Q&A from ALIA Sydney

This blog post is about the questions that were recently sent to me by the ALIA Sydney Group as part of the current campaign for the ALIA Board of Directors. I do have a tendency to waffle, so this probably isn’t going to be a short blog post. Stick with me, if you can.

How can ALIA appeal to students and people entering the industry/profession?

Well…I’m possibly going to give a politically unwise answer to this. I think that ALIA currently does heaps for students and new grads. If you join up as a student, you pay just $80 – substantially less than the $310 that I pay, and less than the cost of your average text book. Not only that, but if you graduate from an ALIA accredited course you get two years of reduced membership fees – currently $186. So there’s a financial incentive to join up early.

Students and new grads have their own conference – IMHO, ALIA’s best conference. The New Librarians Symposium (NLS) has now been running since 2002. I know it well – I’ve attended several and I was a Convenor for one (NLS2006 in Sydney). It’s a whole conference aimed at people new to the profession, with the program usually focusing on career planning, professional development, and new ideas. It’s always full of excited new members  of our profession, and unlike most other conferences no one glares at you if you approach them and say “Hi, I don’t know anyone here. Can I chat to you?” I’ve shown my support for NLS on lots of occasions – by bringing it to Sydney in 2006, by attending and speaking, and by leading a review of the viability of continuing support for NLS when I sat on the New Generation Advisory Committee (NGAC). I also went to the US to tell the New Members Round Table section of the American Libraries Association all about how specialised professional development offered to new grads is a good thing.

Which brings me to governance – ALIA has a Board-appointed advisory committee (and is the only library association to do so) and a Group, both dedicated to new professional issues. NGAC is meant to advise the Board on issues relevant to new professionals, and the New Graduates Group is meant to run events and other professional development activities for members that identify as new graduates (lots of students come to these events as well).

Finally, ALIA accredits LIS courses – something that students probably don’t see, but which does impact on the quality and content of the education they receive. The point of ALIA doing this is that if a student completes an ALIA-accredited course, they can reasonably be assumed to know certain basic bits of information. Thus employers tend to be the people that pay closest attention to whether an applicant has done an ALIA-accredited course, or not.

So ALIA does heaps for new entrants to the profession – and, of course, these people have access to all the other ALIA bits’n’bobs as well, including other conferences, training, the LIS journals package, a couple of advisory services. In fact, no other group that can be identified by their career stage is as well served as students and new graduates. Which makes me wonder why the question is being asked.

The answer, I believe, is communication. I don’t think students and new graduates know that ALIA does all this stuff for them. The best thing ALIA can do to appeal to new entrants to the profession is to communicate with them. When I worked as the NSW Manager for ALIA I made as many attempts to outreach to LIS schools as possible – I visited CSU, UTS, Ultimo TAFE and Mt Druitt TAFE. I arranged talks to students and I asked course coordinators to pass information on to their students (in lieu of being able to afford as many face to face visits as I would have liked). This kind of stuff needs to keep happening.

I like the current model of ALIA’s suite of new grad services. I like that NGG and NLS and NGAC are all run by new grads themselves – there’s no point in a bunch of experience people telling new grads what they should be interested in. ALIA can improve on the current model by making it as easy as possible for those groups to do what they do, but they can also improve by making sure that new grads know how well served they are by ALIA.

What are some of the advocacy issues you would like to see ALIA address?

I’d really like to see ALIA getting more aggressive in the DRM and electronic licences debate. I’d like to see ALIA advocating for simplified and comparable user licences on things like ebooks and databases in the same way that companies like Choice have done for mobile phone licences, and the government has done for mortgage interest rates. I think that ALIA can be used to advocate on behalf of the end users of these products (both us and our clients) because EULAs are insane, which means no one reads them, which means we all agree to things without reading them. When we talk about information literacy, this is a good example of what we mean. If I can’t understand an EULA it’s either because my information literacy is poor or the licences are too complex. I think I’ve got great information literacy – thus I think the problem is the EULAs, and they are pervasive in modern life.

This is a good opportunity for collaboration. Librarians are by no means the only group that cares about this, and we could identify other groups to partner with in this. If the end result was that companies had to provide standard-format and comparable EULAs and DRM information about their products, I would be a happy camper.

How can ALIA reach out and engage with people working in special libraries or other areas where they feel better served by other associations?

My background is in special libraries. My first library job was running Australia’s only medical history library, and it was while working there that I joined ALIA because I realised that if I didn’t connect with my profession I could just sit in my office and rot away, never learning anything new.

Joining ALIA helped me to connect with other OPLs, but also helped me bring ideas from other sectors into my own workplace. Gaining support to attend conferences from a boss who’s not a librarian can be a challenge for special librarians – in my case I was careful to articulate the benefit to the organisation through an improvement in our public profile. This also allowed me to invite ALIA groups to tour what was (and is) an extraordinary collection.

I’m not sure we need to see other associations as competition, but at the same time we do want to attract all sectors into ALIA. I’ve said before that I think ALIA’s group structure is fundamentally good, but needs to be improved. I think it’s through this structure that those with a specialist interest can develop their networks, while connecting to the rest  of the profession through other ALIA events.

ALIA’s strength is it’s pan-professional nature. Frankly, if you work in law libraries and you want to focus on law libraries, then ALLA is going to be a better fit for you – but if you think that you might be able to learn from other sectors, and might be able to offer something to other sectors, then membership of ALIA looks pretty attractive.

My answer here probably reflects my own professional history to a large extent – I’ve moved from specials (medical in one case, accounting in another) to a university library via vendor land and association. I place a huge amount of value on information that can be used across sectors.

Is anything you would like to let our readers know about you and what you would like to accomplish as a Board member?

I’d like the ALIA Sydney blog readers to know that, with Kate Byrne, I was instrumental in the revitalisation of ALIA Sydney in 2011. I’d like you  to know that I have completed formal study in financial management and company law. I’d like you to know that I have a history of using ALIA’s framework to get things done and make things happen, and that I intend to keep doing this. I’ve been involved with ALIA as a Group committee member, as a conference  committee member, and as an advisory committee member. I even worked for ALIA. I know the organisation well.

As a Board member there are a few things I’d like to accomplish. They may seem unambitious, but I believe strongly in fundamentals. I’d like to ensure that ALIA continues to maintain financial sustainability – without this we have nothing. I’d like to see a reduction in members failing to renew their membership. I’d like to see professional development events in every capital city, and I’d like to see rural and regional members participating in online events. Finally, I’d like to use this blog to continue writing about the Board, so that members get a sense of what being on the Board involves, and are attracted to it, so that next year we have an equally strong interest in nominating.

Thank you ALIA Sydney for asking these questions – I hope you get responses from all of the candidates, and I commend you on doing a huge amount to improve member engagement in ALIA.

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One response to “Q&A from ALIA Sydney”

  1. Julia G says :

    Thanks for answering those questions, Alyson. It’s great to hear your thoughts. As a student at QUT, I was made aware that ALIA made an impact on my education, largely because so many ALIA representatives made the effort to attend classes and information sessions.
    Also, I’d forgotten that I’m eligible for half-price membership for the next two years. Thanks for the reminder!

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