Monday, January 31, 2011

Long lost blog!

Aaaaah my long lost blog - I had almost forgotten about you. Maybe I'll start posting again...Library statistics. That's a biggie for me right now. Of course, now they're called "library metrics". Why? I'm guessing, to signal a new way of representing library value. This was the topic at the latest QPLA Conference. What did I learn? I learned that the presenters didnt' have a magic bullet for adequately describing library value either (sigh). But with falling lending stats being an international phenomenon, librarians really really have to find some credible measures of value or face irrelevancy/redundancy. One presenter suggested "more participation stories", eg the guy who borrowed a book, and found a bit of information that he turned into a business idea and now he's a multimillionaire. How do you put a measure on, or even tells stories about, pleasure? Or fulfillment? Or insight? Yes, it's a toughie.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What do scouts, feminists and libraries have in common?

A: They all have a passion for preserving their little corner of history! Which I have found out as a participant of the National Library's Community Heritage Grants workshops, here in Canberra. Albeit an unlikely participant, even an accidental participant - but a grateful one! When our Council got a grant to do a significance assessment on the strength of the execellent application of our local studies librarian; and he left the organisation (to take on the management of another local library - well done!), and I couldn't twist the arm of any other staff members to go to Canberra for the workshop component - well, I just couldn't let it going begging, even though the timing couldn't be worse with the new library opening in 2 weeks - well here I am, and after the first day, I must say I am very pleased to have come. Given my new responsibilities in overseeing the operations of a significant local studies archives and collection, I have had today alone a quantum leap in understanding and appreciation (thanks to the excellent program put together by the National Library). But it's meeting the other grantees that has been so uplifting. Librarians are actually in the minority - only 3 of us - and in comparison to the other participants, we are a bit predictable. How to compare with the passion of the gentleman from the Barossa Festival, who is keen to preserve the 60 year history of the festival? Or the feminist from Adelaide who has an archive of performances and recordings of feminist plays from the 70s and 80s (including early performances by Robyn Archer, who she actually bumped into at the Library today and was thrilled to know they were available!) Or the scout leader from Sydney who wants to do something worthwhile with the hsitoric documents, films and costumes from the Scout movement? Or the lady from Hobart wanting to digitize the national unpublished play script collection? Or the young woman looking after the Tennis Museum? And I shared a taxi with what has to be one of the few actual working paleontologists in Australia from the Dinosaur centre in Winton - absolutely passionate about her growing collection of one of the most impressive collection of dinosaur bones in the world. All very mind boggling, very humbling, and very uplifting.

The opportunities to travel, learn and meet amazing people in the profession I wisely chose when I was 17, continues to delight me. May it continue thus...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Youth Library voted "The Best" project

I nearly titled this blog "Best of the Best of the Best..." but that just sounded too pretentious. Yes, my (somewhat imperfect) presentation on verbYL (youth library/youth lounge) to the delegates attending the satellite public library event to the ALIA main conference, "Library Stars: Best of the Best 2008" was voted the best of the three projects (narrowly I'm sure as the other 2 projects were awesome). Little did I know that, in addition to several "big name" public librarians from Australia who I have admired, and many fellow "real public librarians" from cities and towns who are plugging away in their own corners of the world much like myself, my audience also consisted of keynote speakers and library luminaries of international fame , namely Stephen Abram, Vice President Innovations of SirsiDynix and a well-known "futurist" of the library world; (I commented to him that I recognized his voice from the many introductions to the SirsiDynix Institute's live and podcast PD events which I highly, highly recommend); Inga Lunden, City Librarian, Stockholm; and Claudia Lux, DG of the Foundation Central and Regional Library Berlin, Germany, and President of IFLA. Unlike the main conference, the "Library Stars" presentations had a more relaxed, workshop feel and a little bit of luxury with regards the tempo of the delivery of papers. I didn't read from my "paper", rather I took a chance by ad libbing to the powerpoint presentation, letting the many natural and unstaged photos of young people using verbYL (and a short video taken completely candidly one afternoon by the youth worker assistant, starting with a young man doing some impromptu rap dancing (wouldn't be allowed at the State Library, see earlier posts for the joke) and panning around to young people engaged in various activities from reading, playing cards, using the Internet, and just generally having a great time, to tell its own story more eloquently than I could ever express in words (unfortunately we didn't ever get permission of the young people depicted in the video to allow public airing via eg Youtube)). I got some wonderfully encouraging comments from colleagues afterwards, which is always nice.

