us met the night before at ‘Dutch Treat Dinners’, where groups of 10 of us got together at a local restaurant for a casual dinner. Our group ate at Wild Ginger, a pan Asian restaurant with delicious curries and noodle dishes and fresh local seafood. The CONELL and dinner was a great introduction to what looks to be a pretty overwhelming program of events. It will be much easier to navigate with a bunch of new comrades for moral support.

After the CONELL session the group of about 100 of us were packed up into buses for a two hour tour of Seattle neighbourhoods, including Ballard, Queen Anne, Belltown and Magnolia. Each neighbourhood with its own character and stories.

One of the more memorable stops was the Ballard Locks, where Lake Washington is connected through to Elliott Bay by a series of locks.

Ballard Locks

Ballard Locks

The lake is freshwater and the bay is salt water and they are at different levels, so the locks are set up to transport boats from one body of water to the other.

Boats in the lock

Boats in the lock

Salmon also have to move between the lake and bay to spawn, so there is a whole elaborate system called a ‘fish ladder’ to help them through.

Hey guys, let me on that fish ladder!

Hey guys, let me on that fish ladder!

Name the four varieties of salmon

Name the four varieties of salmon

All that fish talk made me hungry. When we returned from the tour it was the official conference opening where my fish dreams were answered with smoked salmon nibbles.

Tomorrow it’s less fish and more conference. I’m planning on going to sessions on social media, libraries as platforms, cool tools cafe and releasing your inner writer.

Geeking out in Seattle!

And in other news, I bought some new shoes.

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Seattle photo diary

I am visiting Seattle for a week because I was fortunate enough to be awarded the 2013 Australian Law Librarians’ Association 2013 international conference fellowship. The Law Library of Victoria project is also helping to sponsor my trip. I chose to come to the American Association of Law Libraries conference. The program looks great and I have always wanted to visit Seattle.

After 20 hours in transit, I arrived yesterday and decided to do some sight seeing and try to stay awake so I could adjust my body clock. I spent some more time looking around today ahead of official conference business starting tomorrow.

Here are some of my Seattle highlights so far, in photos…

The Pike Place Market. This is foodie heaven. The seafood was a sight to behold and the stalls teeming with fresh berries were irresistible. I bought a punnet of raspberries and sat in the sun in a park overlooking Puget Sound.

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The Seattle Art Museum. This downtown gallery has an impressive collection of indigenous art from North America as well as a small Australian collection. The special exhibit showing at the moment is a retrospective of 30 years of Japanese fashion.

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Food trucks. Yes, we have food trucks in Melbourne but they are an institution in Seattle.

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