Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Wrap up: State Library of NSW tour

June sure was a busy month for ALIA Sydney.

Along with our #blogjune challenge, we had our wonderful Events Coordinator Gabby organise a special behind the scenes tour at the State Library of NSW on June 21.

Our brilliant tour guide Wendy Holz (a family history librarian with SLNSW ), was able to show our group around to some areas of the Library that most do not have the privilege of seeing, namely the stacks underneath the Reference Library. The smell of old books and paper is really strong down there! An interesting fact that Wendy mentioned is that at the sub level that we were standing on, only 2 metres of concrete separates us from train lines.

Wendy showed us a selection of beautifully preserved maps showing the history of cartography in Australia and sub division plans that were produced in the early 20th century.

Our group also had the opportunity to view some of the exhibitions that were showing at the time, such as the World Press Photo 2014 gallery.

After wandering through the exhibition area, Wendy took us over to the Mitchell Library, where she explained the history of that wing. We observed some librarians and clients who were examining items from the special collections.

Afterwards, our group was given the opportunity to examine in up close old maps, photographs and diaries. It was a wonderful experience to look through these treasures.

A very big thank you to Wendy Holz for her lovely tour, and to Gabby for organising this event. Watch this space for future events from ALIA Sydney, we hope to see you soon!

-Caitlin Williams

Monday, 30 June 2014

Blog Every Day in June Day 30 : Glorias Assimwe, Ugandan Librarian

Today's guest contributor rounds up a terrific month of #blogjune by taking us through her fascinating professional journey as a librarian in Uganda. Thanks for sharing your story with us Glorias! -Maria Savvidis

My name is Glorias Asiimwe - a 29 year old Librarian from Uganda. I recently moved to a new role working as a Health Librarian at a newly established medical School in rural Eastern Uganda and have just submitted my Chartership Portfolio to the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) in the UK. 

My journey into the library profession had not been by accident. I had realised that in Uganda our reading culture was low and wanted to inspire a change. Starting out in 2008 fresh from University with no practical skills, I decided to volunteer with a UK charity operating in Ugandan Prisons.

I worked up the professional ladder taking on different roles in the organisation to being a solo prison librarian in East Africa. Despite the excitement the full-time job could offer, I did face a number of challenges having to work in an isolated environment. I had assumed several responsibilities including developing the first ever built prison library in Uganda, initiating book clubs and literacy activities and training Prisoners and Wardens as Library Assistants amongst others – but no prison librarians in my region to benchmark from.

I felt overwhelmed in this role until I received an amazing opportunity to travel for the first time outside my country on a five-week professional study to the UK - which equipped me with hands-on skills and widened my professional network. This prepared me to embrace high positions of responsibility in my career including, overseeing eleven prison libraries, outsourcing for book donations since the organisation had a limited, at times non-existent budget for collection development to managing library grants.

In 2011, I was awarded an IFLA funded grant to attend the 77th IFLA World Library & Information Congress in Puerto Rico. What a life-changing opportunity having to present a paper I had co-authored at this conference! Joining other delegates on a school libraries tour during the IFLA conference, I was able to learn new ideas that I applied in setting up one of the biggest primary school libraries in Uganda serving a population of 1800 children from the prison and neigbouring communities.

Currently I serve voluntary as the Executive Secretary for the Association for Health Information and Libraries in Africa - Uganda Chapter, which I joined in 2010 having tested the ups and downs of working in isolation. Being affiliated to this professional network has provided professional solidarity and opened doors to more rewarding and excellent opportunities in my career – one of which is my new role as a Health Librarian.
My professional journey hasn’t been all rosy as I have had and still face challenges such as poor internet accessibility. However, this has been an incredible dream-come-true given the limited opportunities available to young LIS professionals in developing countries like Uganda face. 

The sky is the limit!!!

-Glorias Assimwe

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Blog Every Day in June Day 29 : Ruin Porn and the Magic of Libraries

As a distance education student and a world class procrastinator, I find myself with plenty of opportunities to look for interesting stuff on the internet...usually when I have an assignment due but if the things are library related then it can be classed as studying...can't it?

Detroit Library. Photo by: Brandon P Davis
This isn't a post about procrastination (there are plenty of other articles out there about how not to procrastinate), I have resigned myself to the fact that it is how I work and I always get things done (in my own special way) in the end and if I didn't procrastinate, I wouldn't have discovered these amazing abandoned libraries that Elyssa Kroski posted about back in March this year. 

I love a good collection of beautiful library images and I am also a sucker for the fascinating images of abandoned buildings but this was the first time I have seen a collection of images that combined both of these, and the feeling these images give me are hard to describe.