I think it was Claudia who asked me, after the presentation(I was a bit nervous you understand - hopefully the transcripts will be published and show who asked what), what was next? What was the developmental outcome? I'm afraid I stuffed that answer up by mumbling something I had written in my APLIS paper about "having struck a winning formula, we just build on that." However, thinking about it later (as you do think about the things you should have said over and over in your mind at 2 in the morning), I realized I should have said: even after 2 1/2 years of operation, we are still working on making this model work - fulfill it's full potential. As Inga commented in her presentation about the youth library in Stockholm, there is about a 9 month generation for youth library users - waves of new users present constant challenges (although in our experience, we still have a strong group of young people who have been with us from day 1). And local governments have to be brave to support agencies that support the truly disengaged sectors of society - and youth suffer doubly from negative stereotyping. Perhaps it is not so much development that we should be concentrating on, but celebrating survival.

I also got to thinking, that since I have been touting verbYL as a model of service and as a living experiment of the model in practice, via conferences (we were an exhibitor at the Queensland Public Librarians Association in 2006 I think it was and awarded a special recognition for innovation in library services there), exposure to the local government sector as winners of the
2006 Youth Engagement Award of DOTARS and subsequent Leading Practice Seminar "Investing in youth" presented to youth workers and agencies in Mt Gambier South Australia in 2007, publication of articles in APLIS and Incite in 2007 and 2008, presentation to Queensland children's and youth services and school librarians in Queensland by Youth Librarian Christine May, including in the audience recognized youth library services guru Patrick Jones, who said nice things about verbYL via a personal email for the "Library Stars" submission; and coming up, Christine will present her outstanding perspective on "The most unusual library job in the world" with delegates at the New Grads conference in December; despite ALL THIS, the ONE measure of success that I have not had the pleasure of getting is someone saying "Because I heard you/read bout verbYL/visited verbYL, I have....." It wouldn't have to be "We started a facility just like verbYL", because that depends on so many factors. I would love to hear, we adapted your model by doing....(eg talking to our community services department, partnering more closely with youth agencies, reinventing our youth services culture, employing a youth worker) Only THEN will I be truly, professionally, satisfied.

PS now being on a high from this conference, very keen to conference me!
PPS why didn't we have a blogger's meet up at the conference? Geez you only think of these things after the event...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Life since amalgamation

August already and I haven't posted since June! Well, life post amalgamation has certainly been interesting. I've had to amalgamate 3 budgets (very challenging); amalgamate fees and charges (so now operating with an amalgum of common fees but differing lending policies - also challenging); attempted to come to grips with the differing procedures and cultures of the 3 previous Councils (well really 4 Councils but almost uniquely in Australia one of our Councils had never offered a library service before - the citizens of that former area now have access to free library services for the first time in history!), have tried to amalgamate as many processes as possible prior to library system conversion (yes, three different brands of LMS!) and tentatively started discussion around our new united strategic direction. I must say it is very nice to go from 2 professional colleagues to share ideas with to 10! And also, by a process of adoption rather than birth, I have become involved in the tail end of a major new library construction (I'd previously been involved in the concept design phase with an architect on a project in my former role, but this is like being time warped forward without any memory of the middle bit). I'm on the fast track to learning about the argy bargy that goes on between architects, builders and our own engineers around the innumerable and mildly titled "requests for information" which in reality are a cut throat game of claim and counterclaim, sifting and interpreting the fine print in specifications, drawings and contracts, and requiring nerves of steel and skills similar to those of a top chess player (or possibly it's closer to poker). Scary but fascinating, and luckily I'm playing with people on my side who have played before. And my own hardhat and steel capped boots for site inspections! Glamorous!

