Sunday, 30 September 2007

National Advisory Congress in Victoria

The ALIA National Advisory Congress (NAC) has now made its way through Victoria. Through a small part of it, anyway. We (Margie Anderson and I) went to meetings in Ballarat (on 12 September) and Melbourne (13 September), each of them attended by about a dozen people. Not poorly-attended, if we think in qualitative terms - wonderful people with lots of ideas. But quantitatively, not a great attendance. I wonder why. Is everyone happy with the way things are going? Are members uneasy with the idea of direct input to policy and programs? Is the NAC model a confusing one? Do most members want someone else to handle these issues?

At our two meetings we tended to focus on the priority issue chosen for the NAC, the library workforce. I was interested in a focus on this, because I am involved in planning for the forthcoming Library Workforce Summit, so the topic got a good run. Fortunately, people were happy to stay till all hours, so some other topics were covered too. Needless to say, it didn't go the way the ALIA blueprint had set out, but what does?

Here are some points which were made.

Library image and identity
  • How do you know you are standing in a library? It is not obvious for my library (we have few books on the entrance level). The answer is a big sign that says "LIBRARY". At Swinburne we have the word "library" (in many languages) all over the wall. Libraries and librarians should aim to redefine these terms, not introduce new terms.
  • Terms like "knowledge management", which communicate poorly to non-academics, have done us no favours at all.
  • Both the book and the web characterise almost all libraries, and we just have to live with that one. But the proportion varies immensely, as it does for individual people.
  • There has been a clear decline in commitment to the professional association, but we still cannot say why. It dates from the change in direction by the association, but we cannot infer cause and effect.
  • What makes a good librarian? There were lots of ideas about this, and many of them tended to gravitate to qualities which are important in any service area. Peculiarly library? Some suggestions included the need to be organised, good literacy and numeracy, curiosity and the skills of a detective, analytical and logical, interest in knowledge about everything, and perhaps top of the list, the need to be organised. Someone suggested that libraries are about interrogating people and information, seeing linkages, and thinking laterally.
  • Another idea, which Victoria is taking up, is the idea of a website "This is a Librarian" which provides examples of characteristic roles in libraries. Very often people just do know know what we do.
Recruitment and workforce issues
  • For potential recruits to library education, it does seem that early workplace experiences are very important. This is because our image is misleading, and most people don't know what really happens in a library. It is more interesting than they believe.
  • We also need to promote libraries as a career earlier rather than later - in school.
  • Some techniques like cadetships, longer placement periods, industry-based learning, mentoring, graduate recruitment and training, and better work experience, are worth trying.
  • Libraries can still recruit from different library sectors, even though different types of libraries are more different from each other than they used to be.
  • There is definitely a shortage of good people in some parts of library work - the examples of children's librarianship and teacher librarians were pretty compelling.
  • It was felt that ALIA should be using its role in accreditation to better effect. What impact has it hard on the workforce?
  • Teacher librarians and librarians in schools are very important, and they are an area where we have never been strong. What should we do?
Other issues

There were other issues too. In Ballarat there was a strong feeling that it was time to get the Ballarat wing of ALIA moving again, and to have more gettogethers in Ballarat. There was a comment at both meetings that membership fees are too high, and some support for the risky venture of dropping fees significantly, and gambling on higher membership - something for the non-member survey? The non-member and ex-member survey was strongly supported as a high priority.

