I was lucky enough to attend the Future of Libraries Summit last Friday in Wellington. It was co-hosted by LIANZA and Te Rōpū Whakahau and 160 people attended from all over Aotearoa.
The aim of the day was to build on the work that is occurring in various parts of the library profession by taking a “cross-sectoral approach to the future of libraries, to discuss the challenges for the sector and agree on a collaborative action plan to take the profession forward”
Phew! No pressure!
It seems there was an excellent response to the idea of the summit – library workers are clearly eager to participate in the conversation about where the profession is headed. I know a few people who were disappointed not to be able to attend for one reason or another, so it was great that there was the opportunity to listen in online and also follow the tweet stream at #FoL15. The tweeters were very active and the event trended number one.
The format of the day was a facilitated workshop – after a mihi and inspiring introduction by LIANZA President Kris Wehipeihana, we were grouped at tables where the discussion was based on five questions:
1. What are the key drivers of the profession?
2. What would a flourishing library sector look like in 2025 if we address these key drivers?
3. What are we currently doing to address these drivers – at the library level, at the sector level, at the whole of profession level?
4. Where are the gaps?
5. Who should take responsibility for these gaps?
6. Where to from here?
Some of these questions were re-worded during the day to put a stronger focus on coming up with solutions. There was some concern expressed that many of the ideas generated were repeats of ideas discussed years ago and not moving us forward. We were then passionately urged by Kris to dig deeper and be more bold and courageous in expressing our ideas. I was impressed with the flexibility that occurred to try and make the day more valuable. I think that in some cases the verbal report backs to the whole group did not capture or represent all of the content generated in the discussions, so I am hopeful that the scribes at each table were able to record the ideas more fully. This was certainly the case on our table where I thought the vibe was mostly exciting and creative. We got bogged down a few times into negative territory but our Facilitator Sue Sutherland and other members of our table were good at turning that around.
Some of the key drivers (not all because I can’t remember, wish I had a copy of our notes!) discussed at my table were increasing inequality, neoliberalism, poverty and homelessness, the changing patterns of information access (libraries being bypassed), information overload, digital literacy, theories of learning, lack of diversity in staffing, the need for digital library skills in an organisation (as distinct from ‘corporate’ IT skills), the government’s online strategy, the tertiary education strategy, copyright and the need for open access, barriers to collaboration and innovative practice.
In response to this some of the things we talked about (again from memory!) were the innovations occurring in libraries such as Tauranga City Libraries partnering with the business sector including Venture Tauranga, Auckland Libraries’ makerspaces, community engagement happening at South Taranaki District Libraries, Kōtui, the shared library management and discovery service operating in most NZ public libraries. I also mentioned the integration of student support and library services in my place of work, Ako Ātea, at the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic. Here students can be connected with other services such as health and counselling, and programmes runs such as a weekly Breakfast Club to help improve the lives of students. All of these achievements were driven by a few people who had a clear vision and an understanding of the ‘why’ in what they wanted. The ‘why’ comes before the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ in any successful collaboration.
We also talked about the importance of the library as a neutral place, but more importantly about the role of a librarian as a trusted guide, a connector to information and resources, including to other people. We will have more people from other vocations working in our libraries to provide the expertise needed, such as IT, teaching, social work. Our librarians will know how to provide services for all types of learners, and design thinking will become an important skill. In the future (this really should be now or tomorrow!) we will all be able to articulate the value of our libraries, and this value will be recognised by our community and our funders.
We talked a lot about how to overcome barriers to collaboration and innovative practice such as taking action, ‘just doing it’, ‘asking for forgiveness not permission’ and it only takes 15-20% of a community to inspire a revolution. It was awesome to have Rab Heath from OMGTech on our table to spark some of these ideas. We discussed the concept of people who engage with libraries as ‘members’ (of the library community) rather than the uncomfortable terms customers or patrons. Rab told us that as a child using libraries he saw himself as a member of a tribe. In the future all tamariki will have a library card and be part of the ‘tribe’. There will be seamless access across the library sectors, one library card for all. We discussed the value of having a policy at high level to provide direction, but in the mean time we should just ‘do it’.
This was just a snippet of the discussions at our table, and it was interesting to hear the report backs from other tables, where I loved the concept of the ‘libraries without boundaries’ and a national approach to licencing. There is so much that is common to libraries in all sectors, if we develop a shared infrastructure, then we can focus our energy in co-designing the distinctive services that our varying communities need. There was a whole ‘nother conversation over on Twitter. Some valid comments were made here about the predominance of a Pākehā World View in the discussion, that male views seemed to be proportionally over-represented, and that a few people dominated the discussion at their table. It is disappointing this occurred and I celebrate the people who provided this feedback. I hope we (including me) can all listen and learn from this. I am aware this blog post represents yet another Pākehā perspective.
I look forward to the whole thing being collated and what comes next. I am keen to be further involved.
I am grateful to the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Regional Committee of LIANZA for sponsoring my attendance that the summit, and the crew at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic for letting me go for the day.
I also thank LIANZA and Te Rōpū Whakahau for providing the opportunity for this level of engagement in the things that really matter. Thanks also to Table 15: Penny, Janet, Maria, Sue, Rab, Peter, Lynda, Richard, and Jay. I enjoyed spending the day with you.
The future of libraries in Aotearoa belongs to, and will be driven by our community; it is an open and enhanced future that enacts Te Ao Māori, where librarians will continue, as they have always done, to improve the lives of people by facilitating knowledge creation.
Ngā mihi maioha