Archive | February 2013

My professional confessional

I was asked to contribute a professional confession to the Information Professional Confessional which was launched at Information Online recently.

Here’s my confession. Sometimes career plans go awry.

Happy viewing, and do check out some of the others – there’s some very touching stories in there.


Why should you join ALIA? Because THIS.

Some of my (albeit not huge) audience may not be aware of what transpired last week at Rockdale Town Hall in Sydney.

On the morning of Monday 18th February Sue McKerracher, ALIA’s new-ish Executive Director, sent an email to a bunch of members that she knew in Sydney. She told us that Rockdale has been waiting for a new library for 30 years; that the matter was going to be discussed at a Council meeting that Wednesday evening; and that the building of a new library was in danger of being passed over yet again, this time in favour of a new swimming pool.

Sue asked us to come to the Council meeting to support the library proposal, and to pass the word to anyone else we knew to do the same. Sue arranged to have a speaking spot on the agenda. Over the next 48 hours the message went out by email, Twitter, Facebook and, importantly, personal conversations.

(Full discloser: I wasn’t able to attend the Council meeting, but I did what I could to assist with promotion.)

About 15 people ended up coming to the meeting, and Sue spoke in favour of funding a new library. She wasn’t the only one – from what I heard there were a few local citizens that also spoke, and the Mayor made a strong case for the library. Based on the Tweets there were some excellent arguments put forward in favour of the new library, and some bad arguments put forward against it.

And the result? The new library will go ahead, after a narrow victory of 7-6.

For those that say ALIA never did nuthin for them, I’d love you to talk to the people and the library staff in Rockdale. This worked because ALIA is fundamentally a network of people with shared values, interests and goals. If members weren’t paying their dues, Sue wouldn’t have been able to act on this situation. This is Sue’s job, because we pay for this to be her job. She wouldn’t have known the people that she was able to contact if it weren’t for the ALIA network. Of course it’s possible to get this stuff done without paying membership fees to support a national infrastructure, but it’s much harder and it takes more time.

I want to ask my audience: what did you do to help Rockdale get a new library? If you are a member of ALIA, you did something. Your membership made this happen. Thank you.

ALIA supports libraries. It’s that simple. If you work in libraries and you want to be supported, you should join ALIA.

Regional and rural librarians

Following my announcement on Twitter that I was running for the ALIA Board of DirectorsGemma Siemensma asked me ‘How will you support those who are in a regional/rural area?’

I’ve been thinking good and hard about this. Then I think some more, then I think some more. Because I just don’t think I’m coming up with the right answers. The fact is, I’m a city girl, born and bred. I really don’t know what it’s like to try and serve a client base and build a professional career in an environment other than a big city.

The best answer I’ve come up with is that I will continue ALIA’s support of the National Broadband Network, because everything I came up with to help rural and regional librarians relied on a fast, strong internet connection.

I thought about advocacy – I asked myself how ALIA (in this case I mean members of the Board and senior staff members) advocate on behalf of rural and regional librarians. In most cases they can’t be there – the distances are too far to visit frequently. But they can advocate by phone and, increasingly, through digital channels.

I thought about professional development. I know that when people think about professional development they often think conferences, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. What about professional reading, writing, conversations? What about attending online events, taking part in Blog Every Day of June? What about joining a mentoring program that doesn’t rely on face to face interaction (blatant plug here for the International Librarians Network, set up by myself, Kate Byrne and Clare McKenzie)? I’d like to encourage ALIA groups to broadcast their events online, either live or recorded, to share across the country.

But, you guessed it, so many of these things are reliant on a fast and reliable internet service. I keep returning to the NBN.

So I’m turning the sportlight back on you (collectively) – am I on the right track? Is this what rural and regional librarians need most,  or is it something else? Perhaps the thing that I can do that would be of most benefit is to actually ask rural and regional librarians what they need to support their work and their communities? In which case, I’m asking you. Tell me about your world, and what support would make a difference to you. How can I help you?