A Regional and Rural NC will be held via teleconference on the 17 October from 6.00 pm, and you can attend by contacting Robyn Ellard on 1800 020 071.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Word of the day

Today's word is backtoback, a verb. I have been at several meetings over the past week, and hence the relative silence on this blog. CAUL met on 20 and 21 September, and there were a few meetings backtobacked onto it, so that many of us arrived in Adelaide on Wednesday 19th. In fact, there is a tendency whenever a conference or meeting running for more than a day is planned, to extend the planning to encompass various options for backtobacked meetings. The theory of backtobacking is that it will be more efficient to hold a number of meetings at the same time and place, to avoid the costs and strains of additional travel; this theory is untested and is quite possibly falacious. For example, wholly unnecessary meetings may be devised to take advantage of backtoback opportunities, when not having the meeting at all would have been the most efficient option.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Don Schauder, Jean Whyte and COSI

Monash University held a function on Tuesday 11 September at their Caulfield campus, to celebrate the emeritus professorship conferred on Don Schauder, and also to celebrate the bequest by the late Professor Jean Whyte to the University, now the Jean Whyte Fund. The function also launched COSI, the Centre for Organisational and Social Informatics.

Jean Whyte was the foundation professor of librarianship at Monash, from 1975 to 1983. I was one of her students for quite some time - I have got better at finishing things since then, but it took me six years to finish a librarianship masters degree in the 1980s, despite the best efforts of Jean Whyte and Radha Rasmussen.

ALIA has also honoured Don Schauder recently by conferring a fellowship on him, and there will be a function to mark that, most likely early in 2008. Don has been one of the most innovative Victorian librarians in recent times, in recent years at Monash University as an academic, and at RMIT as a University Librarian.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Barry Jones - and more

I recently (3 September) attended an ALIA function at the Victorian Parliament, to celebrate the Redmond Barry Award given to the late Bruce Chamberlain MLC, a good friend of libraries, both local and parliamentary. It was a good function, and reminds us of the consistent support given to ALIA by parliaments, and the possibilities of future support too. There are two members of the Victorian Parliament who are former librarians (should I say that? - perhaps once a librarian, always . . .) They are Andrea Coote, MLC for Southern Metropolitan and the deputy opposition leader in the Legislative Council, and Judy Maddigan, the MLA for Essendon and a former speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

Barry Jones, a previous winner of the Redmond Barry Award (1996), was there, and I was reminded again of his support for libraries and for the free flow of information when I read his piece in the Australian on Wednesday 5th September. He referred in that article to many of the issues which librarians regard as important. He deals in particular with anti-terrorism legislation: "Terrorism will continue to damage open societies until we understand how to eliminate its causes ..."

On a related tack, there is currently taking place an independent audit of the state of free speech in Australia. Australia's Right to Know is a coalition of Australian media organisations. Their campaign was launched in May and the coalition has commissioned the independent audit; it is is chaired by Irene Moss, with Peter Timmins as deputy chair. A recent speech by Irene Moss (August 29) sets out the basis of the audit.The Democratic Audit of Australia, run out of ANU, is another body which has taken up these issues, as is Electronic Frontiers Australia.

If you are interested in being involved in developing an ALIA contribution on these issues, let me know, or post a comment to this blog.

Word of the day

Today's word is citation farm, from Lorcan Dempsey's blog, on 20 August, but I just came across it. Lorcan was responding to discussion about why he posted to a blog, rather than publishing in the library literature - "a very specific set of journals and organizations", he suggests. "The literature is a citation farm for those involved in formal research activity, and in the US, a necessary career convenience for those librarians who work within the tenure system."

Interestingly, the expression has not been taken up to a significant level, although there is a good post from Librarian In Black on how to choose between making your most sparkling thoughts into a blog post and a journal article. Yet the phenomenon - essentially, the separation of the communication purpose of writing from its role in achieving academic recognition - is pretty widely acknowledged.

Friday, 14 September 2007


The Australian Law Reform Commission has recently completed its deliberations on changes to Australian privacy legislation. The Australian had a news article on the report on Wednesday (September 12), headed "Ruddock pans privacy push." I must say, although it is not something I always say, that I strongly agree with the Attorney General, at least on the face of it.

The report is of such a size that it almost precludes the involvement of anyone in the process other than privacy professionals, whoever they are. The Executive Summary alone is 34 pages. There are 301 recommendations, ranging from highly technical legislative change, to simple measures (like abolishing the fee for a silent telephone number), to quite far-reaching changes (such as creating a new statutory right to sue people who publish private information). An example given is "when filmmakers captured everyday situations involving people in public spaces." Responses to the report are sought, and are due by 7 December.