Also this week had the pleasure of hosting actress Diane Cilento at the library for a chat about her life; and a delightful Children's Book Week event organised by a colleague on the successful model developed by her for the former city library, now significantly broadened to cover our whole region - a competition inviting the general citizenry to submit a children's book written and illustrated by the entrant, with various age ranges from under 5s, lower and upper primary, secondary and adult - with the winners invited along for a presentation of their prizes by the Mayor and a very wonderful talk by a former Australian Book Council judge Lindelle Lutton about the history of the Book Council's awards, and a discussion of this year's winners. Amazingly successful with around 60 in attendance - lots of kids and their parents to collect their certificates and get their photo taken with the Mayor - impressed the Mayor too I think. I had great fun judging the secondary students' category - some real talents there.

Next week off to Alice Springs - perhaps I'll go back to my old habits and live blog from the conference? I'll try. Then the "Interim" phase ends and I'll have to apply for a "real" job. Having had a taste of the big picture, I must admit to being pretty keen to retain the role. Wish me luck!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

verbYL wins again!! Off to Alice Springs...

Yes, it can now be announced - verbYL is the winner in the "Meeting Place" category of the Australian Library and Information Association's "Library Stars: Best of the Best" satellite event. So I'm off to Alice Springs in the first week of September, and will hang around for the main ALIA conference (might as well, it's a long way to go for just a one day gig); I have just realized that, despite being the "conference queen", this is the first ALIA conference I have EVER been to. Why is it so? I guess because for the first 20 years or so of my career I just didn't belong to ALIA; for the last 10 years I've looked through the conference program and gotten the impression it was heavily weighted towards academic libraries. The local state conference or specific public library conferences were just more attractive. However, I really can't complain about this year's program as the public library stream is excellent. There is nothing quite so indulgent as 4 solid days of library dreaming, visioning and scheming, to give a boost to the psyche and morale. Better than a spa (whatever that is). And I just might do a bit of conference blogging...

There are now many written sources of info available about verbYL, although not all of them can be accessed unless you have subscription or membership. The most comprehensive is the article in the Australian Public Library and Information Services journal, if you have access to Ebsco Australian and New Zealand Database you will find it here....(it's also listed on Amazon for purchase as a single article!) There's also an article in ALIA's Incite March 2008 issue, which you can access if you are a member. One open Internet source is the paper from the presentation I made at the Limestone Coast Area Consultative Committee's "Investing in Youth" conference. If you would like copies of the other articles but can't get to them, please email me at, and I'll be happy to send them to you.

Of course, I love to traipse around the country extolling the virtues of this unique concept, and accept the accolades, but it must be recognized that it's my colleagues who make verbYL the award winning model that it is - the indefatigable Christine, the Youth Librarian (who incidentally has a speaking gig at this year's New Grads Conference in Melbourne); the Youth Workers and other youth and library staff; my present and past managers; Council; and my wise management counterpart who co-manages verbYL for the Community Development half of the partnership.

So what will I be talking about at the Conference? Hmm, well, I think I'll start with the spiel about how it started etc, but at this stage of the maturity of verbYL, I think I'll be brave enough to honestly tackle the challenges that running a youth-centric space throws up for both youth and library services. Because verbYL is a unique partnership between Youth and Library services, there are also the challenges of articulating, negotiating and aligning the expectations and wanted outcomes of the two services on a continuing basis - to date I'm pleased to report with very positive outcomes. There are also the extraordinary benefits of partnering with youth services - I plan to outline the lessons learned by being exposed to and adopting youth service values and philosophies. Should give the listeners plenty to chew on (I hope).

In the meantime I continue in the very exciting role of Manager of Library Services for the newly amalgamated councils. Talk about a steep learning curve! But highly stimulating, and I must admit that after 3 months in the role the best thing I've got out of it so far is a great rush of confidence in my own competence as a professional library manager - something that wasn't really tested in my previous role. I would find it hard, I think, to go back to my former role, even though it was pretty cruisy - however, another challenge is on the horizon as restructuring is just around the corner, and in all likelihood I will have to apply for whatever position the restructure throws up - no matter, I can always do with the interviewing practice! In the meantime, with staff very geographically dispersed, and me still located in my old office, I am practicing "management by email" and "virtual leadership" which is in itself another interesting skill!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Wild Dancing at the Library!

