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Building a learning community: the Brimbank libraries strategy.

Creating a community of lifelong learners is one of Brimbank City Council's strategic directions for community well- being and improving the social and economic outcomes of individuals and the community. Brimbank's libraries have been repositioned to support community aspirations through lifelong learning. Library programs have a learning focus and a framework has been developed to ensure that programs support learning needs and aspirations. Edited version of a paper presented at the conference 'Learning for all: public libraries in Australia and New Zealand Melbourne 13-14 September'.


Brimbank is 11 kilometres west of the Melbourne central business district. It is the second largest municipality in Melbourne and the largest in Melbourne's western region, with a population of 190,000. Large sections of it have low socioeconomic status, areas of high educational disadvantage and high rates of youth unemployment. The 2006 ABS census data (1) provided strong evidence of the need for council to support learning in its communities

* 13% of Brimbank residents had only completed their education to year 8 or below compared to 8% in greater Melbourne

* education participation rates in Brimbank were lower for 15-24 year olds with 24% compared to 30% in greater Melbourne

* 41% of Brimbank residents had completed year 12 compared with 49% in greater Melbourne

* 15% of residents had a bachelor or higher degree compared to 27% in greater Melbourne nearly 20% of 15 to 19 year olds were not engaged in work or education.

Brimbank has higher levels of unemployment than that of greater Melbourne and the Socioeconomic indexes for areas (Seifa) (2) lists it as one of the lowest socioeconomic areas in Melbourne. Brimbank also has many strengths, one of which is its cultural diversity--it is one of the most culturally diverse municipalities in Australia with

* over 150 languages spoken

* 43% of resident born overseas

* 54% speaking a language other than English

* a large number of second and third generation migrants who speak their native language at home.

In addition to the cultural diversity, 24% of the residents born overseas have low or no English literacy.

Community plan and learning strategy

In 2008 council commenced an extensive process of engaging and consulting with the community to create the Brimbank community plan 2009-2030. (3) This is its first community based plan and sets the direction for the council plans and therefore the work that council undertakes. One of the strategic directions in the community plan is the creation of a learning community. The libraries and learning department has a lead role in this.

In 2009 the department engaged and consulted with 120 plus individuals and organisations to develop the Brimbank community learning strategy. (4) This was completed and published in 2010 and provides a framework for collaboration and partnerships to support the development of a learning community. Its vision is
   To build a community of lifelong learners by
   working with partner organisations to empower
   people to take control of their lives, raise aspirations,
   enhance employability and build active citizenship
   and quality of life in Brimbank.

The implementation of the strategy is the responsibility of the libraries and learning department. The strategy provides a framework for supporting learning as a means of improving social and economic outcomes for individuals and communities. It supports learning in all life phases so that Brimbank develops as a community of lifelong learners in which people embrace learning as a way of life (see appendix). In order to strengthen council's commitment to lifelong learning significant work was undertaken to reposition the libraries.

Repositioning library services

The repositioning of the libraries enabled the allocation of significant staff resources for the development and delivery of programs/learning opportunities. Supporting the creation of a learning community is not limited to programs--library resources support learning through collections, programs, spaces and facilities.

Departmental changes were made to maximise the capacity to support the development of a learning community. The first change process was the restructuring of the department's leadership team and one of the outcomes was the creation of a community engagement and development coordinator position responsible for partnerships, programs and community learning. This senior position supports staff with partnerships and with the design, development and delivery of programs across the five library branches and via the online library.

The second review was a service point realignment. This included

* rewriting the branch staff position descriptions to reflect contemporary library work and included new work practices

* reclassification of position descriptions that had not been classified for a considerable period of time

* reallocation of staff time from circulation tasks to program delivery

* development and the introduction of a competency framework that enables staff to apply for more senior positions based on their competency rather than qualification, and which expanded the range of qualifications appropriate to positions such as teaching and community development.

The reviewed position descriptions and the competency framework both underpin the requirement for all staff to be involved in the design, planning, development and delivery of programs, depending on their band level. Importantly, the documents have also enabled changes or broadened the qualifications held by the workforce. Library qualifications are still held by the majority of staff but we have staff with teaching, ICT, community development and youth work qualifications. The diversity of qualifications has strengthened teams and skill sets. The outcome of the reclassification of position descriptions was a rebanding of staff to the next band level in acknowledgement of the skills and responsibilities required.

