Friday 15th AM: Customs House Library – City of Sydney Libraries
The stated purpose of the City of Sydney library at Customs House is “supporting individual and collective learning to build successful communities”. This library acknowledges a diverse community and caters to their diverse needs. This particular branch’s location means they serve both the local population and significant numbers of “drop-ins” who are visitors to Circular Quay.
Our visit was particularly useful to learn about a library that has travelled much further down the eResources path of a public library. They have a large eBook collection of over 9000 titles, offer a wide range of eMagazines (over 150 titles using Zinio with over 4000 loans per month), eNewspapers (3000 titles using PressReader), eDatabases and a new service in eAudiobooks (launched 2 weeks prior to our visit).
The selection of materials for this library is outsourced to PeterPal – a full service including shelf ready physical copies. This service is evaluated every six months.
While this library maintains some traditional roles of storage and organisation of knowledge, it also has new roles – outreach, information literacy, lifelong learning, decision making tools and access to technology. It is also a hub for information dissemination – in-library, online and across locations.
The presentation here also hinted at some of the skill set needed by current and future library professionals. The importance of networking leads to “what social media do you have experience with?” and the establishment of a makerspace introduces the skill set of 3D printers, coding and maker knowledge. This library is reinventing their purpose in order to transform and cater for the needs of their clientele, and staff are being required to adapt to those changing needs. This is reflected in how staff are required to actively engage with library users and take inquiry to the next level of customer service.
This was a great library to finish the four days of the Sydney Study Visit. The group had achieved much more connection to each other and to the spaces we had visited and there was some great sharing of impressions and information to round off a fascinating opportunity.
Please pass on my thanks to Tahnee and the team for a fabulous four days of learning.
Thursday 14th AM: Caroline Simpson Library
The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection is located in the old Mint building in Macquarie Street in the heart of Sydney. The library developed out of the need to support the work of Sydney Living Museums and the management of a range of culturally significant locations in NSW including places like Vaucluse House, Elizabeth Bay House, Meroogal, Rose Seidler House and a number of other important locations. This library is open to the general public and offers services to anyone with an interest in the history of house and garden design and interior furnishing in NSW. This library is a specialist research resource for scholars, heritage and conservation practitioners, museum professionals, designers and tertiary students.
Caroline Simpson Library has some very particular challenges. It is located in an historic building which dictates certain aspects of its architectural design and conservation of links to the past uses of the site. It has a vast array of items beyond a collection of books and it therefore requires staff with curation experience across a wide range of objects. Being shown how these objects are stored and displayed was most informative and stimulates interest in how libraries can be utilised to provide storage and access to much more than just books.
The power of the REAL artefacts was clearly evident in this collection. We were shown the connection between elements of the collection and the provision of historical evidence of the uses of those elements in the daily life of NSW.
Another theme emerged here – the impact of the librarian’s particular skill set and expertise in establishing both the ongoing collection of items and forging new facets of interest in aspects of life that this collection can house. The international reputation of the library is currently enhanced by the Research Librarian’s, Matthew Stephens, interest in the domestic history of music in Australia.
Thursday 14th PM: Art Gallery of NSW
The Edmund and Joanna Capon Research Library at the Art Gallery of NSW has supported the artistic life of NSW since 1874. It is the oldest continuous fine arts library in Australia. It purchases for both education and also to support the work purchased by the Art Gallery. The library was originally a practicing teaching and studio space.
Administratively the library is under the Collections division of the gallery. The gallery’s core function is the collection – conservation supports that function – the library supports conservation.
The library also has ambitions of being the National Art Archive and has been the first to appoint an Indigenous Archivist.
This library has a small team of 5 librarians who do a bit of everything. The librarians do a lot of archiving to support their role as members of gallery staff. The library is an asset of the gallery’s collection and is valued every 3 years.
The collection is still very print based and includes books, journals, exhibition catalogues, a huge ephemera collection and artists’ files dating back to the 19th century. This library also houses a large audio visual collection being transferred to digital formats. There is a huge amount of work to be done to attach metadata to the catalogue and finalise their collection development policy – an evolving document.
“A reference library needs to hold onto things” – so this library has storage challenges just as all the libraries we attended during these visits. However, the library does not provide lending services but does email research solutions.
This library has a very clear message – the librarians here have an obvious interest and passion for the art in the collection and the artists who utilise the services provided here. They combine their own interests and skills sets to support research and also teach the research skills needed.
Wednesday 13th AM: NSW Parliamentary Library
The NSW Parliamentary Library is the oldest parliamentary library in Australia. Their four pillars of ACCURATE – TIMELY – IMPARTIAL – CONFIDENTIAL reflect their niche clientele and challenge of their role. “For every question, an answer you can trust” reflects the very particular purpose of a library within a parliamentary system.
It was interesting to hear about their use of open source library management systems, the establishment of an in-house knowledge management database, the manipulation of the legal repository and the challenges faced regarding copyright with a clientele that has some specific self-promotion requirements.
This library’s focus on provision of the answer to questions rather than directing clients to how to achieve the answer, is the first time I started thinking about the very real difference between those two services. As a teacher librarian in a school I realise my role is a combination of both but with a very distinct leaning towards sharing how to achieve the answer – not just provide it with a sense of transferred authority. To work in the parliamentary library must come with a certain amount of stress when information becomes a commodity upon which significant decision making processes can be based.
