Monday, August 13, 2007

Get Staffed!

Further reports from the Public Libraries Australia Conference. These sessions on the workforce were particularly informative - the first by an "outsider", Julie Sloan of Julie Sloan Management Pty Ltd talking about Workforce Planning, which she claims is a wholly different discipline to traditional Human Resources Management. Julie pointed out what we all know by now - a looming crisis in recruitment and retention of library and local government staff. Julie points out that the HR approach is likely to jump to (possibly ineffectual) strategies before any actual research into causes and effects has been done. Julie suggests we should be finding out first:

- Who will be retiring/leaving soon?
- What would make these people stay? (retention strategies)
- Identify supply source of new recruits
- Identify competition for supply (in librarianship, is it IT? How do you make a job in libraries attractive to an IT type?)
- Job re-design. Pull it apart, call it something different.

Julie had a couple of very apt examples from her own practice. Apparently there is a shortage of plumbers in Australia, and a huge shortage of wannabe apprentice plumbers. Julie was commissioned by the plumbing sector to research why this should be. She questionnaired lots of apprentice plumbers and boys at high school, and found that many were turned off because "they didn't like to dig holes" and "they didn't like to get their hands dirty." Pretty fundamental to the job, you might think. But no, maybe there are opportunities to pull the trade of plumbing apart - give hole digging to the currently disengaged workers, and hand over skilled "finishing off" to the tradey.

Two other speakers coincidentally touched on the topic of libraries not necessarily being populated by librarians - Rivkah Sass inherited a library system that was top heavy with librarians checking out books; and Christine McKenzie from Yarra Plenty champions RFID and librarians getting around in the stacks helping customers (sounds pretty common sense these days doesn't it?), and also controversially promoted a library tech to branch manager over librarian candidates. Seems there might be parallels to the plumbers' plight for library workers too.

Julie reminded us as a sector to be on the lookout for people going through 2nd or 3rd career changes, and tailoring pre-retirement jobs to pre-retirement aspirations eg part-time work, more time off, long periods of leave etc. She tells of an Australian bank's successful strategy of luring nurses with good people skills away from medical jobs.

Julie also identified some reasons (based on research) of why people leave jobs:

- Bullying
- Fatigue (note: NOT due to age)
- Ageism

The next speaker was Moira Deslandes from Volunteering South Australia. She pointed out that we use the terminology "use" volunteers, and this was all wrong - as Julie said before her, volunteers should be seen as a legitimate part of the library work force - and treated that way. Not that they should replace paid workers - but rather recognize that they require an investment of time and money to recruit, retain and reward, much the same as the paid workforce. Interestingly, research shows that only 5% of volunteers have been recruited due to paid media advertising - most volunteer because they have personal contact with another volunteer. Research shows that volunteers' main reasons for volunteering include: Help others; Personal satisfaction; and Something worthwhile. Apart from the traditional volunteer-ers, Moira pointed to a couple of potential non-traditional sources of volunteers: the grey nomads - sure they're only in your area for a short while, but they could still be a great resource (in my area we experience the annual migration for around 2-3 months each year of probably a couple of thousand "grey nomads" from cold old Vic to sunny Queensland - definitely potential there!!); and the rising phenomenon of the "corporates" - businesses who let their staff go off and volunteer for a few hours on work time, to show what good corporate citizens they are, and to give their staff extra skills and motivation. I'm trying to rack my brain as to what local businesses I could target, and to do what? in the library ...there must be something...


  • Sometimes conference blogging leaves me underwhelmed, but I found your post very well-written and interesting. Would you agree with Julie Sloan that there really is a librarian shortage? I remain to be convinced. There's a very interesting post by the Annoyed Librarian comparing the conditions of a real shortage (as exists for nurses) and the supposed shortage we have of librarians.

    By Anonymous morgan, at 10:22 AM  

  • Morgan
    I've flipped over and read the "very interesting post" and it is indeed, very interesting. On the one hand based on my very limited sample of 1 library service (mine) I would say there IS a librarian shortage - given the difficulty I have had recruiting entry level librarians (and hey, we're not as stingy as some Councils, we offer decent professional wages straight up, and are prepared to negotiate). On the other hand, our current Youth Librarian who is a new grad hailing from Melbourne COULDN'T get an entry level job in that fair city because libraries were looking for "experienced" librarians - the old chicken and egg story. On a tangent, library managers from Vic and NSW that I spoke to at the Conference have the greatest amount of trouble recruiting at the middle management level (good for me, not so good for new grads!). Local governments in general are hamstrung by the old "award" system with the various levels of wages based on skills/responsibility, and I think it's been recognized that local government needs to be responding a bit more creatively to "supply and demand" in the many fields where they are failing to attract suitable recruits, notably planners and environmental health officers. Responses to these "urgent" skills shortages might just flow onto public library jobs, where we just sit quietly on our shortages (obviously not seen as urgent enough for creative responses just yet!)

    By Blogger Deb, at 2:14 PM  

  • Library art is always a fun diversion.

    By Blogger ottoblotto, at 8:37 AM  

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    By Blogger Ayisha, at 12:44 PM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:26 AM  

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