A season of adventure: September-November 2013 roundup

The robot warriors assemble on the eve of battle
The robot warriors from Parkes’ BIG BOX BATTLE assemble on the eve of conflict!

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that it’s been an intense season over here in Australia, creating new programmes, training librarians and writers in the arcane arts of roleplay and immersive storytelling, and even taking up cudgels on behalf of libraries everywhere.

I just finished giving a talk to librarians of the Australian Library and Information Association in Queensland – you can hear a short pre-recorded version of my presentation at Soundcloud.

This talk is the culmination of a season advocating for libraries to challenge their own boundaries and reach out in new ways, to new communities and new partners.

Of course, in 2013, every speaker at every library conference is preaching a gospel of change, innovation, and transformation – those are the buzzwords of the hour – but I’ve made the effort to link these concepts to practical, affordable, and unexpected examples – from comic book dice games in the Philippines to day-long zombie sieges and Godzilla-versus-robot battles for schoolkids in Australia, citywide time travel storylines in New Zealand, interactive storytelling for writers in Sydney, and – perhaps scariest of all – bringing Barbra Streisand songs into a rural writers’ group.

It has also involved pushing back against voices in the arts who sideline local libraries as venues for all forms of culture and knowledge – see the recent debate about e-books and community outreach for more on that. Serving marginal communities is one of the things librarians do best, and it is vital that the profession advocates for itself in this time of dramatic change.

Librarians and supporters of the local library must remember that libraries are under threat, especially from people who equate them with shelfy places good for little more than storing books. In the UK, public library visits have continued to decline, in a context of branch closures and volunteer-run libraries replacing trained information professionals. In New Zealand, proposed changes to the Local Government Act jeopardise funding for community library developments. In the USA, the EveryLibrary campaign has highlighted the challenges faced by Californian libraries seeking funding, and the mind-boggling story of the Louisiana election in which a parish councillor is seeking to trade a library for a jail, disparaging his librarians for serving “Mexicans, junkies, and hippies“!

It’s never been more important for libraries to demonstrate, on a practical, grassroots level, their relevance to every member of the community. I’m pleased that library organisations and senior managers are addressing questions of branding and strategy, but it’s also vital that we make a difference on the front line, in grassroots settings and customer-facing roles.

A great essay by Adrienne Hannan of Wellington City Libraries in New Zealand – probably the single best piece about libraries I’ve read this year – sets out how librarians of all ranks should act strategically, working with integrity and immediacy as a fighting force on behalf of the forces of culture, literacy and knowledge. Read ‘The Strategic Librarian‘ here…and prepare for battle.

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