There are clear implications here for the strong commitment that libraries have towards the free flow of information, and the Press Council has already expressed ts scepticism about the proposed new right. This seems to be an issue on which Australian library interests will want to get together. What will we say? Someone will have to read the report, but who? How will we balance our strong commitment to the free flow of information with emerging ideas of a right to privacy? Watch this space, and please let me know what you think.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Word of the day

Today's word is new normal, or new normalcy, as explained by Barry Jones in his piece in the Australian Higher Education section last week. He quoted Dick Cheney, the Vice President of the United States, as saying in October 2001: "Many of the steps we have now been forced to take will become permanent in American life, part of a 'new normalcy' that reflects an understanding of the world as it is." He was referring to restrictions on civil liberties, debate, freedom of information and the rights of prisoners, among other things which are part of the new normalcy. To argue that something is part of a new normality - and the term has become used in many other contexts over the past five years - is in reality a debating trick.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Word of the day

Today's word is splattered identity. This interesting concept has come up in the discussions which are creating the Carrick Exchange. The concept intended by this term is the idea that all of us have elements of our identity scattered (or splattered) around the web in different sites according to where we have worked, organisations with which we are affiliated, social software we use, and so on. Given that we tend to be self-centric, do we want to bring this together in some way? "It's about bringing all of my things together", it was said at the Blue Sky Thinking Day. I have not been able to find other uses of this expression, so perhaps its use is a first for the Carrick Exchange - blue sky thinking indeed!

For universities preoccupied by the RQF (Research Quality Framework) a splattered identity problem exists in trying to bring together all of the research outputs for the past five years from each academic staff member. Some of the issues are the traditional cataloguing issues of bringing scattered variants of a name or publication together.

A possible lesson from using the word splattered (rather than less forceful synonyms like dispersed or scattered) is that it is unlikely that something splattered can be brought together again, and certainly not without some loss of elements of the identity. Perhaps we need to live with messy identities, and do as best we can.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Take home messages

Katy Watson has produced a summary of takeaways from the ALIA Board meeting held on 5 August. I was there. Let me highlight two of the take home messages. Katy's summary will be on the ALIA website soon.

First, new Online Communication Guidelines for ALIA lists. The goal was to frame these with a light touch, rather than having overly heavy-handed rules. Put another way, framing rules in a broad general way treats the users as grown up and able to interpret ambiguity, rather than saddling them with pages of detailed rules. We're assuming that it will all work out beautifully and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and courtesy. They should be on the ALIA site shortly.

Second, there is going to be a significant survey of ALIA members before the end of the year. I am a great fan of surveying, because it provides a systematic overview of how people (members in the case of ALIA) see things and what their issues are. Surveys are a much better way of listening to the people than other feedback methods, such as complaints registers; complaints are generally much fewer, often unrepresentative, and a poor basis for decision-making. Here at my workplace (Swinburne Library) we have used our customer survey to generate budget and planning drivers for 2007 and 2008.

ALIA has revved up its blog and given board members the right (or obligation) to post to it. What a dilemma! Will I post the interesting things I think of (maybe there's an oxymoron hiding there) to this blog, and the others to the ALIA blog? Or vice versa? Can I recycle posts?

Word of the day

Today's word is holoptism - thank you to Gary Hardy for this one. P2P (peer to peer) projects are characterized by holoptism. "Holoptism is the implied capacity and design of peer to peer processes that allows participants free access to all the information about the other participants (not in terms of privacy, but in terms of their existence and contributions)." In other words, the process is fully open and accessible to all of its participants.

This can be contrasted to the panoptism which is characteristic of hierarchical projects: here, the processes are designed to reserve such 'total' knowledge to an elite, while participants only have access on a 'need to know' basis. Communication is not top-down and based on strictly defined reporting rules, but feedback is systemic, integrated in the protocol of the cooperative system.