Joann Greco (2012) does a great job of explaining the sensation in her article, “The Psychology of Ruin Porn” (yes, it has a name!):
“It's romantic, it's nostalgic, it's wistful, it's provocative. It's about time, nature, mortality, disinvestment.” 
but when the abandoned building is also a library these feelings are deeper, imbued with a sense of loss and ennui. I started thinking about why I feel differently about abandoned libraries and I have decided that it is what libraries stand for and what it means if they are lost that makes the difference for me.

Book Sculpture. Photo by: Brandon P Davis
It is the idea that a place designed to collect the world's knowledge, expand our horizons and act as a gathering place for a community could be left so empty and still and desolate. It is the lack of warmth that I associate with libraries which makes me feel sad, and the sight of all of those books, scattered, discarded and left to rot is beautiful but tragic. My love of books was definitely one of the reasons I decided to become a librarian and although I read from many formats and I understand and accept that it is not the container that matters but what is contained, books will always hold a special kind of magic for me. It is almost like they are asleep...waiting, like Sleeping Beauty, for someone to come back and break the spell but instead of a kiss, all you would need to do was choose a book and open it...

Detroit Library. Photo by: Brandon P Davis
In the end I am torn by images of abandoned libraries because I love the “ruin porn” but I am sad that no one thought these were special enough to save. What does it say about the communities they were part of if these can be discarded like this? 

My wish for these libraries is that there are people sneaking in at night, not just to take pleasure in the beauty of the building and stealing images away but stealing books away bit by bit. Yes, many of them might be beyond repair or just plain awful but there are other ways to enjoy books and my procrastination loves a good session of looking at book sculptures...but that is another blog entirely!

-Skadi Nova is a CSU student and lover of ruined buildings

You can see more of Brandon's work here and here

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Blog Every Day in June Day 28 : Ask a Librarian at the NLA

Today's post originally appeared on the National Library of Australia's blog and profiles their wonderful online Ask a Librarian service. Thanks to the NLA for letting us reproduce it here with permission as part of #blogjune .

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a girl detective. Always ready to detect clues, ask questions and follow hunches, I longed for mysteries to solve. The schoolgirl sleuth is often pictured in the act of enquiry - shining her flashlight into the darkness, brow furrowed, reflecting on the clues until the pieces fit together. I never unearthed any school holiday mysteries, but the thrill of the information hunt never left me. An inquiring mind helps me in my work every day.

Reader, I grew up to be a reference librarian at the National Library’s Ask a Librarian service. I’m a member of a crack team that unites information with the people who need it. When you send us a question, we won't just tell you the answer, we'll show you how to find it. Tell a person a fact, and they'll just have one fact. Help a person to research, and they'll be able to learn forever.

Our free Ask a Librarian service answers hundreds of questions each month from anyone who wants information about Australian topics or the Library’s vast collection. We can spend up to one hour researching the answer, but our well honed problem-solving skills and librarian radar lead us to relevant resources pretty quickly. I've included examples (with clues!) of the kind of questions that people send to us in the pictures below.

There are lots of ways you can contact us. We're always on duty in the Library's reading rooms - come and have a chat about your research. Or if you have a quick question,phone us, Tweet it or post it on our Facebook page. The great thing about answering research questions via social media is that it can help other people who have a similar question.
If you have a vexing research mystery, fill in our online enquiry form. You can use the form to provide background information about where you've already searched, and exactly what you need to find out. I’ll search high and low for you, but the more information you can provide, the more focused my search will be.

And now our Ask a Librarian services have come to Wikipedia. If you're a Wikipedia editor who wants to improve any of 126 000 Australian-related articles by tracking down a reference, you can find a link to our Ask a Librarian service, and the equivalent service of other State libraries, on the Talk page of those articles.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Blog Every day in June Day 27: Amanda Witt on School Libraries

Today's post comes from Amanda Witt, on the importance of School Library Professionals. Thanks Amanda! -Caitlin Williams

I have been a library technician for 10 years and am currently studying towards my librarianship degree via distance, from Charles Sturt University, based in Wagga Wagga, NSW, expecting to graduate in another three years.

After a few short term and voluntary positions in school libraries, I secured a full time job where I was the only library staffer, or OPAL, as ALIA calls it (One Person Australian Library). 
I finally thought I’d landed on my feet but unfortunately the school had had financial problems for years, and at the end of 2010, three years after starting there, I received a redundancy as my position was seen as not important, and the class teachers could do my job. 

The following January I received a phone call from the I.T. technician – ‘what is the password for the library program? Why can’t we access it anymore?”. Until that moment, the principal had no idea that I was the one who arranged the annual subscription for the library software program. So the class teachers could still do my job? Would they contact the helpline when a problem arose?

