Tuesday, March 26, 2013

No library or no library worker should be an island

Atauro Island 5/365 This may seem a strange post, as you will be reading this because of a network.  Somehow you may follow me on twitter and so we can network with each other, but this is still a luxury for some library workers in other places.

This is something I really noticed when I was in Timor Leste.  I always appreciate my library networks, but I gained extra appreciation for networks I am part of when I was in a different location.  Conversations on twitter, or email exchanges may have been the only time each day I could talk with someone who saw libraries in a similar way.

In Timor Leste library workers are isolated.  There are few libraries, so any network is going to be small.  There was an active library association until some time in 2009, but this is currently on hold (and there are issues to be addressed before it is restarted).  There are really good reasons for this, so this comment is not a criticism.  

Some library workers (like anywhere) aren't interested in networks and some library folk in Timor Leste are networking with library workers in other countries because it is easier than networking with other library workers a few suburbs or towns away.  It is easier because you can find contact details online.  To contact some (particularly government libraries in Timor Leste) you need to know the personal email address or mobile phone number of the person you are trying to contact.  Some government departments have email addresses and telephone numbers listed on a website but the emails frequently bounce and the telephone number may have error messages when you ring them.

This highlighted the value of facilitation to get networks started, like the work ALIA Sydney does as a public, accessible network people can connect with.  In Timor Leste the very small number of libraries may be an issue in this, or it may not.  It is always interesting that some library workers don't see any reasons for connecting to network.  This is the same in Australia with functional networks but in Australia there is more passive benefit as there will be library workers in each workplace who actively create/manage/use their own networks and the other people in the workplace receive a flow on benefit from this.  Think about how you connect to other library workers you have not met face to face and keep in mind that face to face meeting is a luxury.  It is not possible to keep track of all the useful discussions held on twitter, flickr, or being inspired by some online photographs, or blog posts or blog comments or rss feeds (thank you Aaron Schwarz) branch discussions, forums (ALA connect as an example).  There are so many options.

The bounty of possible networks means there is no need to be isolated if you have some online access, but you need to know that the networks are possible, and you need to think that you can learn from others.  You need to know there is a bigger picture at work about libraries, or find the detail engrossing.

If you are active in some kind/s of networks which help your professional development, thank someone today for an idea they shared or which triggered an idea of yours.  I realise this post is only going to be read by people who are already using a network of some kind, but spare a thought for people who don't and suggest some learning network possibility to someone today who you know is not involved.  I don't know why library workers aren't all actively involved in networks as it strikes me as career survival tactics as well as a great way to share ideas and information and learn from others.

This is a long way of saying I was struck by the isolation of library staff in Timor Leste and that it was easier to help them connect to networks and individual libraries overseas than it was in their own country.  I would like to really thank the library staff in Australia who responded so kindly to my questions about offering peer support to library staff I have met there.  The generosity was amazing.  I would also like to thank all the libraries and library staff who provided information to me, whether on a website, or in response to an email I sent.  It helped to highlight the value of networks and remind me of the kindness of strangers (and the kindness of networks).  Just a note - this is the same amazing help I receive from strangers and people I know who work in libraries, - all the time and that is much appreciated too.

I started to write this post while I was in Timor Leste, but have only just finished it now.

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