ALIA WA Symposium

On Saturday I attended the ALIA WA Symposium. This event was organised by an umbrella group of all the ALIA groups in Western Australia (New grads, Techs, ‘ALIA in the West’, ALIA Research Libraries…). They invited me to attend as their keynote speaker, which was pretty awesome.

What we have and what we do

I was first up, which was excellent for my nerves as it meant I could relax afterwards and take in what the other speakers were saying. I spoke about the role of libraries in helping our communities to empower themselves, and the importance of everyone in the profession contributing to professional discussions by blogging, speaking, writing papers and so on. I posted the text and slides from the talk on my blog if you’re interested.

Young Adult Library Services

First of the local presentations was Shannon Verbakel talking about her Honours research into library programs for Young Adults.

Shannon has conducted quantitative research into YS services in Australia and the USA. She found that American libraries have a much longer history of YA services, and that overall the number of YA programs in West Australian libraries is very low. She wondered is this because programs simply aren’t run, or because librarians have found that teens prefer to go to ‘adult’ or ‘kids’ events? It’s unclear, but her feeling is that we are probably simply not serving these patrons.

Thinking about what Shannon’s research was showing (and our own experience at Boroondara), I wondered about the effect metrics on programming. Nearly every library service is reporting the wrong metrics, in my view. The primary measure of success for programs is the number of people who attend. If you’re lucky we might include satisfaction ratings from a survey of attendees. The whole point of these events, however, is to make some kind of positive mark on our communities. What if only 3 young people turn up to the event, but it completely changes their lives for the better?

More info on Shannon’s research can be found at

‘Rock my lit’

Rebecca Keshwar is a drama/English teacher in her final semester of an Information Science degree. She continued the theme of YA services, with a look at one of her projects, called ‘Rock my Lit’.

Rebecca asserted (and I’m sure she’s right) that most libraries, at least in WA, offer programs for children and your only up to about 12 years old. When it comes to services for teens, we provide a lot of passive things – wifi, YourTutor, occasional individual events, Wii games and so on. Among all this there is a lack of programs specifically aimed at teens to develop reading for pleasure.

Rebecca told us a story from the US about reading for pleasure making people better citizens. One of her assignments was the creation of a portal called Rock My Lit – it facilitates teen literacy, and is a read-write environment where teens can not just read book reviews and chat about their favourite reads, but can also post their own reviews and even their own fiction writing. It reminded me a little of Inside a Dog This session was very well received, and the Manager of the State Library of WA was in the audience and asked to speak to Rebecca afterwards!

Play in the Park

After lunch Dora Adeline gave a talk about Play in the Park, a WA program she tours through some of the regional areas in southern WA. I didn’t take any notes for this talk, as it was mostly of interest to people from WA who understood the context, but it certainly sounds like a great program that is getting literacy programs out to young kids who really need them, in areas with relatively low literacy and opportunities.

As you like it

Next up Andrew Kelly and Caris Chamberlain hosted a workshop where we were encouraged to reconsider library services from scratch. Andrew started the session with a bold statement about library (re)developments:

“We build new libraries but then we put the same old services back into them”.

Andrew said that in discusisons with colleagues online, he’d come to the view that there are no ‘core services’ in librarianship, only core values. We were asked to consider, “What services would you put in to a library if you were starting absolutely from scratch and had to justify everything?” Some of the suggestions were:

  • ask the community what they want
  • free good wifi
  • human books
  • rent-a-grandpa
  • community garden
  • good website
  • different catalogue for different people – personalised to your needs/interests
  • no catalogue – use cookies and tailored ads instead (I’m not entirely clear how this would work but it sounds interesting)
  • informal learning opportunities
  • more analysis of what our community needs – literacy levels, interests, who comes and doesn’t come and how can we get more people into the library?
  • better stock
  • more cultural events – music, theatre, etc – not all about books.
  • centralised stock management for ‘generic’ collections, but special localised stock at the local level (this sparked a digression into women’s prison day release, erotic fiction and Orange is the New Black).
  • more effective ‘patron driven acquisitions’ processes.
  • English Conversation Clubs at mum-friendly times, with childcare students using realistic examples of homework problems to practice English! (Rebecca Keshwar gave us this as a real life example).

