September 21, 2016 by Sharee Cordes

What on Earth are we doing here?

What are we doing here?  What is the role of the library and who decides?  There is no doubting that libraries are changing rapidly, they are going in a whole new direction from the silent tomes they used to be.  As new, enthusiastic and educated librarians we have lots of beliefs and ideas on the directions this new library should take – but is it really up to us?

The role of the library is determined to some extent by the governing legislation.  In Queensland, the Libraries Act 1988 states that the object of the act is to “contribute to the cultural, social and intellectual development of all Queenslanders”,  and some of the guiding principles for achieving this are,

  • Capabilities for lifelong learning about library and information services should be developed
  • Diverse audiences should be developed
  • Content relevant to Queensland should be collected, preserved, promoted and made accessible.
  • Children and young people should be supported in their understanding and use of library and informational services.

The Library Board of Queensland operate the State Library of Queensland under the requirements of this act.   Local governments may operate their own libraries and are able to make their own laws about “the control, management and conduct of the library facility”, however, the Libraries Board has the responsibility to, promote, encourage, facilitate and provide assistance to public libraries, all under the guiding principles of the act.  In other states, the Library Acts have a higher level of control over the running of public libraries and state funding can be tied to this.

Most of us new, hip librarians love the idea of the library as a community centre, a place for creativity and a space where people become not only passive consumers of information but active creators.  I love that too.  But, do you think that role of the library fits under this act?

I think in Queensland we are pretty lucky that our Act has the guiding objective, “to contribute to the cultural, social and intellectual development of all Queenslanders”, so we can be a bit flexible, and our state library can have as its purpose, “Inspiring Queensland’s creativity – forever”.  Interestingly, the Queensland Museums Act 1970 and the Queensland Art Gallery Act 1987 also have the same objective and very similar guiding principles.  However, the Art Gallery Act is the only one that specifies ‘involvement in’ rather than just ‘use of’ or ‘appreciation of’, in the guiding principles, stating that, “children and young people should be supported in their appreciation of, and involvement in, the visual arts”.  Perhaps this gives the Art Gallery more of a mandate to be the centre for developing creativity than the library!

Even the Core Values that we, as librarians, uphold, according to ALIA, don’t really tell us much about being a community centre or enabling community creativity.  The ALIA Core Values state,

Library and information services professionals therefore commit themselves to the following core values of their profession:

 -Promotion of the free flow of information and ideas through open access to recorded knowledge,      information, and creative works.
 -Connection of people to ideas.
  –Commitment to literacy, information literacy and learning.
  –Respect for the diversity and individuality of all people.
  –Preservation of the human record.
  –Excellence in professional service to our communities.
  –Partnerships to advance these values

I am not saying that we shouldn’t have services like makerspaces, in fact, developing creative, community centred spaces is what I am passionate about.  But, coming in as a super keen new librarian with a cool new philosophy is not enough.  We need to aim high – we need to lobby, and research, and educate and push for changes to policies and legislation, until we have the mandate to support our bright new ideas.

Or do we? Perhaps we just need to appreciate the value of the mandate we already have – to connect the people to the information – that’s a pretty valuable role too and one I think we should be careful not to undervalue.

For the final word, I would like to turn to UNESCO,  who have produced a Public Libraries Manifesto that I think all us hip new librarians will Love.  According to UNESCO…

The following key missions which relate to information, literacy, education and culture should be at the core of public library services:

  1. creating and strengthening reading habits in children at an early age;
  2. supporting both individual and self-conducted education as well as formal education at all levels;
  3. providing opportunities for personal creative development;
  4. stimulating the imagination and creativity of children and young people;
  5. promoting awareness of cultural heritage, appreciation of the arts, scientific achievements and innovations;
  6. providing access to cultural expressions of all performing arts;
  7. fostering inter-cultural dialogue and favouring cultural diversity;
  8. supporting the oral tradition;
  9. ensuring access for citizens to all sorts of community information;
  10. providing adequate information services to local enterprises, associations and interest groups;
  11. facilitating the development of information and computer literacy skills;
  12. supporting and participating in literacy activities and programmes for all age groups, and initiating such activities if necessary.

What on earth are we doing here? – I think UNESCO has an answer for all of us.


