Home > Your ideas > Submissions > Australian Library and Information

Australian Library and Information


Please see attached document.

PDF icon Download (129.45 KB)
Automatic Transcription: 

Submission in response to the Australian Public Service review, first

round consultation

31 July 2018

  1. About us

The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) is the professional organisation for

the Australian library and information services sector.

On behalf of our 5,000 personal and institutional members, we provide the national voice of

the profession in the development, promotion and delivery of quality library and information

services to the nation, through leadership, advocacy and mutual support. We represent

school, public, academic, research, corporate, law, health, government, national, state and

territory libraries and the professionals who work in them.

There are library and information professionals working for the National Library of Australia;
the Parliamentary Library; health and law libraries; government department, agency and

research libraries, all part of the Australian Public Service. But our submission relates primarily

to library and information professionals working in government department libraries.

  1. Introduction

This review is looking at the capability, culture and operating model of the APS, and these

are three areas that have undergone radical change in libraries around the world. We would

say that the library and information sector is an outstanding example of an industry that has

successfully transformed itself to meet the challenges of the digital age and is supporting its

users to do the same.

Over the last 20 years, we have held fast to our mission of providing access to information for

all Australians, but we have reinvented the way in which we deliver our services.

• Capability: We have redefined the skills and competencies of our workforce.
• Culture: We have developed a strong user focus.
• Operating model: We have taken advantage of emerging technologies to improve
operational efficiency and introduce new services where digital delivery has opened
up exciting possibilities.

We welcome this opportunity to respond to the Australian Public Service Review on behalf of

our government library Members.

3. The case against library staffing and service reductions

Access to quality information is essential for all the outcomes described in the scope of this

review and the APS needs qualified library and information professionals in order to deliver

these goals. However, the employment of library and information professionals has declined

in recent years, with government library closures and reductions in staff brought about by

cost cutting measures.

This has been to the detriment of the Service, and the full extent of the damage will emerge

as we see the long term effects of policies based on half-understood ideas rather than

properly sourced research. The Australian Library and Information Association has advocated

for the vital role of our Members in combating the proliferation of ‘fake news’ and

unsubstantiated information.

Facts not fiction

“Closing government libraries will save money.”
WRONG: Library and information services provide a significant return on investment in terms

of output and resource sharing. Departments will still need information, but instead of it being

purchased and managed in one area, there will be duplication, as different teams build up

their own information resources.

“Employing fewer information professionals will save money.”
WRONG: Library and information professionals can source facts in a few minutes, which

would take untrained government staff hours to find. This not only saves time, but also costs

significantly less per hour when pay levels are compared.

“People can carry out their own searches.”
WRONG: Closing libraries exposes government departments to a higher risk of ill-informed

decision-making. Most people Google for quick answers to everyday questions and few

ever get past the first page. Ask people to find something online and you will find that many

search for under a minute, only look at the first page of results and never use advanced

search features. Library and information professionals use Google, other internet search

engines and specialist databases to find authentic, comprehensive information. They don’t

rely on Wikipedia and other unauthenticated sources.

“Librarians are not needed in today’s government departments.”
WRONG: In terms of open data and e-government, library and information professionals

have the skills and knowledge to manage and organise data for public accessibility.

“Everything is online.”
WRONG: Much of the current information used by various government departments is still

only available in hard copy format and the digitisation of unique collections is still in its

infancy. Historic records, dating back to the late-1800s, are likely to be paper-based. If a

library is closed and the collection dispersed, these items will be lost forever.

“People can find the same information in other libraries.”
WRONG: Government libraries have specialised, unique and irreplaceable collections. They

have current collections of specialist journals (electronic and print) and databases to inform

operational, corporate, administrative and training practices. These complete,
comprehensive and tailored collections do not exist elsewhere – not in state and territory

libraries, not in university libraries, not in public libraries.

“Government officers can keep up-to-date by watching the news.”
WRONG: Much valuable information is published informally. Information professionals

regularly scan worldwide resources for best practice and bring it to the attention of

government clients in a timely and concise manner.

“There is no risk.”
WRONG: The consequence of ill-informed decision-making is to expose government

departments to public censure, media condemnation and claims for compensation.

  1. The case for staff retention

Our government library Members provide timely access to knowledge that will enable

Ministers and their advisors to create better policy, because their decisions will be based on

relevant, current, quality information.

There is more information available today than there has been at any time in the past, but

much of it (especially online) is out-of-date, commercially-driven, irrelevant and sometimes

downright wrong.

Against this backdrop, the role of libraries and information professionals has never been so

important. Library and information professionals go through e-databases, online journals,
academic and industry papers to find accurate, up-to-the-minute results. Our searches are

robust and comprehensive; our searches are quicker, smarter and give better quality results.

If government scientists, researchers, politicians and bureaucrats are to have access to vital

information that enables them to do their jobs well; if they are to make informed, well-
balanced decisions; we need to retain well-resourced government libraries run by qualified

professionals. A robust library and information service is a small price to pay to know that the

information on which government bases its decisions comes from the very best,
authenticated services, and that due diligence underpins policy making.

  1. The case for reinvention

The library sector is dynamic, fast moving and evolving to meet the demands of the digital

age. We recognise the need for new ways of thinking about organisational structures and

service delivery, to fit with this new paradigm.

In the Commonwealth Government, libraries exist in a departmental silo. Decisions about

library services, collections, staff, are taken without reference to the broader information

environment. At State and Territory Government level and internationally, new models of

delivery have been trialed, gaining economies of scale by bringing together back office

functions, including procurement, while retaining the specialist knowledge of librarians

assigned to specific departments.

Instead of reducing the library head count, we believe there would be significant benefit

from a whole of government approach, providing library staff with the higher-level skills which

will result in decision-ready information for policy analysts.

To quote a government librarian, “As the public service grows smaller and policy analysts

have less time and resources to be involved with research and sourcing evidence, both

national and international, information specialists are a strong, rich, resource of skills to save a

great deal of time and cost to government.”

  1. Other comments

There are very few library and information professionals identifying as Aboriginal or Torres

Strait Islander. This is of particular concern where government departments are dealing with

information relating to Indigenous matters, when it is vitally important to have people with the

appropriate knowledge, skills and understanding.

The APS grading structure takes precedence over specialist skills. Employees at a particular

APS level are assumed capable of operating at that level within any department or agency,
irrespective of the need for specialist qualifications, skills and training. This has led to non-
library professionals being put in charge of libraries, without the knowledge and experience

to take the team through the changes needed in order to continue to provide a modern

library and information service.

  1. Recommendations

We ask the APS Review to consider the following five recommendations:

  1. That the review recognise the importance of knowledge and information to the
    efficient and effective operation of the APS.
  2. That the review endorse the ongoing need for qualified library and information
    professionals serving the Commonwealth Government.
  3. That the review propose exploration of new service models for library and information
    services, with advice from ALIA and other relevant organisations.
  4. That the review note the opportunity for the recruitment and employment of
    Indigenous professionals in the library stream.
  5. That the APS recognise the need for specialist skills in the management of library and
    information services.

For more information:

Sue McKerracher, CEO, ALIA

ALIA House, 9-11 Napier Close, Deakin, ACT 2600

T: 02 6215 8215 M: 0404 456 749 E: sue.mckerracher@alia.org.au

W: www.alia.org.au