Library overview

Brimbank Libraries are well resourced with 59 equivalent fulltime positions, the buildings are bursting at the seams with more than 1.2 million visits annually and space is always an issue. Sunshine, the largest and busiest library, is 1,200[m.sup.2] and Keilor Village, the smallest and quietest branch is less than 300[m.sup.2]. The online library has 0.9 million visits each year and is available in 4 languages. There are 260,000 items in the collection and 1.9 million collection utilisations annually. The libraries have 150 public internet computers, 335,000 computer bookings annually and the wifi logins continue to grow with 42,500 logins last year. The number of programs continues to grow and last year 2,500 programs were delivered with more than 50,000 program participants.
            2008/9    2009/10   2010/11   2011/12

Number of   1,012     1,760     2,322     2,492

Number of   22,809    35,424    44,255    51,226

Reallocation of resources and library floor space

The growth in the number of programs or learning opportunities has been enabled by the realigning library services with core changes to staff work practices, the implementation of new technology and the redevelopment of library buildings. These changes are interlinked and were critical to the repositioning of the libraries to support the creation of a learning community.

The main changes that relate to supporting the development of a learning community through increasing in the number of partnerships and programs are

* the implementation of self service loans and returns has enabled the reallocation of staff time from low value transactional circulation tasks to higher value tasks such designing and developing programs. Self service kiosks have replaced circulation desks and staff work side by side with the community and proactively support self service, circulation, computer use and collection access.

* the percentage of space allocated for seating has been increased, shelves have been moved closer together to increase the space available for seating and for access to computer and internet access. The number of computers has been increased and game zones with Wiis and PS3s have been introduced. Furniture for computer access has been designed to support group use and shared learning by peers and social groups.

Changes to library buildings have resulted in a large percentage of users spending substantial periods of time in the library--the intention is to embed learning in to all aspects of service delivery and always provide support to maximise the library experience.

Programs framework

About a third of staff time is allocated to lifelong learning through program delivery and with this level of commitment it is critical to ensure that programs deliver outcomes for the community. The programs framework was introduced to ensure programs meet the needs and aspirations of the community.

Another consideration for the introduction of the programs framework was the large number of staff involved in program planning. Staff working with partners need to be able to make decisions about the design and delivery of programs particularly when working with external organisations. Autonomous decision making within the framework avoids having a bottle neck of senior staff approval whilst ensuring the integrity of learning opportunities. The programs framework has seven strategic themes (see appendix 2).

* early years learning

* supporting school years

* digital literacy

* English literacy

* reading culture

* skills for gaining employment

* social connectedness.

These were identified as being congruent with the library environment and are aligned to the aspirations of the community plan and Brimbank's demographic profile. Every program under consideration needs to support at least one of the strategic themes. Thinking strategically about programs at the planning stage ensures staff resources are allocated to developing programs that are targeted and provide good outcomes for the community. Library programs are delivered in the libraries, in the community and online.

The programs framework was reviewed and in 2012/13 each branch will provide two health based programs that fit in to the category of health and wellbeing programs. Examples of health and wellbeing programs held in 2012 are

* Healthy lunchboxes, an information session conducted by a dietician from ISIS Primary Care attended by more than 30 parents.

* Walking in autistic shoes was an information session by author and autism expert Donna Williams (who is herself autistic). Donna provided an insight into the world of an autistic person and provided information and support to parents of autistic children.

Following is a summary of the programs delivered by Brimbank Libraries in the 2011/12 financial year.
2011/12 Summary of community learning opportunities delivered by

Key learning area      Summary of programs

261 digital literacy   A range of classes, programs and information
programs were          sessions are held annually to support community
delivered with 1,420   members gain digital literacy skills including;
people attending       basic computer skills, internet and email
                       classes for beginners through to specialist
                       classes for those with more advanced skills
                       such as digital scrapbooking and web design.

                       Cyber seniors computer clubs at the Sunshine
                       and Sydenham libraries offer seniors the
                       opportunity to learn about computers and
                       computer applications in an informal

Programs to support    Weekly IT resume drop in sessions are held at
skills for gaining     St Albans library providing users with basic
employment             advice and helpful tips on how to present their
                       resumes. Assistance is also provided on how to
                       apply for jobs online. 40 sessions were held
                       this year.

1,200 programs to      Weekly programs across all libraries such as
support early years    preschool storytime and Baby bounce. Two unique
learning were          weekly programs that respond to Brimbank's
delivered with over    diverse demographic are the Learn English
34,000 people          through storytime and the bilingual storytime
attending              program in Mandarin/English and Vietnamese/

                       The Kinda Kinder program, now in its fourth
                       successful year of operation is run in
                       partnership with Victoria University at the
                       Deer Park and Sunshine libraries. Preservice
                       teachers provide play based activities for 0-6
                       year olds and encourage parents to interact
                       with their children during the program.

