What I learned in 2016

GLAM Blog Club has thrown out the challenge of reflecting on what we learned in 2016. Where to start? It was a huge year.

I certainly learned a lot about building projects, change management and philanthropy as we continued our $88m, 5-year building redevelopment at the library. I have co-authored a paper to present at ALIA Online on this project if you would like to hear the behind-the-scenes story on that.

The most important lesson I have learned from the project is that even monumental and seemingly insurmountable challenges can be solved simply by taking one step at a time, by having faith and confidence in yourself, and by asking for help when you need it. I also learned that the best ideas are found within the organisation, you just need the right ways to help them emerge. On the flip side, there are times when for all the best intentions, the skills or knowledge are not available to be tapped within the organisation. Finding the right external expert can kick-start an idea and give it momentum.

So many magical and astonishing moments happen at the library every year, choosing highlights (and their lessons) is tricky. One event sticks with me as fertile ground for learning. In 2016, the library was the hub for Melbourne Music Week. I will be honest, it is not easy for a 160-year-old library to transform itself into a music venue. Not everything went to plan, but it was phenomenal. The punters loved it, the crowds were huge, the media coverage was positive. The lesson? Big, brave ideas are worth pursuing, go in knowing it won’t be perfect, work through the issues, and keep smiling.

Queen’s Hall, State Library Victoria, Melbourne Music Week

In 2016, I was fortunate to visit public and academic libraries in Canada and New Zealand. I learned about the library systems in both countries and brought/stole some great ideas home with me. Canada inspired me with ideas around making/creating/innovation spaces and services. New Zealand is streets ahead of Australia in indigenous collections, services and programs. Also in New Zealand, I visited the construction site for the new Christchurch Central Library. It was fascinating to learn about planning a new central library from scratch in a city that has been without a central library for over 5 years, since the earthquake. I was particularly interested in the thinking behind designing jobs and an organisational structure starting from a blank page.

I have traveled for work and visited many libraries in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand over the past few years. To share some of what I have learned I have teamed up with an American colleague who has also visited many libraries around the world. We will present on this at the ALIA Online conference this year. The most important lesson for me? Libraries in Australia, and particularly in Victoria, compare positively to other libraries. I believe we have some of the world’s best libraries right here.

During 2016 I spoke at the Digital Writers Festival and Remix Sydney on panels, did a keynote at Pivot Summit in Geelong (with a smoke machine!) and PauseFest, chaired a panel (outdoors, freezing Melbourne night) and hosted an author conversation at M Pavilion, and was a guest speaker at Vancouver Public Library, Auckland Public Library and the University of Auckland, as well as speaking at a whole range of State Library events. What did I learn from these? Public speaking used to be my arch nemesis. Now, I rarely feel nervous before public speaking and actually enjoy it. It is one of those fears you have to face and just keep practicing. The way I think about it – it’s a privilege to have a voice and to be heard. Many people do not have a voice. Use it wisely.

Staying warm under our blankies at M Pavilion

On the personal side of things, I had three goals for 2016: read more, exercise more and write more. The main barrier to each of these goals was time. With a full-time job and two young kids, all of these activities fall down low on the priority list. So, the challenge was to somehow find more time.

Here is how I did it. I gave up watching television, I limited my time on social media, I started waking up an hour earlier (5.30) and I stopped working every evening after the kids went to bed. I learned that I could carve out quite a bit of extra time to focus on my goals, even when I did not stick to my guns all the time. Some mornings I slept later, I occasionally watched trashy tv or disappeared time on social media, and sometimes it was inevitable that I had to work at night.

Besides lack of time, the other barrier was permission. I learned that it is important to give myself the permission to spend more time doing the things I love. As a parent, this can feel like an indulgence. I learned to block out the little voice on my shoulder whispering about guilt into my ear.

So, how did I go on my goals?

Read more: I signed up to Goodreads to track my reading and set myself a goal of 100 books in the 2016 Reading Challenge. I got through 43 books, not quite my target, but many more books than the previous year. Here are the books I read. I also wrote a couple of posts on my blog about some of my favourite reads. I had a wonderful reading year and relished my time spent with my head in a book.

Exercise more: by going to the gym before work and on weekends, I averaged 5-6 gym sessions a week. Some weeks it was less or not at all, but mostly I stuck to my routine. I also improved my diet. On the positive side, I lost 6 kilos and got much fitter. On the down side, none of my clothes fit me anymore (ok, not so bad, it gave me an excuse to buy new clothes).

Write more: this one was trickier. I kicked off the year with a positive start by doing Catherine Deveny’s Gunna’s Writing Course. But I did not stick to my plan to write a little every day, and then I just didn’t write at all. I partly resurrected my goal towards the end of the year by doing National Novel Writing Month aka NaNoWriMo. I knew I would not make the 50,000 word target because of other commitments, but I decided to give it a crack anyway. I got to 30,000 words – not a bad effort for my first go. I have also been writing more on my blog.

The one final lesson I learned both from my professional and personal experiences in 2016 is that sometimes to get where you want to go, you have to be willing to push through the pain barrier. Whether it is a spin class, a piece of writing, a challenging project, or public speaking, it pays to persevere. Take one step at a time and be strong.

What does 2017 bring? I will write about that in my next GLAM Blog Club post…

Seattle: Pioneer Square galleries

Pioneer Square is the historic centre of Seattle, rebuilt after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. It was the city’s heart of industry with the first lumber mill, where the phrase skid road/row was coined due to the logs being skidded down the road from the mill. The beautiful brick buildings of the area are the largest concentration of Romanesque architecture in the United States. Today, these buildings are home to galleries, antique stores, book shops, rug galleries, bike shops, restaurants and cafes.

