ALIA Blog: Future Libraries and all types of literacies 

I have been lucky to represent ALIA at three forums over the last two weeks in Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra. While it has been important for ALIA to have a presence at these forums it has been equally valuable and encouraging to hear people from other sectors talk about the value they see in libraries.

The forums were:

Future Libraries better communities: Stakeholder Symposium

An initiative of and hosted by the State Library of Queensland

16 and 17 March

National Early Language and Literacy Forum

An initiative of the National Early Language and Literacy Coalition

Old Parliament House, Canberra

21 March

Australian Media Literacy Summit

An initiative of the Australian Media Literacy Alliance

Hosted by Meta in Sydney

24 March

I won’t even pretend to summarise the enormous range of information presented and the interesting discussions that were held. Rather I wanted to share some personal highlights as well as some photos which I hope will give you a sense of the occasions and pique further interest in the possibilities ahead.  

Future Libraries better communities: Stakeholder Symposium

This event was professionally managed and everything went very smoothly which tells me that an enormous amount of work must have gone on behind the scenes because we all know that doesn’t happen by accident. There was also a real buzz over the two days with good vibes and high energy.

The day started with a captivating Welcome to Country by Jahmarley Dawson (Turrbal) which was moving, funny and educative. Vicki McDonald, State Librarian and CEO opened the proceedings and set the scene for the two days. Vicki talked about the importance of linking back to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the opportunities for partnerships beyond the library network.

The evaluation reports were presented by Dr Kim Osman and Dr Geoffery Woolcock for the Digital inclusion programs and the First Five Forever program respectively. This gives a rich data source to build on and learn from.

A highlight was hearing from people outside the library sector and understanding the lens through which they view libraries. We heard from:

  • Alison Smith, CEO, Local Government Association of Queensland
  • Aimee McVeigh, CEO, Queensland Council of Social Services
  • Cameron Costello, Deputy Chair, Queensland Tourism and Industry Council
  • Luke Twyford, Principal Commissioner, Queensland Family and Child Commission
  • Heather Rea, Senior Specialist, Sustainability Centre of Expertise, Telstra

It was evident from each of them that libraries have a role to play in their work. There was a warmth and a generosity to the discussion which left me with a feeling of real possibility and opportunity.

The session on library showcases was full of wonderful programs and I was especially happy to see Warren Cheetham and Nicole Hunt on the stage representing Townsville City Libraries as I have worked with them wearing their other hats of TropicALIA and APLA member respectively.

A performance and storytelling from Far North Queensland group Bulkaway Muruku was very moving. I can’t even begin to describe the experience in words … just beautiful.

And the showstopping performance at the end was from Gene Tan, Chief Librarian and Chief Information Officer at the National Library Board Singapore. Gene is a force of nature – charismatic, thoughtful, innovative and very funny. He talked about so many things but what really stuck with me was the ability to paint a picture of a library taking a variety of forms beyond what we traditionally know. There was the library as living room, as meeting place and as convenience store to name a few. He also talked about innovations around media literacy where someone can input a topic or an opinion and a series of resources can be identified presenting a range of views.

Congratulations to the organisers of the event – it was a big success.

National Early Language and Literacy Forum

The Federal Government has committed to developing a Commonwealth Early Years Strategy, which aims to create a new integrated, holistic, whole-of-government approach to ensure children aged five years and below have the best start at life in their critical early years of development. Consultation for the development of the Strategy commenced at an Early Years Summit held at Parliament House on 17 February this year.

The purpose of the NELL Forum was to capitalise on the momentum created by the Summit and progress the NELL Strategy.

