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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A kick from an Information Flaneur

Back in August last year I responded to a blog post by another Librarian – but didn’t publish it. It sat in my files forgotten and the busy-ness of life took over.

Now six months later I notice that this Librarian has not published anymore content on his blog. I wonder why? Perhaps some of the possibilities I suggested in my response could have made an impact. But I’m only guessing based on my own imagined restrictions. Here is my response:

So yes Hugh I agree! I agree with everything you said. And I love the term you have coined “Information Flaneur”. It is the perfect label for this concept of today’s librarian that you promote. It has that sophisticated French ring that resonates with the ideological salon discussions for which the French are famous. And who would not love a random wander around Paris? Pick me!

And….I love the minimalist design of your website – very cool! (Maybe about to undergo a facelift, refocus, or hiatus?)

So to the content of your blog post; because our job is all about the content don’t you think? Here is my response to your challenge:

I wrote back in 2008, that I see the “reference interview” as a unique conversation of shared discovery. So I agree with you. There is no pat model for new librarians. We need to find our way in a flexible, open, responsive, and helpful way that suits the needs of the customer. Our small advantage, even in this era of easy access to the information pile, is that we understand the architecture of how that information is created, gathered, stored, and distributed. So that allows us to be able to take some shortcuts that others might not know. We can shine a torch on our partnered wander in the dark, and hope not to end up in the catacombs – unless that is where we’d want to go; or where we enjoy going by accident.

I love this notion that you suggest by using the term “flaneur”; we can browse, not knowing what it is that we will find, and then be inspired to learn something new and random that could launch our lives into a direction previously unperceived. We don’t know what we don’t know. I love searching the subject headings in library catalogues using terms like “resilience” and then discovering a new book and author that I had not previously heard about. Such as Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment by Katrina Kenison. It is a great read for older women, empty-nesters, new at grieving for lost friends and family.

Back in 2011 and 2013, I researched Aussie Librarian bloggers because I enjoy reading about current trends and thinking in our field (like you). I wanted to know who was saying what. I was searching for opinion, but found little, except for a handful, of which yours stood out; and I complimented you for that.

Back in 2013, I researched library podcasts and found these and still listen occasionally.

You set the bar high Hugh. You are insightful, knowledgeable, well-read, and articulate. You display a generosity of spirit by inviting others to join in the conversation. But I think you do not want “yes-men”. Your online jousting with heavy-hitters such as R. D. Lankes about the pros and cons of 3D printers in libraries makes me think you enjoy getting your adrenalin pumping from these kinds of debates. You want to have your mind challenged and opened with new insights provided through passionate discussion, somewhat like the French salons of yesteryear. Me – I prefer mulling quietly.

So here are some possible reasons or excuses for the lack of meaningful and well-considered opinion online that we crave:

  • Organisational Policy – have you read the Social Media Policy of your governing organization? Silly question – of course you have. It is so restrictive that who would want to even peep (or tweet) about anything that could be remotely interpreted to be about work by your employers? And I have worked on a committee that created a Social Media Policy and Procedure for local government, so I realize both sides of the discussion. I notice though, that your posts talk about our profession rather than your employer. You are smart in that regard, but it would deter many others.
  • Time constraints – after a week of full-time work, who has time? How much time is left in a day after commuting, exercise, grocery shopping, cooking, eating, yoga, meditation, chores, reading (for pleasure and work), watching the next episode of Breaking Bad legally borrowed from the library, watching my son play football, and more. Who gets the time to write a well considered blog post, let alone read any?
  • Blank stares – you know that look you get when you say the word “blog”? You and I know it is all about the content and the web is just the platform and distribution media. Maybe we need to come up with a new term for blog? Got any French terms that would fit?
  • Powerlessness – further to the discussion about the mechanics of blogs is the lack of awareness there seems to be about how to harness the power of blogs by using software platforms and apps such as Feedly. This is another area where Librarians excel and can lead the way (if we manage to work past the glazed eyes). It astonishes me how many library professionals don’t know about this simple tool and how to use it for personal and professional development. To me it seems like a gardener who doesn’t use a wheelbarrow. (Although my wheelbarrow is a bit full and needs emptying and refilling.)
  • Self-protection – how open do you want to be online? Do you really want to reveal everything? You don’t and nor do I. But where do you draw the line? There is a valid push for people to be authentic online, and I applaud that approach. But really? And who cares? And what about trolls, haters, fraud, and opportunists?
  • Work versus personal – it’s important to have a focus for a blog I think, and our profession is perfect for writing about online, but even when you try to focus on our line of work, without discussing our employers, over time personal stuff gets in the way and affects what is on our mind and what we are willing to put up for public knowledge. I can think of a few blogs that I enjoyed reading that were sidetracked because cancer came into their lives. Over recent years I have had enormous personal life changes that have influenced the circumstances of my professional work.

