Giving Too Much to Libraries
This is a long one, so let’s get right into my interview with Tosca Waerea.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR LIBRARY JOURNEY.
I was a Maori teacher aide (responsible for designing, implementing, and then delivering a Maori language program across 15 classes of children ages 5–12), and the senior teacher in charge of the library asked if I’d be interested in helping out. Libraries were fairly important in my life. We moved around a lot in my early childhood, and every town we moved to would see my mum visiting the local library to gauge the temperature of the town (politically, economically, and culturally), so I’ve always been very comfortable in libraries. I didn’t know it at the outset, but I would go on to spend 14 years in public libraries. I would count that time as both the best and the worst working environment of my life.
WHAT MADE PUBLIC LIBRARIES “BOTH THE BEST AND THE WORST WORKING ENVIRONMENT”?
I started in public libraries in 2003. I heard a public library manager speak at a meeting for Maori library and information management staff, and what I heard and saw convinced me to chuck in my job at the tertiary library and move over to public libraries. It was incredible. Suddenly, here was a whole new way of working that I had to learn—new staff, new customers, and all across 13 branches. I was able to try my hand at everything: Maori services, youth services, newsletters, book clubs, rest home loans, storytimes, reading programs, and so on.
Every day was magic. Until it wasn’t. I loved it when it was about the customers and the programs and collections. The parts that weren’t so great were the bits where managers, without even trying, managed to squash ideas and creative autonomy through being incredibly risk-averse. Or that colleagues don’t appreciate blunt speaking, and they see it as a form of being attacked. Or that passive aggression gets so much legitimate airtime in workspaces that colleagues can be extremely judgmental about our communities and most especially minority groups or, worse, that censorship is in practice, but we just don’t call it that (we call it collection management and development).
As much as I loved libraries, I had never quite been able to stifle my uneasiness about how classification systems are anti-Indigenous, and that line of thought led me to thinking that maybe libraries are inherently anti-Indigenous spaces. We invite Indigenous people into those spaces, but we expect them to work within that very narrow colonizing framework.
IT SEEMS LIKE AT SOME POINT, ALL OF US REACH THIS MOMENT OF “I AM GIVING EVERYTHING TO THIS, AND I HAVE NOTHING LEFT FOR MYSELF.” WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
Personally, I know that somewhere along the way, the job became tied to my sense of self-worth. So if I didn’t do well at some part of it—and in my final year I did not—it struck at my ego. My self-esteem took a huge knock. I recognized that I had become a workaholic.
I think that I believed that you had to be passionate about your job and love it unconditionally to be able to do it well, and that you had to do this 24/7. I think I perverted the idea that if you love what you do, then it’s not simply a job or a task. But passion and love are like happiness. It’s not a state that can be sustained at the one level.
You talk yourself into carrying on. Some organizations will take advantage of that. You see it sometimes in organizations that have a high turnover of staff. They come in, they work at an incredibly frenetic pace for a short period of time, and then they’re gone, and someone else comes in to work in the exact same manner, and so on. We don’t pace ourselves. The organization doesn’t always tell us that we should. It’s on both the employee and the organization to care about our well-being. We last longer. You get consistent work out of us for longer.
I would like to see organizations be more responsible about encouraging staff to leave work at work, about reminding staff to take annual leave more often, and being more liberal with sick leave. Stop allowing bad managers to embed themselves and their attitudes in the workplace. Don’t let policy and bureaucracy get in the way of serving communities.
Queen of Makerspaces
Now we’ll hear from Sally Turbitt, team leader of client services at the University of Newcastle in Australia. She was previously the university’s makerspace coordinator, and in this role, she took the makerspace from a project to an actual operational space.
WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN AS MAKERSPACE COORDINATOR?
One, consult with your community on what they would like to do and use in a makerspace. This is especially important when selecting software and equipment. We did a quick pivot early on when I realized that the 3D design software we had access to via the university was too complex for our users. Finding the right entry point is key; if the tech or equipment has a steep learning curve, people will be put off and might not come back.
Two, connecting with other makerspaces is important for gathering information about equipment and processes, and having people to bounce ideas off of who “get” makerspaces is vital.
And three, not everyone in your library service will understand or see the value of makerspaces. Some may think they are frivolous and not suited to libraries. Come up with a convincing elevator pitch and think about how best to introduce them to the space. One way I did this was to find connections between our technology and curriculum, and I then asked our librarians to share the information with lecturers. Makerspace work “looks” very different to regular library work, so it will take time for some people to recognize the value.
WHY DO YOU THINK THERE HAS BEEN A COOLING DOWN OF INTEREST IN MAKERSPACES LATELY?
I think the answer to this differs between types of libraries (special, academic, public) and also geographically (the U.S. makerspace movement is much bigger than Australia’s, and libraries of all types are still investing and growing their spaces). There also hasn’t been a lot of evidence-based research into makerspaces, so perhaps, without this evidence, it’s a harder “sell” to management?
Here’s another thought on this: A lot of libraries are offering makerspace technologies like recording studios and electronics kits as part of their main library service, not as a separate “space.” So perhaps these technologies and ideas have become part of broader library services?
WHAT ARE KEY QUALITIES A LIBRARIAN NEEDS IN 2021?
Being kind and nonjudgmental is crucial, and to do that, you need an awareness of your own prejudices and biases and how to overcome them. Also, being able to communicate effectively to a variety of people and stakeholders. One day, you might be speaking to a group of high school students about search strategies, and the next day, you’re at a work event and speaking to the vice chancellor about what you do.
And confidence to try out new ideas before they are 100% ready, make mistakes, and try again. It’s the best way to develop services and resources, but is not our “usual” way. The confidence we gain from working this way is huge and has an impact on all aspects of work.