                       Throughout the year library staff make regular
                       visits to kindergartens, playgroups and
                       maternal and child health centres to promote
                       library programs and encourage parents to read
                       to their children every day.

Programs that          In partnership with council's youth services
support school         department, study support clubs are offered at
years learning         Deer Park, Sunshine, St Albans and Sydenham
                       libraries for students in grades 5 through to
                       year 10 and 160 sessions were held. The program
                       operates on a drop in basis with the focus on
                       helping students get started with their
                       homework and assisting them locate information
                       in the library and online.

                       Throughout the year staff visit schools to
                       promote library services and encourage
                       membership. Many schools organise visits to the
                       library for tours or for more specialist
                       sessions on using the library's online

                       In addition 1,826 children attended a school
                       holiday program in the libraries.

Programs that          Over 500 English as a second language students
support English        visited libraries through class visits. Weekly
literacy skills        practise your English conversation groups
                       operate at Deer Park, St Albans, Sunshine and
                       Sydenham libraries. The program provides a
                       relaxed and informal environment for people to
                       practise their listening and speaking skills.
                       120 sessions were held this year.

                       English classes from AMES and Community West
                       regularly visit the St Albans library to access
                       the Rosetta Stone Learn English computer
                       program. Online English language learning
                       programs such as Mango are available through
                       the online library.

                       The Learn English through storytime program is
                       held weekly at the St Albans Library and
                       assists parents learn English with their
                       children through stories, songs and rhymes. 40
                       sessions were delivered this year.

240 bilingual          Weekly bilingual storytime sessions are offered
storytimes were        in Mandarin/English and Vietnamese/English at
delivered              the Deer Park, Sunshine and St Albans
                       libraries. The program supports parents in
                       their role as their child's first teacher; it
                       supports parents and children gain English
                       literacy skills and promotes bilingualism.

Over 1,500 programs    The celebration of special weeks throughout the
were delivered to      year such as the biggest morning tea during
support social         library and information week and events during
connectedness          cultural diversity week also provide
                       opportunities for people to come together.

Programs were          Ongoing programs include monthly book groups at
delivered to support   Sydenham and Keilor libraries and storytimes,
a reading culture      with 22 storytime sessions held each week.
                       Special weeks were celebrated throughout the
                       year to promote reading such as children's book
                       week. Over 1,500 children registered for the
                       summer reading club and over 120 attending the
                       finale parties in February.

                       The online library provides a forum for book
                       lovers through the Brimbank bookshelf. During
                       the Brimbank writer's festival, the library
                       service hosts workshops for budding writers and
                       author talks so that community members can hear
                       from published authors.

Program planning

Another change in program planning has been the shift from having a citywide programs plan to embedding program plans into branch team plans. This change is aligned with council's district based service delivery model. The district approach is an acknowledgement of the different requirements of the community in the five districts across Brimbank city. Programs and learning opportunities are linked to council's celebrations of special weeks such as cultural diversity week, adult learners week and Naidoc week.

Program and event planning is led and coordinated by the community engagement and development coordinator (CEDC) in partnership with the branch coordinators and involves all team members. Program delivery is a substantial component of branch team plans and of the departmental plan. The plans detail the number programs to be delivered and the target audiences for programs but allow for the flexibility required when programs are part of a partnership arrangement. The flexibility enables staff to take advantage of opportunities that arise during the year and the built in flexibility enables continuous improvement that is incorporated in the program planning process.

The CEDC works with a team of up to 20 senior library services and programs officers (librarians or staff with equivalent qualifications or skills), from across the library service who are involved in the design and development of programs. The branch coordinators are also involved in the design and development of programs and are responsible for the programs in their library. All branch staff are involved in the delivery of programs and involvement in programs work is linked to all branch staff performance reviews.

Planning teams

* service wide planning teams are formed to plan events or programs for special weeks eg national youth week, adult learners week. Teams comprise one senior library services and programs officer (SLSPO) from each branch; branch coordinators are also represented on planning teams

* expressions of interest are sought for planning teams twice a year with nominations coordinated by branch coordinators who then forward the names of their nominated representatives to the CEDC

* participation on planning teams is a requirement of all SLSPOs and is linked to their performance review

* twice yearly at general staff meetings all library staff have the opportunity to suggest themes or ideas for programs through workshops. This information is used as a basis by the planning teams

* each planning team nominates a team leader and each SLSPO needs to lead one team per year and this is also linked to their performance review

* checklists have been developed to guide planning teams through the planning phase and marketing processes. There is generally a 3 month lead time to plan for an event or program

* when the team has developed the program or event, the team leader is responsible for completing an event brief which is forwarded to the CEDC for approval.