The Opening Address was given by Professor Tom Calma AO, Senior Australian of the Year, Co-Chair of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, Co-Chair of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament group. This was followed by a Panel session with the following people who attended the Early Years Summit:

  • Mary-Ruth Mendel - Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF)
  • Penny Dakin - Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY)Sam Page - Early Childhood Australia (ECA)
 Other speakers include:
  • Hon Kate Ellis - Raising Literacy, state-wide literacy initiatives and the South Australian Early Years Strategy
  • Louise Denoon - State Library of Queensland, First Five Forever state-wide literacy programMichelle Csapo - TAFE NSW, Early Childhood Education and Care national training curriculum reformJane Vadiveloo - Children’s Ground, Wellbeing, at the intersection of health and learning

It was clear that libraries have a central role to play in early years literacy and the First Five Forever program is very well regarded. It was great to have Louise Denoon there to share the success of the program, especially in light of the recent evaluation report released the week before at the Future Libraries Symposium.

It was noted by many that one of the challenges for any program is the short term nature of many funding cycles. The ongoing funding for the First Five Forever program was one of the reasons it has been able to grow and develop in to the successful program we see today.

Also at the Forum was Vanessa Little, ACT Libraries who represents NSLA on the NELL Coalition. Another familiar face was Kirrin Sampson, former ALIA staff member who now works for ARACY. So, all in all libraries were well represented.

ALIA will be making a submission in response to the Australian Government’s Early Years Strategy Discussion Paper

Photos (L to R top row)

1. Warren Cheetham and Nicole Hunt 

2. Gene Tan, Vicki McDonald, Louise Denon, Kathy McLeish 

3. Gene Tan  

4. Bulkaway Muruku

5. Vicki McDonald - opening address 




Australian Media Literacy Summit 

This was the inaugural Summit – an initiative of the Australian Media Literacy Alliance, of which ALIA is a founding member. It was a glamorous affair high in the Sydney skies in offices of Meta. About 100 people were in attendance with another 200 or so online. The Hon Michelle Rowland, Minister for Communications opened the Summit. The Minister said that digital inclusion is a necessity and a priority for the Albanese government.

The keynote speaker was Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, Executive Director of the National Association of Media Literacy Education in the United States. Michelle’s presentation was very accessible and engaging. A few gems that stayed with me:

  1. The amplification of Fake News around 2016 was a great opportunity to promote the importance of media literacy but fact checking is not the end game. If we focus on dividing things between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ then we miss out on the crucial step which is ‘understanding’.
  2. We designed devices to do everything for us and now we are surprised that we spend so much time on them and need them for everything. Michelle shared a great time lapse video of an office desk where all the things on the desk slowly disappear as their function is integrated in to the laptop.
  3. Medias literacy is where it is at in the US because of public libraries.
  4. Five key elements to successful collaboration 
  • We don’t’ need to agree on everything, we just need some points of agreement
  • Everyone is welcome
  • There is no room for competition
  • Say yes … a lot. Be open to possibilities and ideas
  • Focus on the cause not the people. Remember the why

I was scheduled to give a lightning talk about the role of libraries and media literacy in the adult and community space. It was a lovely surprise to discover that libraries and librarians were mentioned numerous time by speakers before me as places and professionals which are an essential part of the infrastructure for media literacy at all stages. I made the point that libraries address the three As of media literacy and digital literacy – Accessibility, Affordability and Ability. Libraries offer the place, the professionals, access to the people in the community and the opportunity for partnerships.

It was great to see so many library friends at the Summit – here’s a photo of some of us at the end of the day.

Other speakers came from:

  • AMLA members – ABC Education, NFSA, ACMI, MoAD and QUT
  • Good Things Foundation
  • Media Diversity Australia
  • Squiz Kids
  • RMIT Fact Lab
  • Meta

The closing keynote was from Jan Fran, ABC host of Question Everything. Jan was very entertaining and gave an interesting and very practical perspective from someone who is operating within the media machine.  

Big thanks to Annabel Astbury, Tanya Notley, Stephanie Smith and Aimee Said for organising such a fabulous event. You’ve set the bar high!

Photos (L to R)

1. Jan Fran and Annabel Astbury 

2. Tanya Notley, Jena Wuu, Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, Annabel Astbury

3. View from Meta 

4. Cathie Warburton, Michelle Feely, Kathryn Evans, Anita Planchon, Natasha Ratajczek, Trish Hepworth, Julie Barkman, Libby Levett