Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 108 – Project failures and library closures

I read with interest a message re-posted to the WAIN list (West Australian Information Network) this morning regarding the closure of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry library in Brisbane.

The email went on to say that other Queensland Government libraries have also suffered staff reductions and decreases in budget allocations, with more departments likely to be affected after the budget on Tuesday.

I found the email interesting in several regards, but I will go back to that in just a moment, because I want to talk to you about synchronicity. 2 days ago I had a conversation with a lady who works in the records management industry in Queensland. She had lost her job in a range of budget cuts that said the organisation had to make do with fewer personnel while running the same level of service. Nothing new there, we see that all the time when people leave organisations and are not replaced. Fortunately for this lady she had gained a position with an organisation who knew they had a records management problem and were willing to
a) pay someone to fix it, and
b) save money by reducing the amount of boxes they held in offsite storage.

This takes me back to a series of conversations we had at the inForum 2012 Conference and Trade Show we attended last week.  The representative from Recall told us of large organisations and government departments who had thousands of boxes in storage and could make considerable savings by applying a formal retention and disposal process on the records they had stored with them. Of course, we also knew that Recall and the other storage providers would lose business as a result of this kind of action, so it wasn’t in their best interests to advise clients. They were in effect doing the job they were paid to do.

So where am I going with this?

Well, going back to the email that came through this morning – it said

“ALIA is very concerned about the situation. We are keen to speak with those affected, in confidence, to find out the extent of the cuts and will be reporting back to members early next week. We will be gathering information to help develop our case for government libraries.  Our executive director will be in Brisbane on 19 September and would welcome the opportunity to meet with members. Please let us know if you will be available at some point that day and Sue McKerracher will be in touch. Our state manager Claudia is also keen to hear from you.

In the meantime, we have sent a letter to the Premier. You can have a look at its contents here:

Please contact ALIA by phoning 02 6215 8222 or by emailing You can also reach Claudia Davies, the QLD State Manager at or phone 0468 310 808.”

I am pleased that one of our professional bodies is willing to ask WHY? But I am as interested in a follow up comment by a reader in the West who said – it would have been nice if ALIA had said something about the closure of some of the WA libraries in recent years. The ones named in the email were:

•    Art Gallery
•    Dept of Child Protection
•    Dept of Culture and Arts
•    Dept of Indigenous Affairs (was one of the best Indigenous collections in Australia)
•    Dept of Land Information
•    Office of Senior Interests and Volunteering
•    Office of the Auditor General
•    Dept of Local Government & Office of Multicultural Interests
•    Police Dept
•    Police Service Legal Library
•    Tourism WA
•    WA Electoral Commission

To me it is staggering these libraries closed – consider the Police Department and the Police Service Legal Library and how much legislation changes every year, and that is just one issue I find disturbing. And no, the organisations don’t subscribe to the Australian Record Retention Manual either. Who is helping these people do their jobs or are they expected to find everything themselves?

That comment was followed up with a comment from another reader who said – did anyone ask them to? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I would hope the answer was – YES we did, but they did it anyway.

But I would like to throw a couple of spanners into the works and ask – why is it happening?  Why are we seen to be the departments that can be disposed of to make savings? Why are we not an indispensable part of every organisation? What are we doing wrong?

Is it OUR fault our library and records management services are being subjected to so many budget cuts and / or closure?

Of course it is not just Australia, the problem is worldwide as you know, but, what really bothers me about the closures is the follow on effect it will have on the literacy rates of our population.

I have read a number of reports in recent times that says – the number of functionally illiterate people in Australia stands at around 50%. To put that in simple terms – half the population living in Australia cannot read things like medicine and food labels. And it is going to get worse as people who don’t read themselves or can’t read, have children of their own. They won’t be able to read to their children, this means the patterns and pathways won’t be formed in the brains of the youngsters leading to even poorer rates of literacy in our country.

Is anyone else scared? Because I know I am.


Well – if these people don’t know the benefit of reading, they won’t care one way or another whether their local libraries stay open will they.  And if it is a direct choice between whether funding is allocated to a new football stadium rather than a new archive repository – which do you think will be funded based on polls and election campaigns and results?

I know the Australian Library and Information Association run major programs and campaigns each year – 2012 is the year of reading which is a good example – but are we reaching the people who need to be aware of the real problems facing our profession? Or are we preaching to the converted?

I am of course talking about the politicians and policy makers, and the people who hold the purse strings.  I am talking about the teachers who will be left to educate the next generation of children without the benefit of having teacher librarians on their teams, or public libraries to send the children into should they need help outside of school hours. Not everyone has access to books, computers and apps to help them at home.

We hear all the time – “it’s on the internet” – what happens if these same people only use the internet to check facebook. It’s all very well saying it’s on the internet – well yes a lot of resources are available, IF YOU KNOW WHERE TO LOOK. And without teacher librarians teaching the next generation how to undertake research – they’re not going to know the best places to look. Google has all the answers, so I’ll put my question in there and that’ll do.

So – Let me go back to my previous question:

Is it OUR fault our library and records management services are being subjected to so many budget cuts and / or closure?

•    Are we marketing ourselves effectively?
•    Are we aligned with the people who are making the decisions about where the organisation is headed in the next 3-5 years?
•    Are we part of the management team that makes the decisions? OR
•    Are we at least reporting to the management team that is making the decisions?
•    Do we have a good enough argument to take to the policy makers that says we should be part of the management reporting structure?
•    Are we thinking far enough ahead – think of the massive changes that have occurred in the last 3-5 years? Do you have a plan in place to cope with the changes that will occur in the next 3-5 years? Technology is changing the way we do everything – can we keep up?
•    To the lecturers and educators who read this – are you doing enough to ensure our next generation of information professionals are able to cope with the massive changes to our professional landscape? Is your curriculum changing to reflect those major changes?
•    Is it time for a revolution?