Wednesday, 28 March 2007


I have been noticing a large number of people who say to me "I would of voted for you, but my membership has lapsed ..." as if it were something over which they have no control. I think if I were to form an ALILA (Australia Library and Information Lapsed Association) it would be a large club. What can we do?

I guess that a significant task of the ALIA Board is to ensure that ALIA membership is strong and growing. In fact, I have been looking through the ALIA 2007 plan and membership growth is there at the top. But how? The strategies in this bit of the plan are communication and marketing, and "provide services and activities that members value."

What do you think? Why are lapsed members lapsed?

Word of the day

Today's word (OK, expression) is embedded librarian. Readers may recall the use of embedded journalists in the second Iraq war. Professor David Shumaker of the Catholic University of America is conducting a survey of embedded librarians, and you can find it at For the purposes of the survey, an embedded librarian is a librarian "who is regularly assigned to work with a community, team, or organizational unit and provide highly customized information services to that group."

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Wikipedia - friend or foe?

One of the themes I set out in my 100-word election blurb was the need to build bridges with other information players, based on our values. I am involved with a few such players - the Internet Society of Australia, for example, and Electronic Frontiers Australia. The two organisations have a close coincidence of values and policies with ALIA.

For example, the ISOC-AU email list has recently been discussing the Wikipedia. The debate has been very similar to a debate which might occur amongst library people – they are our friends, and this is shared territory. It has been interesting.

My own take is that we are all increasingly just using the Google search engine – i.e. the whole wide world wide web - as a kind of de facto encyclopedia. Wikipedia is a part of the Web that is a bit more quality-controlled than just googling the entire Web. It is a subset (a large one), and more authoritative than the Web as a whole. The point is that you have to make your own judgements. The Wikipedia has clear advantages – it is very comprehensive, it is free, it has a degree of quality control, and it is often quite astonishingly current, especially compared with a conventional encyclopedia.

Before the Wikipedia and the Web came along, people most often asked their friends or their mum (mostly not a librarian) if they had a question. Benchmark Wikipedia against them, I say (sorry, Mum).

The broader point is that this is not just our library territory - authoritative reference sources - but shared territory, and we need to link up with other people who care about it.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Word of the day

Thank you to Chris Mackenzie and Denise McLarty for barcamp. "A BarCamp is an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos, and interaction from participants...."

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Please vote

I seem to have encountered fairly recently most of the candidates in the current ALIA elections. Margaret Allen was of course active in the 2006 ALIA conference in Perth. Richard Sayers is the CAVAL trainer, and we had a chat at the recent gig to farewell Steve O'Connor (CAVAL CEO) on his departure for Hong Kong. Kate Watson called in to Swinburne not long ago to talk about repositories. And Graham Black is, of course, a noted member of CAUL, and we meet at CAUL things. I'm very glad that we have such a good field of candidates for this election. I haven't met Kevin Dudeney or Damian Lodge, but I'm sure they are nice people too. ALIA has an unfortunate tradition of a low turnout for elections. No excuse this time - please vote!

Word of the day

For New South Wales people (voting today) today's word is dumb vote. This is defined in Australian elections as a vote above the line, whereby you let someone else assign your preferences for you.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Word of the day

Many thanks to Fiona, who provided thirdparty, as a verb. For example, "Our ILMS vendor thirdpartied LibLime." It refers to the act of bringing a third party into a bilateral arrangement. Note that the example is completely fictitious.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007


Who leads libraries in Australia? I don't know the answer to that (except that it is plural), but the National Library roadshow in Melbourne on Friday was great. The NLA senior management all rocked up, and spent the morning telling us about what the NLA is doing.

There are lots of exciting things going on. Newspaper digitising is exciting - imagine being able to search the full text of a daily newspaper back a century and a half. The work on a new-style library catalogue is striking, and the NLA is pioneering something we all want - Google meets the catalogue. People Australia looks a good service. Picture Australia has been operating for quite a while, and is now up to 1.2 million images. Although it doesn’t and won’t have as many images as FlickR (now about 300 million), PA has done a very successful pilot with Yahoo, and is using FlickR contributions to make substantial additions to PA. And Libraries Australia is something which no other country really has - when Libraries Australia is equipped with a new user friendly front end next year, say, it will be a stunning achievement. The NLA technical strategy is flexible, sensible and innovative.

And the National Library is certainly now more national in its reach than it ever has been. Margy Burn pointed out that in the most recent year 600,000 people used the library in person, and 300,000 physical items were used, but as many as 13 million online transactions dwarf this in-person use. Canberra-centric no longer?

As you can see, I’m an admirer. The National Library is a clear national leader in library technology and innovative drive than anyone else in Australian libraries.

