On the ground
I have seen a few posts on social media recently in questioning the value of ALIA membership and holding the organization to account. There were questions around a number of aspects of ALIA’s work but one was concerning the support of the real people in our industry, the members and workers (as separate from the strategic or high level work ALIA does). I felt that this was something I could speak to from my perspective as the State Manager for ALIA in QLD. This is a paid part time role with ALIA and so my opinion and reports are by no means unbiased but I see the good work ALIA can and does do on the ground and this is why I enjoy and am grateful to be able to work for the organisation.
It is critical, I think, that the questions that hold our organisation to account, are asked. I also think that asking questions about our activity, value, policy, procedure and day to day work make us all think about what we are doing and how we can get better. So after reading some of the comments on social media I had a good think about how I personally worked, what I did and the successes, the challenges, and how I can be better in this role that I am privileged to hold.
I hold a number of meetings with library services, members or organisations wherever I can so I can hear their stories, challenges and concerns and see if we can help. Often it is to connect two libraries to share experience, knowledge and resources. There are many public libraries, school libraries and special libraries where there may only be one person working there. They are often members of ALIA because we offer a platform for professional development, network and support that the parent organisation just can’t offer due to it’s size. In going and meeting these members I am able to connect them with others that have similar challenges or are able to offer a potential solution to their problem.
Working for ALIA in QLD brings it’s challenges, not least the geographical distribution of our members across the state. However, I try and take one short trip per year to regional or rural areas. Other times I’m able to work through email and webinar.
In late 2018 I took a short driving trip from Brisbane to Cunnamulla which is around 10 hours drive inland. Along the way I met with library services in Toowoomba, St George, Cunnamulla, and Roma. It was through these visits I heard of challenges that I felt ALIA could help with. One of those challenges was support around writing funding grants. I reported this back and ALIA developed a grant writing help sheet that I have emailed out to a number of rural library services, I have also put some of those library services in touch with each other in order of them to be able to exchange ideas, resources and offer support.
On a normal week I write letters of support to help regional events apply for funding, field calls from those wanting to enter the industry discussing potential study and work options, students or new grads asking things from contacts for potential fieldwork placements through to ideas for events. I am constantly connecting people from one organisation to another, and through the massive amount of feedback I gather from meetings and travels I feed our national newsletter and magazine with content which helps to keep our industry informed of some of the activity happening in our sector.
But it’s not just QLD focused events that happen in the State that support our industry in real situations. The national events like National Simultaneous Storytime (NSS) has over a million participants and brings a strong focus to literacy and libraries around the country. In doing so, events like this garner support from those outside of library land. This year I read Alpacas with Maracas to over 60 children at a day care close to home, which had used the NSS book for activities all week, all focused on literacy and creativity.
ALIA also do a lot to help set up and support special interests groups. This is a big pressure on anyone involved and the energy required, emotional and physical investment underpinned by time and sometimes cost means being involved in a group can be a big undertaking. This should and is recognized. But it should be noted that these are organized by members that are interested in similar areas, and have real benefit to those involved. Either by hosting workshops, events, networking opportunities or platforms for critical librarianship (as was the case when I co-hosted a #CritLib event with ALIA Qld). ALIA is a not-for-profit organisation and so any value direct or indirect resulting from this commitment is fed back into groups, members and the advocacy work they do. I see the groups help individuals, they help ALIA and I try hard to support them anyway I, or ALIA, can.
We can always do better, and that’s why when I see any feedback or comments I make sure ALIA is aware. Real people work in our head office that I have meetings with regularly to see how we can better ourselves and our processes. With nearly 5000 members this can sometimes be a very difficult task to do or do quickly.
This post is not meant to be an official statement by ALIA as other people that work for the organisation may have different experiences or comments. This is just mine. I can honestly say that we listen, that we work hard to support our industry and the people that work or are connect with it and everything in between. Yes we can do better but I also see real and important activity every week and I personally thank our members and library community for allowing us to do that.