How representing the library industry is a subversive act

Librarians are not commonly recognized as a subversive profession yet we all passionately sign up to the values of our industry. Basically we believe that a thriving culture, economy, and democracy requires the free flow of information and ideas and we support the freedom to read, freedom of access to information and a fundamental respect for diversity and individuality for all. And yet our profession is not independent of the organisations, often government funded, we work for and this is where our Industry Associations become so important to advocate for libraries in a variety of ways. And our Library Associations are only as good as the librarians and library staff who support them and invest in them by their membership and their time.

It has now been a year since I was honored to be elected to the position of Director for the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) by colleagues across the nation and I was reminded of this when I voted in the recent 2017 ALIA elections. It is a sign of the depth and strength of our library profession in Australia that we had a number of courageous librarians who publicly put their professional passions, values and ideas to the collective members for an election and all should be congratulated on this courage even though not everyone nominated can be successful.

Every type of library is being challenged by tightening budgets, uninformed views from organisations who undervalue or simply do not understand the value of the library in their midst and often the lone voice of the library manager is simply not enough to change minds, hearts and purse strings. We are seeing this across the world as Public Libraries, School Libraries and Government Libraries to name a few are being closed at alarming rates and despite community outrage.

In Australia, ALIA has run campaigns, developed key advocacy resources and acted as the public voice for the librarians that were unable to speak out due to their employment contracts. Being subversive has never been more fun.

The Cooking For Copyright campaign raised awareness of Australia’s muddled copyright law and called for immediate reform. National and State Libraries Australasia, archive, museum and historical society colleagues, all got on board and provided dozens of recipes, ranging from perfect morning tea fodder through to weird medicinal products that were protected by copyright and library staff cooked and cooked across Australia. TV and radio coverage was outstanding and on 22 March 2017 a Bill amending the Copyright Act 1968 to simplify the use of copyright materials by libraries, educational institutions, archives and people with disabilities was tabled in Federal Parliament. Working together we changed legislation — we cannot get more subversive than that. But without a national Industry Association speaking on our behalf this subversive action could not have been taken with such impact.

School Librarians are often very much isolated within schools and their focus and work lives are completely focused on their students’ success with little time left for advocacy with their Principals and their Parents and Citizens committees who are often more interested in the sexy new technologies with little understanding of a modern school library role.

The Great School Library campaign shone a light on the importance of School Libraries and School Librarians and from this a suite of advocacy tools have been developed for School Librarians to use for their Libraries.

ALIA also funds research, primarily to build evidence to support advocacy campaigns, and in 2016 this was allocated to HeLiNS (Health Libraries for the National Standards) Project. ALIA also published the Australian public library standards, guidelines and outcomes project launched at Parliament House with an official gala dinner and produced the advocacy fact sheet 10 Ways that Libraries Power Smart Cities .

Continued professional development for library staff is also a core activity for ALIA. Conferences, workshops, webinars, and a Professional Development Scheme all support the continued learning of librarians, library technicians and other professionals working in the library industry and allied professions.

And ALIA is Us — Australian Librarians, Australian Library Technicians and Australian Allied Professionals working in Libraries, Archives and Records. Without a continued commitment from passionate people, industry associations cannot exist and cannot achieve the subversive acts I have listed here. And these are only a small sample of what we can achieve together — to ensure that we as an industry have a voice in a century of change. I urge you all to join your association today and become active ongoing members and invest in your own profession and industry. It is time to stand up for your library industry.

It is totally worth it!