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.

Advertisements

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.

20171109 - William Angliss - Melbourne - PLVN LibMark - Seminar 2017 - PIC013 - Kylie Carlson

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

 

Deliberation Reflection

So many times over the years since I was five years old, I have entered this iconic building: the State Library Victoria. Sometimes for work, or study, or just for the pure delight of standing in its gorgeous space surrounded by significant works expressed in books, art, and other media.

SLV_window

This time I returned for work and I felt fortunate to be selected for this unique training experience. Thirty-seven library staff from Victoria’s public libraries and the State Library were to deliberate on a topic. Led by the engagement professionals of Mosaic Lab, the old classroom model of teaching was abandoned and replaced by an interactive, collaborative, and inclusive method. All attendees were engaged fully. No one person could sit back and relax at the back of the room. The best thoughts were drawn out of each individual, then honed into a clear precise idea.

This style of training follows the International Association for Public Participation IAP2 model. It began with a warm-up one day practice session where the method was applied to real library world cases. Then we viewed a webinar to provide information about the deliberation sessions. An online forum placed on Loomio provided a platform for introductions, comments, and relevant reading materials.

The remit to be deliberated on was:

What are the ten best ideas for engaging the community to design transformational library services?

Day one involved some quick getting-to-know each other exercises, followed by some discussions to discuss the purpose, goals and rules of this deliberation. We looked at the reading materials once again and discussed one of the main current strategic documents on use at public libraries in Victoria: Victorian Public Libraries 2030 Strategic Framework. It was interesting to hear the comments from others who were new to this work. Written in 2012 from a huge collaborative brain storm effort towards future mapping, after only five years it is looking dated. Some scenarios have eventuated such as the rise of entrepreneaurship, and brain deterioration problems, while other scenarios have not yet come to pass in a significant way. Opening the doors to the community has brought a wide range of challenges that were unforeseen, and this is predominantly due to restricted and limited library spaces trying desperately to accomodate overwhelming and conflicting demands.

Five presenters were selected to provide further context, expert knowledge, and stimulation. These presenters were: Christine McKenzie, Municipal Association Victoria Executive Assistant for the Public Libraries Victoria Network, and International Federation of Library Associations President Elect; Karyn Siegmann, Manager Libraries at Bayside City Council, Chris Kelly, CEO at Goldfields Library Corporation, and two designers/architects with specialties in participatory design and human-centred design. These people offered five presentations and discussions to five groups, instead of one discourse to the whole. This enabled informal discussion and question time adding a depth of insight into the community engagement process.

After lunch we began on the ideas. First we were allowed to write down our own ideas. Then we shared them with three others, discussing them all and agreeing to three or four of the best ideas from the group. These were offered to the whole group, arriving at a total of 21 ideas at the end of the day.

On the second day the ideas had been posted onto voting boards. Each person placed a vote against each idea. These votes provided a weight: ‘love it’, ‘like it’, ‘live with it’, ‘lament it’, and ‘loathe it’. The 80-20 rule applied so that any idea slipping below 20% was discarded. However it was checked first to ensure this assessment was right. A minority report could be submitted if there was strong enough sentiment by anyone.

On first count four ideas were discarded because they fell below the line. Discussion ensued that some of the ideas were in fact similar or part of another idea. This resulted in matching that brought the total number of ideas to ten. Two of the most popular ideas absorbed two or three of the smaller ideas.

So with the valid ideas on the table we split into working group to flesh out and describe the ideas. I ended up working on an idea that I didn’t really like much or had much passion for, but that is part of this collaborative process and it is good to bring an impartial eye to the idea. We quickly listed the title, purpose, rationale and a couple of references for examples or similar ideas done elsewhere in the world. This was efficiently and quickly completed with 37 people working on ten separate sections of a live Google document.

We swapped blurbs with a nearby group giving feedback and opportunity to hone the description further. Then our two groups worked on the preamble for the whole document, a colleague quickly typing up an excellent introduction.

The finished document was then shown to the whole group on a large screen. We all had the opportunity to ‘red card’ an idea and give further feedback about any perceived flaws. This process was a lively debate that ultimately resulted in all ten ideas staying fixed to the final report.

The finished report was printed and formally presented to the representatives from the State Library Victoria, Debra Rosenfeldt, Manager, Public Libraries and Community Engagement at State Library of Victoria, and Paula Kelly Paull, ‎Manager Learning Communities at Hobsons Bay City Council and representative of the Live and Learn group of the SLV/ PLVN.

I left the State Library late on a Friday afternoon on the eve of the Queens Birthday long weekend. Wearily I walked along Swanson Street Melbourne towards Flinders Street Station, with the lively singing of soccer fans going to see Argentina play Brazil at the MCG.

Oh, and what were the ten best ideas for engaging the community to design transformational library services? Well I’m sure the report will be published and made available on the PLVN website soon.

