Sunday 27 April 2014

Should library and information professionals be researchers?

Short answer: yes.

Slightly longer answer: yes, because research will help us learn more to do our jobs better, and improve our services, by basing decisions on evidence. I work in an academic library, and am constantly advising and assisting students to back up their ideas with evidence - so I feel like I should put my money where my mouth is. And as a bonus, conducting research gives me a very useful insight into the needs of the researchers I support as part of my 'day job'.

Doing research also helps demonstrate our value as a profession to the wider community, as Jonathan Eldredge explains in his article about revitalising the profession through Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (EBLIP):

"The EBLIP process enables library and information practitioners to enhance their professional status by displaying a value in serving users and larger society, expertise in the subjects related to decisions made, and critical appraisal of the best evidence available for making these transparent decisions. EBLIP thereby offers our profession an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate our expertise and value to society." (Eldredge 2014)

Why is it so hard?

Short answer: time.

Slightly longer answer: finding the time is a key problem according to Jane Secker. Research is often not seen (or supported) as a 'core' part of our jobs, so it can become just 'one more thing' for busy library and information professionals to do.

How can I get started?

Short answer: if you're in Sydney, go to the ALIA LARK group meetup this Thursday 1 May, to kickstart your library research project.
Slightly longer answer: Jane Secker and Emma Coonan have provided some tips for doing research and fitting it in with the 'day job', as outlined on Emma's blog:

  1. Find your thinking space (hint: this may involve coffee/fresh air). Where’s yours?
  2. Modify your attitude to time – your research may well become your hobby! When’s your best thinking time?
  3. Build a partnership: working with someone else is highly motivating, boosts your confidence, and means you can divide up the work. Who could you buddy up with?
  4. Look out for funding opportunities: keep an eye on networks, JISCmail lists, and other resources and contacts. Where might you start looking?
  5. Find your niche. What do you do that no-one else is doing? What do you love about your research field?
  6. Develop your online identity, for greater recognition and to take part in a wider conversation. What platform(s) will you use to do this?
  7. Present your ideas early: share and develop your existing resources, slides or ideas. You can present your work through so many different channels: blogs, Twitter, Slideshare, Mendeley, JORUM … What platform(s) will you use to do this?
  8. Think about whether you want ‘academic’ publication in addition to the channels you’re already using to publish your ideas (see point 7). If you do: listen to your students’ questions and conversations about how to present their work and where to publish. Learning from them not only helps us offer better support, it will also make us better researchers.
So, what are you waiting for?

Now is a particularly good time for Australian-based LIS people to get started on those research ideas we've been thinking about, with ALIA Information Online's call for proposals now open. What better opportunity to answer a question about our practice and share it with others in the profession?

What do you think about librarians also being researchers? Please share your comments below.

-Amy Croft

ALIA Sydney Co-Convenor

Friday 18 April 2014

Meet up at Dimitris!

Hello everyone!

ALIA Sydney is planning a meet up at Dimitris on Tuesday 6 May. (324 Crown Street, Surry Hills). It would be great if you could come. The event will kick off around 6:00pm.

Our meet ups are a great way to spent an evening meeting information professional folks - plus there's going to be great pizza and great alcohol! (There might even be some library themed desserts! yum!)

Spaces are limited - so please RSVP to If you have any dietary restrictions don't forget to include them too.

We hope to see you there!

-Caitlin Williams
Social Media Officer, ALIA Sydney

Tech Snapshot - Wrap up

On Tuesday the 8th of April, ALIA Sydney held its Tech snapshot event. It was a fabulous evening all round, there was great food, drinks and even better company!

Insight into the world of technology is somewhat daunting but Alan Chan, IT specialist from FireEye made it interesting and applicable.
He gave us insight into the real world threats facing those on a global scale and everyday people, like us. Here are some practical yet simple ways to prevent that sinking feeling when you realise that you have just be duped:
  • Have software security installed on your PC.
  • Update software and applications
    • Windows are constantly being targeted because they hold the largest market share - you can schedule updates to run automatically.
  • Use a strong password 
    • Google common passwords - do not use those;
    • Furthermore do not have a strong password then write it down on a post-it note and stick it under your keyboard, its like using those fake rocks with a hidden key for your front door - not very secure!
  • Back-up data
    • There are many ways to do this now, particularly for Libraries where a lot of sensitive information is held, we need to assess risk and the value of the information to determine how much needs to be invested whether it is to use external hard drives or the cloud, a back-up should always be done.
  • Stranger danger applies in the virtual world too;
    • be careful of emails from strangers or emails with strange subject lines
    • many phishing emails look legitimate but banks and other similar organisations will not ask you to send usernames, passwords or account details via email.
  • Do not announce travel plans on social media!
Our very own Vesna Cosic took us through her process of going from 'Card Catalogue to IT'. She is bravely pursuing further studies in Information Technology after realising that technology is not going anywhere and the only way to handle it is to embrace it.