I am concerned that (especially primary schools) libraries are not even interested in hiring a qualified library professional. Most of this is money and budget concerns. During the ‘building revolution’ of the Rudd Government between 2007-10, new libraries were being planned or included in the buildings, yet the staffing issue did not increase, nor money allocated to pay them.

Some primary school principals have expressed concern that I could ‘get bored’ – by being highly qualified, yet only doing the basics in their library, 2-3 days a week. This shows that they consider the library a not very important place in the school.

To think that everything can be found on Google is a mistake in one sense – during the Bachelor course, we undertake subjects that assist us to further understand how to find information in different forms, and how to catalogue an item to within an inch of its life, to provide the maximum detail so it can be found ten different ways in a catalogue search. Schools, students and teachers need proper library staff, just as every other subject needs its specialist teachers. Why are we seen as dispensable the moment the budget is in trouble? I am still unemployed because of this issue.

Secondary schools and tertiary institutes are discovering some of their new students unable to navigate their way through the library, because they have not had the help and practice in the past.

We not only teach and show students how to locate information, both in physical and electronic form, we also point out the best/more reliable and not so good resources/websites to use. We have learnt this through our study, in the various subjects with feedback from each assignment.

Other subject teachers get employed and their skills used – give us library tech’s/librarians the same chance and respect.

-Amanda Witt

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Blog Every Day in June Day 26 : The Unmeash Three Unconference

Saturday 5th July will see the ALIA Library Professionals Unmeash Three Unconference at the UNSW Library. 

This will be the second year that the Unmeash Unconference has been at UNSW Library which offers an amazing Library location with lots of spaces for breakout sessions and a wonderful lunch location at the Whitehouse on campus.

Unmeash Three is hosted by three ALIA groups: ALIA NSW Library Technicians, ALIA Sydney and ALIA NSW New Grads. This is the sixth unconference that I have organised; the first four were run on behalf of ALIA NSW LT Group at the Australian Catholic University, North Sydney. In 2012 I was joined by Connie Ross and we coined the name Unmeash as a portmanteau of unleashing of ideas, the unconference, and the mesh idea of a network and the meshing of ideas and mashing of applications.

Unconferences are a fantastic opportunity to network and collaboratively learn from each other. They are empowering as everyone is encouraged to provide input and as they are participant-driven it’s those who attend who set the agenda for the day and choose the topics we discuss. It’s a gift economy where everyone gives. The other thing I reckon is that because we are all Library people, we are all speaking the same ‘language’ and although we all come from different Libraries and different roles we understand the work environment we all come from.

Unconferences are extraordinarily democratic – and a bit chaotic! But in a good way! Everyone is asked to submit their topics they’d like to discuss and contribute to and then on the day we choose the top topics to be discussed and then we break out into four breakout sessions to discuss and contribute to the discussions on those topics. People can choose to go to which ever topic they are passionate about (or interested in) and then we return for a coffee or tea and a bite to eat. Then off on another breakout session before lunch.

Because we get people coming from school Libraries, university Libraries, TAFE Libraries, public Libraries and from every level across the profession we get a kaleidoscope of views and insights into common problems and areas of interest.

On a rough count, over the year’s we have had something like over 150 participants who have been to at least one unconference – many have been more than once and at least 15 or so people have been to every one of the unconferences I’ve organised! Everyone enjoys the day and are empowered and energised by the experience. Here are two quotes from last year’s unconference: “I feel reenergised after attending – a similar feeling to attending big conferences, but for a fraction of the price” and “it reignites your original reasons for getting into the industry leaving you motivated and positive” 

So, don’t miss this year’s Unmeash Three! Register today at 

- Rob Thomson

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Blog Every Day in June Day 25 : Detaining (digital) immigrants: Rethinking digital literacy learning

Elliott Bledsoe is the Digital Producer at Regional Arts Australia. As today's guest contributor he is discussing the barriers and attitudes towards digital literacy, as well as a great new initiative called 'Digital Drop-In' co-hosted by RAA in 2014.
You can follow him on twitter @elliottbledsoe

Recently I was having a conversation with a 77 year old woman about digital technology. She was almost aggressively resistant to ‘those technologies’, asserting that she knew ‘nothing about them’ and ‘wasn’t interested in them’. After a carefully managed exchange, I threw a question to her that changed the direction of our conversation: Do you have a digital television? Of course she did, broadcasting in Australia is now digital only. I followed up by asking if she could find the shows she wanted to watch when she wanted to watch them. When she said, ‘Yes’, I informed her that she had digital literacy skills, because she can navigate to broadcast content using the menu of her digital television. Even the most technology resistant person has some digital literacy.

