1. What is Library Island in your words?
Library Island is an activity which simulates five years in the life of a nation's library services. Participants become librarians, government officials, or community members on this island and face the challenges created by conflicting wants, needs, and limited resources. There is an indigenous community and colonial history to be reckoned with, plus a range of political interests with their own agenda for the library.
It's a simple game played with nothing more than office furniture, pens, and paper, but it swiftly leads to rich and complex scenarios.
Library Island is playful and intense - the fictional setting allows us to explore structural issues, political challenges, and even some of the disruptive behavior that librarians may face from their users, within the relative safety of a "make-believe" context.
2. What is your goal by doing this?
Library Island offers professional learning which is open-ended, rather than didactic. It creates an opportunity for participants to explore relationships, values, and structural challenges as part of their ongoing development. It can also be played with your community and other stakeholders to expand their understanding of what a library is and what it can do.
We've also played Library Island with museum professionals, university staff, and even healthcare workers, adapting the activity to their institutions and communities - Healthcare Island, Museum Island, etc. The aim is to help people dynamically challenge and expand their understanding of their institution's relationship to society.
3. How did you get the idea?
I'm also passionate about moving professional development away from an instructional model to one which is about exploration. If you have 100 people in a room to learn about their profession, is the best use of their time for 1 person to talk and 99 people to listen? Or should everyone have the opportunity to articulate, develop, share, and challenge their ideas?
It was natural to bring these things together in a playful event which moved away from instructional models and encouraged open-ending learning, where the participants were in control, not the facilitator.
4. Why is it a good method to do these role games and put yourself in someone else's place when you want to find out the future roles for librarians?
Librarians need to be able to define their role and the value of their work in a way which makes sense to the communities they serve, to stakeholders, and to those who fund the library service. Library Island challenges participants to step into someone else's shoes and see the system from a different perspective, considering the wider social context of an entire community.
Library Island gets people out of their silos and seeing things in a whole new light. Being able to tell the story of what you do, in a dynamic and response way, is the key not only to advertising and justifying libraries' services - it actually helps us to better understand and redefine our mission in a changing world.
5. Can you give a couple of specific examples of surprising or interesting quotes and experiences from the Library Island or afterwards?
(As we hadn’t been able to set up a fake social network for the game, the Indigenous players had carried this out by handwriting tweets onto scraps of paper and physically pelting the Ministry with them)."
I attended another fascinating talk by Dr. Matt Finch, researcher and community engagement powerhouse. Dr. Finch delivered a great workshop where we role played in a fictional Library Island trying to get funding from the Ministry of Shelves.
It was a powerful exercise in collaboration and negotiation and forced us out of our comfort zones to engage in what became "serious" community involvement. I was given the role of a guy who liked video games and movies and seemed like kind of a slacker but wanted my (fictional) language to be better represented in the towns' libraries. To do this I had to ask for funding from the Ministry who outright rejected my claims. I then had to wander the room looking for people who would support my cause and together we created a fictional online crowd funding page to bring attention to this injustice and raise money to purchase more inclusive literature.
It was a lot of fun and brought home a message that I am aware of - yet don't seem to have the time to engage in that often - collaboration with others. Being a librarian can be a very isolating experience especially for those who don't have a colleague to work with. I'm very lucky to have one, yet we are our own department and you can still feel cut off in from "what's going on" in many ways. I love collaborating with other departments in the school and this reminded me and has energized me to do more - more staff events, a staff book club in the library after school starting in September and so on.
In the very first Library Island, a particularly playful and quick-witted player in the role of a government official managed to defraud the government - he bought himself a plane from the Ministry budget! The community had to improvise rules to apprehend and punish the player, but also to think about how they regulated the funding - bringing us back to the serious issue of integrity and scrutiny of our processes.
In a New Zealand session, a player in the role of a right wing tycoon managed to take over the entire island, closing down libraries and sending objectors to prison. This was achieved by some very astute political game playing, and although the scenario was wild, it forced people again to think about their values and how they would act in the face of political extremism.
One Library Island saw homeless people refuse to leave a library which had been closed, sleeping on the floor instead. This led to a wider discussion about disruptive behavior, inclusion, and how these issues also arise in academic libraries or specialist settings such as health libraries.
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You also had a session in Denmark with library leaders.
6. Do you sense any special challenges in the library system in Denmark or is it the same challenges you experience in the other countries you are doing workshops in?
Many countries are facing the challenge of cuts to funding of public services in general and libraries in particular. Not only must library leaders adapt to the changing nature of library services, but they must also do so under financial and political constraints. It adds another layer of challenge, but library leaders tend to be resourceful, creative, and determined - knowing when to advocate, push back, innovate, or adapt to the changing environment within which they work.
7. And was there something special you noticed in the workshop?
Our Danish participants were lively, enthusiastic, and keen to engage with the broader issues of the day - asking, how can libraries help with the challenges and opportunities faced by Denmark now and in the future?
We identified the need to have swift, strategic conversations with staff and stakeholders alike - the need to sit down for a cup of coffee with someone and be able to tell them: "Look, this is what we do, this is how we help our community, these are the challenges ahead, and this is where we need to go in the future, what do you think and how can we help each other?".
We improvised an activity using pens and paper napkins to have these conversations in a simple, effective way. If you can sketch the situation on the back of a napkin, explain it over a cup of a coffee, and communicate in a way which gets the other person on board with your mission, that's a huge win for any library leader.