Adventures at the Seventh New Librarians Symposium

Adventures at the Seventh New Librarians Symposium
Four new librarians took flight to Sydney for professional development
25 September 2015

In July, four new-ish librarians from the Library, Joshua Bell, Rachael Eddowes, Roslyn Hirst and Nicolette Suttor, attended the seventh New Librarians Symposium, NLS7. We decided to get together and share what we learned because the speakers were just amazing.

On the day we took off on our “flight path” to NLS7, our early morning flights were delayed by fog. Luckily we only missed the first session, and it was nice to get to know each other a little bit. The National Library is so big, we hadn’t all met each other before we started out.

It was interesting to go to a conference with so many speakers and attendees on Twitter. The hashtag #NLS7 has insights and reflections from a lot of great thinkers. The organiser's account, @ALIAnls7 made some general housekeeping announcements too.

There were so many ideas on offer from the speakers, but when we reflected on what we had learned once we were back in Canberra, some key themes emerged.

User oriented design

At the heart of all libraries, whether they are for lawyers or students or government employees, is the user experience. Libraries are designed to connect people with information, and librarians are passionate experts at improving their services to do this.

Ali Dexter from the City of Sydney Library spoke about Pop-up libraries. These libraries appear for a short time in unexpected places, like Bondi Beach. They can take the form of book wagons, beach libraries, or late night libraries to name a few. They are a talking point for the library and the community, and can help increase traffic within the library. You could learn a lot from reading stories of other libraries who have tried it.

An old truck with the words Canberra Mobile Library written on the side

Wolfgang Sievers (1913–2007), Canberra mobile library  1961, nla.obj-145023958

One of the pop-up libraries that Ali has run used volunteers as staff, and had purpose-built shelves. She used books that had been weeded out of the actual library collection, so that no library books were harmed in the process, and people could take things home with them. She also worked with the noise caused by musicians and speaking authors. For librarians considering their own pop-up library events, Ali suggested inviting local authors to come speak, perhaps, or even a cabaret show.

Ali successfully targeted audiences that do not normally use libraries. She used metrics to measure the success of the pop-up libraries, including increased circulation of library materials.

Jeff Schneider, a web application developer and librarian from Hobart, gave a great talk on User Experience (UX) for library websites. Coming from a technical IT background, Jeff’s talk was a good example of the value of interdisciplinary experience outside the library sphere. He described the aim of UX as “to create a product that people will want to use”. He gave four examples of library users: children, students, older adults and mobile-only users, and presented some of the particular needs and expectations of each.

Children’s natural inclination to browse by colour and theme or characters, rather than text-based searches, mean that a normal library catalogue isn’t great for them, while students and young adults raised with Google will tend to expect a single search bar to identify all relevant material regardless of format. Good website design for older adults may include built-in text size adjustment, and clear navigation and legibility. Jeff also described the use of “responsive” web templates which adapt the display of content according to the device they are viewed on, and the need for a consistent look and feel throughout the site and catalogue.

Comparison of on a desktop computer, smartphone and tablet.

The National Library of Australia's website is optimised and adapts to mobile devices.

Our own Library website is a great example of this principle, with navigation elements fitting effortlessly into several different displays.

Jeff was kind enough to upload a version of his talk on YouTube.

Playfulness in libraries

Several speakers discussed playfulness as vital to the library experience. Ruth Bird, a keynote speaker from Oxford's Bodleian Law Library, mentioned that students in the libraries she has worked in learn better when they enjoy something, not when their curriculum required it.

A refurbishment and redesign of Trinity Grammar’s Arthur Holt Library has a playful attitude with furniture on castors and a designated play area, as well as being open at recess. Stefanie Gaspari, the Director of Library Services at Trinity Grammar School, re-imagined a dark and bookish library, into a place that teachers and students used for exploration.

The Library at the Dock in Melbourne also had playfulness at the core of their learning strategies. Maker spaces, innovative learning, and at the heart of everything, joy as much as utility in their programs.

Docklands library, Melbourne, in the evening

Diana Snape, Library at The Dock, City of Melbourne

Philip Minchin, an Imagination and Learning Advisor and advocate for gaming in libraries, held a workshop on games and their role in libraries. We learned that in our culture, we think play is only for children. Play is the most fundamental learning experience we can have at any age. It’s curiosity and exploration, and play can also teach collaboration. A lot of the outcomes of gaming, are also the goals of library education programs and community outreach.

Philip Minchin standing in front of slideshow

Philip Minchin hosting a workshop at NLS7, Friday 24 July 2015

To experience this, we played Hanabi, a card game where everyone can see your hand of cards but you. You can only tell one other player one thing about their cards at a time. You need to work together to communicate and achieve a common goal. Whether a library has games or not, it’s essential for librarians to remain playful.