ALIA’s volume control

As part of my campaign for a position on the ALIA Board of Directors, @HughRundle asked me “How do you think ALIA can have a bigger voice in (inter)national conversations about information access and tech?”

I gave a simple answer at the time: partnerships. And that’s pretty much my answer.

Let’s face it – ALIA isn’t really known to many people outside of Libraryland, and there are plenty within Libraryland who’ve never heard of ALIA either. On it’s lonesome, ALIA doesn’t have a very loud voice.

I can see ALIA doing better with it’s ‘volume’. Over the last few months the media campaigns that they’ve been involved in have been stratgic and catchy. I loved the Dumb Idea campaign because it was not only striking (which helps with media attention), but it linked to the idea of libraries as intellectual powerhouses.

But I think the best thing ALIA’s done in this space is the work around internet filtering and the Safer Internet Group. This is a great example of an issue that is one of our core professional values – freedom of access to information – but one that the general public doesn’t normally associate with librarians. No one was going to come to us (i.e. ALIA) for our opinion on this – ALIA had to grab the attention. So instead of just banging on about how librarians are against internet filtering, ALIA partnered with other groups that shared the same value. That meant internet content providers, internet access providers, and organisations representing people who are trying to protect children in the most effective way.

This is how I think ALIA should keep doing things. ALIA has a policy on international relations that says ‘The Association should promote and pursue collaboration with library and information organisations throughout the world to ensure equity of access to information worldwide and to highlight the key role of library and information services and practitioners.’ Note the use of the word ‘collaboration’.

When advocacy opportunities arise, one of the first considerations should be ‘Who else does this affect, and can we partner with them?’ Partnerships increase the volume and get the issues in front of a wider and sometimes more disparate group of people. When that happens, our concerns stop being niche and start being mainstream. Which can only be good for our reputation and our impact.

Join us, join us

When I announced my candidacy for the ALIA Board of Directors on Twitter, @HughRundle asked me ‘What’s your plan to make ALIA something librarians want to join?’

This is a huge question. I’ll be honest – I don’t have a set plan, because if I am elected to the Board I’ll be one of many contributing to that goal. In fact I’ve been one of many contributing to that goal for several years – making ALIA something librarians want to join is done by all of ALIA’s groups and committees, staff, and even individual members.

People want different things from ALIA. Some people want ALIA to be a source of professional development – conferences, events, journals, etcetera. Other people want ALIA to be advocates for individual libraries, sectors, and our profession as a whole, and rely on ALIA to support events such as National Simultaneous Storytime and the National Year of Reading, or to run campaigns such as last year’s Bad Idea campaign. Yet other people rely on ALIA to assess and accredit TAFE and university courses so that they can have some confidence about the quality of the education that they’re choosing. Very few people need ALIA to do all those things for them all at once, but we probably all need ALIA to do those things for us at some point in our careers.

I’m a member of ALIA for two reasons. The first is because I’m able to use ALIA as a tool to further my career – by being involved in ALIA I’ve been able to develop skills beyond what was needed in my paid employment, and develop a professional network that was invaluable when I was working in small libraries. ALIA’s never ‘gotten me a job’, but ALIA has given me opportunities.

The second reason is because we are stronger together – because I don’t know  how to advocate for my profession at a national level, and I don’t have the influence to get library issues that have or might affect me into the minds of people who are making decisions about them. ALIA does, and the more of us that join up, the more power they have to represent us.

So, to the original question – how do I plan to make ALIA more attractive for librarians to join? I think that people’s perceptions of ALIA are local first. This means that people base their impressions of ALIA on what they see in their world – do they see events being run  by local groups, do they see ALIA members in enviable positions, and did ALIA help them when they faced a difficult situation?

The ALIA groups system is good, but could improve. Groups that I’ve worked with (either as part of, or in a support role when I was NSW Manager for ALIA) often reported feeling unsupported, and frustrated by obscure and complex paperwork requirements. Communication from the ALIA structure (national office and the Board) seemed minimal, and groups that were having problems struggled to get support to fix those problems. I believe the groups need to be seen as ALIA’s primary activity for members, and support for them should be a priority. They need to be given a combination of support, guidance and instruction, but also enough freedom to do what they should be doing for members. Facilitation can help groups share expertise and resources. With this, I believe that local groups will be able to use their passion and knowledge to run excellent events.