Last but certainly not least Marilyn Taylor has and is moving 'Leichhardt Digital Direction'. They have established 2 parallel collections (digital and non-digital) and take a forward approach with E-book vendors. Marilyn advises talking directly with vendors to see if e-books can be bought, rather than just taking a contract.

Thank you to all that attended! We here at ALIA Sydney hope you had a good evening.

The Living Library

“Everyone has at least one good book in them” so the saying goes. What if books were actually people, sitting right in front of you, telling you their story after you browsed through a list of titles and picked the one that was the most interesting to you? What if, instead of you the reader, constructing the story in your head, you became an active listener, a witness to human experiences and growing empathy, and an asker of questions?

Human Library started out in 2000 in Denmark (as a visitor activity at the annual Roskilde music festival) to challenge attitudes about violence against young people and conflict arising from racism, prejudice and stereotypes. In this library, the books were real human beings with their own personal stories and experiences to share, and could be ‘borrowed’ by curious readers who may have otherwise never had a dialogue with people from diverse backgrounds in their own community.

Fast forward over a decade later, and the Human Library now has gone global with an aim to “create more social cohesion and respect for diversity and human rights” by supporting people to organise and create their own Living Libraries around the world. Popular and universal titles include stories told by refugees and immigrants, people with unusual occupations, people of different religions, what it’s like living with a serious medical condition.
I took part in a Living Library activity in London a few years ago, when the academic library I worked for had its annual staff development day. I was terribly shy and utterly stumped,  besides, I was far more interested in borrowing the human books! It is an odd thing, to objectively pull back and look at yourself, the sum of your life and experiences, and try to pick an angle, a plot, a single thread, that others might find interesting enough to listen to for the fifteen minutes or so that they borrow you for.

In the end, I think the title of my ‘book’ was something about a “Greek Kangaroo”, and my blurb focused on what it was like growing up with two very different cultures, feeling like you belong to both and neither at the same time, then taking that all of that and moving to the other side of the world, to add another layer of confusion and self-identity to the mix. Fun stuff. Talk about ‘judging a book by its cover’.

In NSW, I found a handful of out-of-date websites from several years ago, and some one-off mentions (including this mini-mentorship library at a past Emerging Writers’ Festival). Only one regularly organised occurrence of a Living Library seems to be happening; at Lismore library, on the first Friday of every month. Where are all our living libraries? 

I’m curious, has your local library ever put on a Living Library event? Would you consider it for your own library? Do you have your own experience of borrowing or even being a book?  What stories would you be interested in hearing?

Australia is overflowing with stories from the fascinating and diverse people that live here. It’s a great opportunity for people to sit down and actually meet someone who they may have only heard about as an abstract idea or label, or on the news, or a statistic. One story can change the way you see everything.

-Maria Savvidis @m_savvidis
Social Media Officer, ALIA Sydney

Read on, humans:

The Living Library Organiser’s Guide (PDF)

Thursday 10 April 2014

Trans youth and the public library

Before I begin this post, I will start with a disclaimer: I am a cis person writing about trans people. I am not attempting to speak for trans people or their experiences, nor could I begin to understand the experiences they face. My purpose for writing this, as an ally, is to highlight ways in which libraries and staff can create spaces and collections that benefit trans individuals and groups.
You may be asking yourself, “So what is trans? And what does cis mean?” Trans is a broad term for anyone who defines themselves as other than the gender they were assigned at birth. Cis means someone who is not trans.

Trans youth in Australia are a marginalised minority. They face higher rates of abuse (physical and verbal) committed against them in public and in private. Trans youth may find themselves ostracised from their social groups. The rates of suicide and failed attempts are also much higher than those found in LGB youth.These alarming statistics, along with the support needs of trans people, do not often get the attention they deserve in mainstream media or LGBT groups, an issue known as trans invisibility. Invisibility also affects the way mainstream media have reported crimes committed against transpeople, especially transwomen, and activism around the world. For an example of this, see this article.

In my preliminary research for this post, I found an excellent introductory essay on trans people and public libraries from the University of Iowa. I highly recommend reading this essay as a starting point for understanding some issues related to providing library services to the trans community.