In the context of researching how to deal with some library customers' challenging behaviours, a work colleague sent me an extract from the State Library of Queensland's Client Access Policy. It outlines unacceptable behaviour:

"Conduct that could be reasonably construed as annoying or disruptive or that puts at risk the property of the State Library.

This includes but is not limited to:

Interfering with other people’s property or State Library materials in use by another person.
Making unacceptable noise, including conducting discussions in designated Quiet Zones ..."

All very sensible, until you get to this section (emphasis added):

"Behaviour that would be reasonably considered inappropriate in the context of a library (such as wild dancing or making frightening gestures)"

Wild dancing?? Of all the examples they could have chosen, I'm consumed by curiosity as to what actual experience compelled the author/s to choose wild dancing, of all things!! And what constitutes wild, as opposed to, say, calm dancing? Would ballet be acceptable? How about a waltz?

Personally, I think wild dancing should be encouraged in libraries...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Brisbane Square Library - World Class!

I have just looked at my blog for the first time in a month - I'm thrilled and gratified that I have so many warm comments from colleagues - surely the blogger's delight - in the glow of good feelings, I resolve to leave more comments on others' blogs myself! Oh, and I think blogger has mucked up my email address (in reply to one of the commentors), so if you want to reach me please email to

It's not so much lack of time (although that is a factor) but rather the nature of my new job, that prevents me from blogging a lot at the moment. Suddenly finding myself in charge of a quite large library system (going from serving a population of 30,000 to 103,000; staffing numbers tripled), has been a wonderful learning time and thankfully I'm feeling more energized than tired. However, most of the things I'm doing as an incoming "change" manager are, let's face it, pretty confidential. Hopefully if it all works out, I'll be able to blog about the successes in general terms.

However, I finally did something neutral that I can happily blog about, and that was visit Brisbane Square Library. Was I impressed? Was I ever...

I was in Brisbane to attend the State Library's launch of it's new position paper for Queensland public libraries, "Expanding Horizons". We also work-shopped some of the themes with visiting guest Chris Batt, who was indeed a very quiet yet powerfully confident and seasoned UK library colleague, who ably shared his experiences of leading UK libraries to successful outcomes. His central message was that in order to attract attention and funding, public libraries benefit from appearing to be "all reading from the same page", selling the same message over and over to the politicians and decision makers with a unified voice, instead of disjointedly doing our own thing. Seemed reasonable to me.

After the workshop, I walked from the State Library on the Southside of the Brisbane River, over the bridge to Brisbane City Council's flagship new library, "Brisbane Square Library" (so named because it is in a town square, not because it's square shaped!). It strikes me as funny, that the (also new) State Library and the new Brisbane Council Library literally face each other off across the River! That's a lot of public investment in libraries for the good and lucky citizens of Brisbane (and I've heard not a few rumblings from non-Brisbane colleagues about the South-East corner sucking up funds yet again, to the detriment of regional services). That aside, in contrast to the cool sophistication of the State Library decor (minimalist concrete and white furniture), Brisbane Square Library offers a riot of colour.

The external architecture is stunning, with windows designed to look like slanting book spines. From the outside you can also just see enticing flecks of neon colour - lighting effects inside are amazing with neon signs, and bayend panels in perspex backlit with warmly glowing bright colours of pink, yellow, green etc. The entry through the ground floor takes you past the RFID returns chutes (automatically discharging all items, and I understand a sort of intelligent conveyor belt shunts them them into category bins to make shelving easier - ah the wonders of RFID), self-checkout counters, self serve reserves collection point, and an amazing perspex and chrome "new releases available for loan now" display. Escalators to the two floors above provide a constant background hum to the muted sounds of contented human activity.

