The numbers are not adding up

I love number crunching, gathering statistics, looking at the trends over time, converting to graphs and charts, and then interpreting this into a narrative.

Tim Sherratt is a Master Data Visualiser and has created some exceptional work that illustrates a beautiful narrative. As a leader in his field the University of Canberra is lucky to have him and someone I can look up to when I feel my geeky tendencies are weird.

The Public Libraries of Victoria have kept data over decades and it is freely available online for all to see and interpret. Of course questions arise when you look at this data, such as, how were the ‘visits’ data counted? And does that data count both in and out, or just one, one leg or both, a baby stroller? Has the counter been knocked out of alignment or is the system for the gates not working?

The overall narrative that emerges from this data is important when communicating to others the messages about what is going on; especially for those in government who control the funds and share out the cash for public services.

The numbers tell us that: physical visits are decreasing continuing to follow a trend over many years of tracking. Loans of physical library items also continue to follow a downward trend. Memberships too continue to fall and so not as many people in our community think it is important to join their public library.

And yet by observation we see that story-time sessions are overflowing, reservation lists for the latest item are long, every chair has a body sitting on it, and the public computers are full all day every day. So what is going on here?

This is where the data interpretation leads us – to ask more questions. To find out what the data gathering might miss.

We hear that people in difficult social and economic circumstances will come into the library spaces, but not join or borrow items out of fear of fines or loss of materials.

We know that people are staying longer in our spaces and that the questions people ask take longer to answer and satisfy. So far this had not been adequately accounted for in the data analysis.

The impact of the Internet and the corporate giants of Google, Amazon, and Apple, is a major factor for public libraries. eBooks are cheap and easy to access online. So too is information and ‘facts’. Books hiding on dark shelves arranged in systems only Librarians understand is a model long gone.

So what?

Library leaders have been proactive over many years by creating gorgeous new public library spaces, offering electronic collections, making library websites and catalogues dynamic and easy to access, highlighting collections through displays, exhibitions, programs and events, and interesting and relevant collaborations with other organisations.

Academic research by industry leaders have resulted in some excellent work that describes the library work in context and with hope.

  • Libraries Work! The socio-economic value of public libraries – 2018
  • Reading and Literacy for all: A strategic framework for Victorian public libraries – 2015-18
  • Creative Communities:  The cultural benefits of Victoria’s public libraries – 2014
  • Victorian Public Libraries 2030 Strategic Framework – 2013
  • Dollars Sense and Public Libraries The landmark study of the socio-economic value of Victorian public libraries report – 2012
  • Being the Best We Can framework and toolkit- 2011
  • Libraries Building Communities – 2005

These reports can be found here.

My own number crunching and analysis provides positive stories too, and these I share with the team I work with in order to make advocates of us all.

And yet the library industry remains under threat. Precious public funding goes elsewhere.

I believe that “libraries change lives” or I wouldn’t have worked in this field for so long. Especially when it was not my first choice for a career.

So what choice is there than to continue to work hard, go with the flow, and find inspiration from the good stories we hear every day, knowing our work is of value.

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Portland Library

Portland Library in Victoria’s southwest was recently refurbished and the reopening event was on Saturday 4 August 2018.

I went along to see the new interior and it is a real improvement from the past version. And something the local people can enjoy into the future.

The footprint and the exterior of the building is unchanged. However the interior spaces are changed and more windows allow more natural light inside. Window seats invite people to sit and read.

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This building always had a small view of the port and sea and the windows at that end of the building are unchanged, but new tables and chairs provide more spaces for people to sit, have a coffee, read the newspaper and relax.

As a former Manager of this library service I was aware of the associated problems with the heating and cooling system, the leaky roof, public computer spaces, and other things. It is fantastic to see that the new Manager has solved a lot that was wrong with this building.

Spaces have been reallocated and what was once the staff work room is now an open space with a full size slide for children. Not something I would put into a small library, but something the new manager is proud to have achieved – and good on her.

While I worked there we all coveted the History Room of the neighbouring Mount Gambier Library, and so a small version of this has been added to the delight of the librarians. Portland has many historical stories and this addition serves as a lovely access point for everyone.

It was great to catch up with the library team there, who I once worked with, and to see how proud they are of their new library. Congratulations and excellent work!

The Creative Library

Annie Talvé and Dr Sally Gray presented a workshop at Dandenong Library that I attended. The Creative Library builds on the work they presented in their 2014 report Creative Communities: The cultural benefits of Victoria’s public libraries. This report can be found on the Public Libraries Victoria Network website.

