In Australian librarianship there's room to breathe


Last month I ran some library marketing workshops in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. I was invited over to do this by PiCS, who were wonderful to work with and really looked after me. I don't normally write 'this is what I did' type blog posts, but working in Australia was one of the most amazing things I've ever done! So it seems silly not to write a little about it.

Australian librarians are ace. Engaged, reflective, getting things done. The marketing workshop relies on people being happy and able to discuss what they're doing and thrash out ideas in small groups, and every one of the delegates did this brilliantly.

I've now run a lot of workshops in my freelance career, so I hopefully have a good feel for the level at which to pitch them. What struck doing these was what a high level Australian info pros are working at. I had to adjust the tone of the training as I went along because everyone already doing a lot of things I was suggesting. To take one example - there's a section on marketing with video, and using nice animation tools to move away from tired talking-head or screen-capture videos. In every single workshop in Australia, participants were already using these tools at their own institutions. In the UK I'm used to maybe one or two institutions in a group of delegates who have used these tools already.

I don't mean this is a slight on UK librarians - I think what it comes down to is that there is room to breathe in the Australian library system. Although they are facing financial cuts there is nothing like the crisis facing libraries in the UK. They aren't being attacked by their own Government the whole time. And when you don't spend all your time fighting for survival, that frees you up to experiment, to prioritise, to innovate. It seems to really make a huge difference. (I also spoke to Australians who put their libraries being ahead of the curve down to the fact that they're an island who traditionally had to find answers by doing, rather than waiting to hear about the rest of the world was up to...)

The other main difference to my eyes - and I was only there for six days so I'm sure there are plenty of nuances I missed - is how integrated the libraries are with the rest of a city's public buildings. For example in Brisbane, a Library is part of the City Council regional business centre. And the the State Library of Queensland, also in Brisbane, sits right in the middle of the cultural quarter on the south bank of the river, within the Queensland Cultural Centre, in between the Museum and the Gallery of Modern Art. It's a destination - not just somewhere a council can save money by slashing services. Have a look at the first few seconds of this video to see its glorious location:

I'm not saying libraries in Australia have it easy. But - surprise suprise - when a library system isn't forced to spend 90% of its time defending its services, those services have more opportunity to develop and become more vital still to the community.

Incidentally, via Twitter I found a new photography app just before I left (thanks Amanda!), which is a neat hybrid between video and still image, allowing you to pan across a larger view. Here's where I had lunch in Brisbane, in a cafe that was part of the Gallery of Modern Art. The library is on the right as you pan across by clicking and holding the image and moving your mouse (or finger if you're on a tablet or phone).

I loved Australia. I've never been anywhere so many of the people were so genuinely nice. I felt completely at ease there. The way the trip worked is I arrived in Melbourne on a Saturday afternoon, had just over a day there to explore and recover from jet-lag, then did a 9 - 5pm workshop on the Monday. As soon as it finished I was off to the airport, and flew to Sydney that night. Then I had a day in Sydney, followed by a full-day workshop and flight to Brisbane. Then a day in Brisbane, a full-day workshop, and a 2:30am flight home via Singapore and Dubai. It was intense. It felt almost surrealy short. But I didn't want to spend any more time away from my family, particularly leaving my wife to cope with both the girls on her own!

So to all intents and purposes, I had a day to explore each of the three cities. Everyone told my Sydney was magnificent, and it was - although it had its worst storm in a decade when I was there, and I've never been so wet. I couldn't NOT go out in it as it was my only day there. But it was bad enough that people were being advised across the State to leave work early and get home to safety! But I really fell in love with Melbourne. What a great city!

   Melbourne has a river running right through it, and when you're on the bank it feels like a great vantage point to be both IN the City and seeing the best of it at the same time.


Melbourne has a river running right through it, and when you're on the bank it feels like a great vantage point to be both IN the City and seeing the best of it at the same time.

Thanks to everyone who came to the workshops and participated so enthusiastically. You made me feel very welcome. I'll be back in a couple of years for another round.

Header pic is a Creative Commons image by Wotjeck Gurak.