After 24 years in the industry I have left the Land of Libraries. It has been a busy, interesting, and rewarding time that has passed by in the blink of an eye.
Back in 1996 when I began my first job in a public library there were still card catalogues about. The automated library system used DOS and I remember using the keyboard prompts to operate the green cursor on the black screen. The World Wide Web was just emerging and Hotmail soon became the wonder of communication. Mobile devices were still a long way off. Social Media and ebooks were not things yet.
Now Google is the place everyone goes to for information; not a book in a library. Amazon is where people go to buy books either in print or as an ebook. We all carry our computers in our pockets for 24 hour connection. We go to iTunes for music, Netflix for movies and TV, and news is sent to us.
I have done everything in libraries: helping customers, handling the books, system administration, website design, reports to local and state government, presenting to groups large and small, social media, photo setups, organizing events, author talks, book launches, trivia nights, school holiday activities, budget management, recruitment, staff management, moving large collections, cataloguing, buying shelving and furniture, making ads, videos, and promotions, and much more.
My career highlights have been:
Involvement with the IFLA Global Vision
Involvement with the Victoria’s Libraries 2030 strategies
Library Manager at a regional library service
Presenting at a School Libraries Association of Victoria Conference
Presenting at a Red Cross Conference
Being involved with the Public Libraries Victoria LibMark Special Interest Group and helping to organise and deliver the Annual Conference.
I have worked with some great people and excellent teams. I have also worked with some less than satisfactory people and poorly functioning teams. It has been a profound learning journey that has been satisfying intellectually and ethically. This work gives back to the local community and is appreciated every day.
For me it is the perfect time to step away. I feel the continuing decline of public libraries and wonder how long they will operate on goodwill. For me a “community hub” is a poor replacement for what was a Library. My soul feels the affront.
On my first day away from the industry I was surprised to feel that at heart I remain a Designer. This was my first love, first pursuit, and I have dabbled over the years as a hobbyist. But I also applied the design thinking, creativity, project management and problem solving skills to all that I did in my work in libraries.
Forget Web 2.0! That is so 2005! Now we have Web 3.8. Wow!
What is that? Remember ‘six degrees of separation’? Well, according to Biz Stone, the guys who came up with that theory have done more research and found that in this digitally connected era, the degrees of separation have reduced to just 3.8.
Askjelly is a systemised knowledgebase that uses people for answers instead of text-based information on the Internet. As Rich and Biz spoke I realised that Librarians might finally be out of a job. The famous quote by Neil Gaiman: ‘Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.’, might finally be defunct. Biz has found a way to crowd-source the subjective questions.
So I put askjelly to the test and posed the question: “What will happen to Librarians in the age of knowledge-bases, ‘jelly’ and AI?”
And shortly thereafter I received two thoughtful replies:
And from Chris:
Biz’s theory is that there are not really unique questions, and that someone on this planet will have the answer for you.
He then went on to show how this technology works with Amazon’s Echo and Alexa and it evoked similarities to the AI robot in the movie Her.
Rich Roll has kindly listed a lot of the relevant articles and links in the show notes of his podcast information and it’s well worth a look.
As for the success of #askjelly and the future of Librarianship – only time will tell.
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.
This 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.
I have been using SlideShare for many years now as it is a perfect tool for presentations, showing people how to do things, and explaining concepts – on the run. Of course this list is not a complete list of my presentations to date, as I have presented others for a purpose, but not for public access.
Each presentation here served a specific purpose and was created at a particular moment in time. So you might notice that some of the online tools explained no longer exist or have developed into a slightly different version.
How to create a wiki (2008). I created this ‘how-to’ guide to show school teachers how to create an online platform for collaborative class assignment work. To date: 112757 views; 928 downloads; 5 comments; and 34 likes.
Blogs and RSS in 2009 (2009). Subscribing to RSS feeds is a perfect tool to assist people to refine their information needs from the Internet. It can be a little technical to describe and set up. I gave a talk on this topic back in 2005 to a group of librarians but the tool being used then was Bloglines. In 2009 it amazed me how few people still knew how to use this technique, so I created this presentation to explain why you would want to do it, and how to set it up. Unfortunately Google Reader ceased to exist in 2013, so other RSS readers are required. I now use Feedly and sync this with my mobile phone. To date: 978 views; 4 downloads.