A room full of library professionals enjoyed a fun and informative day “thinking with our hearts, heads and feet” led by Annie and Sally. We challenged our presumptions, analysed our actions, and debated about our work.

As a designer in my early years, and a lover of art, design and all creative endeavours, no one needs to remind me that ‘everyone is creative’. My attitudes are creative. I always think outside the box. Flexibility of thought is an asset in all we do in this life.

Annie runs Project SiSu which “is a creative consulting practice specialising in tackling organisational transitions and framing the benefits of culture in all its varied forms”.

I recall attending a workshop led by Annie at Waurn Ponds Library several years ago. She was then embarking on her research for the resulting Creative Communities report. The New Nirvana on her website sums up the conversations from those workshops.

Author A. (Alec) S. Patric

Alec Patric spoke at Frankston Library this week as part of the Australian Library Week events. And despite the small number of people in the audience, it was a lovely event. Maybe because of the small audience it was more of a conversation rather than a presentation. Alec Patric

Alec appears as a dedicated and humble writer who loves his craft. Growing up in the then barren western suburbs of Melbourne he sought enrichment through poetry. Becoming a ‘writer’ was a foreign concept in that era in that community. Working on weekends in his dad’s engineering factory he found beauty in words.

The conversation at the library meandered lyrically, involving us all, we spoke of poetry, literary fiction, genre fiction, winning awards, work in the local book shop, Black Rock White City, his soon-to-be-released collection of short stories The Butcherbird Stories, immigration, book clubs, libraries, the writing life, and more.

When Alec observed that fiction novels are the zeitgeist of society, I understood completely. This is a notion I have explored on occasion, my thoughts flailing about trying to reason why fiction is important. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas is a perfect example of a story that portrays a particular, time, place and culture: ‘the spirit of the times’.

The conversation about literary fiction brought the novel Eucalyptus by Murray Bail to mind. A book I love and is hard to place into a rigid genre. Alec was aiming for a literary page-turner with his book Black Rock White City and by receiving the Miles Franklin Award in 2016 for this novel, he obviously succeeded.

He mentioned the Long List for this year’s Miles Franklin Award and this has prompted me to have a look at those books. The one that appeals at first glance is From the Wreck by Jane Rawson.

Stories in Sepia

‘History’ at High School bored me. Learning about old kings on the other side of the world felt so removed from my young life that I quickly grew to loathe history classes. The teacher did not help to bring life or relevance to the content….yawn!

But as an adult my interest in history has developed from reading books like: Into the blue: boldly going where Captain Cook has gone before by Tony Horwitz (also known as Blue Latitudes); Beethoven’s hair; an extraordinary historical odyssey and a scientific mystery solved by Russell Martin; and other books where historical stories and facts are given further relevance and detail through a contemporary lens.

Delving into my own family history over many years has drawn me in and I am now intrigued by the many lives that were lived before – people who are now dead and buried. A grim description; but yesterday I discovered a podcast titled Dead and Buried that “showcases underground history and true crime from the streets of Melbourne.” It is part of the Melbourne Ear Buds Network.

“Dead & Buried is a podcast about Melbourne history for people who don’t yet realise they like Melbourne history.”

This podcast series is well presented and edited by Lee Hooper, Phoebe Wilkens, Carly Godden, and Robin Waters. The additional comments by others provide credibility, depth and interest to the stories. I am really enjoying listening to these vignettes of days gone by and hope they release series two soon.

My own family history has grown in recent months with the help of the My Heritage software and the Ancestry Library Edition database. The My Heritage app is easy to use and free to a point. Putting in your own family tree is very easy and then ‘matches’ are found to link with others who have provided research in linking trees. Some of this requires payment, but the wealth of information that can be seen is amazing and has enriched my own research and legacy scrapbook.

Photos in particular can be seen and while it is important to make sure the photo is correctly assigned to the right person, these images are real treasure. Unfortunately I did find two photos of my paternal grandparents incorrectly assigned to others in the previous generation who happened to have the same first names. I tried to contact the person who placed the images into Ancestry but it went to a broken link. Most probably the person does not use the account anymore. It is a shame to see this kind of error published as fact, especially when I know it is incorrect. Once checked and validated though these sepia images are gorgeous and give beautiful illustration to my family history.

