Campbelltown Library Island: Preparing for challenge and crisis

The Library Island immersive training tool was released last year as a free PDF download and has since been taken up by organisations around the world.

Earlier this year, Paula Pfoeffer of the Community Connections team at Campbelltown City Council in Australia ran a modified version of Library Island with her colleagues.

Council workers visited a make-believe island nation to explore responses to uncertain and challenging situations – from climate change events to social unrest, government budget cuts, and the need to meet demands for recognition and justice for the whole community.

Below, Paula explains how the event was run, what the outcomes were, and how it has fed Campbelltown’s response to the Australian bushfire crisis and the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

It was just another day on Uluibau Island……

In the towns of Juschester, Becstone and Pfefferville, the collections were being maintained and programs and services were being offered to the community. Life was pretty good for the staff that worked at the combined library and child care centre facility.

Then a climate change event happened and there were increasing demands for recognition and justice from the island’s indigenous population. Then the desperate people speaking a language that no-one seemed to recognise migrated to the City. And then the Ministry began to make ominous noises about cutting library budgets……

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So began the modified Library Island activity held by the Community Connections team at Campbelltown City Library in October 2019. Community Connections encompasses early childhood education, library services and the visitor information centre. Twice a year, the leaders of this section meet for a leadership day to network and share ideas about our services. In October 2019 we embarked on a new activity – Library Island.

We chose the Library Island activity because it provided a fun and interesting method of drawing out ideas from people around who we work with, strategies for dealing with future events, analysing our own biases with our current service provision, and providing opportunities to test our advocacy skills. The activity is adaptable and we changed the name of the Island and towns to the last names of the key leaders in the Organisation, which provided a bit of fun to the activity.

At first the team was very nervous about role playing, however it didn’t take long for them to take on their characters and understand what the activity was trying to do. The key leaders were the Ministry which allowed us to both observe the game and ask hard questions of those who came to ask us for money. The activity went for 2 hours.

Debriefing the session was very insightful. The person playing a homeless person reflected that everyone kept telling her what they thought she needed and at no stage did anyone ask her what she actually wanted or needed. This began a discussion about how we work with people, whether we make too many assumptions about where people are at in their lives and whether we are being paternalistic in our responses. A number of leaders found this conversation useful and have since made changes to their own work styles.

Another reflection was from the perspective of one of the new migrant characters who spoke the language “Justish”. She commented that even though she tried to communicate through visual means, everyone she spoke to, told her to go somewhere else. She found it humiliating and frustrating. This opened up a discussion about how are services can better address our ESL communities. Staff from Council’s or our Early Learning centres, Libraries and the Visitor Information Centre all reflected on improvements we could make to our current services and what we will need to do in the future if there were a climate change event.

The post evaluation of the day, Uluibau Island received the following comments:

“I loved the role play (Which is not normally something I would like). It allowed us to see how members of our community may experience the service we offer.”
“The Library island activity was a great way to see how people dealt with and handled difficult situations”
“The role-playing gave some new insights into what our customers might be looking for and being careful of having perceptions of what people need”
“The ULUIBAU ISLAND presentation/role was quite unique and a valuable activity. Overall, it was a great way of being able to engage with everyone from different sections. Great insights into planning and servicing”

We were able to modify Library Island to fit the needs, personalities and timeframes for our workplace, which suited our team. The team were able to understand our community more and reflect on how our services currently are a barrier to some people. It enabled us to start and continue the conversation about the future.

Not long after Uluibau Island, Australia was confronted with a bushfire crisis that affected many of our staff, and now we are dealing with Covid-19. Uluibau Island has put scenario planning at the forefront of our minds and we are better equipped to plan for these situations, always putting the community first.

You can read more about Library Island via the tag on this site.

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