Library reading programs

I was lucky to attend the Reading Agency Seminar held at the new Library at the Dock in Melbourne.

Debbie Hicks, Director of the Reading Agency, opened the seminar with a presentation about the reading programmes offered in the UK. They offer UK public libraries tools for reading activities under a sustainable strategic framework that is benchmarked nationally for ensure continuity.

Their programmes include:

  • Summer Reading Challenge
  • Chatter Books
  • Reading Activists with volunteering opportunities for youths.
  • World Book Night
  • Reading Groups
  • Books on Prescription
  • Mood Boosting Books

Dr. Jacinta Halloran talked about the gap between the early stages of anxiety and depression and the need for prescribing drugs. She talked about the sinking feeling she gets when she prescribes drugs for depression, knowing that bibliotherapy could help at this early stage. Jacinta is the author of two novels: Dissection, andPilgrimage. Jacinta works with Susan McLaine and more information about their work can be found at the Bibliotherapy Australia website.

Lisa D’Onofrio showcased the ‘Go Goldfields project. Part of this included a Literacy Strategy “read all about it”, that involved collaboration across sectors using the National Numeracy and Literacy Framework in order to adopt a common language.

Bec Kavanagh spoke eloquently about the Stella Prize which seeks to highlight gender inequality in literature for children and teens.

Rosie Cirrito from Brimbank Libraries talked about their Reading Buddies program that matches volunteers with readers. A reward system uses stickers, etc , to acknowledge milestones.

Sarah Hopkins and Karyn Siegmann of Bayside Libraries talked about the reader experience in libraries. They aim to support a reading culture by maximising library spaces, displays, and collection usage trends (Collection HQ). “The book is the hero.”

Sue Wootton of Eastern Regional Libraries talked about their Read with the Reading Dog program that incorporates dogs for reading practice for children identified as needing extra help by local schools.

Robyn Childs from Moreland Libraries talked about their Read More program that encapsulates all of their reading activities: from author talks, displays, writing competitions, workshops, etc.

Shirley Bateman of Melbourne City Libraries facilitated some reflections on the presentations. These were:

  • Value of partnerships to be “courageously collaborative”.
  • National Literacy and Numeracy framework
  • The value of families in the reading journey
  • Diversity of content and the danger of the single story. This story was referenced and I recall loving it when I first watched it: 

Paula Kelly, Library Manager of Melbourne City Libraries reminded us about the SLV/PLVN Statewide project READ (yet to be completed).

Debbie Hicks of the Reading Agency said that “libraries are unifque community spaces for the delivery of interventions for wellbeing.” Books on Prescription offers a book list of self-help books that are professionally selected using a book selection protocol, and made available through public libraries in the UK. A user leaflet is also provided that offers further information.

Susan McLaine talked about the power of literature to move and heal, saying that “in the library is healing for the soul,” and that “there is often wisdom within the story. Our aim should be to enrich life quality, life spirit, and nourish connection.” Susan’s website is Words That Heal and she is currently working on her PhD at RMIT on the topic of “creative bibliotherapy” while continuing to facilitate session within a prison.

Dr. Louise Roufeil is a psychologist that provided an overview of mental health in Australia. 45% of Australians experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime. 20% had a diagnosed mental health disorder in the last 12 months. The high prevalence of anxiety impacts on productivity across the board. Early intervention is not readily available. Bibliotherapy can fill this gap and libraries are well positioned to do this.

Lisa Lang of Melbourne City Libraries read an excerpt from a Tobias Wolff novel that left us hanging… A great example of their Story Lounge programme that runs monthly at Library on the Dock.

We finished the day with a practical planning session that only served to reaffirm the need for collaboration amongst library services in order to provide similar programs. What do we do already? What more can we do?

Back to busyness

I have been back working in public libraries for a few weeks now and it’s great to feel useful and able to help people with their questions. In general the level of sophistication in regard to technology related questions is notable. Many in our population have become quite adept at using and navigating the Internet and all of the associated technologies. The days where it was assumed that the older generation did not ‘get’ this stuff are behind us. Many people are curious about things like ebooks and will ask about them, even if they decide not to give them a try – just yet.

The busy libraries where I work require an agile mind that can handle a day of mental gymnastics, able to negotiate the barrage of unique questions in quick succession.

portsea_pier_01042014This week I was lucky to work some shifts on the mobile library truck. I took this photo near one of our stops, during a short break.

I have been reacquainting myself with the different Library Management System, as well as the different procedures and work-flows associated with a large and multi-branch public library service. I feel very much welcomed back and I am appreciative of that.

Time rolls away

Wow! Two months of 2013 have disappeared already. And it’s been busier than ever. What can I tell you about my work at the library so far this year?

We installed new movable shelving for our non-fiction collection in our main branch which entailed a team effort of unloading, loading, reloading, unloading, reloading books by hand. But the end result is very pleasing and we have just ordered the display fittings that go along with this new configuration. The plan is to rearrange the non-fiction books from Dewey to shop-style subject categories. Then we will need to get some new signage to suit.

