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LIFT: From little things ...
Madeleine Galbraith shares the story of the Library and Information Focused Training (LIFT) group in Western Australia, and how they got together to form a personal learning network of passionate, eager-to-learn library officers.
In 2017, Carmen Lawrence addressed a room full of librarians at the State Library of Western Australia, as the keynote speaker at a conference called Library Leadership — A Celebration. I was keen to hear what the first female state premier in Australia had to say about leadership, and the qualities required to do it well. What she said has stayed with me. She described a childhood in a farming community of the Western Australian wheatbelt. When a problem arose, it was the community who collaborated to find the fix. Leadership was not about an outstanding individual but, rather, a group of people with a common purpose who came together to find a solution. We see this often in the world of libraries, where staff share and collaborate as a means of efficiency and, often, survival. It is certainly the case with LIFT, our community of Western Australian school library officers.
Here is our story.
In 2011, a group of school library officers began meeting as a committee with an appointed member of the Institute of Professional Learning (IPL). The IPL is the division of the Western Australian Department of Education (DoE) tasked with facilitating relevant training and development opportunities for the various work types. During these committee meetings, we would propose themes and topics of importance to library officers, and collaborate with the IPL on sourcing appropriate speakers or trainers. In 2015, DoE’s brief changed to focus on the leadership level within schools, and we were faced with a choice. We could either disband, or grow ourselves into something new.
Looking closely at the skill set within the committee, we realised that we had plenty to offer. There were qualifications in education, business, arts, librarianship, health, and fitness. All of these are required at some point in the management of school library services. Although, individually, some of us had doubts as to how we might continue to facilitate relevant and engaging training opportunities for school library officers, as a group we had the courage to take the plunge. The DoE was encouraging schools to run their own training through skills sharing, so we were definitely on task.
Finding a name was our first challenge and ‘LIFT’ seemed to fit our vision. Library and information-focused training was what we wanted to provide, and ‘lift’ spoke of the growth and development we hoped library officers would achieve for themselves and their libraries.
When we wrote down what we thought would improve the working lives of school library officers, most of whom work alone in their libraries, the list was long:
- a policy of inclusivity, respect and affordability
- a library officer manual, so that people new to the job had
- a basic guide
- a relief register, so that people needing to take leave could source someone with knowledge of their library management system and available days
- a mentor register so that a library officer could establish a relationship with someone more experienced in the role and be guided by them
- a social network group so that library officers could post questions and ideas, offer support, and connect with other library officers regardless of location
- a newsletter, so that everyone in the DoE phone book who was listed as a library officer received an update via email on all these opportunities, and was reminded that they are connected
- a repository of useful shared documents accessible to all library officers.
With the sponsorship of Karen Giacomucci, principal of Carnaby Rise Primary School, and with our name and vision in place, it was time to test the waters. We created our Facebook group and a Connect Community (DoE e-communication tool), and we plunged into our first self-managed skills-sharing day, calling it ‘Surviving a Term in Your Library’. Library officers from DoE and independent schools were welcome. We hoped for 30 people and were excited that over 70 library officers booked. Topics included collection development and display, managing library finances, and there was also a discovery session. Attendees were asked to bring photos of their library displays, clever gadgets, and signage solutions — anything that might inspire or surprise. People wandered around the display tables and boards, chatted, and connected. If they felt isolated in their libraries before the session, by the end of it, they knew that they were part of a big community. It was a huge success.
We made it clear that we were keen to run more sessions, but that we needed library officers to volunteer their schools to host the events, in order to keep costs down and make them more accessible. Soon, we had more events lined up at various Perth schools, and even received an invitation to travel to the wheatbelt to speak at Merredin College’s regional network day.
It was obvious from our early LIFT events, and the growth of our social network community, that we had an army of school library officers who were passionate about their role in the lives of students, and the impact a good school library can make on their educational outcomes. However, positive change sometimes requires resources, which may demand a strong voice. We needed to find experts on advocacy who could teach us these skills. So our next events, hosted by the CPSU/CSA, were called LOVE — Library Officer Voice Event and All About You. Members and non-members of the union were welcomed, and received training on positive communication strategies. As it was recognised that positive and enduring change is more likely to come from happy and healthy library officers, they were also trained in better understanding their job description form, managing workload issues, and requesting and preparing for a great performance evaluation.
In the background, we were creating the library officers’ manual, which we decided to call The Library Officers’ Survival Guide. It covered topics including roles and responsibilities, administration and operational procedures, collection development and cataloguing, display, and so much more. Committee member Lynne Mannolini took responsibility for this document, dedicating countless hours to editing, reviewing and formatting it.
Meanwhile, word was spreading about our growing community, and requests to join our Facebook group multiplied. Dialogue within the group was productive and supportive, with members able to ask for book recommendations, supplier advice, and storage solutions. Replies were swift, informative, and colourful. Invitations to travel to remote and regional schools came in, as did a request to address school business managers (registrars) to describe what LIFT does, and how we can help their school library.
If it is the village that raises the child, then the school library has an integral place within it. As we approached the end of 2017, we realised that we were part of a community of almost 700 dedicated school library officers who deserved some recognition for the important role they play in raising our children. So, we created LOAD — Library Officer Appreciation Day — and invited our Western Australian school library officers to come and celebrate their achievements over lunch.
Schools were invited to nominate school library officers for excellence awards, which were announced on the day, after a number of speakers presented to the group. It was our highest attendance yet, with over 100 people coming to Carnaby Rise Primary School to participate in this day of mutual admiration.
Our second LOAD event on 10 November 2018 was opened by Sarah McGowan, the ambassador for the Never Stop Reading program, and the wife of the Western Australian premier. Other speakers were politicians Margaret Quirk and Anne Aly, who shared their stories about standing up and speaking out, reminding us all that we are part of a bigger story that is worthy of telling. Once again, we filled the room. This time we had school library officers flying in from Broome and One Arm Point. Nominations for the excellence awards came in from all over the state.
LIFT is just one example of the many groups getting creative in their efforts to help school libraries survive and thrive. It is more than a network, it is a community. To date, we have organised 24 workshops in three years, and plan many more! As 2019 unfolds, the next chapter in school libraries is looking bright as we find ways to collaborate, share, and use our voices to advocate for the vital role they play in the lives of our children, and the people needed to make this magic happen.
Photos supplied by Madeleine Galbraith