This kind of scenario is illustrative of one of my concerns with digital literacy learning opportunities. Many of the opportunities currently available require prior digital knowledge before attending (even without realising it). This requisite prior knowledge creates a barrier to attendance and fails to adequately accommodate the breadth of digital literacy learners, especially those who have low literacy.

But I am jumping ahead of myself. The backstory is this: I recently became the first Digital Producer at Regional Arts Australia (RAA), the key national body representing those working with and for the arts in regional and remote Australia. The role performs a lot of functions, including to increase digital literacy—knowledge about and the use of digital technologies such as computers, smartdevices and the internet—in the arts in regional, remote and very remote Australia by the end of 2014. That’s a huge task!

Of course, there are a number constraints on the Project: time, money and distance are the obvious ones. I simply cannot travel to every region in Australia to deliver digital literacy learning opportunities (even if I thought that were the best method of doing so). This left me wondering what I can do to genuinely increase digital literacy in the arts in regional Australia? I knew I had to narrow the scope of what RAA was going to do, but where should the lines be drawn?

It’s worth also nothing that I am a stats geek, so any decisions I was going to make were going to be informed by data. It started out with internet access data. From reading Australian SMEs in the digital economy, Report 1 of Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Communications report 2012–13 series, I found out that 13.15 million adult Australians had access to a broadband connection in their home as of June 2013. That represents a 7 per cent increase from the previous year and a 46 per cent increase since June 2008.

Smartphone and tablet penetration is equally telling. Over 11.19 million adult Australians were using a smartphone at May 2013; a 29 per cent increase from the previous year. Add to this the 4.37 million adult Australians using a tablet as of May 2012 (as reported in Smartphones and tablets Take-up and use in Australia, Report 3 of ACMA’s Communications report 2011–12 series), and you have a lot of people with internet-capable devices. And they are getting online! Of those 11.19 million people with a smartphone, 7.5 million of them had used the internet on their handset; up 33 per cent from May 2012 and a huge 510 per cent since June 2008!

Not only do Australian adults have more internet access points in their lives, but the frequency with which they are accessing the internet is increasing as well. During June 2013, 65 per cent of Australian adult internet users went online more than once (according to ACMA’s Australian SMEs in the digital economy Report). In other words 10.81 million Australian adults went online more than once a day during June last year; a 7 per cent increase from the June 2012 and a 72 per cent increase since June 2008.

It probably won’t surprise you that 18 to 24 year olds and 25 to 34 year olds collectively make up 48% of that 10.81 million internet users accessing the internet more than once a day. But it might surprise you to know that the percentage increase in frequency of internet use per day in the other age groups was not so different to younger users. The table below outlines the increase since June 2008 in internet users in each age group using the internet more than once a day.

Age group
% increase since June 2008
18–24 years
25–34 years
34–44 years
45–54 years
55–64 years
65+ years
Source: Report 1—Australian SMEs in the digital economy, Communications report 2012–13 series, Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The number of home internet connections and internet-capable devices is increasing, and so is the frequency of internet use. Layer over this the average age of residents in regional towns and some interesting questions start to arise. 
Lots of areas of regional Australia have an older population, in part because of young people moving from regional areas to larger population centres in search of employment, education, opportunities and experiences. While there seems to be an increasing return migration to the regions, it is undoubted that a majority of potential digital literacy learners in regional areas will be older people.

So if the digital natives—‘native speakers’ of digital language who demonstrate an inherent digital literacy derived from growing up ‘… surrounded by and using computers, video [and console] games, digital music players, video cams, [mobile] phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age’—have moved out of regional areas, shouldn’t digital learning opportunities in those areas cater to the needs of digital immigrants?

Marc Prensky, who coined the term digital immigrants, describes them as people born pre-digital who have, to a greater or lesser extent, ‘... adopted many or most aspects of the new technology’. But many of the digital learning opportunities I have identified when doing research for this Project required a requisite level of literacy before undertaking them. Take a workshop on Twitter for example; a desire to attend is likely underpinned by an idea of what Twitter is and an idea of how or what it might do for you. If you don’t know one or both of these things, you aren’t likely to register (if you were even aware the workshop was being run at all!) and a barrier to digital literacy learning is created.