Think carefully about your own organisation now. Holop or panop? Worked it out? I'm afraid you were right. Mine certainly is.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Word of the day

Today's word is DILL, and my thanks to Diane Costello. This is from the DILL website: "Third-country scholars (i.e. scholars from countries other than the EU member states, the EEA-EFTA states or the candidate countries for accession to the EU) can apply for an Erasmus Mundus scholarship to conduct research and teaching within the DILL Consortium for a limited period of time. The scholarship covers a maximum stay of three months, and amounts to €13,000."

DILL is a masters program in digital library learning, aimed at students from outside Europe, and based in Oslo, Parma or Tallinn. It sounds a great course, and I advise all librarians to check it out. But with significant money at stake, I thought that the acronym would have received more attention, and care would be given to avoid anything inappropriate.

Or so I thought. But a browse through Google reveals the fact that almost everyone in the world uses dill only as a noun describing the notable herbused in cooking with cucumbers, gravlax, borscht and so on, and also for protection against witches. The Australian usage is extremely rare, and seems limited to Australia - so rare that I had to actually use the library (rather than the Web) to find the Australasian meaning defined - i.e. "Austral./NZ informal a naive or foolish person" from the concise OED. Examples of
uses on the Web are mostly humourous, like the City of Hume DILL Driver (dangerous and illegal) program, and the NineMSN recipe for dill salmon ("Acting like a dill").

Fancy that.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Word of the day

Today's word is bacn. This has been donated by Rebecca, who refers to the term as describing "mail like updates from MySpace and Facebook that isn't quite spam, but you don't want it all the time just the same. There is a whole blog", Rebecca says, " devoted to spreading the term."

The blog describes bacn as "email you want, but not right now" and Rebecca is quite right - the site is all about bacn. Today's post, for example, argues that although some people think bacn is a silly word, they used to think that about spam. The term was first used way back in August 2007 at
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In the meantime, you can buy for only US$4625 or thereabouts.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Wattle Day

Well, happy Wattle Day, our emerging national day. September 1 is Wattle Day , and Wattle Day is the logical choice for all Australians as our national day. Some people do not find this statement to be an axion, but I think that it is.

Let me dismiss the objections one by one.

1 We already have a national day. Response: no, we don't. Many people celebrate 26 January as our national day, but many of us don't. The foundation of Sydney was a wonderful event in our history, but it is hard to see why it should be our national day, especially for indigenous Australians. And for that matter for people from other cities.

2 OK, why not choose another day which is significant for all Australians? Response: Wattle Day is that day.

3 What about alternatives? How about Anzac Day, for example? Response: Anzac Day has the advantage that it is a day we can jointly celebrate with our extremely close cousins across the Tasman. It has the disadvantage that it is a touch too military to serve as a national day.

4 What about Federation Day? That's appropriate - lots of countries have as their national day the day the nation came into existence. Response: Unfortunately, Australians rightly value their public holidays, and January 1 (Federation Day) is already a public holiday. We don't really need a public holiday around then.

5 OK, but why Wattle Day? Response: Wattle is cheerful, bright, optimistic and apolitical. Its symbolism is unexceptionable and clear - the begining of spring. It grows in all parts of Australia, and comes in our national colours. It is the design inspiration behind our national system of awards. The Wattle Day poem is known to all, and is self-deprecating and modest, in contrast to the pompous and bombastic tone of many national celebrations:
Here's a bit of wattle
The symbol of our land
You can stick it in a bottle
Or hold it in your hand.

I hope you enjoyed today. Wattle Day this year was a glorious day here in Melbourne, as it often is - bright, sunny, clear, a little brisk, a wonderful day to sit back and think of profound or superficial things. The very day for a national day, enjoyed as such by the small but happy throng that celebrates it. Please join us.

This year Wattle Day also marks my return to this blog after a fortnight elsewhere. Another delight for September 1.