I've just added Lorcan Dempsey's blog to my list of links because his is the best library blog, and he says very nice things about the National Library of Australia. The other link is Kevin's blog - Kevin is also contesting the position of vice president of ALIA, and he has a link to my blog.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Word of the day

The National Library gig also gave rise to some expressions which were new to me, although they no doubt form part of the rich institutional dialect of the nation's premier library. "Uncatalogued arrearage" is a nicer way of saying backlog, and "oral history reading room" brings to mind related terms (like movie reading room) which for various reasons never took off.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Another thought from Valerie Johnson's book on childrens' librarianship. She quotes John Levett: "The fate of all libraries in Australia in inexorably linked to the success or failure of the public library and this is bound up with the education and performance of its managers and senior professional staff." (Johnson, p.134) John was writing about the education of public librarians, and it is a debatable statement, but interesting.

Public librarians, at the risk of starting yet another theme on this blog, is this true?

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Life after Fenwick

I went to the launch of Life after Fenwick, by Valerie Johnson. This is a book about library services for children, published by Auslib Press, and for those of you who don't know, the Fenwick Report was published in 1966, the work of Professor Sara Fenwick.

Whenever we are swept away by the wonders of information services in the current decade, the children+books combo pushes us back in the other direction. As a Gemini, I'm entitled to be multi-focussed and confused about direction, but I wonder sometimes how other people working in libraries cope with the disjunctions in library services today. And in particular, the need to be leaders in technology, while still retaining the best of what we have always done, like children's books and children's reading.

Valerie Johnson is also concerned about training, and I guess there is a lot to be concerned about in training children's librarians. Yet is is obviously still a core role for libraries - who could buy enough books to satisfy a voracious child reader? I know very little about this area - any comments from anyone who does?

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

How to run an email list

I have never run an email list. I have been putting off the task of blogging about the current issue of the day in Victoria, how to run an email list and what its rules should be.

I am currently chairing a panel which is reviewing the Australian domain name system (DNS) - read all about it at The list for domain names in Australia is the DNS list, courageously run for years by Kim Davies who pursues a pretty non-interventionist approach. Very wise. Its a wild and woolly list. Librarians are so polite by contrast, even when they come close to breaking the rules. If they do. I don't think we have a lot to worry about.

I am glad that the time for comment to the ALIA Board on the ALIA lists has been extended to the end of March, because lists are very important for participation in ALIA, and it is important that they are used. I hope to work my way through some issues, and post some considered thoughts. Informed, of course, by my experiences of the DNS list and other horrors.

Rather than speculate on rules for a list, a starting point might be: what makes a "good" list? Some first thoughts:
1 Activity - something has to be going on.
2 Enough people sitting near networked computers for a big chunk of their time. A critical mass of potential participants.
3 Someone in charge, however lightly. Someone to throw in a thought, email a notice, when things are slow.

Any other ideas?

Monday, 5 March 2007

The Unconference had some ideas about where library staff come from

Where do librarians come from? It is said that 60% of professional library graduates are graduates of Charles Sturt University. Is this true?

I ran a session at the Unconference on 2 March on library training, and it was a very lively session too. Everyone had a point of view - and not the same point of view, either. Jenelle Cleary from the Victorian Parliamentary Library kindly took notes, which I will pass on to the organisers. Margie Anderson and Indra Kurzeme have been collaborating on work on this very question.

I had three takeaways from the session, and some other thoughts too. One point made strongly was the need to promote libraries as a career. Another thought was the need for more paths to accreditation. And the third was the desirability of employers getting together with training institutions to work out where we all want to go - what kinds of people and skills does our industry need?

I will write some more about this, but in the meantime, Gill Hallam's major survey is working its way through the system, and she will be speaking about it in Melbourne on 29 March.

Word of the Day

Today's word of the day is umbrella, used as a verb. Here is a quotation from my local council newsletter, South Gippsland matters, about the new Public Health and Wellbeing Plan: "The Plan umbrellas a number of strategies that are being developed . . ."

Word of the Day

Today's word is unconference, and Australia's first L2 unconference was held on Friday at Thomastown Library in northern Melbourne.

"An unconference focuses on who is going to be at the event and what they're interested in. No powerpoint presentations, no eminent (or not so eminent) papers, just conversations, active learning, discussion, fun! We provide the space, enough blank space to write on so that you can self organise, and a general theme for the day. The rest is up to you!"

The L2unconference was an initiative of Yarra-Plenty Regional Library in Melbourne, and in particular Chris Mackenzie. The unconference blog is at

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Introduction to Derek's ALIA Blog

Hi everyone

This is a blog for the 2007 election for vice president of ALIA, the Australian Library and Information Association. I'm a candidate. The purpose of the blog is to communicate with ALIA members and other colleagues, and to canvas some of the issues. As you can see, I only got 100 words to summarise what I think is important, and another 100 to talk about myself - not nearly enough.

I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to respond with your own comments. To make it even more interesting, I will publish a word of the day every day, except for those days when I don't.