#ALIA#art galleries#community#creativity#legislation#libraries act#makerspaces#meaning of life#museums#UNESCO


  1. Helen Treherne
    September 22, 2016 - 1:35 am

    Hi Sharee
    Thanks for sharing this legislation view of GLAM where the frameworks provide a great foundation for extending the structure to meet the ever changing horizons of information access and retrieval. In reviewing the way libraries are evolving I listened yesterday to a number of librarians across the world as they shared their experience and opinions through TED Talks. Laurinda Thomas talked about the dangerous myth about libraries at and argued the ongoing connection people have with their library and its importance in today’s world. Andrew Roskill sent a strong message about the value of connecting with people as Libraries Bridge the Digital Divide [], through simplifying access to information and applying professional user experience approach to the library website to compete with Amazon, Google and Apple.
    As we have observed so many times during this course, and in this unit especially, libraries have to meet user needs to maintain their position as an essential service.

    • Sharee Cordes
      September 22, 2016 - 10:43 pm

      Thanks Helen, I love the Laurinda Thomas talk. I am reading a lot about what makes strong communities at the moment, and one thing that is found to do this is having ‘universal’ spaces that are equitable, trustworthy and welcoming to all. I think Laurinda demonstrates how the library is really the most important space in our community for doing this. My favourite libraries TED talk is this one by Pam Sandlian-Smith – since watching this I have decided that my goal in life is to work in a library that says ‘yes’ to goats!

  2. Katie Ferguson
    September 24, 2016 - 12:44 am

    Hi Sharee, thanks for your thoughts 🙂

    It can be so hard to keep up with what’s going on in libraries, and I think it’s partly a result of the ‘we have Google, so we don’t need libraries’ argument. Librarians have positioned themselves as being leaders in technology, digital literacy etc- constantly proving we’re better than Google – as well as doing everything they were already doing. Combine that with funding cuts and the constant need to demonstrate return on investment in a sector which doesn’t produce tangible financial outputs – it just makes me so tired sometimes!

    In regard to makerspaces specifically, I don’t think there should be a mandate to provide them in all libraries but if a makerspace aligns with a particular community need and furthers strategic objectives, then there’s a good argument to have one. Along with the need to make a solid business case, etc.

    And a lot of it does come down to organisational culture and the strategic objectives of the library you are with (which doesn’t mean that this things can’t be blended with the crazy idealism of young librarians to create something that suits everyone 🙂 ).

    • Sharee Cordes
      September 24, 2016 - 9:54 pm

      Hi Katie,
      yes, I think you’re right. If we keep the community needs at the forefront hopefully we cant go wrong. I wonder though, what sort of community needs a maker space? or more accurately, what sort of community doesn’t? I bet this is something any public library could argue that their community ‘needs’!

  3. Katie Ferguson
    September 24, 2016 - 11:33 pm

    Hi Sharee, for some reason I can’t find the button to let me reply to your reply (haha). I think makerspaces are something that anyone in a public library could argue that they need, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the idea will grow legs, if you know what I mean. I’m on the Collection Advisory Group at the (academic) library where I work and there’s always so much debate of new ideas and proposals, particularly when there’s money involved. Makerspaces wouldn’t be the type of thing we discuss, but the same process applies. For the number of people who are for, you will probably find the same number who are against, so it makes for a really productive debate. And it weeds out the less practical/probable ideas.

    I can only imagine that the same process applies in public libraries – and though it might be the bright, young thing who comes up with the idea, it gets debated by a lot of seasoned professionals before it’s allowed to fly (I hope this eases your concerns 🙂 ).

    • Sharee Cordes
      October 2, 2016 - 10:48 am

      Thanks Katie, for your interesting insight in to how things work inside the library – it is great that there are opportunities to discuss the pros and cons of new ideas, I don’t think that happens in all workplaces. I look forward to some interesting debates when I enter the workforce!

  4. Anitra Ross
    October 3, 2016 - 7:54 am

    Hi Sharee, I have been thinking about your post all holidays. I wonder if inadvertently libraries see themselves as the “enablers/solvers” to all community needs? I read about a great program in the US where a library ran a Seniors fair – all groups GOVT/no profit/community advertised themselves to the community & i wonder if that space was explored wrt Makerspace there would be less 3D printers & more use of community kilns? Anitra

    • Sharee Cordes
      October 4, 2016 - 11:47 am

      Hi Anitra, I’m glad to see my comments got a few people thinking 🤔 I think there is still a lot of discussions that could be had about the actual role that we want libraries to have as we move forward.
      I have been thinking about 3D printers in a different way – perhaps the reason we should have 3D printers in libraries is not to develop people’s creativity so much as to develop their digital literacy skills. Perhaps 3D printers are a tool we can use to introduce more people to the wonders of new technology, build their confidence and extend their abilities with technology in general! If we look at Makerspaces from this point of view, then the pottery kiln (and even the sewing machines) don’t fit in to the purpose, BUT the maker space full of new technologies does fit more closely to the more traditional role of the library!

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