In 2015, the Executive of the Australian Government Libraries and Information Network (AGLIN) commissioned a study into Commonwealth Government library and research services. Following a literature review discussing the issues and challenges facing contemporary government information services (Hallam & Faraker, 2016), relevant organisational data about the individual services was collected through an online survey, and library staff shared their views and insights in a series of focus groups. The research findings were presented in an Options Paper, which outlined four potential models for service delivery the government library and information services (Hallam, 2016).
One major limitation with the initial research project was noted: the timing of the study, late in the year, meant that it was not possible to involve senior members of the Australian Public Service in the study. The Stage 2 project, Consultation with Senior Executives and Policy Managers in Government Agencies, seeks to address these shortcomings. The value of the study lies in engaging the research subjects in discussions about the future of library and information services to support government staff working in research, policy and regulatory agencies. The key objective for the study was to collect, analyse and interpret qualitative data on the views of senior executives and policy managers about the roles played by library and information professionals and about the service model in place in their agencies. After the key informants were selected, they were invited to participate in a semi-structured interview or complete an online questionnaire.
A total of 13 interviews were conducted, with three additional online survey responses. The issues and challenges facing government library and information professionals were discussed from the perspectives of the respondents. The support provided by library staff to ensure productive outcomes was highly valued, with particular emphasis placed on the strong relationships they established and the deep understanding they developed about the business of the agency. There was a good appreciation of their skills and expertise in providing access to and managing information, along with the professional networks across the library sector. On the other hand, interviewees were aware of the vulnerability of staff working in small units in terms of their professional isolation and lack of career structure.
The respondents acknowledged that there were significant barriers facing library and information services, primarily due to financial constraints within the public service and the disruptive nature of the evolving world of digital information and data. As funding cuts had resulted in the downsizing of library services, respondents were aware of lower levels of professional influence resulting from the increasingly transactional and less strategic directions taken. There were concerns about the relative invisibility of the library staff, with a perceived reticence about the marketing and promotion of their services. Many ideas were presented about the untapped opportunities for the library and information services, with a keen focus on the need to add value to the tasks they performed, especially in the areas of data management, information management and curation of agency resources, and information and digital literacy.
The respondents believed that library and information professionals, they should be ready and able to adapt and apply their highly specialised skills in the world of digital information. They wanted to see librarians demonstrate leadership in this area, especially as the territory was beginning to be claimed by newly trained data scientists and information managers who saw opportunities in the field. There was no clear consensus about the potential options for service models: while the organisational advantages of the agency-centric model were recognised, the financial and professional benefits of a cluster model, similar to university library services, were also acknowledged.
The Stage 2 study has successfully deepened the interpretation of the discussion presented in the Options Paper. The analysis of the rich qualitative data has validated the findings of the initial research project which identified the positive and negative attributes of government library services. The digital world undoubtedly presented both challenges and opportunities for library and information professionals, specifically in ensuring strong commitment to evidence-based policy, fostering mature levels of information and digital literacy and driving the move into effective data management. There was an imperative for library and information professionals to focus on communication in order to sell their skillsets, raise their profile and advocate for higher level representation in their agencies. AGLIN has a clear role to play in achieving these goals for the future.
The research activities undertaken in Stage 2 through the consultation with senior executives and policy managers in Commonwealth government agencies reinforce the value of the recommendations presented in the Options Paper. The Executive and membership of AGLIN are encouraged to review the research findings presented in the report and to work together to consider the range of strategies which will build the capacity of and secure a strong and relevant future for the association, and by extension, for the individual member library and information services.