LIANZA #Open2017 – Future Sound of Libraries / The Process, pt. 3

This is part three of a series on the LIANZA #Open17 library conference, and my alternative keynote at that event. These blog posts should help you find ways to create your own participatory sessions, and to maximise their impact.

Last time, we went through everything that happened at the LIANZA Open 17 keynote, culminating in Rachael Rivera and Hamish Noonan’s excellent presentation on the services they have devised and delivered for homeless people in central Auckland. (You can read about their stupendous and internationally recognised work here).

I had approached Rachael to conclude the keynote so that it ended with a local voice and a speaker who was delivering practical front-line services to a New Zealand community. Rachael is a great example of a library branch manager whose teams are finding new and compelling ways to engage their community, from services for the homeless through to personalised one-to-one music sessions.

What happened next? How did this little library conference end up making national news in New Zealand?

Straight after the keynote ended, there was applause; everyone was happy and ended up on the second floor of the conference venue for drinks and nibbles. I stayed back to pack down all the equipment & resources with Jane and Danny of Christchurch Libraries, said farewell to Rachael and all the other participants, then Danny, Jane, and I went to the pub for a quiet one away from the party.

The next day, I was grabbing lunch with my mate Sean – he’s a librarian now, but our friendship predates my work with libraries – just down the road from the conference venue.

I had seen one tweet suggesting that Rachael’s comments about serving the homeless had made it to the media – one disgruntled audience member had rung talk radio to comment that night:

I just felt glad about the opportunity for debate:

And when the talk radio call made it onto Facebook I was extra pleased, hoping it would generate interest and comment.

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My phone rang a couple of times while Sean and I had lunch, but I ignored it. I was tired from running a workshop all morning at Christchurch’s South Library; I had been so busy the last few days and I couldn’t think of anyone who would urgently need me at that moment.

When it rang a third time I decided maybe I should pick it up. It was Joanna Matthew, the Executive Director of LIANZA. Radio New Zealand was at the conference venue and hoping to interview me.

Sean and I ditched our snacks and set off down the road.

A friendly chap called Conan from Radio New Zealand was waiting for us and he asked a few questions about serving the homeless, about my time working for Auckland Libraries some years back, and about my current role and perspective on the duties of the public library.

I tried to emphasise that the public library was the whole community’s gateway to knowledge and culture, irrespective of their status and background.

I pointed out that in quake-stricken Christchurch, of all places, where so much housing stock had been damaged by natural disaster, people should know better than to stigmatise the homeless.

I directed the reporter to Rachael and Hamish’s work, and tried to avoid saying anything which might be twisted against my friends and colleagues currently working in NZ libraries.

The report went out that evening and was posted online as well. I had asked Conan not to photograph me as I’d just scurried straight to the venue from lunch after a knackering workshop, and felt pretty scruffy. However, he convinced me it would be okay and so there’s a photo on that news story which I would rather wasn’t there. (Note to self: stand your ground on such things with journalists, it is your image and your right to grant or refuse permission).

Still, the report itself was solid and now that the interview was done, I had time to catch up with the other coverage: a sensationalising, unattributed report from the New Zealand Herald headlined, “Librarians balk at serving the homeless.”

This was a pretty weird distortion of the positive response which Rachael and Hamish’s talk had received, and granted disproportionate power to the one librarian who had made the anonymous call to talk radio.

Luckily, the power of social media could be brought to bear on the reporters.

Many librarians added their own comments via Facebook and Twitter.

Joanna and the LIANZA team saw all this media coverage as an opportunity to put forward the contemporary vision of libraries as an inclusive and welcoming space. They, and LIANZA President Louise LaHatte, were interviewed and gave strong responses to the “controversy”.

Rachael herself got a chance to set out her story on New Zealand’s Newstalk ZB later that day.

And Rachael’s colleague on the homelessness project, Hamish Noonan, said it best on social media:

And that’s how our unusual collective keynote made national news, and gave librarians an opportunity to let the community know exactly who they were and what they did in 2017.

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