Photos by Susan Bentley (2009). I love taking photos and wanted to collate and share a few of my best shots. To date: 2255 views; 61 downloads.
Social media considerations for local government (2013). I was part of a team considering and creating a social media policy and procedure for the local government organisation where I was employed. This presentation I created to help explain the situation to other employees. To date: 442 views.
Social media for our organisation (2013). Again as part of the training roll-out of online social media use for the organisation where I worked, this presentation offered more information on the topic. To date: 139 views.
Personal digitisation plan (2013). I studied the subject Creating and Preserving Digital Content for my Masters studies, and needed to formulate my own plan of attack for my own collection of photos. To date: 177 views.
Daring greatly (2013). I enjoyed watching the inspirational talks by Brené Brown on TED, and used the words from her manifesto to inspire the team I led at Glenelg Libraries. I matched these words with some photos I had taken of the local area, then edited using Instagram. To date: 226 views; 2 downloads.
Library Trek (2013). I was invited to give a talk about contemporary public libraries to the Red Cross Conference held in Casterton and these are the slides from that talk. I was well aware that the audience mainly consisted of elderly women who have very little experience or knowledge with technology, and yet I wanted to try to give them an idea about the possibilities for them in the online world – and how their local library could help them. Feedback from some of the people there said that it was the least boring talk of the day. Obviously without the speech notes these slides don’t tell you much. To date: 82 views.
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.
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.
What do zombies have to do with the future of libraries you may well ask? In ‘reality’ if there was a zombie apocalypse, libraries would perish along with all of humanity. And being zombies, one would hardly expect them to have an active interest in the future of libraries or indeed any intellectual pursuit.
Like many librarians I have been thinking about the future of libraries a lot lately. It is a hot topic in the library world, mainly due to evolving technology, the proliferation of internet-connected personal devices, and the cheap and easy access to eBooks. The spread of the World Wide Web did not result in the end of libraries, but it has reduced our physical non-fiction collections substantially. Now with the second wave of internet-enabled technologies, does anyone need to go to a library at all to get hold of the reading material they want and need? Perhaps that end is in sight and this has resulted in a lot of talk amongst library professionals. So what are we here for?
The Victorian Public Libraries 2030 Strategic Framework was published in 2013 after 18 months of intensive collaborative discussions by public library staff in Victoria, of which I was privileged to be a part. Future scenarios were discussed in detail, how these scenarios might unfold, and what might be the key drivers to certain future scenarios. The drivers were identified as: technology, environmental issues, commuting, economic problems, health, increasing ageing population, cooperative endeavours, education and lifelong learning. The final stages of these discussions allowed us to add public libraries into the scene, thereby discussing how best to address and take full advantage of some new unfolding situations. Two future scenarios emerged: the creative scenario; and the community scenario. Both of these scenarios described the future public library as a community space.
Library as ‘community space’ has already had a whole lot of verbiage. Isn’t that what public libraries have always been? Perhaps I am not old enough to remember the places of shush, where reading books was done alone and in silence. There is value in the concepts of place-making, maker-spaces, and community collaboration. This has been, and continues to be, my experience of the library. The only quiet library space I can recall is the reading room of the State Library of Victoria; otherwise libraries are full of conversation, activity, people traffic, meetings, entertainment, coffee, and laughter. Oh, and books!
Personally, I am typically bookish, introverted, nerdy, and self-motivated. I like to explore notions on my own. This is the main reason why I love libraries. I enjoy following a pathway through literature that is entirely determined by me and as a result of my reading. I have described this as ‘delving into the book’; it is an entirely unique journey that begins and ends with the book, with regular forays online when new information is needed. I concur with the words that Nancy Pearl wants as her epitaph, “I’d rather be reading.”
The IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto 1994 does not mention the book at all, despite being written pre-internet. The manifesto defines public libraries as “the local gateway to knowledge”, and is essential for “fostering peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women.” Key mission number two, “supporting both individual and self conducted education”, validates my own habits. Public libraries are seen as fundamental to democracy, prosperity and knowledge, so how can anyone consider a future without libraries?