We have also embarked on the RFID implementation. At present we have completed one small branch and almost finished the second small branch. Then it is just the tagging at the main branch to go. Another team effort is required to get this job done, and everyone is stepping up to the plate. This new technology will allow customers to check out their own items giving them more privacy and independency. It will also free up our staff so they can provide some deeper and more meaningful conversations with the customers.

I have completed and passed two subjects for the Master of Information Studies and have just two to go. I have started Social Networking for Information Professionals.

Next weekend is a long weekend here in Victoria and I will be going along to the Annual Port Fairy Folk Festival for the fourth year in a row. Last year I had the pleasure of seeing a band called Tinpan Orange and just love their song Every Single Day.

Time rolls away, it rolls away, every single day it rolls away…”

My youngest son was married last month and that was a fun event despite my mother passing away the week before and her not being there (in body) with us all.

The Tomorrow’s Library discussions continue.

Our current open art exhibition is ‘Sunflowers” and we have received many bright works of art from local people. It is always such a privilege to receive and hang these creative pieces. I totally love the idea of inclusive community art, because after all we are all creative to some extent.

Sunflowers_group_04032013

Yesterday (on a Sunday) I attended a workshop Social Media for Small Business and the Arts presented by John Paul Fischbach and Criag Lambie of Auspicious Arts Incubators. It was a really worthwhile session and these guys really know their stuff. I got a lot out of it and wrote my notes to Twitter until my phone battery went dead. It really gives me a better perspective for revamping the social media presence of our library.

I am currently reading Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (this is my favourite genre – true travel stories with a twist or quest) and Face2Face by David Lee King. I am listening to Little Stories by Harry James Angus and podcasts of the Midday Interview with Margaret Throsby and This is Your Life by Michael Hyatt.

The popular response

We ran a survey. It was part of the requirement for establishing our “Collections Management Plan”. We had to ask our customers and community what they want their public library to supply in terms of resources. We intentionally made the survey brief and open-ended. We did not want to lead them into assumptions we might make. Some questions required a tick of a box, whilst others asked for comments. These were available online and in print. It was prepared and executed in a rush and only given eight days to run; not even the time frame of a loan period of three weeks.

Our response rate was 1.4% of members; not really a great field result for assessment and comparison. However, we can tick the box that requires “public consultation”.

Photo by Kristy Hill for the Portland Observer

Despite asking open-ended questions that asked specifically questions regarding our collections and resources, we received typical responses referring to services, staff, facilities, and programs. So it seems “everyone” wants to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee while they read in the public library. And they want more large print books, and more DVD’s. We anticipated these responses. There are also niche areas of personal interest that always get mentioned – everyone has their niche. We were asked for more Christian books, more manga novels, specific car manuals, access to the latest copy of favourite magazines. We already offer all of these things, but like most public libraries, the latest copy of any magazine will either by “not for loan’ to be read in the library, or out on loan for at least the first two months after publication. Car manuals get borrowed once and never return to the library shelves unfortunately. We try, but a small minority of our community selfishly take hold of property that should be shared.

Managing a library collection is a fluid and dynamic process of attention that responds to the ebb and flow of the culture of the society it serves. So the request for more large print books reflects our increasing aging population; and the request for more DVD’s tells us that commercial TV is being ditched in favour of the freedom of viewing what our customers like and when they want to watch it. Perhaps also, that many people prefer to watch a video than read a book?!

The responses that we received that were outside our collections/resources questions requested a cafe, quiet study areas, and more children’s programs. It is my experience that the resources already applied to children’s programs in public libraries far outweigh the resources committed to all other demographic areas of our community. The importance of instilling a love of reading and books in children can’t be over-estimated, but I think libraries in Australia do that well already and how people can ask for more is hard to comprehend. And therefore “quiet study areas” are almost extinct in our busy public libraries. The “ssshhhh” factor disappeared with the popular acceptance of Dewey, hair-buns, and the ability of adults to discipline children running around noisily in public spaces. Mobile phones too have changed our culture for the worse, I think, and public libraries share the problems that many service industries experience with people speaking loudly and inappropriately.

Personally, as a Librarian, I love the DDC system. Without it we would be left with arbitrarily organised collections dependent on the quirks of the mind of the individual responsible; and that would vary 6 billion times – give or take a few billion. It would look sort of like the pile of documents called the Internet. (tongue-in-cheek)

The value of the free public library by the community can be weighed by the funding dollars provided to allow this service to continue and to continue to be well resourced with new and relevant items. Luckily in Australia, generally, we see the necessity for these services to continue in order to foster literacy, freedom of thought, speech and expression, self-development, and equal opportunities.

It is still a valued service and one comment across the board from our survey, to a question we did not ask, was about the “great staff” we have. And I agree. Libraries are full of them.