Unfurl that frame keynote talk on ‘participation’

image

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.

 

Librarians: closing the confidence gap

Are librarians being held back in their careers by a lack of self confidence? How can LIS educators, professional associations and library leaders help close the confidence gap?

I recently ran some professional development workshops with groups of librarians. As one of the workshop exercises, I asked participants to identify a fear they would like to overcome in preparing to lead the library of the future. The workshop participants wrote their fear on a post-it note, discussed it in pairs, came up with some practical ways they might overcome their fear, and then stuck the post-it note on a wall for other participants to see. One participant dubbed this the ‘communal wall of terror’. Some of their fears centered on a perceived lack of technical skills. Strikingly though, most of their fears related to a lack of confidence around interpersonal communication, public speaking/presentations, leadership and decision-making.

A few examples of their expression of a lack of confidence were:

“Initiating contact with people I don’t know very well.”

“Do I have the ability to succeed?”

“People not taking me seriously.”

“Voicing my opinion.”

2014-02-07 17.11.22One participant said they didn’t like speaking in public. They feared that the audience would judge them because they are overweight. This was a very personal and brave statement to make. It really got me thinking about the role confidence plays in helping or hindering librarians in their careers. I had been reflecting on this when I stumbled across an article in The Atlantic, The Confidence Gap. The message of this article is that confidence matters as much as competence for success at work. The authors argue that there is a confidence gap between the genders which results in women being less successful than men, despite being equally or more competent. The authors describe confidence as a ‘virtuous circle’.

Confidence is a belief in one’s ability to succeed, a belief that stimulates action. In turn, taking action bolsters one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed. So confidence accumulates—through hard work, through success, and even through failure.”

Taking this definition, confidence means you are more likely to take actions that lead to success, for example negotiating salary increases, applying for promotions or increased responsibilities, voicing an opinion, and taking risks.

I have been thinking that if the fifty or so librarians in the workshops I ran suffer from a lack of confidence then it probably represents a more wide spread professional issue. Librarianship is a female dominated profession, and one that often attracts introverts. These two features quite possibly tip the scales towards lower self confidence. If there is a confidence issue amongst librarians, and this is is holding them back from taking actions that might lead to more successful career, how can this confidence gap be bridged?

The good news, according to the authors of The Confidence Gap, is that confidence can be acquired.

While acquiring confidence is a complex and personal journey, there are some clear ways that it can be fostered. There is an opportunity here for LIS educators, professional associations and library leaders to focus on closing the confidence gap. What better gift could we give the next generation of librarians than self belief and the courage to act?

Self-efficacy is “the belief in one’s capabilities to achieve something”, and is a useful starting point for thinking about how to support confidence growth. There are four sources of self-efficacy, according to this article:

  • Mastery experiences – things you have succeeded at in the past
  • Vicarious experiences – seeing people who are similar to you succeed
  • Social persuasion – hearing from others that you’re capable
  • Emotional status – staying positive, and managing stress

Library leaders, LIS educators and professional associations could consider ways to encourage these four sources of self-efficacy.

As a library leader or LIS educator, how can you create mastery experiences for your employees and students by setting stretch projects to build their confidence? How can you encourage social persuasion by giving constructive and positive feedback on performance? How can you support risk taking, learning from mistakes, perseverance and building resilience? How can you help your employees and students set and achieve realistic but challenging goals?

As a LIS educator or professional association, how can you design vicarious experiences for your students or members through mentoring support and networking opportunities? Are there other ways you can expose your students or members to successful peers that can role model action and success?

Of course, librarians also have to take individual responsibility for closing the confidence gap themselves. As a librarian, how can you take charge of tapping into your sources of self-efficacy to build your confidence? A few areas you could focus on are building on your past successes, surrounding yourself with successful peers and mentors, seeking constructive feedback and putting your hand up for stretch projects and challenging opportunities. Critically, you can also focus on managing your emotional status by being positive and motivated, managing stress and taking responsibility for your own success, or as the authors of The Confidence Gap say “stop thinking so much and just act”.

 

 

 

 

 

Transforming yourself for the future library: VALA 2014 bootcamp

2014-02-04 12.21.22

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?

Slide1Slide3Slide5Slide7Slide8Slide4Slide6Slide9Slide2

2014-02-04 11.49.40

@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.

2014-02-07 17.11.16 2014-02-07 17.11.13 2014-02-07 17.11.22

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.

2014-02-07 17.13.49 2014-02-07 17.13.55

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.

vala2014-logo-2

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!

ANZ 23 mobile things

ANZ 23 mobile things logo

ANZ 23 mobile things logo

Social media is a powerful platform for connecting. It creates opportunities to reach outside of organisational hierarchies. It busts open geographic boundaries. Social media allows us to eavesdrop on conferences and conversations. We can share experiences with people outside our immediate network. We can listen, participate and learn. A great example of connecting and learning through social media is 23 Mobile Things, a self-directed online course focussed on learning about ‘mobile technologies that are changing the way people, society and libraries access information and communicate with each other’.

ALIA NGAC (Australian Library and Information Association New Generation Advisory Committee) and New Professionals Network NZ have teamed up to create ANZ 23 mobile things a cohort of around 500 librarians in Australia and New Zealand doing the course together. As well as participants, people have signed up as mentors and volunteers to help create and deliver the course. The course is supported by a Twitter account @anz23mthings and Facebook page ANZ 23 Mobile Things as well as a blog. The course has just started and runs from May-November 2013.

The real beauty of the concept is that it is teaching about social media by using social media. It is an immersive learning experience. The course is creating connections between participants and generating a real buzz on Twitter with the hashtag #anz23mthings. I’ve reflected before on the power of connecting via social media. This is another wonderful illustration.

You have to hand it to librarians. They know how to network.