I believe we need to talk about ALIA. I talked about ALIA a lot when I first started in the profession, but I’ll admit that I hit a bit of a lull when I stopped seeing myself as part of the new grads niche. Current ALIA members need to advocate for ALIA, or at least be public about their membership. This doesn’t mean not criticising ALIA – we can be honest about it’s failings while participating in the improvement – but it does mean that new people entering our profession should see those in senior and middle roles being active participants.

Finally, the work of ALIA’s industrial relations and copyright services need to be better marketed. They’re there, but it took me quite a bit of looking on the website to find the details, and even then it’s behind the membership log in. Given that all that’s there is information on what the service is, it really should be on a public page. I welcome Sue McKerracher’s (ALIA’s Executive Director) recently announced plans to open up much more of the ALIA website, and feel that it’ll be a big improvement.

Did that answer the question? If the local experience of ALIA is positive, if professional leaders advocate for ALIA, and if people can easily find better information about what ALIA can do for them, I think more people will want to join ALIA. Which in turn will lead more people, because we are stronger when we work together.

What is ALIA’s purpose?

I’ve got a series of blog posts in draft form that are responding to questions that people have asked as part of my campaign for the ALIA Board of Directors, but something came up in a comment on a previous post that I think is really important.

The commenter referred to ALIA’s purpose – in a way that reminded me that not everyone would agree on what this is. This got me thinking about what I believe ALIA’s purpose to be. Given that the catalyst for this blog was my election campaign, I figured I’d better articulate my views here.

To me, ALIA’s purpose is two-fold: ALIA is there  to do things for members that they can’t do for themselves; and it exists to allow members to do things themselves that might be harder to do if ALIA weren’t there to back them up.

ALIA does lots of things that I can’t do, for various reasons. ALIA participates in the setting of standards for library-related TAFE and university courses, which means that when someone applies for a job with my organisation and I can see that they’ve done an ALIA-recognised course, that means I can assume they know certain basic things. ALIA advocates for all of us – I have no idea how to form an alliance with Google and Yahoo to fight government proposals for mandatory internet filters, but ALIA does, and did, and I’m really grateful for that (anyone else notice how quietly that policy was dropped?). ALIA can tell the Queensland Government that getting rid of a whole bunch of library staff is a ‘Dumb Idea’ because those staff themselves can’t, lest they never get another job just for speaking up. I hope I’m never in their situation, but if I am, I hope ALIA will stand up for me where I can’t. So ALIA does a bunch of things to protect and promote me individually and us collectively. It’s worth pointing out that both members and non-members usually benefit from these actions.

On ALIA’s ‘All about ALIA‘ page they describe ALIA as ’empower[ing] the profession’, which leads me to the second purpose that I believe ALIA serves, that of a tool that we can use to get what we want. Some years ago, what I wanted was to meet other librarians so that I could ask them how to do the job that I’d just been thrown in the deep end of (managing a one person library, first library job, fresh out of library school). I could have wandered across the road to the State Library of NSW and just randomly spoken to other librarians, but what to they know about OPLs? They had librarian colleagues. I didn’t. I could have read books or journal articles, but I couldn’t ask them questions. So instead I used the ALIA e-lists to ask dumb questions, and then I went to ALIA events to meet other OPLs. When I wanted to develop some event management experience to back up a proposal I was taking to my boss, I organised some local ALIA events. I didn’t have to worry about things like public liability insurance, because ALIA did that for me. I could focus on the skills I wanted to learn. These are just two examples of the many ways in which I’ve used ALIA as a tool to get what I wanted – if they weren’t there, acquiring those contacts and skills would have been much harder.