So there you go Hugh: how’s that for a comment? I hope others in our industry jump to your little challenge. It has only taken me six months.

P.S. Good luck with the changes in your work scenario.

Job hunting

Life is funny isn’t it? You think and plan and work diligently towards improving your own circumstances as well as those that employ you, but then life throws you a curve ball.

So I now find myself in the aftermath of quitting a perfectly good job where I was feeling satisfied and fully utilized, in order to care full-time for my ailing father. But that need has now vanished as he has moved beyond this earthly plane.

Now I find myself back in the job-hunting market with all the other over-qualified, experienced and competent folk.

I utilize as many information refining and gathering techniques for this task as I can:

  • I subscribe to many career news feeds via my Feedly account.
  • I subscribe to industry-specific enewsletters.
  • I bookmark employment webpages for organisations where I’d like to work and I check these regularly.
  • I keep an eye on career ads in print and online.
  • I use LinkedIn to connect with professionals I know and others in the industry.

I have been applying for relevant positions as they arise. It takes me about six hours to write a job application answering the requirements fully.

I worry that at my age my resume looks a little long, but it is what it is, and personally I know that means I am experienced in my field, stable in my work attitude, mature in my emotional intelligence, and at the peak of my ability to contribute in a meaningful and practical way.

I also worry about the mistaken view that the younger one is the better they are to adapt to technology. The ability to handle technology varies from person to person, regardless of age. Some people, like me, have a natural inclination and understanding about technology, and this translates readily across all types of devices, software, databases, utilities, and emerging media. I have the kind of brain that has always understood and enjoyed maths, physics, engineering, technology, manufacturing, database structure, etc. That ability does not deteriorate with age, in fact an ability to laterally link those ideas to new trends and emerging technologies increases with age and experience.

kitchen_garden

So I use this valuable time to read, listen to podcasts, learn new things, update my eportfolio, write, take on some new projects, exercise, grow vegetables, and prepare healthy meals.

My ‘to-do’ list is still a mile long and there are only so many hours in the day.

 

Life lessons

Strange how life seems to take us two steps forwards then one step backwards. Why is this? I try to be philosophical and positive. Is it just life? Is it life lessons, challenges, and tests we must face in order to grow, understand, and become wise and enlightened?

I have made positive decisions and steps forward with my career choices. I was happy with my progress. I had bravely stepped out of my comfort zone, stepped into new environments, joined new teams, stepped-up in terms of delivery of information services, and learnt many new systems and work flows.

All was great. My service to all customers was outstanding I believe. So what happened? I was recommended. Now I find myself back where I was before. I am back in a school library, minding the desk, supervising teenagers, and trying not to get bored and fill my day somehow. I am not a teacher so my usefulness in this situation is limited. I long for the satisfaction of meeting the numerous questions posed by a demanding public in a busy community library. I want to get back to helping committed adult students in a diverse tertiary organisation. I was there and now I’m not again!

This step “backwards” or “sideward” is temporary and I hope I don’t lose the ground I had covered and was enjoying. Yawn….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Huh?! Was that a bell?

In my quest to understand life’s little lessons, I read self-help books and go online to research. I read blogs from people who write about inspiration, creativity, freedom, and self-actualization. Zen Habits, Marianne Williamson’s JournalUnshelved, Someday Syndrome, Creative Liberty, The Happiness Project, and many blogs by people who love France.