At the recent ALIA Future of the Profession SummitMark Pesce urged those librarians present to share their knowledge in order to plan a future for libraries. He reminded them that “the culture of sharing has its origins in the library.” And while “the light of knowledge shines more brightly than ever before, from two billion smartphone screens”, this is an opportunity because it is librarians who are the experts “in an environment of informational hyperadundance.” While the librarians in Victoria did just that last year, the resulting framework is one interpretation of possible future scenarios. The trick is in being able to recognise the triggers and apply the strategies at the right time.
Neil Gaiman is an enthusiastic supporter of libraries and he explained recently that “everything changes when we read”, that “libraries are the gates to the future”, and by closing libraries “you are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.” A dire warning indeed!
In an interview with Corin Haines he talks about his approach to attracting people into the library. By choosing a theme that excites the imagination of a particular audience, he uses the activity to enhance the literacy experience within the library. I’m sure lots of librarians and teachers do this already, but this is a good example of how to do it well and to instill the learning opportunity into the activity. It is more than just a trendy promotional hook; it is immersive learning through role play and self discovery.
INF443 Creating and Preserving Digital Content is the final subject for my study for the Master of Information Studies that I am doing online through Charles Sturt University.
The first module of readings made me realise that while I thought I had a good grasp of this topic, in reality, there is much to know and learn. And in a field such as this where the technology changes are inherent and a determining factor, it is a swift intellectual pursuit.
After week one I was so interested and engrossed in the readings that I realised what a true geek I am, and I had found “my people”. As if it isn’t enough to be bookish and proud, now to admit out loud that I am also a lover of technology – bookish + techno = Geek. BUT it is SO interesting.
And it is more than just about the containers: the books and the files. It is really about the content and what the possible loss of that content means to us all. Did you know that the original NASA film images of man walking on the moon are gone? Conspiracy theorists calm down. But what a catastrophe. How could that happen?
So I feel like someone coming out saying: “Hi. My name is Susan Bentley. And I am a geek.” Probably no surprise to the people who know me.
In keeping with the National Year of Reading, I continue to write about the monthly themes, and for September it is “grow”. My focus is on public libraries.
Many people assume that public libraries keep all of their books, and when not being borrowed, they sit on the shelf or are kept in storage somewhere. However this is a myth. In reality public libraries have very limited space and books don’t often remain in any one spot for very long at all. It is a dynamic process of purchasing, processing, sorting, shifting, distributing, displaying, shelving, re-shelving, retrieving, loaning, issuing, returning, re-shelving, repairing, evaluating, sorting, boxing, and at the end of its use – selling in a book sale or sent on to some other need. There is often not a mysterious “stack” of old books preserved for prosperity, unless the library is the National or State Library.
Public libraries attempt to manage this dynamic process with a Collection Management Plan that addresses the demographic of their users to try to predict demand. This plan offers guidelines to manage donations, weeding, purchasing, and when used in conjunction with a clever Marketing Plan, should maximise the collections full extent.
Often people generously offer their pre-loved books thinking the public library will cherish them as much as they have, whilst in reality they are often boxes of dog-eared, smoke-saturated, food-stained paperbacks that only add workload and obstacles to an already jam-packed library work space and work load. The local public library does not have the capacity to “grow” to this extent. There are exceptions of course, and sometimes the books donated are real treasures.
Direct request from customers for popular books and other resources proves to be a useful way to grow the collection while responding to local demand. But it can’t be the only driver because often there are fantastic things that exist that people aren’t aware of, or know that they want – yet. This is where the librarians craft comes into play and they can shape the collection with their expertise, worldly knowledge and creativity.
