Archive | March 2013

Fantasy electioneering

For my final ALIA Board of Directors election post, I’d like to answer the ‘question’ that @RogueXiphium asked me: “I’d like 3 day weekends please. And a pack of neverending TimTams. Delivered by the Old Spice Guy. On a unicorn.”

Well, Rogue my dear, this shouldn’t be too hard. Here’s my plan to make this happen.

First up, you could apply for a position as one of ALIA’s State/Territory Managers – it’s only 30 hours a month, and those hours are flexible, so three day weekends are yours! It’s also a really fun job – I did it myself for a bit and loved it. I can’t speak for whether or not it’ll give you enough income to pay the bills, but that wasn’t on your list.

Next up, Tim Tams. According to ALIA’s annual report from 2011, the ALIA House building in Canberra is worth $1,296,738. There’s probably been a change since then, but let’s pretend not. Woolies are currently selling Tim Tams for $2.50 a packet, and according to the interwebs there are 11 biscuits in a packet. So  if we sell ALIA House, we could buy 5,705,647 Tim Tams – around 5.7 million Tim Tams. It’s not neverending, but it’s a pretty big pile, and I’m not sure you’d ever reach the end of it, so it’s kinda the same thing.

I’m going to tackle the unicorn next. But I’m a bit surprised – Rogue, c’mon, if you don’t know where to find yourself a unicorn, what kind of derby girl are you?

So we have a giant pile of Tim Tams, and several unicorns. I believe that this is the appropriate bait to catch an Old Spice Guy, and I cannot help but think that a quick DM with proof of the existence of both of the above would entice him your (our?) way.

Done! Anything else, while I’m at it?


Vote! Vote! Vote!

Have you voted yet for the ALIA Board of Directors?

We’re on the home stretch now, one week until ballots close. If you’re doing a postal vote, please fill it in and post it back today, so your vote will be counted. It’s Easter this weekend – please get your ballot in the mail before the long weekend.

If you’re doing an online vote, you’ve got a bit more time, but c’mon, it’s the super-long weekend, we all have better things to be doing. Don’t leave it to the weekend – vote now!

Still not sure who to vote for? Hugh Rundle and the ALIA Sydney group both sent a bunch of questions to the candidates, which I was really pleased about. I’ve used this blog to answer any and all questions that have been sent to me, but if  you’ve got any more you can still contact me here or on Twitter.


Have you received your ALIA election ballot?

In case you haven’t heard, there’s an election open for the ALIA Board of Directors! Yes, you are lucky I told you – you’re welcome.

I wrote a post on this blog when the ballots opened about how you can expect to receive voting information and what to do if you haven’t gotten it yet. With only a week and a half left until voting closes, I’d like to revisit this. Please follow the instructions below.

  1. Have you voted?
    • Yes – great, good on you, thank you.
    • No  – go to next question.
  2. Why haven’t you voted?
    • I don’t know who to vote for  – that’s easy, vote for me! Or see Hugh Rundle’s blog or the ALIA Sydney blog for more candidate information.
    • I don’t care – then vote for me! Or, whatever. You should care, but if you’re reading this and you still don’t care, um, why are you reading this?
    • I didn’t receive any information about voting – go to next question.
  3. Have you checked your email lately? Did you receive an email from the Australian Electoral Company? Did it go into your spam folder?
    • Oh, yes, there it is. I’ll just go and vote online then  – great, problem solved.
    • Nope, nothing – go to next question.
  4. Have you checked your mailbox for a letter from the Australian Electoral Company?
    • Oh, yes, there it is. I’ll just fill out the ballot and return it then – great, problem solved.
    • Nope, nothing – go to next question.
  5. Please call the Australian Electoral Company on 1800 224 420 or email them on It’s not too late for them to send you a ballot form.

Remember, to make your vote for Director valid you must number at least two of the boxes, and to vote for Vice President (President Elect) you must number both boxes.


Advice for new graduates

As part of my campaign for a position on the ALIA Board of Directors (vote now!@ragamouf asked  me “do you have any advice for new LIS grads entering the profession?”

Gosh, that’s a difficult question. Not because I don’t – trust me when I say I just love being asked for advice on something – but it’s so broad. What would a new grad want advice on, exactly?

Presumably they want advice on getting a job. I’m not sure I’m the right person to give advice on that. I was told a lot of things when I was a new grad, admittedly not that long ago. I formed a belief, faith if you will, in the idea that with hard work, creativity, energy and professionalism I would go far. Well, sometimes that’s true and sometimes it’s not.

What I’ve found is that people’s advice sometimes reflects how they wish things were, not how they are. We wish our profession was based entirely on merit, and that we attracted and rewarded the best and brightest. That those with big new ideas are going to have a chance to put them into practice, and if they fail we’ll forgive them and let them try again. But the fact is that we are like every other profession – we are bound by organisational rules, history, and our personal failings. Sometimes we, as in each of us individually and collectively, make the wrong decision. Which means that we suffer or someone else suffers, and there are setbacks.

