The Future of Libraries Summit: You. Me. We.

On Friday  I attended the LIANZA and Te Ropu Whakahau Future of Libraries Summit in Wellington. Several people have already blogged their perspectives of the day (here, here and here) and there are also a couple of storified tweets from the day (here and here).

I found the day uncomfortable and awkward. The discussion was dominated by three of the ten people at my table and there was little interest by the facilitator to change this (the facilitator was one of the three people dominating the discussion). I tried to contribute but it wasn’t long before I stopped bothering because my attempts were met with silence (and sometimes ignored) rather than acknowledgment.

However kudos to the LIANZA President, Kris Wehipeihana who recognised some participants may be reluctant to speak out and suggested several alternative means for all participants to share their views.

I seriously considered treating the day as a ‘learning opportunity’ and to remain silent but decided against this path because I believe I have as much right as any one to share my views of the future of libraries, even though I didn’t get an opportunity to express them on Friday. I think it’s naive to expect consensus and I also think it is naive to remain silent if your voice isn’t being heard.

Enough awkwardness.

Below I will briefly respond to the questions posed during the day but before I do I’d like to be clear about my view of the profession. I believe the profession is bigger than a professional association and not just because there are more non-association members than association members in New Zealand. For me, the profession involves everyone working in and for libraries, not just those with qualifications and not just those who see it as a career. I view myself as belonging to the profession even though I do not work in a library or belong to a professional association. I believe in libraries and I believe in encouraging library staff to be the best they can be because this can only benefit our society.

The first question asked at the Summit was What are the key drivers of the profession?

Every library is different. Even those within the same organisation. We have different cultures, different systems and different experiences. It is difficult to agree on the key drivers of the profession as a whole when we are all so different.

However if we were to look for common ground I would say there only two drivers or mechanisms that unites this profession as a whole. The first is bureaucracy and everything that comes with it – hierarchy, tradition, rules, fiscal responsibility, status quo etc. No matter how rosy your glasses are library staff don’t get to make the decisions we’d like to make. The second is our graduates; those who choose librarianship (in its broadest sense) as a career. Library graduates are the future leaders of our profession as a whole. Without high-quality, enthusiastic library graduates the profession would not be as robust it currently is.

Of course there are other drivers or motivations for why we work in the profession such as serving our communities and our belief in equity of access to information but they are performed through the lens of a governing body whether that be the government, local council, university councils, Boards of Trustees or Executive Directors.

What would a flourishing library sector look like in 2025 if we address these key drivers?

This is a loaded question. It implies the drivers are problems that need to be addressed and that the library sector isn’t flourishing. If you compare the New Zealand library sector to that in the United Kingdom we are already flourishing and enabling our communities to do great things. Let’s not forget that front line library staff all over Aotearoa are doing awesome things helping our communities with what they need. By acknowledging bureaucracy as a given and a gift rather than an excuse to gaze fondly at our navels, and by doing more to support library graduates after they have graduated would enable all front line library staff to continue to do awesome things to ensure our communities flourish.

I have previously created forums to discuss NZ Libraries in 2025 (here and here) and presented at a LIANZA Weekend School back in 2011.

What are we currently doing to address these drivers – at the library level, at the sector level, at the whole of profession level?

I believe what is currently being done is being done by individuals working with others who have the same motivations to address these drivers. Great things happen because individuals make them happen. Libraries, sectors and the profession as a whole benefit because of what individuals do (or don’t do). If these individuals choose to stop doing great things or move somewhere else then fewer great things get done. I don’t think we do enough to celebrate and encourage the work of individuals working together to make stuff happen.

Where are the gaps?

We should be doing more to provide support for, and to listen to library staff at the front line. Blue-sky thinking has its place but that is not where the magic happens in libraries. The magic happens when a library staff member is able to connect with someone else and solve their problem or make them feel valued. We should remember this and make sure that front line library staff are supported to ensure whatever big-picture strategy is decided upon, can be successfully implemented.

Who should take responsibility for these gaps?

I’m advocating for a grassroots approach. You. Me. We.

Where to from here?

Who knows. But that’s part of the adventure in librarianship! Will you join me?

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13 Comments

  1. Paul says:

    Who were the three dominating persons at your table?

    1. Sally says:

      I don’t think it is appropriate to publicly identify them. People at the same table know who they were and the seating was allocated, so the organisers are no doubt aware. One (not the facilitator) has already been in touch to say they were excited by the ideas flying around and would have been happy to zip it if they had been told to.

  2. That sux that your group wasn’t open to your input 😦 I was part of the ‘online’ group on and off and everyone was very encouraging and open to the comments in the chat box at least (was a bit hard for me to hear audio as I was on ref desk for part of it).

    1. Sally says:

      Based on your comments and others who have blogged about the day it seems my experience was an anomaly, which is heartening.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It’s not only the young workers who have contributions to make.

    1. Sally says:

      I didn’t read this as being exclusive to young workers.

  4. Magalie says:

    “The magic happens when a library staff member is able to connect with someone else and solve their problem or make them feel valued.” Totally agree!

    1. Sally says:

      🙂

  5. vanzijlp says:

    Great blog post, Sally. I noticed your body language and annoyance, sitting opposite you. The best for me was having quiet time on the plane and in the hotel room, reading relevant preparatory material. I made lots of notes that I will be taking back to our library. For me also, the future of libraries is in the young workers. They should be empowered and allowed to make a contribution to directing direction. If all managers do that, I believe the profession, as always, will meet the challenges. The additional challenge now, is the pace of change, and who is more prepared for that than the Gen Next?

    1. Sally says:

      Hah! I don’t have a great poker face 🙂
      This is spot on. “For me also, the future of libraries is in the young workers. They should be empowered and allowed to make a contribution to directing direction.”

  6. Sally says:

    I’m glad it resonated with you Miyuki!

  7. Miyuki Hosoya-Neale says:

    ‘We should be doing more to provide support for, and to listen to library staff at the front line’
    Thank you Sally! Well expressed on behalf of front line staff!

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