ALIA endorses the IFLA Code of Ethics which states that “librarians and other information workers ensure that the right of accessing information is not denied and that equitable services are provided for everyone whatever their... gender identity... or sexual orientation. ... Librarians and other information workers organize and present content in a way that allows an autonomous user to find the information s/he needs. Librarians and other information workers help and support users in their information searching.”

As library professionals, it is vitally important that we work towards promoting and presenting information to trans youth in our communities as well as provide safe spaces for groups and individuals. Trans youth currently may face several barriers to using public library spaces and information. Concerns about privacy when borrowing or getting an extension on loans, difficulty using controlled vocabulary of catalogues, fears library staff may be hostile towards a trans client and a lack of materials on relevant subjects and easily accessible formats could all combine to greatly diminish a trans person’s interest in using the library to access information. It’s easy to see how these barriers can result in there being major gaps in a library’s collection on information essential to trans youth, and how trans clients would continue to be invisible to the library.

It is possible for libraries to address this issue through the development of relevant collections, and opening the library space up to trans youth groups. Some trans youth may have access to support online, but not in the physical world. Creating face-to-face contact among trans youth is vitally important to help eliminate feelings of isolation within their communities and create support networks. One possible way to  achieve this is through book clubs for trans youth with relevant author talks if possible. By working in collaboration with existing trans groups and organisations, libraries can develop collections providing up to date information on mental and physical health, legal issues, biographies and fiction in accessible formats.

By organising information literacy style programs for local trans youth groups and focusing on the ways the library may be interacted with remotely; through online borrowing, renewals, “ask a librarian” online reference services, booklists, databases and ebooks, this could help to instil a confidence in trans youth that the local library is invested in creating a welcoming and inclusive service. 

Self-education and staff training on trans issues is another initiative libraries could take to ensure that the youth are better served by all members of staff.  Another key way to ensure trans youth are better served by their public library is through promoting special libraries and archives to trans youth that can offer specialised services and histories of trans people in Australia.

Developing collections and spaces to be used by trans youth is a highly important activity public libraries can take to ensure all information needs of members in their communities are met. Barriers restricting access to the library must be dismantled – staff training is a vital part of this process. 

-Caitlin Williams,
Social Media Officer, ALIA Sydney

Further reading:

Growing Up Queer: Issues Facing Young Australians Who Are Gender Variant and Sexuality Diverse

Position paper - young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex

Examples of resource collections for trans people:

Saturday 5 April 2014

Libraries of Western Sydney: Holroyd City Library Services

The purpose of this post is to promote just some of the excellent services and initiatives the Librarians of the Holroyd City library services have undertaken. I feel that Western Sydney Librarians are overlooked when discussing the industry in Sydney, so this post attempts to address this issue. 

Holroyd is located in the Western suburbs of Sydney and is home to over 100,000 individuals. There are three library branches located in the suburbs of Merrylands, Wentworthville and Greystanes. This post examines some of the excellent services offered at  the Merrylands and Wentworthville branch libraries.

Merrylands Central Library
The Library building was constructed in 1999 and makes use of natural light through glass walls along its North and South sides. Reading nooks on the south side give a comfortable space for clients to read. I really enjoy the use of natural light in this building. On sunny days it feels very invigorating, but on rainy days there is more of a serene feeling when reading or browsing. I like that the weather and light gives a different mood to the kind of activities that one can do within the library space. The large staircase leads up to the nonfiction, local history and the main computer space. There are also individual study desks for laptop users.

The exterior 

One of several window seating areas, South facing. 
The North facing windows have tables and comfortable chairs.

The stair case, leading to the 1st floor. There is also a lift.

LOTE Collections and services
Merrylands is a culturally diverse suburb, with five main cultural groups represented in the libraries LOTE (Languages Other Than English) collections. I spoke with Charina Kofod the Client Services Librarian about this collection. Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Persian and Tamil are strongly represented at the Merrylands collection. There is also a collection of Gujarati and Vietnamese material, with most of the Gujarati collection at the Wentworthville branch.  Along with the LOTE collections, there are also several IELTS (International English Language Testing System) kits available for loan. These kits help English students develop their skills in preparation for tests. 

During consultation with Arabic speaking community members, it was found that DVDs and Magazines were the most popular format for adults who maintain busy social lives. Books on specialised topics such as medicine and the culinary arts were quite popular. Community language newspapers are also collected by the library, and are especially popular. Merrylands provides for a wide variety of languages, and makes good use of the SLNSW’s multicultural collection service when community members request items in languages not generally held by the library, such as Russian or French.