The Long Tail is a concept coined by Chris Anderson in 2005 and when applied to the library collection is easy to understand. If a library were to buy copies of the latest popular release in quantities to supply the demand and responded each time to every best seller, the shelves would soon be lined with multiple copies of last year’s bestsellers and little else, and look like a short stumpy tail. It would be like a drinks refrigerator filled with one brand of beer, or just beer. Which might be fine for beer drinkers, but not so for those who prefer champagne or tea or green smoothies. The Long Tail theory shows that by offering an array of many different titles on a diversity of subjects that often the quirky niche subjects get a space on the shelf that will be justified when it is inevitably matched with the diverse and quirky interest of a customer. And to paraphrase Tim Flannery, “The continued existence of the species depends on diversity.” When you apply this to humans then our existence depends on a diversity of attitudes, interests and knowledge that can only be gained by offering a wide range of topics for investigation. A browse along the shelves of the non-fiction section will show books about beekeeping, how to work a room, bushcraft, Hagar, heavy metal music, the cats pyjamas, work abroad, survival, ideas, Shakespeare (of course), Henry Lawson, travel, art, architecture, computer help, languages, pregnancy, health issues, etc, etc.
The serendipity of browsing library shelves is a well-known and enjoyable pastime and many have commented on this human behaviour. Bryan Loar of Brave New World says that by using the online catalogue and reserving items ahead of time then “self-directed discovery has been lost”. Professor Todd P. Olson of Berkeley in California values the experience of browsing the library’s shelves so much that he has launched a fundraising campaign towards the “continuation of library collections to ensure that the joy of discovery will continue for generations into the future”. Steve Penn talks about how “you walk around the shelves and suddenly find something that you weren’t looking for but seems just right for you.” Maria Popova of Brain Pickings worries “that we are leaving little room for abstract knowledge and for the kind of curiosity that invites just enough serendipity to allow for the discovery of ideas we didn’t know we were interested in until we are, ideas that we may later transform into new combinations with applications both practical and metaphysical.” And I could go on…
So eBooks and other electronic resources seem to offer a solution to the problem of relieving limited physical spaces in libraries, but restrict the valuable and enjoyable experience of browsing for the serendipitous find. Again I try to imagine the library space where much is only available as an electronic file or online. An electronic collection can grow beyond imagination, storing and preserving every book forever! Of course the preservation of electronic files is another complex issue altogether. But as Seth Godin tells us “Librarians who are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.”
Well Seth Godin doesn’t have to convince me that libraries are not just warehouses for books, but if our buildings are not growing with new physical materials, and our collections are “hidden” in the “connected” cyber-world, then who and what is in the building? And how can the average Joe Blow discover, develop and grow with that serendipitous ah-ha moment of stumbling across that book that will change his life? I think it was Og Mandino who told the story about how he was destitute, homeless and was on his way to buy a gun to kill himself when he stumbled into a public library and this “saved” him and turned his life around. That weird unkempt, smelly, apparently homeless person who visits your public library every day might just stumble across his/her saving grace.
In the past I have thought that perhaps the library could display images or video on large screens of these hidden resources. Libraries do this now and have been for some time. And although it might create visual interest, it is just another screen in a world where screens proliferate. And the images would be limited and could not portray the full extent of the collection. And these have tended to be rather static displays even with the inclusion of video segments. Library catalogues could be (and perhaps are being) developed whereby the screen is used to display current catalogue items in a way that is more dynamic and interactive, uses multi-media, and has the ability to display at random or by selection, when not in use by a customer. Perhaps the items displayed could be recommendations that respond to the person who passes by based on their past loans. I am sure the current technologies in Library Management Systems and RFID could already do this, however then we get into the murky waters of intrusion and privacy.
Jason Griffey kicked off the proceedings telling us about Libraries in the Post PC Era. He talked about how our customers are accessing our resources, the fast adoption of mobile technologies, and the need for better metrics in measuring this change in access. He went on to show us some examples of new technologies: flip scanning devices that will scan a book at a speed of 500 frames per second; the Samsung transparent window pc; Maker-bot 3D printing machine; and others.
Eibhlin Roche who is an archivist from The Guinness Storehouse in Ireland talked to us about her job and the Guinness Archive: unlocking the potential of an iconic global brand. She stunned us with her statistics concerning dollars generated for Guinness directly from the Guinness archives.
Many other people presented talks and information in a variety of ways on topics ranging from gaming in libraries, to big data, staff training, library makeovers, and more. The papers and presentations can be found here. Further comments and notes can be found on Twitter by searching with the tag #VALA2012.
The main streams of content from the presentations were: planning for the future; up-skilling library staff to be able to assist with new technologies; library space redesign; data management; social media applications; and finding relevancy in the community in an era when library resources and competencies are available from other sources.