Quarterly general staff meetings provide an opportunity for service wide staff conversations. General staff meetings provide an opportunity to celebrate together the department's achievements with program delivery and to showcase best practice.


Working in partnership with a wide range of organisations and service providers is now core work for library staff. Prior to having a strategic commitment to creating a learning community, partnerships were the exception rather than the norm. They are a powerful way of connecting with communities--Brimbank Libraries have a great reputation as a partner, and as the place to go if you want to reach a broad cross section of the community. The nature of partnerships varies considerably. Following are examples of innovative programs developed and delivered in partnership

* ICT Vietnamese computer class project in partnership with the Delahey Community Centre, with state government funding

* Rosetta Stone Learn English program with Ames and Community West at the St Albans Library. The library services provides access to eresources for English language learning whilst the agencies deliver classes. This encourages and enables students to use library resources outside of class

* assisting people with skills for gaining employment sessions in partnership with WISE employment and Matchworks--resume writing, interview skills, part time work for students, cold calling and returning to the workforce

* English and children's services access project: with The Smith Family which funds the project worker. The project connects people to English classes, further studies, early year's services and employment networks providing them with opportunities and empowering them to make positive changes. The library service provides the venue, promotes the service, facilities

* computer classes and storytelling sessions for adults with disabilities in partnership with Mambourin Enterprises. (Mambourin promotes independent living by offering employment, education and training services to adults with a disability)

* Kinda Kinder in partnership with Victoria University preservice teachers provide learning through play based sessions for preschool aged children. This programs assists parents, who also attend the session, to build their knowledge of how children learn through play

* Deakin University--this partnership is just underway. It is about helping local students from disadvantaged backgrounds to find alternative pathways to tertiary education.

In addition to the benefits to the community, Brimbank Libraries' reputation as a key partner when working with the community has been enhanced within council, with service providers and with community organisations. Council staff and others have become champions for the libraries, and actively promote their positive experience of partnering with libraries. The high profile of the libraries has been extended by frequent positive local media coverage.

User survey

The results of the library user survey provide an insight into the myriad ways that the libraries serve the local community and support the creation of a learning community. Data shows that the libraries are used by a wide range of ages and demographics, and users reflect the diversity of the community at large with 42% of respondents primarily reading a language other than English in the home.

The 2011 survey was completed by 1,468 users. It reported that what people 'typically do at the library' is 68% borrow, 48% use computers, 38% read or study and 11% attend class/program.

The survey also tells what the 'library helps with'

* 52% continue to learn

* 49% find information they can't get elsewhere

* 47% read more

* 38% study

* 30% feel part of the community

* 29% learn new hobbies or activities

* 26% achieve tasks or goals

* 24% children with education

* 20% learn computer skills

* 19% improve English skills

* 17% build confidence

* 17% children's early development

* 13% do a job better

* 9% get a job.

The library supports learning in a range of ways with 52% of respondents saying the library helps them 'continue to learn' and is helping with digital literacy, English literacy, support for school years, support for early years development and supporting skills for gaining employment. Data also shows that the libraries support social connectedness and a reading culture. These are the seven strategic areas for program development and library users are telling us that we are making a difference. Council's strong investment in its libraries is enabling it to fulfil the strategic direction, outlined in the council plan Creating a community of lifelong learners.


At Brimbank we have a great community and we are ambitious for it. We do not rest on our laurels but continue to have robust strategic conversations to consider what we are doing, how we do it and if we are delivering outcomes for the community.

Library programs are targeted to support the community's learning and enhance social and economic outcomes for individuals and the community. They support the development of Brimbank as a learning community; promote lifelong learning; are inclusive; culturally relevant; and provide informal learning opportunities for people at all life stages. Library programs are an important component of the implementation of the Brimbank community learning strategy. In the words of one of the survey respondents, the library service is important because
   The library was where I first started to discover the
   world beyond my home; I want to keep learning and
   expanding my mind and the library enables me to do


1 Learning starts with us.

2 Take risks--provide an environment that supports risk taking.

3 Have lots of strategic conversations--they are an important part of learning, exploring ideas and providing clarity.

Appendix 1

Brimbank Libraries' vision and mission statements


The Libraries & Learning Department embraces diversity and engages with the community through innovative services, programs and partnerships that empower and inspire the achievement of lifelong learning and aspirations.