Pioneer square

Pioneer square

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Two galleries I stumbled into had particularly interesting exhibitions. The Jackson Street Gallery was showing photographs by Edward S Curtis. Curtis was a photographer who set out on an ambitious project to compile a 20 volume work of photographs documenting the Native Americans in the early 1900s. The work was based on subscription to the set. He failed to secure enough subscriptions and funding and it took around 20 years to finally complete his project. By this time, he had faded into obscurity and this type of photography had gone out of fashion. Few copies of his work remain today, and now fetch very high prices. Complete sets of the 20 volume work sell in the millions. The exhibition showcases many examples of Curtis’ photographs.

Edward S Curtis via Library of Congress Creative Commons

Edward S Curtis via Library of Congress Creative Commons

Davidson Galleries is currently showing an exhibition of hand-coloured lithographs from John J Audubon’s mid 19th century works Birds of America and The Quadrupeds of North America. Like Curtis’ work, these folios were produced based on subscription, with Birds of America now holding the record for the world’s most expensive book. There are only 120 copies remaining intact, with one of them held in Melbourne’s State Library of Victoria.

John J Audubon's Birds of America

John J Audubon’s Birds of America

It is Melbourne Rare Book Week back home, so it seemed serendipitous to find both of these exhibitions by chance while exploring Seattle.

God bless America

God bless America

Seattle: sightseeing

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The Seattle Centre is home to a variety of museums, galleries, music venues and Seattle’s most famous sight, the Space Needle. I finally succumbed to tourist fever and went up to the observation deck, which is around 57 stories high and has incredible 360 degree views over Seattle. From there you can see out across Puget Sound, Lake Washington, out to Mount Ranier, as well as getting a bird’s eye view of downtown Seattle and its suburbs.

Space Needle viewed from inside the glasshouse

Space Needle viewed from inside the glasshouse

Below the Space Needle is the Chihuly Garden and Glass. An exhibition of glass art works by local artist, Dale Chihuly, set amongst a garden. This place blew my mind. The glass is beautiful and intricate. The colours and shapes are stunning. Some pieces are on a grand scale and it is a substantial collection.

Glasshouse in Chihuly Gardens

Glasshouse in Chihuly Gardens

Chihuly Gardens

Chihuly Gardens

Chihuly Gardens

Chihuly Gardens

From Chihuly, I walked down to the Seattle waterfront via the Seattle Museum of Art’s Olympic Sculpture Park. The park is a former industrial site that has been transformed into a public park with sculptures. From the park, there are great views of the city skyline and waterfront. It is the perfect place to take some time out and have a quiet place to reflect.

Olympic Sculpture Park

Olympic Sculpture Park

The Olympic Sculpture Park extends down to a small beach which has been restored. The beach adjoins Myrtle Edwards Park, a green oasis where locals walk their dogs, have picnics and go jogging.

The beach

The beach

Cute!

Cute!

From the park, I walked all along the waterfront and back to my hotel. After a few hours walking it was time to hit Le Panier, a local patisserie for a pain au chocolat.

View down 1st Ave from my hotel room

View down 1st Ave from my hotel room

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: Sunday highlights

Try to shut the library at your peril. That is what the Washington legislature tried to do with the law library and the lawyers, judiciary and public rallied to keep it open. Chief Justice Barbara Madsen of the Washington State Supreme Court told the 1400 plus crowd this tale as the opening speaker at AALL 2013. Chief Justice Madsen stated that there is a lot of misinformation about libraries not being needed anymore. Her view is that with increasing self represented litigants clogging courts and relying on libraries, there is a greater need to have strong state law libraries to support access to justice.

Chief Justice Madsen’s talk was followed by a keynote talk by David Weinberger on libraries as platforms. Weinberger is co-director at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and was an entertaining and engaging speaker. He explained that the characteristics of knowledge are also characteristics of the mediums of knowledge, eg books and libraries. Weinberger argues that physical limitations have has been applied to the body of knowledge, eg how we structure books and libraries. This is changing with the emergence of a new knowledge medium, the internet. The internet is a network, and knowledge will take on properties of this medium. Knowledge is becoming a network, rather than a fixed, known and manageable object. Weinberger proposed that to take advantage of the way the internet amplifies the value of knowledge, libraries need to become a platform for knowledge by making available what they know, engaging in knowledge networks, and meeting emergent needs. Libraries can do this by providing open access to data and knowledge, for example through APIs. He showed some interesting examples from Harvard to illustrate what he meant, such as Stackview.

The rest of the day’s programs were split into multiple streams to cater for different interests. Of the sessions I attended, the one I found most interesting looked at different ways to assist self represented litigants. The speakers explained some interesting strategies for libraries to help people who did not have lawyers to represent them in court, such as legal advice clinics, outreach services, online legal information and simplified court forms. Another session focused on ways social media was being used successfully by libraries in law firms, universities and courts.

So far, what I have found the most interesting is talking to people outside the sessions and hearing about their experiences in the variety of law libraries and different settings they work in. Courts, public law libraries, law schools. Big cities, small towns. Large teams, solo operators. There really is an amazing diversity here that you don’t find as much in Australian law libraries.

Libraries, libraries, libraries. Tell me more about Seattle I hear you say. Well, I was pretty busy geeking out today, but I did get the chance to check out Capital Hill, hipster central. Beards, tattoos, vegan restaurants, yoga studios, book stores, records stores, sex shops and rainbow flags. Ahhh, feels like home…

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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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