Monday, 22 September 2014

Opening address to "Visioning the future"

As I mentioned on 12 September, the Libraries Board is working with the Local Government Association and the Minister for the Arts and people across the State to plan for the future of the public library network.  

Part of this process includes nine consultation sessions across the State.  At the first consultation session we had a short opening address from Libraries Board member Ann Short.  A few people have asked me to publish Ann's address - which you will find below.

On behalf of the Libraries Board I have much pleasure in welcoming you to this workshop “visioning for the future of the public library network”.

In South Australia we have a unique partnership between State and local governments to deliver public library services to our communities.  This partnership has had bi-partisan support from all Governments over the past 50 years.

I believe that the unique South Australian approach to the provision of public library services has proved to be very successful, and a key contributor to this success is the governance model.

This model has both levels of government actively supporting an independent Board to drive statewide policies and strategies.

The one card library Management system is the most recent example of such a successful statewide project.

The funding under the 10 year Memorandum of Agreement, that the Board provides to libraries, is the “glue” that binds the network together and facilitates collaboration.

It is the glue that creates two major benefits:
      Broad consistency in what public libraries do in SA such as free membership, and uniformity of loan procedures, and free Internet etc;
      the network infrastructure and connectivity that enables the library sector, which is  predominantly a local government service, to act as a cohesive Statewide network for the benefit of all South Australians.

I am proud to be a member of the Board which gave total support to the One Card Project.

This morning we have a great opportunity to contribute to a vision for the future of public libraries using the technique called Future Perfect Thinking.

This visioning technique talks about the future as something that has happened in the past.

Using this technique, the consultants have translated the predictions and trends with which we are all familiar, into a scenario for a possible future for public libraries in SA.

Looking forward is a challenge for us all. Putting ourselves into a future state and looking back at a future that has already been achieved is exciting.

I, and some of my former colleagues here today, are very fortunate and privileged to be in a position where we are actually in the future that we envisioned many years ago, and able to look back on the journey public libraries have taken since then.

This is by no means the first review, workshop or planning day involving public libraries that I have attended.  However, one of them does stand out.

In the mid 1980s, an audience much the same as here today attended a workshop at the former Wattle Park Teachers College. Just like today there were Local Government Mayors, CEOs, librarians, Local and State government senior officers, Board members and staff from other agencies.

We all shared a similar belief in the positive role and influence of public libraries in our communities. We wanted to further that vision of making public libraries the best they could be, and develop their capability to deliver the most relevant and cost effective services.

Back then the functions of the then PLS were done manually.  The central tool for inter-library loans, the union card catalogue, was a rather imperfect record of all the books held in SA.  Back then, book selection was done by librarians physically visiting the central book depository and filling in request cards manually.

The major challenge for that workshop was two-fold:
      how we could go about moving the union card catalogue and inter-library loans functions to computer, and
      how to provide information technology to enable librarians to select their material via computer from their own libraries, that is, putting procurement functions online.

But these were just technological questions to answer an overarching vision – to provide the best possible access to library collections for the public.  As a result of that workshop, a business case was developed and presented to the Libraries Board.

Most importantly, a significant outcome of that entire process was the recognition that it was a major step in the development of networking and collaboration between all public libraries; a process that was facilitated by the governance model of the Board which I mentioned earlier.

By the standards of 2014, these initiatives were very small steps in the “how” of changing libraries. However, they certainly influenced the why and what and when of future changes and developments.

It is interesting to reflect that at that 1980s workshop, some of us here today, boldly suggested that it would also be good to have a networked circulation system.

Looking back, we were laying the foundations of the one-card system way back then.

I believe our present public library network is a result of the profession's and stakeholders' excellent planning, innovative strategies and their ability to respond quickly to changing technologies, and social and economic environments.

Our Public Library Network has been supported by strong leadership and wise investment from local and State Government.

Therefore I am delighted to pay tribute to everyone who has been involved in the development of our public library network during the past 30 years of its evolution.  And I believe that today is the start of the next phase in imagining and planning for the public library network of 2030.

I have every confidence that the deliberations on the future of our public library network will benefit from the participation and creativity of everyone here today, and everyone participating in this review.


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