But sometimes we don’t make the wrong decisions, and sometimes this profession leads you to pretty extraordinary places. I’ve had the most brilliant fun being a librarian so far, and I hope there’s lots more to come. Oh the places I’ve been and the things that I’ve seen! My job at the moment surprises me – I’ve had a chance to work on two big projects in the last six months that I had no idea I’d be working on when I first started the job, and I’m really excited about both of them.

So if it’s job advice you’re after, here it is: go for it. What ever ‘it’ is, go for it. Apply for jobs that you probably won’t get, apply for temporary positions, apply for jobs in libraries that look like they’re about to fall over – it’s where you get to have the biggest impact. But remember that it might not work out the way you want it to, and then you’ll have to apply for more jobs.

Oh, and apply for lots of jobs. Sometimes the reason you don’t get the job you’re perfect for is because of the other people who applied, and nothing to do with you. No matter how badly you want that job, don’t put all your eggs in that basket.

The other advice I would give to new grads is to get involved. I was told by a lot of people that being involved in the profession (i.e. being an active member of ALIA or other professional associations, or developing a strong professional learning network) would help me get jobs. I’m not sure it’s always worked out that way, but what it definitely has done is made me new friends, and that’s wonderful. I did a presentation at NLS in 2008 about why you should bother with professional involvement, but it came down to this: I want to hear what you have to say, so find your professional voice and use it. The more of us that are involved, the more likely it is that we can sustain positive change, so please, get involved.

Affordable professional development

As part of my current campaign for the ALIA Board of Directors election, I had several people (in particular @sharonu@leesaphilip and @gemmas1980) ask me about whether I felt ALIA could or should provide more free online conferences or workshops, which then turned into a wider discussion about the affordability of professional development opportunities.

The simple answer to this is yes – I think ALIA should definitely do this, although how they should do it isn’t necessarily straightforward or simple.

The reason why I think ALIA should do this is because I’d like there to be as wide a range of professional development (PD) options as possible. Don’t get me wrong: I love conferences, I love the variety and the intensity, but I also think that they are just one piece of the PD puzzle. And I think there are a lot of people that can’t go to conferences, for many reasons (not only financial).

Offering a wider variety of PD is also much easier now than it was, say, 10 years ago. There are so many free online tools available, and there’s a critical mass of people who are able to use them, so I think it’s one of those ideas that may have had to wait for certain things to fall into place; I think they are now in place.

Which leads us to the question of how ALIA can offer these things for low or no cost to members. There are two ways to look at this: either the costs involved are paid for by someone else, or there are very few costs involved.

If ALIA wanted to, say, offer an online workshop with a big name workshop leader, there would probably be some costs involved – you’d need to pay the workshop leader, and you’d probably need to use a paid service to run the workshop online, in order to guarantee reliability. But if they could attract sponsorship to do that, then someone else pays for it. Of course, in order to attract sponsorship, there needs to be a sponsor who feels that they’ll get their money’s worth from financing the activity, but this isn’t impossible.

The other path is to look at things that have very few costs involved. I’m going to hold up ALIA Sydney as an example here, because they do a lot of this kind of things IRL. In 2012 they held several events with an entry fee of $5 for ALIA members, something most of us can rustle up. They did this by getting venues and speakers for free – so the $5 basically pays for the refreshments you get and some gifts for the speakers. Could this model be translated to an online environment? If there are members with expertise in certain areas, and a willingness to share, they’re your speakers. What we need is a good online service that can serve as a kind of virtual conference environment. I’m thinking of the Library 2.011 Conference – could we run something like that?

This is the kind of thing that is usually led by volunteer members, so is there anyone out there willing to take the lead? ALIA doesn’t really employ many librarians, but it does employ event managers that can act in a supporting role. I’ll be honest – if I get elected to the Board, that combined with the work I’m doing with the International Librarians Network is about the most I can do, but I’d certainly participate in these kind of events.

So who’s willing to take the first step?

ALIA’s financial sustainability

As part of my campaign for the ALIA Board of Directors (I’ll stop harping on about this as soon as you vote, so: vote) @sharonu asked me “I’d like to know how to keep the current ALIA org model financially sustainable? Do we need an office/admin centre?”

What Sharon is referring to, for those who don’t know much about the ALIA National Office, is that there is an office in Canberra that’s full of a whole bunch of paid ALIA staff. And given the tightness of ALIA’s budgets, and the fact that we all contribute to those budgets in the form of membership fees, the question is rightly asked, are they necessary? There’s a large volume of work done by ALIA’s volunteers (in the form of Group and Conference Committee members, not to mention those on the Board of Directors – that’s right, there’s no money in this for me); could we not dispense with the administrative overheads and spend some of that money on, say, cheaper conference registration fees, or better PD?

Based on the ALIA website there are 18 paid staff in Canberra, and then there’s another 8 State/Territory Managers around the country. That’s 26 staff – that seems huge! BUT many of those staff members work part time, and sometimes it’s a very small part of the time. The State/Territory Managers, for example, get 30 paid hours per month. Of the remaining 18, 7 are part time. Half of ALIA’s staff work part time.