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From left: Standing; Euphemia, Margaret, Alexander, Jeanie, Helen, Catherine. Seated; Lily, Jeanie (Granny), Daisy (possibly taken at Penshurst Victoria)

Some years ago I had been shown an enlarged photo of a family wedding in Penshurst Victoria. It is a beautiful scene, with the stern matriarch sitting centre surrounded by family, with the women wearing gorgeous ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’ style dresses. I had always wanted a copy of this image but it eluded me, until recently. I found a labelled version amongst some old files of my parents. So I had it all this time without realising. The stern matriarch Jeanie Fleming Smith sitting in the centre is my great great grandmother if my family research is correct. Jeanie is my great grandmother I believe. I will need to refer back to my tree to confirm the details and find a date.

Up close and Personal with Saxton Speakers

I was fortunate to be invited to attend the Up Close and Personal Sessions presented by Saxton Speakers Bureau at this year’s AIME conference in Melbourne. This is the second year I have gone along to these excellent sessions.

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The first session I attended was called “The future…what’s happening and how will it change our world?” It was moderated by financial journalist Alan Kohler and the speakers on this panel were Matthew Michalewicz, Clare Payne, and Dr Hugh Bradlow. They discussed Artificial Intelligence, self-driving cars and how these will impact our lives in the very near future.

Reminded by the gorgeous display installation at AIME of the NGV during the lunch break I hopped up to see the Triennial exhibition. I loved walking through the experiential artworks that were so unique and varied from one another. My favourites were: Xu Zhen’s monumental installation Eternity-Buddha in Nirvana…, 2016–17 that combines replicas of famous Buddhist and Western classical sculptures; the work by Buenos Aires–based artist and designer Alexandra Kehayoglou who uses hand-tufted wool rugs to draw into focus landscapes under threat; and the swirling immersive digital installation of TeamLab. Ron Mueck’s work call Mass which was a room of over-sized human skulls was quite awesome to stand amongst and a very popular installation.IMG_9437

The second session “Resilience and acceptance…two powerful life-changing tools” was moderated by broadcaster Richard Morecroft. The speakers were Nasir Sobhani, Sam Bloom, and Jules Allen. This tear-jerking discussion pulled at the heart strings with stories about how ordinary people face extraordinary challenges and they shared the lessons that we can all apply to our personal and working lives. The strong message that came from this talk is that rather than learning ‘resilience’ we would do better to live with the attitude that every individual matters.

The AIME exhibition itself is well organised and utilised current technologies well with a real effort towards digital processes to save on printed paper brochures. There was a remote assistance ‘person’ available on several screens to answer any questions. It was a bit disconcerting when I asked the ‘person’ where the theatre was located.

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One particular installation held my interest as I watched a man wearing Virtual Reality glasses build an abstract 3D replica of Melbourne using a VR drawing tool. Apparently there are only two of these technical experts in Australia at present. His representation of Melbourne’s details was displayed on a screen and you could see his work as it evolved. As an ex Industrial Designer I envied this technology that was not around when I was active in this field, and I could see the many applications for this tool.

Go deeper in 2018

It’s great to have an overarching focus, theme or motivation to dedicate a year to. And I like the ideas offered by Leo Babauta and David Cain about ‘going deeper’.

David sees it as a mark of maturity and here he explains the parameters of his idea:

“No new hobbies, equipment, games, or books are allowed during this year. Instead, you have to find the value in what you already own or what you’ve already started. You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more. You read your unread books, or even reread your favorites. You pick up the guitar again and get better at it, instead of taking up the harmonica. You finish the Gordon Ramsey Masterclass you started in April, despite your fascination with the new Annie Leibovitz one, even though it’s on sale. The guiding philosophy is “Go deeper, not wider.” Drill down for value and enrichment instead of fanning out. You turn to the wealth of options already in your house, literally and figuratively. We could call it a “Depth Year” or a “Year of Deepening” or something.”

Leo has taken hold of this idea and adopted his own list of rituals that include: meditation; fitness; healthy eating; yoga; etc. He asks:

“Are you willing to live with constraints of your own? Are you interested in going deeper or wider? What would that look like for you?”

So my thoughts around this and ideas for 2018 are:

  1. Meditate daily using Insight Timer
  2. Yoga twice weekly
  3. Plant-based cooking and eating
  4. Piano practice daily using all the music I currently own
  5. Walk, swim and cycle regularly
  6. Finish the Family History scrapbook that is almost done
  7. Write in my journal and on my blog
  8. Play and swim with Lily
  9. Work of course and this takes up most of my time
  10. Read the content saved to my Feedly list for professional development and creative inspiration
  11. Practice French using the books I have
  12. Read the books from my bookshelves or from the local library. My Goodreads challenge is set for 50 in 2018 and I have already finished 4four this month
  13. Cook recipes from the cookbooks I already own
  14. Plant more things in my garden
  15. Paint pictures using the ideas, canvases and materials I already own