This visit also highlighted another theme that was appearing in this group of libraries… the responsibility of being the repository for rare books of significant value to our nation. Digitisation and online access in some ways desensitises the modern learner to the power of holding physical books that have long been a part of our nation’s history.
Wednesday 13th PM: Law Courts of NSW
I must admit that the Library at the Law Courts of NSW was not somewhere that I expected to see high levels of effervescent energy and enthusiasm towards the role of law librarian – a significant underestimation on my part! I came away from here with a very strong sense of “team” and thoroughly impressed by the calibre of the individuals involved in working in this library. High intelligence is obviously the first prerequisite!
This staff of 24 are a mix of professional law librarians, library technicians and assistants, and clerical staff. They are a full service library and manage a “source of truth” in our legal system. They are also an historical library – a repository for judgements and case law for the state supreme and federal courts. The location of the library in the building makes them a bridge between the two jurisdictions.
The discussion about the crucial nature of print based resources to the core work of this library, and their acknowledgment that print will continue to be essential to their work, brought up some interesting points of discussion. There is also a strong need for information technology skills to accompany those print based access requirements as the staff here maintain a large intranet with a high turnover of information and new materials.
They also have a specific teaching role for some levels of court staff. In particular for the Tipstaves who are employed as part of the personal chambers staff of particular judges.
While the library utilises many features of the Dewey Decimal system, they also have site specific organisational solutions to meet their particular storage challenges and access requirements.
This library again hinted at the history behind libraries in our state and the importance of private collectors and bequests which provide ongoing access to information which continues to be used by our legal systems. This library is another bridge between the past of our state and its present but with a very real utilisation of that information in an ongoing way which affects NSW citizens.
The State Library of NSW is a magical and fantastical place with a myriad and diverse collection. I have been here before but the opportunity to listen to the presentation by Megan Perry, Manager Learning Services, and other members of her staff, was one of those rare moments of clarity in my MEd studies. She spoke with such affection and knowledge about the collection and its 130km of resources. Of particular interest was her explanation of how the internet has provided the capacity to change the way the State Library interacts with its audience, and how the research library purpose has been expanded through this outreach.
There are many challenges to this work of “documenting the life of NSW” – being the repository of more artwork than the Art Gallery, a Legal Deposit library and all the responsibility that entails, a reference and research library with historical artefacts and ephemera from before and after white settlement in this land… the pillars of this library – Collect Connect Community – provide a framework for the challenging task of documenting, storing and making available such a vast array of objects.
For a Teacher Librarian, I heard a strong message about using technology to establish a pedagogical foundation and link between knowledge, information and learning. These presentations also highlighted the importance of policy and framework for purpose – accountability of spending public money and aligning the work with corporate branding. The addition of Paula Bray’s presentation on the DX Lab – the cultural heritage innovation lab – reminded us of our role in teaching creativity and innovation. These are strong messages for school libraries.
This first stop on our Study Visits hinted at the opportunity being afforded – exposure to the passion of librarians who love what they do!
Tuesday 12th PM: The University of Sydney
Next stop at Fisher Library, USyd, was similarly passion-filled, but quite a different purpose. The staff here are connected to 11 different sites and have an expansive range of skill sets. Strategic alignment with the academic purpose of the university in a state of constant flux, these librarians utilised design thinking, core elements of psychology, changing pedagogy and an increasing diversity of skills to meet the evolving needs of their clients and achieve tangible value and impact.
Academic libraries are no longer a “monopoly provider” and they sit in a crowded market place of information provision. The focus here included the crafting of future models and organisational development. This library is well positioned to leverage the digital network environment and have cutting edge systems in place to maximise the use of budget.
The planning also encompasses a changing use of space and an expanding range of services offered to clients. The visit to the sleeping pod on the first floor, and the Quarter with its silent space, group spaces, 24/7 access and kitchen facilities – indicated the responsive approach that these libraries are advocating. There is much to reflect on here for school libraries – flexibility of space, responsive to student need, getting out from behind the inquiry desk to actively engage with clients/students.
The presentations provided at Fisher covered a wide range of issues for academic libraries. The strong message of “process improvement methodology” – client focused led by those who deliver the service; the people on the ground analysing the process and becoming the local expert. The use of Patron Driven Acquisition of eBooks – a responsive approach led by client need; purchasing based on data – evidence based acquisition. For a library with such a large client base, many of these policies reflect strong leadership and lean thinking. This visit hinted at the need for libraries to help shape their own future and exemplified the importance of networks to provide opportunities to place libraries in that future.
Theoretically it sounds so simple… organise to be an unpaid volunteer in a suitable library for 10 days. The constraints are that because you’re already working in a school library then your professional placement can’t be in one… an interesting restriction but an opportunity to step into the world of all the other types of libraries other than school.
The other constraint, of course, is that you’re working full-time so time has to be found to give away 10 days for no return and organise the family’s needs around that.
It was all a bit like encouraging Year 10 kids to get their Work Experience organised! Time slips away quickly as soon as the new school year begins, so it’s important to bite the bullet and get organised.
So… finally… I took a few deep breaths and made phone contact with a possible placement and was pleasantly surprised by the openly friendly response. I explained why I was ringing, asked for the Library Manager’s name and contact details and followed up the call with an email direct to the Manager. I was very pleasantly surprised to get a return response within a matter of hours to offer me a placement in the time frame required. Challenge complete so far!