What is a Library?

The father of library science, Dr. S. R. Ranganathan, defines the term ‘library’:

“A library is a public institution or establishment charged with the care of a collection of books and the duty of making them accessible to those who require to use them and the task of converting every person in its neighbourhood into a habitual library goer and a regular reader.”

Oxford defines a ‘library’:

“A building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for the use or borrowing by the public or the members of an institution.”

Cambridge definition:

“A building, room, or organization that has a collection, especially of books for people to read or borrow, usually without payment.”

Wikipedia definition:

“A library is a curated collection of sources of information and similar resources, selected by experts and made accessible to a defined community for reference or borrowing. It provides physical or digital access to material and may be a physical location or a virtual space, or both.”

Nowhere are the words ‘programs’, ‘events’, ‘performance’, ‘show’, or ‘hub’ mentioned.

It is a sad day when a library collection is being arbitrarily shoved aside to make room for random artists to show-off. And these significant decisions are being made not by ‘experts’. Not by Library Professionals. Not by the people who are educated and qualified and comprehensively appreciate the importance of a properly functioning library with an appropriately curated collection.

A Library is not a hall, or a meeting place, or an auditorium. It is not a place where individuals ‘perform’. That is a different place: maybe an Arts Centre, or a public hall.

In trying to reinvent themselves to assure a slice of public funding, public libraries have done a disservice in trying to be all things to all people. Basic storytime has morphed into miked-up performance to a large crowd expecting a ‘show’. While you can’t deny the popularity of storytime sessions in every public library across the nation, it has raised the expectation to put on a show for every single event, week, cause, and celebration.

Science Week becomes an opportunity for a Science Show complete with explosions. Children’s Book Week invites character dress-ups, but also another “show” based on the theme.

These examples are relevant in the library space, but now “they” expect this every week for every random idea or theme. Libraries exist on the premise of inclusivity. But where are the ‘collections’ in all of this? Where are the books? Where are the spaces for investigation, learning, study, and contemplation? Where is the avenue for the Self-Initiated Lifelong Learning Experiences?

I don’t believe all people are lazy and mindless and willing to sit back and be delivered an idea through a performance. All people are creative and wish to activate their own thing.

I believe libraries need to focus on the very core definition of a ‘library’ in order to reinvent themselves, and not accept the current coercion that reduces the library to a day centre, performance space, community hub, and marketing opportunity.

I am a book lover and perpetually curious about this life. I love to read and investigate. I can do some of that online, but I also like to delve into a physical book, being unplugged, sitting under a tree, holding the book in my hand, turning the pages, absorbed in the unfolding story. This story inevitably leads to further investigation and more reading resources as I delve and learn further.

Public libraries need help from everyone as public funds are being redirected and usurped into other areas by people not qualified, or educated to understand the elemental and crucial function of a ‘Library’.

Me and many other Library Professionals like me have worked hard and conscientiously for libraries for many years, but I fear that public libraries won’t be there when I am retired and looking for a good book to borrow.

Public Libraries RIP.

 

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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.

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.

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

Victoria’s Public Libraries Writing A New Story

As part of the organising committee for the Public Libraries Victoria Network Special Interest Group LibMark I feel very proud of this year’s annual conference Writing Our Story – a New History. It was a success with smiles all around and interesting speakers inspiring us all towards possibilities for a bright future in public libraries. Key to this success was the hard work, guidance and ideas offered by LibMark convenor Kylie Carlson of Yarra Libraries.

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Kylie Carlson – Yarra Libraries – 2017

Rosa Serratore of Moonee Valley Libraries set the scene with a short description of library days gone by, then highlighting one particular worldwide promotional initiative Outside The Lines, with a call to action to get involved.

Rebecca Hermann of Bolinda gave an enthusiastic talk about her experience as the successful founder and CEO of the worldwide publisher of digital content. The brand of Bolinda products leads the field with its recognisable green marketing.

The State Library Victoria representatives Debra Rosenfeldt and Michelle Edmunds gave an update about the statewide Advocacy Project about to be put into motion. It is aimed to bring a united voice and promotional message for public libraries. It is much needed.

Ash Davies is the 24 year old CEO of Tablo. HIs online platform for writers and readers is poised for greatness. Ash inspired us all with his youthful charm and energy.

The State Library Victoria and Public Libraries Victoria Network offer a successful and popular shared leadership program. Effective collaborative projects result in very good work emerging. First up to talk about their project were Liam Brandon, Haylee Eagle, and Catherine Mathews. Share Our Stories With the World: Victorian Public Libraries and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals offered practical ideas that links everyday work in public libraries with these lofty goals.

Next up were NatashaSavic and Justine Hanna who talked about Keeping A Lookout: Building Our Brand. This website initiative recognises and investigates innovative library outreach practices. 

After a delicious and healthy lunch provided by William Angliss catering, Andrew Powell of Origin Energy and RMIT University spoke to us about developing a meaningful and dynamic library brand and how this forms the foundation for telling our story.

Beth Luppino is the Customer Experience Manager for Casey Cardinia Libraries. The newly opened Bunjil Place offers a new experience for people to engage with Libraries, Arts, Culture, and Council customer services. This model goes beyond the walls of the library space with a promise to “enliven, enrich, surprise, and delight”.

Social Media young guns of the State Library Victoria Sarah Kelly and Cory Zanoni talked about their approach to engaging with people online. They are first to admit they have a treasure trove full of great content to curate and share.

Sarah Ernst of Yarra Libraries told us about a project where people were invited to record their thoughts about their library using a photo booth. ‘In Their Words’ was created.

Nada Stanojlovic of Wavesound talked about their history, products, and new platform called RB Media for all of their digital content. Wavesound were the main sponsor for the conference. 

Here is a short video with the photographs of the presenters that I took on the day.

#Libmarkstory17 #glamblogweekly