On the ground floor I asked a security guard if I could take photos with my camera phone (talk about honest!). He thought not, but suggested I ask at the desk. The circ staff member couldn't say either, but rang through to someone in authority (when you set up a chain of embarrassing events like this, don't you wish you'd never asked!!) . A very young (I'm feeling my age) Librarian eventually emerged from somewhere to tell me, no, I couldn't take photographs! However she did advise me that there are lots of photos on Flickr for example this one is pretty good (obviously not everyone has the same scruples, or are as scared of security guards, as me.) It's also disappointing that, as I found out, Brisbane City's own library website has such a paucity of images of it's flagship facility - it really should be selling itself it bit better as one of the most outstanding libraries in the world, I think. But anyway I had a bit of a conversation with the supervising librarian about Internet use (only members can use the Internet, although getting membership is incredibly liberal, as you will see below); funnily enough, visitors and short term tourists are referred across the River to the State Library, where internet use is available and free for anyone walking in off the street. I thanked her for her time, and hopped on the escalator to the main parts of the library.

Beneath all the glitz it is still a functioning ordinary library (albeit with about 100 more Internet computers than normal). Book stock was adequate (I wouldn't say I was blown away by the quality or the quantity), the shelves were expectedly messy with many many trollies lined up for shelving. The young adult section with a couple of xboxes installed in the wall, and a very small collection of books, was not actually occupied exclusively by young people - there were a couple guys in their fifties playing (I'm pretty sure they weren't anybody's Dad!); similarly, no children in the forest fantasy themed children's section, just lots of twenty something's (mainly Asian) lounging in the kid's chairs (despite the signs saying something like "This area is for the use of parents and children.") Having a children's library in the middle of a big city CBD might be a bit ambitious, and I guess it was about 5.30 in the afternoon so that would be another factor in the lack of kids.

Having wandered around for a while (and saying a cheery hello to my original security guard, quite guiltless in the knowledge that I had not given in to temptation and sneaked a couple of photos), I resolved to speak to some staff members. The staff are spread around on small service desks throughout the floors. One male staff member I noted was casually dressed in the corporate polo shirt, shorts and runners - I thought that was kind of nice, given the informal feel of the whole place. One of the things that I'm most interested in at the moment is the split up of duties between librarians and library assistants - of course, you can't tell which are which except you might guess that the people shelving are library assistants - the station I zeroed in on had a couple of library staff of about my age who looked approachable. However, as they were currently busy with customers, I resolved to unobtrusively "lurk" near them, pretending to read a book (actually I managed to productively skim through one I was really interested in) whilst ensconced in one of the hundreds of comfy and funky chairs provided for relaxing and browsing.

The ladies at this station, for the half hour or so I observed, were exclusively engaged in signing up a stream of new borrowers (I hope they were library assistants, as I feel this would be a terrible waste of professional expertise if they were librarians). All bar one were overseas visitors (how did I know this? Because they all proferred their passports as part of the ID process). As long as those applying for membership can furnish one piece of photo ID (the passport), and one piece of addressed correspondence or card (like a bank statement) with a Brisbane address, they can apparently join up. And I would guess that the motivation for the majority of sign-ups were for the use of the Internet, in which case it seems like a lot of trouble to go to to offer free Internet. Anyway only two people were knocked back out of about 10 who signed up, due to not having anything with proof of a Brisbane address.

The signing up process was quite long, because most of the applicants did not appear to be very fluent in spoken English, being mostly of Asian (Chinese?) origin. Another staff member arrived to help, and took the people in the queue aside to explain the joining and membership rules in slow and staccato English. (I wonder why they don't just have brochures in different languages? Or ideally, Chinese speaking staff?) Unfortunately, I didn't ever get to speak to the staff - they were just too flat out! But they might remember that strange woman who stared at them over the top of her book for half an hour...

Anyway, if you are associated with Brisbane Square Library and are displeased with the implicit and explicit criticisms, please forgive me, and I accept that ignorance may well have led me to make quite stupid statements. Please feel free to correct and offend me in turn (I have a thick skin).

On a positive note, Brisbane Square Library is an utterly outstanding public library, and I recommend that everyone go out of thier way to visit it.