Andrew wrapped up, pointing out that the library people need might not even be a building. He suggested we might like to reconsider how we do program evaluation – when do you cut ‘core services’? With amalgamations in the wind in WA, there is a possibility for specialisation of branch services – some libraries are mere minutes away from each other, do you really need an author talk or even story time at every branch?


Next up we had a session from Megan Fitzgibbons and Chloe Allen from UWA. It was basically a synopsis of their experience covering off on copyright releases for MOOC content. This turned out to be more interesting than you might think. Sometimes it’s not clear if you can use content, or who has the rights. The were using Coursera, a commercial MOOC platform, so they didn’t count as ‘non commercial’. The also threw up some intriguing questions like “What does it mean to say that a massive online course is ‘open’? Coursera content is open in that anyone can take a course, but the IP in the course material is very much closed and restricted. Is it still open, or is it merely readily available for no charge? Is there a difference? This reminded me of a great article I read recently called The Morality of Openness.

Co-location and co-staffing in libraries

Last up, Dr Leith Robinson took us through her work on converged library services – those where a library had been joined with some other service. This included bookstores, Council information desks, galleries, pools, a sauna and a pharmacy! Convergence of space is much more common that convergence of staffing. Convergence is all about co-operation and collaboration, which could be for:

  • catering
  • retailing
  • events
  • activities
  • publicity

Convergence can be formal or informal. Formal staff convergence: involves MOUs and agreements: generally driven by parent body strategy and user desires. Convergence can be hindered by staff skills and staff attitude:

  • compatibility and transferability, and acquirability – staff are concerned about working whilst still learning the skills.
  • attitude: staff view convergence as end of specialisation and respect. Some staff will feel that their profession has lost value if they don’t do what they were originally trained/educated for.

Leith said that her research showed that “Behaviour is negotiable, but identity is less negotiable.”

When convergence doesn’t work we see decreased morale, staff attrition, decreased levels of service and sometimes ultimately de-convergence.

Keys to convergence success

  1. foundation – ensure shared values, trust building, change management, secure resources.
  2. implementation – training, job shadowing, recruitment (for mindset, for knowledge-set)
  3. Operation – set clear duties and priorities, clear lines of reporting, communication, ‘ongoing socialisation’
  4. Evaluation – periodic reviews and revision

Informal convergence can also happen. Leith seemed to think this was more dangerous than formal convergence, calling it ‘virtual convergence, or role creep’. She made the observation that all too often “proximity =equals responsibility”, because members of the public don’t see any distinction between different staff.

Whilst it is often done to save money and be more efficient, done well convergence can actually result in service expansion (events, IT, training), especially ‘intra institutional convergence’.

Leith finished by saying that convergence is a natural part of how we run libraries, and she expects to see more in the future.

The whole day was really worthwhile and well-run. I enjoyed the day, and I’m looking forward to talking to my ALIA Vic colleagues to see if we can run something similar in Melbourne.

2 thoughts on “ALIA WA Symposium

  1. Regarding the measuring of bad metrics for our events, it’s a fair point but what is the alternative? I’m yet to see a feasible method for measuring the number of lives changed due to interaction with the library. Or even for measuring the number of projects completed, jobs applied for, or artworks created by using library resources. I fear we are stuck trying to hit a reasonable number of people and hope some of them benefit. Then we can report along the lines of, “We threw x amount of mud at the wall and based on anecdotal feedback we think a portion of it may have stuck.”

  2. Good question. At this point, I’m not clear what the answer is. I do know, however, that a lot of smart people are trying to work it out. Just today the 2014 Shared Leadership reports came out including one on new measures for VIctorian libraries. They reference a project from the US called ‘The Edge Initiative’. I know there have been some ALA discussions about new metrics, and Brett Bonfield wrote an interesting article recently in In the Library with the Lead Pipe. The key point everyone seems to be making is that we need to work out how to measure ‘outcomes rather than outputs’.

Join in the discussion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s