Three Library staff playing cards

Playing Hanabi back at the National Library of Australia, September 2015

Lunchtime at a conference can be a bit of a tense time, as delegates jostle for sandwiches and the attention of interesting speakers. The NLS7 solution to this was to break the ice on Saturday with a very special storytime session. Budding librarians were roused with a rendition of Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ and then asked to sit quietly on the carpet. We were then treated to a wonderful story, authored by Katrina MacDonald, a children’s librarian from Adelaide, about what it takes to facilitate an engaging learning experience for children through reading.

Katrina Mac reading from a book

NLS7 storytime with Katrina Mac at lunch, Saturday 25 July 2015

Katrina also led us through the Wiggly Woo.

Professional development

Ruth Bird shared some wisdom with us in her talk looking back at her career at the Bodleian Law Library. End users don't care about the beauty of database mechanics, they just want the output. It’s how they experience information access that matters most to them.

Enquiry and Reserve desks at the Bodleian Law Library

A view of the Enquiry and Reserve Desks, CC BY-NC-ND-2.0, Bodleian Law Library

Another piece of wisdom from Ruth Bird’s fascinating career, was that embracing changing technologies has always been vital to librarianship. It was reassuring to see that technologies in libraries have always been changing, and librarians have been instrumental in this.

Sue McKerracher, the CEO of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), spoke passionately about advocacy and how it matters. It can move us toward big things like copyright reform, and also visibility of our professional values could make a difference to our budget allocations. Advocacy and leadership at individual and organisational levels was echoed by a number of speakers. Cooking for Copyright was on everyone's lips.

Cooking for copyright graphic advertising

Organisations may make space for diverse people, but not diverse ideas. Hiba Kanj from the Parramatta City Library shared with us the idea that some people are seen as rebels simply because they come from a minority group, or are women, and their experience of the world challenges the status quo. Humans conform socially, even when it’s less efficient, so it’s vital for all librarians to communicate and bond with people, and share our radical ideas. Hiba’s message was, don’t worry about being right, and don’t stress about a ‘no’ answer. Think about what your boss is afraid of, and what they need in order to make a decision to change.

Getting out of our comfort zones was a theme that resonated throughout the talks. Sue Hutley from the Queensland University of Technology Library incorporated slides from all kinds of librarians in her keynote presentation, including the wise words of our own Director of Reader Services, Aileen Weir.

Be willing to leave your comfort zone. You won't look back. Slide created by Aileen Weir

Slide courtesy Aileen Weir, National Library of Australia, 2015

One of the main points that kept on popping up in multiple sessions was the idea that library experience fosters skills that are transferrable to other tasks and work environments. As information and knowledge are flooding in the digital era, those who can manage it, are sought after.

This idea also applies to information systems. As digital systems are a core resource in many institutions, being literate with them becomes essential. Knowing how to learn a new system is a skill that will survive any changes in software.

Triple Trajectory was a presentation by Celia Drummond, the archivist of the WorldVision archive, who also worked for the Australian Football League (AFL) in managing the metadata and digital delivery of player photographs in a quick time period.

Interestingly, Celia Drummond  organised a working bee to sort through the Worldvision storage unit. This meant that the project could be taken to the next phase, but also it utilised corporate knowledge of the staff. Thanks to this great approach, photographs could be identified when they usually wouldn’t be.

It was also interesting to see how she used her cataloging skills to add metadata and organise the AFL photographs, and how she had to operate under such a tight deadline. Her knowledge of the subject matter was essential for her to correctly identify and label each image.

Visits to obscure libraries

Parallel to some workshops, were tours to discover the libraries of Sydney’s CBD. And there are many! Nicolette and Rachael ventured out on different tours. Nicolette’s tour visited the NSW Parliamentary Library, Sydney Living Museums Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection and Royal Australasian College of Physicians History of Medicine Library, while Rachael went behind the scenes at the State Library of NSW, the Royal Australian Historical Society and Arup (a library within an engineering firm). It was a chance to see just how diverse libraries can be, both in collecting scope and in their many roles from sharing foreign-language resources with public libraries around the state, to supporting historians, academics and even big business.

Three stained glass windows with a 2, 3, 2 pattern of pictures of the stages of life from infancy to old age

Seven Ages of Man—Shakespeare room, Mitchell wing, State Library of New South Wales FM2/2012

We’ve all still got a long way to go in our careers, because a librarian signs up for a lifetime of learning and growing. But with all the stories we’ve heard about other libraries, and all of the new connections we’ve made, our individual trajectories—the theme of NLS7, funnily enough—are just that little bit clearer.

This blog post was written by Joshua Bell, Rachael Eddowes, Roslyn Hirst and Nicolette Suttor.