Magazines are a very popular choice

Several events in community languages have been organised such as Computer classes in Turkish and Persian New year celebrations.  A Chinese language book club is run through Merrylands and is hugely popular.  For children, there are bilingual story times which run regularly throughout the year.  A passage from the day’s book is read in English, and then in the community language that is being presented. These story times see many more children and their parents taking part. Eresources such as IELTS databases and modules have also seen extensive usage in the library.

Local Studies
Merrylands library contains a sizeable local studies room, named after the late local photographer Tony Matson who donated a large part of his work to the library before he passed away. The Local Studies librarians- Jane Elias and Steven Coppins have recently published a history on the Holroyd area, drawing on their extensive collection of photographs and other archival material. Work on the book coincided with the Council’s 140th anniversary in 2012 and was complete by 2013. The last work on Holroyd was published in 1991. Jane told me that she and Steve were keen to address Holroyd’s modern history, and conducted interviews with the community members and local businesses.

Writing the book also gave Jane and Steve the opportunity to strengthen the libraries’ relationship with local Churches and Schools- whose own publications were used during the research phase of the book. SLNSW was also an invaluable source for research. All of this original research and writing was done on top of Jane and Steve’s normal work load, an excellent achievement! 
The Local Studies librarians, in collaboration with many other libraries across Sydney, have recently finished a project digitising a newspaper known as “The Cumberland Argus and Fruit Growers Advocate”.  Based in Parramatta, this paper had a very wide distribution during its publication from 1887 to 1962, reaching all the way up to Hornsby in the North and down to Campbelltown in the South. You can find The Argus on Trove, along with a list of contributors.

Jane the Local History Librarian with the book on the Holroyd area. 

To commemorate the centenary of World War One, the Local Studies librarians have several displays and projects planned for their community, and to show the part Holroyd played on the home front.

The suburb of Wentworthville has a smaller library than Merrylands, but has an excellent toy library collection. I talked to Lisa Phillips; the librarian who works with this collection, Monica Zapatarojas also works with this collection but was not available at the time. There are not many library services in Sydney that offer toys to their clients, and Wentworthville’s collection is very large, with around 3,000 toys and over 2,000 borrowers. 
The toy library is a hugely popular service offered at the library, with about two thirds of the collection on loan at any given time. Wentworthville has a lot of high density living units- so having access to the toy library allows kids to play and learn, and for parents to not sacrifice too much space permanently with large toys. Toys for babies to pre teens are collected, with the emphasis on babies to children about eight years old. The collection was originally focused on educational toys, but has now expanded to include toys for play. There’s also a couple of packs designed for parties! Lisa tells me that all toys at the library provide motor development and assist in developing problem solving skills.

 Some examples of the toys children may borrow.

Children who have special needs are allowed to borrow more toys than a regular toy library borrower. Lisa told me that she and Monica have been working with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance to begin including Switch Toys into the Toy Library and then promote the collection. A Switch Toy is a modified toy that allows a child to push a button or switch to activate a battery operated toy. This modification gives children with a disability the chance to learn and play. When these toys are introduced, they will only be available to children with special needs. These resources are so vital to children with disabilities and I’d love to see more libraries offering similar resources for their community. 

 Toy bags are colour coded to match the age level or sort of toy in the bag.

 These beautiful murals decorate the walls of the Toy Library section

The services, resources and events offered by the Librarians at the Holroyd city libraries are excellent and an integral part of their communities. Thank you very much to all who agreed to give up their time for interviews to discuss their valuable work. 

-Caitlin Williams

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Tech Snapshot - ALIA Sydney Event - Tuesday 8th April

What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats around technology right now for individual librarians, for libraries, and for the world?  Join ALIA Sydney for an evening where we look at technology right now, and spend some creating our own network, with each other.

Presentations for the evening include:-

IT security firm FireEye about technology threats worldwide.

Librarian (and ALIA Sydney Treasurer) Vesna Cosic will speak about her experiences studying for a degree in IT, and the benefits and opportunities it has brought to her career.

Librarian Marilyn Taylor speaks about the strengths and weaknesses of e-books for libraries.

Then we invite you to enjoy some networking opportunities for the hard working information professionals of Sydney.

Hope you can join us.

Tuesday 8th April
5.30 for 6.00pm start
CQUniversity, Level 6, 400 Kent Street, Sydney
Cost: $7 for ALIA members, $10 for non-members

Please RSVP to by 12 noon on 8th April for catering purposes.

-Lauren Castan