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.

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