We engage, connect and inspire our community by delivering,

* Exceptional customer service provided by knowledgeable, adaptable and enthusiastic staff

* Innovative and accessible technology, spaces and collections that support recreation, education and employment

* A range of targeted programs in the community, in the libraries and online

Appendix 2

Programs framework

Programs delivered by the Libraries and Learning Department support one of Council's key strategic directions of creating a community of lifelong learners.

Library programs are strategically targeted to support our community's learning, leisure and lifestyle needs and enhance social and economic outcomes. They support the development of Brimbank as learning community, promote lifelong learning, are inclusive, culturally relevant and provide informal learning opportunities for people at all life stages. Library programs support the Brimbank Community Learning Strategy and Action Plans 2010-2013.

Programs are delivered through Brimank's five libraries, in community settings and through the online library. Many programs are developed and delivered in partnership with other Council departments, local community agencies and the education sector.

A Programs framework has been developed to provide guidance to staff that plan, design and develop programs. Seven key strategic themes have been identified that are congruent with the library environment. They followed an assessment of Brimbank's demographics, a review of current programs and discussions with community members and program partners. Every program under consideration should support at least one of the key strategic themes. By thinking strategically about programs at the planning stage we ensure staff resources are allocated to developing programs that are targeted and provide good outcomes for our community.
Strategic themes        Learning outcomes

Early years learning    * Support parents in their role as their
                          child's first teacher
                        * Provide early learning opportunities for
                        * Foster a love of books and reading in
                          children before they go to school
                        * Encourage social networks for parents and
                        * Help children to maintain their first
                          language and promote bilingualism

Supporting school       * Provide homework help
years learning          * Support and promote independent learning
                          and study skills
                        * Support financially vulnerable families with
                          access to resources, information services
                          and free programs during the school holidays
                        * Encourage children to read during the

Promoting a reading     * Promote reading as an important life skill
culture                 * Encourage parents to read and to model good
                          reading habits to their children
                        * Promote library collections
                        * Support community members to maintain their
                          first language
                        * Inspire a love of reading through programs
                          that are fun and literature based
                        * Promote learning through reading

English literacy        * Increase engagement with residents who are
                          recent arrivals
                        * Improve English literacy skills
                        * Provide informal learning opportunities
                        * Provide opportunities for social interaction

Supporting skills for   * Develop partnerships with local agencies to
gaining employment        deliver programs on job seeking skills
                        * Develop partnerships with the education
                          sector to provide pathways for skills
                          training and higher education
                        * Promote print and online resources for job

Social connectedness    * Provide opportunities for community members
                          to meet and socialise
                        * Develop programs to engage with community
                          members who are socially isolated and
                          vulnerable such as the elderly, recent
                          arrivals and the unemployed
                        * Celebrate cultural diversity

Digital literacy        * Provide opportunities for people to gain
                          competence and confidence in using
                        * Develop and deliver digital programs to
                          support the most vulnerable in the community
                          such as recent arrivals, the elderly and the
                        * Research and develop programs that support
                          the digital native generation


(1) Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census of Population and Housing 2006 au/websitedbs/censushome.nsf/home/Census

(2) Australian Bureau of Statistics, SEIFA: socioeconomic indexes for areas, 2006 http://www.abs. _page

(3) Brimbank City Council Brimbank community plan 2009-2030 [2009] About_Brimbank/Governance/Council_policies_stra tegies_plans_guidelines/Council_Plans/Brimbank_C ommunity_Plan_2009-2030

(4) Brimbank City Council Brimbank community learning strategy 2010-2013 http://www.brimbank. icies_Strategies_Plans/Council_Strategies/Brimbank Community Learning Strategy 2010-2013

Chris Kelly Manager Libraries and Learning, Brimbank City Council Victoria

Chris Kelly has been the manager of Libraries & Learning, Brimbank city council for five years. During that time she has worked with her team to substantially reshape service delivery through changes to library buildings, the implementation of technology and the realignment of staff work practices. Chris has worked in the public library sector for 14 years and is passionate about tailoring library services to meet the needs and aspirations of the local community. She is also passionate about changing social and economic outcomes of individuals and communities by supporting lifelong learning. Chris worked as the library manager for Hume city council for over 4 years and was part of the team responsible for creating a learning community. In her current role she has overseen the development of the first Brimbank community learning strategy and is working with her team to implement the strategy. Address: Brimbank City Council McCracken Street Sunshine Vic 3020 email
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Title Annotation:Brimbak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Author:Kelly, Chris
Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 2012
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