The Many One Things ALIA Conference Canberra 2022

The library world is a host of many moving parts, people, ideas, and "things." It is the subconscious nature of librarians to consider all things; collect everything; share it all, and to be everything for everyone. So, with this in mind, is it possible to narrow down the One action we could all take for the most impact?

That was the task set for participants at "The Many One Things" workshop at ALIA 2022 conference in Canberra, and it was no surprise that they struggled to narrow down an ever-expanding shopping list of global issues and challenges facing the library world.

Featuring a stellar cast of co-facilitators in Trish Hepworth (ALIA), Jane Cowell (Yarra Plenty Regional Library), Dr Kirsten Thorpe (Jumbanna Institute UTS), Prabu Sangar (Civica), and led by Kelly Gibbs (Civica) and Brendan Fitzgerald (641 DI), participants explored a range of questions based on The One Thing library thought leadership series.

Participants were posed a series of questions about library futures, organisational structures, professional development, community engagement, the mental health of librarians, and how libraries can face the uncomfortable question of what libraries can do to respect indigenous culture and sovereignty.

On the big question of where we want libraries to be in 10 years, an amazing list of 46 "things" was created in less than five minutes. Overall, four major themes emerged:

  • Libraries are relevant, recognised, and valued in our communities. 
  • Skilled professionals who are recognised and well paid.
  • Good, reliable funding sources.
  • Unification - seamless digital presence/network across locations and library types.

If this is where we want to be in 10 years, what do we need to do to get there? The question of how we reengage with the community after the pandemic and how this will change was posed in this context.

Participants felt that the way to get to this relevant, well-funded and unified state was to apply focus with three guiding principles.

  • Do not be everything to everyone, 
  • Recognise where we will make a difference; and,
  • Partner well to deliver where there may be gaps.

The need to develop new skills that deliver learning opportunities for the sector also emerged, especially in relation to marketing and positioning for influence.

Participants felt that what we needed to do now was focus on advocacy and the importance of getting our messages heard. This means gathering and organising our evidence and articulating our stories and case studies with clarity of purpose. The value of sharing those that work with colleagues across the industry was also highlighted.

Participants attention turned to how we can reshape our profession and structures to be more empowering, ethical, kind, and flexible. A tricky discussion given the workshop attracted over sixty participants from a range of library sectors, including public, university, state, national, and special libraries, meaning that the lived experience of each organisation can be quite different. There was a desire to see more shared decision-making in organisations. Inclusive leadership was also seen as important and the building into hierarchies of flexible career development opportunities so that broader experiences can be gained.

The issue of how to support the mental health of librarians was met with a large number of practical solutions, perhaps a reflection of how real this issue became during the pandemic but also reflective of what libraries were already doing in this space.

Some of these included quite fundamental actions such as:

  • Equal time for work, personal, and family and take breaks – proper holidays—block out a day 
  • Sleep and rest and exercise away from work. 
  • Recognize its important – having space for that and to say "I'm not ok"
  • Not taking work home with you
  • Being responsible for your own mental health 
  • Doing different things - Binge Netflix/trashy novels, art class, etc 
  • Be kind to yourself and others

The role of leadership was key to having an impact in relation to supporting mental health and these included;

  • Ensuring staff know about and have easy and confidential access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
  • Having spaces and places for staff to take time out, 
  • Ensure staff can take advantage of learning and professional development opportunities. 
  • Ensure staff are doing meaningful work

And to conclude the workshop, we asked some uncomfortable questions about how libraries can respect and engage with indigenous communities more positively. In essence, what are some practical ways that libraries get comfortable with being uncomfortable and how can libraries acknowledge that they operate on stolen Indigenous land?

The answers varied and revolved around four things been: respect, consult, engage and co-design. Some of the answers included:

  • Understanding community demographics and consulting 
  • Acknowledging country, e.g., in front of every library/on screens
  • Pay local indigenous for work, e.g., employ elders to do acknowledgment of country
  • First nations created collection material – codevelop collection development policy
  • Cultural sensitivity training for staff - actively reflects cultural competencies
  • Signage in the language where appropriate and with permission 
  • Reference interviews/community discussion and advice when considering using sensitive material

Mostly the opportunities for impact were seen as involving acknowledgment of country, more respectful collection management; better use of spaces; understanding of cultural sensitivities, and involving the indigenous community in events as community leaders.

The bigger question of how the Australian library community can contribute to national truth-telling efforts uncovered opportunities to promote truth-telling and treaty processes and to use our spaces as places of engagement if appropriate. This is an area that needs a lot more work and collective understanding as to what is possible.

So, can a group of librarians reach to a conclusion as to what is the One Thing they should do for the most impact? The answer is No; however, the process of working up the shopping list of possibilities and then "card sorting" to clarify priorities is a useful one.

If we are to reach that future state. In that case, attention needs to be paid to the many moving parts, ethics, Professional Development, the mental health of our staff, how we support and include others, and how we respect and work with indigenous culture.

Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.