It’s also not  the case that ALIA has hired a bunch of librarians. ALIA has hired financial managers, IT managers, marketing specialists, publishing specialists, and event managers. As librarians we know the value of specialisation – we believe (don’t we?) that using staff who are qualified specialists in research techniques is preferable. So it is with other areas. Yes, there are financially literate librarians out there, but if you’re spending all your time managing the books for an organisation to ensure careful spending and legal compliance, I’d like you to be appropriately qualified to do that. Equally, if you’re answering the phone and doing admin work all day, I’d be disappointed to hear that you’ve got a MLIS, because it means your skills are probably being underutilised.

There are certain things that ALIA, as a company, needs done. Relying on volunteers to do necessary things is risky, as anyone who’s worked with an ALIA group knows. When members volunteer they are often doing so on top of existing work, study, and family commitments, and their volunteer work often (and often rightly) comes last on the list of priorities. If you want to be able to rely on ALIA to meet it’s legal obligations, answer the phone when you call, and run the conference that they promised you they would run, then we need people who’s job it is to do just that, and not other stuff.

So generally speaking, yes, I think we do need an office/admin centre. However I also believe that it’s the job of ALIA’s leaders (in this case I mean the Executive Director, primarily, and then the Board) to constantly examine those administrative costs to ensure that they are effective. Which leads to Sharon’s first point – how can we keep ALIA financially sustainable?

Step 1: hire people who know how to do this. Oh – tick! Harry Carroll has been ALIA’s financial manager for the last couple of years and he does an excellent job. If you have a look at ALIA’s financial reports for the last few years you’ll see some big changes, and there have been some good financial decisions made, such as scrapping the ILL voucher scheme.

Step 2: constant vigilance by management. It’s often in relation to money that really hard decisions have to be made. ALIA relies heavily on conference income, for example. There’s a lot of people that would like to see reduced conference registration fees, but it means that ALIA would have to cut some of its other activities that are funded by these fees but which don’t generate money themselves. It’s ALIA’s managers’ responsibility to know how it all fits together and to know what the consequences of decisions will be.

It’s also pretty unsexy to say that financial sustainability is one of those constant things. It’s achieved by having people who know what they’re looking at, constantly looking at it. Responsibility for ALIA’s financial position ultimately rests with the Board of Directors, so you want people on the Board who know what the signs are of poor financial management – they need to know how to read financial reports, know the difference between current and non-current assets and liabilities, and understand what a statement of changes in equity is for. These documents, when read correctly, can warn of trouble ahead. You’ll be pleased to know that I completed formal studies in this area as part of my Masters of Business Administration – so you should vote for me! Or, ask the other candidates about that. I’m not the only one running with a MBA.

Ultimately I’m really glad that Sharon asked this question. The third step to financial sustainability is vigilance by members, and members holding their Board to account. If you see something that concerns you, ask a Board member about it. Read the financial reports – I know they’re boring, but ALIA collapsing in a financial heap isn’t.

Should the ALIA PD scheme be compulsory?

In my various channels of ALIA Board of Directors election (vote now!) campaigning I had a few people (@katiedavis, @librarianhoi and John Chisholm) ask me about the ALIA Professional Development Scheme – whether I think it should be compulsory, whether the Certified Practitioner status means anything, etc.

I’m fairly conflicted about this one. If you want me to say “If elected to the Board I’ll do x, y and z” then you may be disappointed – but I’m not against the idea.

Here’s what I do know and believe about the scheme: I’ve been enrolled for several years, and have found it easy to both record my activities and to meet the annual points required to obtain the CP status (in fact in one year I exceeded the three year points goal in six months – I reckon I should have gotten CP+ status for that, but whatever, I’m moving on). I like being able to demonstrate that I believe that my skills need constant updating, and that I have done that.

However I’m not sure it’s made a difference to anyone. And there’s the rub – I don’t think it’s ever given me an advantage in a job interview situation, nor has it helped me come performance review time as my employers haven’t wanted external tracking of my professional development. And so at times I find myself asking, like Hoi, “so what?”

On one hand I’m in favour of a compulsory PD scheme because I think that we (ALIA and the profession at large) should be doing everything we can to encourage our colleagues to update their professional knowledge. If one more person tells me that libraries have changed a lot I might tear my hair out, but in this case it’s relevant. It’s not okay to work in a library nowadays and only know what you needed to know twenty years ago when you got your first job.

But then I ask myself, isn’t that the job of that person’s manager? Shouldn’t our workplaces take at least some of the responsibility for encouraging professional development? I’m all for personal responsibility for PD, but it doesn’t rest entirely on my shoulders.

Also, if we do move to compulsory PD, that’s going to require a big support structure. I’ve had a quick look at what LIANZA does, and it wouldn’t be a small change from where we are now. For ALIA to move to this model would require significant investment, both financially and by members donating their time. If ALIA demands that you do PD, ALIA needs to provide wider access to PD and it needs to evaluate that PD. Given all the other things ALIA can be doing with that money and volunteer energy, should this be top of our list? What if, instead of trying to make PD compulsory, we just supported members by delivering really good PD opportunities?

I’m undecided. I’d really love someone to bring an argument to me that helped me decide on this one. So, if I’m elected to the Board, I will receive with great interest any submissions, proposals, or even just ranting emails on this matter.