Next Library Brisbane: Interview with Vicki McDonald

This year, the international Next Library conference holds its satellite event at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) in Brisbane. Information professionals and librarians from around the world are invited to Australia’s ‘Sunshine State’ to explore questions of innovation, risk, and resilience. I spoke a little about why SLQ is the perfect place to have these conversations in a recent video.

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I’ve worked with SLQ since 2016, spending two years with them as their Creative-in-Residence leading special innovation and engagement projects. Most recently, I co-wrote the new vision for public libraries in the state with the University of Southern Queensland’s Dr Kate Davis.

The State Library’s current CEO, Vicki McDonald, became the organisation’s leader part-way through my tenure there, and in 2017 I interviewed her for the Library as Incubator project.

That means it’s a good time to check back in with Vicki and her team – and this week, I interviewed Vicki again. Since she took the top job, what has changed at SLQ? What does she see as the future of libraries? And why is SLQ now inviting the world’s librarians to visit for a discussion about risk and resilience?

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You returned to SLQ as the State Librarian and chief executive in June 2016. As you approach your fourth year in the role, what has changed at the State Library?

When I first started in my role, I was impatient and wanted to get things moving quicker! But a colleague said that all CEOs are impatient – so I have learnt to take more time. Perhaps my colleagues are the best judge if I have been successful…

I am proud of our new vision and strategic plan. Our vision, Inspiring possibilities through knowledge, stories and creativity, is a great motivator. The vision was developed through a series of workshops, with external partners posing provocations. All staff had the opportunity to be involved.

From that vision we developed a new 2019-2023 strategic plan (PDF download). It has relevance and meaning to staff, and there is strong commitment to achieving the key objectives: trusted content; shared experiences; future focussed people and processes.

It has resulted on an increased focus on our collections – acquiring new knowledge, but also interpreting and sharing that knowledge with Queenslanders. Our exhibitions program has been refocussed to profile our collection. I am particularly proud of our current exhibition, Spoken: celebrating Queensland’s languages. It showcases the significant work that we have done over the last decade to document, preserve, revitalise and make accessible Queensland’s First Nations languages.

I am privileged to work with talented and skilled colleagues at State Library of Queensland. I am really looking forward to showcasing their achievements to Next Library Satellite 2020 delegates.

Why is SLQ hosting Next Library Brisbane in 2020?

You may be surprised to know that when I made the pitch to host Next Library in Australia, I had never attended Next Library – but I was very much aware of its international reputation. Colleagues who are past delegates spoke about their Next Library experience with great excitement and enthusiasm – so I was keen to bring Next Library to Brisbane.

I have been involved in organising many conferences, and I feel that the purpose of conferences is changing. Delegates have different expectations; they no longer need to attend conferences to find out what is “new”. Social media makes innovative practice very accessible.

Hosting Next Library Satellite provides an opportunity to think differently about coming together as professionals – to build a sustainable international network of people committed to innovation and being future focused. The programming focus is on involvement and being engaged – there are no traditional presentations. I also like that it is limited to approximately 300 delegates. This enhances the personal experience – everyone contributes to the success.

Hosting the Next Library Satellite meeting in Brisbane will enable more people from Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the Pacific to participate in this gathering of international professionals and enjoy the “Next Library” experience.  It will also allow us to showcase the amazing work of Australian libraries to international colleagues.

We are also excited to have the opportunity to work with Aarhus Public Libraries – the creator of the Next Library concept. Aarhus Public Libraries are recognised as world class innovators, acknowledged for their outstanding work in imagining, planning and delivering outstanding public library services. So, we see it as an opportunity to learn and develop as well.

Hosting the Next Library in Australia provides State Library of Queensland with an opportunity to reinforce its position as a leader in exploring and implementing innovative programming in libraries. It aligns with one of our key objectives of advancing public libraries across the state and supports our ambition to offer more opportunities for the creation of content, new thinking, creative experimentation and innovation.

The library sector in Queensland, like many parts of the world, finds itself in a moment of transformation. What are the long-term changes you see happening in the sector? Where do you think librarianship needs to go in the future and how will we get there?

Libraries are constantly transforming, and I see that as one of their strengths. I have seen so many changes during my career. We were early adopters of technology and have successfully adapted to provide outstanding client centred services.

When I visit Queensland libraries, I am continuously impressed by their community focus – each library responding to the specific needs of the people they serve. No matter the size of a community, libraries are very much at their heart. In Queensland, we have one of the largest library services in the southern hemisphere, but we also have Indigenous Knowledge Centres across North Queensland and the Torres Strait that deliver services from modest spaces. They all play an equally important role in their community.

Libraries play an important role in helping individuals to feel part of a community. In the next few years, I believe that libraries will be vital in promoting tolerance, respect and inclusion. I am certain that these will be key themes in our discussion at the Next Library Satellite.

Our conference theme is “Bold and Curious”. When we come together in October 2020, our objective will be to co-create new library futures. The Next Library approach provides the framework for open and honest dialogue – and an opportunity for practical problem solving.

I believe overseas delegates particularly will enjoy the Australian experience – our resilience, but also our sense of “giving things a go!” And all delegates will go back to their libraries with new ideas, new connections, and feeling bold to take on their next challenge!

Next Library Brisbane takes place from 11-13 October 2020 at the State Library of Queensland, Australia. You can find out more about Next Library Brisbane – and even submit your own proposal – here.

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