What I don’t think ALIA’s purpose is, is to publish an open access journal, or to be a landlord, or to provide me with a copyright advice service. I don’t think ALIA’s purpose is to give members awards, or make a profit from conferences. But any and all of those things might contribute to ALIA’s purpose. So I believe that if we have a clear idea of what ALIA’s purpose is, then we can constantly evaluate whether ALIA’s activities are in line with that purpose.

Open access and ALIA

When I announced my candidacy for the ALIA Board of Directors on Twitter, and invited questions, one of the first questions I received was from @HughRundle. He asked ‘What’s your position on open access for ALIA professional journals?’

To answer this I feel it is important to review the current situation, because I often find that misunderstandings abound about ALIA and its various services and offerings. ALIA publishes two professional journals: Australian Library Journal (ALJ) and Australian Academic and Research Libraries (AARL). I’m going to talk about both journals together, because I believe they should either both be open access, or neither.

At the moment both journals are available along the following model:

  • Issues from the previous year are available to subscribers only, in print. Note that institutional members of ALIA get one free copy of the journals in print.
  • Issues from the year before that, currently from 2011, are available online for ALIA members.
  • Issues from the year before that, currently from 2010 backwards, are available online for all and sundry.

There’s a way around the above restriction for members – ALIA gives members access to a package of LIS journals via ProQuest which includes ALJ and AARL. So if you’re an ALIA member you can access the most recent issues; if you’re not, you have to wait for two years. One thing that ALIA National Office should do immediately is change the ALIA website access so that members can access the most recent issues directly, given that they can do this anyway.

The other thing you need to know is that from the beginning of this year both journals will be published by Taylor & Francis. The announcement states that ‘A fully open access route (freely available issues with no Author Publication Charges) was also considered, with both journals becoming online only, but the cost to the association would have been too great to go down this route.’ There’s an interesting comparison table of the previous model, an open access model, and the new model. How the new publishing model will impact on how we, as individual members, get access to online copies of articles I’m not yet sure. It may be that we go via a Taylor & Francis website instead of the ALIA website. What I’ve described above is how things were on the 3rd February 2013. It may change by the time you’re casting your vote for ALIA Director.

To return to the original question – do I think that the journals should go open access? Well, I’m not privy to the debate that was held amongst current board members, but I can see from the last annual report that both journals cost a lot more to publish than they brought in income – in fact they cost about twice as much as they bring in. Presumably that income comes from a combination of paid subscriptions and advertising. If the journal became open access, the income from subscriptions would disappear – but how would the advertising income be affected?

You’ll notice that I’ve still not answered the question. And I still won’t, not quite yet. It’s important that we talk about money first, because the thing about open access is that someone has to pay for the journal to be published. It appears that ALIA ruled out the idea of asking authors to pay – which is good, because that’s a model that’s just asking for corruption. So if readers don’t pay, and authors don’t pay, then the publisher has to pay – and that means ALIA has to pay. Which means you and I have to pay, because you and I are ALIA.

Ask yourself this: if moving the journals to open access meant that your membership fees increased by an extra, say, $10 a year, would you support it? What if they increased by $20? By $30? Personally, I would pay that – I’m lucky, financially, and I can afford that. But not everyone can and I’d hate to impose that on other members unless I knew that it was what they wanted. Which brings us to the real issue here – these journals ‘belong’ to ALIA, which means they ‘belong’ to members. Members, not any single member, should make this decision.

My position on open access for ALIA journals is that, as a member, I would support the movement, however individual members and Board members have different obligations. If elected to the Board my role would be to oversee the financial affairs of the Association and represent members – all members, not just my own interests. If members brought a motion to the Board (putting a motion to the AGM is one way to do this; another would be to convince one of the board advisory committees to submit a proposal to any Board meeting), then I would happily debate the matter, but I would want to know that the majority of members would be in favour of such a move before supporting it at the Board level.

I hope this has not only answered @HughRundle‘s question but also given you an impression of how I would examine issues from different perspectives. I welcome your comments on this and hope that, if I am elected to the Board, there is an opportunity to review this matter again.