Through a series of informal interviews, I identified a number of other barriers that can inhibit individuals from increasing their digital literacy. These include:
  • Entrenched behaviour—The ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ mentality is often relied on when avoiding digital literacy learning. Often categorised by statements such as, ‘What we currently do works just fine’. 
  • Lack of time—Either genuinely not having the time or using not having the time as an excuse to avoid digital literacy learning (especially when coupled with other barriers). Often categorised by statements such as, ‘I would learn how to use Twitter, but I don’t have the time’. 
  • Lack of interest—Either a genuine lack of interest or using a lack of interest as an excuse to avoid digital literacy learning (especially when coupled with other barriers). Often categorised by statements such as, ‘I am not interested in Facebook’. 
  • Lack of relevance—A feeling that the outcomes of digital literacy learning are not relevant to the Learner. This can sometimes be used as an excuse to avoid digital literacy learning (especially when coupled with other barriers) and is directly tied to a lack of leadership and a lack of awareness of the potential of digital literacy. Often categorised by statements such as, ‘I don’t need to use Facebook, I get on fine without it’. 
  • Lack of access—A lack of access to the internet; a lack of access to digital technologies and/or a lack of access to social platforms. Even where access exists, connectivity profiles that suffer from low bandwidth and/or unreliable network fidelity can act as a barrier. Also internet access policies such as workplace internet-usage restrictions can also act as a barrier. 
  • Lack of leadership—In some sectors, a lack of exemplars can act as a barrier. Often categorised by statements such as, ‘No one else is doing it’. 
  • Lack of awareness of potential—A lack of exemplars can also lead to a lack of awareness of the potential of digital technologies, which in turn can act as a barrier. 
  • Fear—Fear is one of the most significant barriers. It could be fear of change, fear of doing things differently, fear of making more work for oneself, fear of being left behind, fear of repercussions (such as job loss), fear of ‘not getting it’ or fear of ‘looking stupid’ for not knowing. These all act as a significant barrier to initiating digital literacy learning. 

With all of this in mind, I wanted to design a digital literacy learning method that had lower requisite prior knowledge and was more responsive to the needs of digital immigrants. I wanted it to be face-to-face and focused on responding to people's specific needs. Also, it was important to me that this opportunity was not a one-off, but would act as an entry point for self-directed digital learning. These principles led me to the decision to facilitate a series of Digital Drop-in events to provide informal digital literacy learning opportunities and develop a Knowledge Base to guide and support self-directed digital literacy learning.

From the end of July till the end of 2014, RAA will be co-hosting Digital Drop-in events. Each Drop-in is designed to be informal but informative. They will be casual, community-led, face-to-face, peer-learning opportunities. The idea is simple: registered Learners sit down over a cup of tea with a member of their community who has digital expertise (the Digital Talent) and ask any question related to digital technologies they like. The Digital Talent provides them with an answer to their specific question. And the whole exchange is held at an organisation, venue or event in the local area.

Of course, this method works best where informative answers to the questions can be given, which is difficult with large groups. So I have designed the standard composition of a session to adhere to this formula: a 60 minute session can accommodate no less than four but no more than six registered Learners, factored on a ratio of two questions per Learner and four to six minutes response time per question.

Although this is not to say there is no flexibility. Depending on the resources, capacity and interest of the Partner and the availability of the Digital Talent, a Drop-in event may include more sessions, sessions of a longer duration and/or more Digital Talent in order to accommodate more Learners. This approach is designed to allow for responsive programing of Digital Drop-in events while ensuring that events meet certain minimum requirements.

To supplement and expand on the Digital Drop-in events, RAA will also produce a Knowledge Base of digital topics. I will not be producing new resources, the time and cost of producing such resources is not feasible and, for a lot of topics likely to come up, useful, well-written resources already exist online. For many Learners it can be difficult to know where to start. If information is not pitched at a level appropriate to the Learner they may become overwhelmed, confused and frustrated; which does not lead to a fulfilling self-directed digital literacy learning outcome.

To avoid a lengthy production process and unnecessary duplication of existing resources, entries to RAA’s Knowledge Base will include a short paragraph of contextual information, examples of the use of that technology in the arts, and a list of recommended external resources ranked in recommended priority order to make it easier for Learners to identify what resources to read in what order. Using case studies and a wayfinding approach, we aim to provide a set of easy-to-produce resources that help Learners to establish foundational literacy in a way that is sympathetic to their incremental learning.

Initial topics covered in the Knowledge Base will be identified and prioritised based on the frequency they are asked about at Digital Drop-in events. This will ensure that the most requested information by Low or no literacy Learners is prioritised in order to reinforce learnings taken away from the Digital Drop-in events and ensuring Drop-ins do not become a one-off intervention.

We are still finalising dates and locations but details will be announced soon. If you are interested in co-hosting a Drop-in, providing your digital expertise at a session or attending a session, please get in touch with me by emailing

-Elliott Bledsoe @elliottbledsoe