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Library workforce planning: the northern territory approach.

Libraries in the tropical, growing but still sparsely populated Northern Territory, as elsewhere in Australasia are keen to ensure the right person, in the right job, at the right time. There are issues in attracting and keeping staff in the Northern Territory, some of which are unique. This report was produced as part of a leadership development program conducted for librarians and other key support staff in the NT in 2001. Viki Chmielewski and Elizabeth Roberts were part of a group that investigated issues facing employers and employees, and made recommendations for actions now and during the next five years. Edited version of a paper presented at `The vital link 3: staffing in library and information services in the 21st century' conference Adelaide South Australia 2930 November 2002 held by the University of South Australia Library in association with the Australian Library and Information Association


This report was originally written as part of a leadership development program organised by the Northern Territory Library and Information Service in Darwin between February and November 2001. The program was developed in response to a perceived lack of management and leadership skills within the library profession in the NT. The workforce planning team was interested in exploring workforce issues in the NT and liked the idea of showing leadership in making recommendations as to how the NT could plan to more successfully `ensure the right person, in the right job, at the right time'.

In the Territory, library employers regularly report difficulties in recruiting and retaining suitable staff. Staff commonly claim that it is difficult to find permanent employment in libraries and that when employed career progression and job satisfaction can be limited. The workforce planning team was keen to rest these perceptions and investigate what issues are facing employers and employees now and in the next five years. The team believes that by identifying potential problems early enough, library management can be proactive rather than reactive, planning for any future shortages in trained staff. Comprised of managers of public and special libraries as well as an experienced budget and finance officer, the group undertook research to identify issues and problems within the Northern Territory workforce. This involved surveys of senior management and staff, focus groups, an open forum, interviews with the main educator in the NT and a survey of graduates from the NT University's library courses over the past ten years. Libraries surveyed were limited to the largest employers of staff in the NT, all based in Darwin. These are Darwin Public Libraries, Northern Territory University Library, Northern Territory Library and Information Service and the Northern Territory Health Library.

Discussions centred on four main areas, recruitment issues, incentives, professional development and general employment practices.


The key recruitment issue identified was that only a small pool of local personnel exists, with a limited skill capacity. Constant difficulties are faced in attracting staff with additional skills from outside the Northern Territory. Image was identified as the vital factor in attracting new staff.

Issues for the NT include

* advertising--the need for creative advertising which promotes the NT as an adventurous place to pursue a library career without creating unrealistic expectations

* location--getting people to come to Darwin in the first place. Sometimes people are recruited when they come to Darwin for another purpose eg conferences. This is helpful as they have then seen the city when applying for jobs

* people often do not have as many staff reporting to them in the NT as in larger communities. Managers may be required to do more hands on work, which is often not what they expect

* some people do not last as they are under the illusion of a very laidback lifestyle in the tropics and may not be prepared for the realities

* the need for position descriptions to reflect duties accurately was seen as important, with vagueness in the wording encouraging a wider, but not necessarily suitable, pool of applicants

It is an ongoing reality that there are not enough qualified library staff in the Territory. They must be attracted from elsewhere. Visiting library schools interstate to entice new graduates, and networking with library educators to have students study a unit in Darwin were suggested as ways to market and promote a move to the NT as an interesting and exciting career direction.

It was also suggested that we should focus on `growing our own' staff. More incentives should be available to school leavers to make the library profession their career choice. Higher point score entry level for library studies and promotion of the industry at school career presentations was suggested to raise the general profile library careers. Traineeships and postgraduate appointments are options to this end as well.


When it came to incentives the issue of salaries was raised, namely the disparity between salaries and benefits paid by the NT government and other organisations. In particular the public libraries feel disadvantaged when trying to recruit to positions that do not pay as well as NT government jobs.

The high cost of living in the NT is also an issue for some people. Accommodation subsidies or other incentives are often used to attract people to the remotest parts of the Territory but could also be used to offset a lower salary. One employer also suggested that the high cost of living is a perception rather than a reality measured against cost of winter clothing, heating etc. If this idea is promoted more widely potential employees could get a more balanced idea of what moving to the Territory could mean.

It was also suggested that the profession needed to focus on portraying Darwin as the exciting place it is, with job flexibility and great opportunities for new graduates, which can make the smallness of the place a benefit rather than a negative. The fact that it can be relatively easy for spouses to find employment in the Territory is also something that can be promoted, particularly with groups such as Defence Force families.

Professional development

The importance of professional development was strongly emphasised by both managers and staff, including the idea that targeted professional development is needed to maintain librarianship as a profession. The need to move the image of librarians from book worms to information professionals was raised, with a particular focus on the area of management skills.

Expectations on librarians to be financial and human resource managers appear to be increasing, but with many individuals believing they do not have the skills, training and experience to fully equip them to take on these new roles. That many other professions are facing this greater emphasis on management skills was raised, and that library staff should look to other professional organisations for training and development in areas such as management and marketing.

The need for greater cooperation between the different library sectors and to bring trainers in from interstate were also raised. Using the Australian Library and Information Association (Alia) more to organise and promote training opportunities was also raised. Local opportunities for job exchanges between the different libraries were also seen as a practical way to increase professional development opportunities in a small sector.

General employment practices

General employment issues discussed included the loosening of boundaries between library technicians and librarians at the Northern Territory University with the broad banding of some positions and the higher education worker structure. Many staff working in government libraries felt that a similar system would offer them better opportunities for career progression.

A major issue for discussion by both managers and employees was whether library staff need to have a library background at all. The argument was made that there are very real advantages in getting people from related sectors into libraries eg information technology, marketing and business. Discussion also encompassed the need to broaden local information management qualifications to allow people to work in archives, records management, information management or libraries. This would allow employers to draw from a broader pool of people. Library and information management training was seen as important, but a strong argument was put that library boundaries need to be loosened.

When asked what employment practices they felt are the most important in encouraging good staff to stay the following issues were identified

* providing a good initial orientation

* opportunities for professional development and advancement

* capitalising on the strengths of employees and utilising these for the benefit of the organisation

* recognition of outstanding contributions without creating a tall poppy syndrome

* conference attendance should not be seen as a bonus for outstanding job performance but as an essential tool for professional development

* accommodation of flexible work arrangements and support for family leave

* job exchanges to allow staff the opportunity to do something different and expand their skills

* leaders/managers should display passion and commitment to their jobs if they expect to find these qualities in their staff

The survey

Data about the library workforce in the NT was collected by a survey of library staff and graduates of NT library courses. Staff of the Northern Territory Library and Information Service, Northern Territory University Library, Darwin Public Library Service and the Territory Health Library were surveyed, as well as students who had graduated from the Northern Territory University library studies courses in the past ten years. There was, of course, a large crossover between the two groups with many of those who graduated from NTU working for the major Territory employers. Out of two hundred survey forms sent out, one hundred and ten responses--55 per cent, were received.

* results show that in the next ten years there may be a shortage of qualified library staff as nearly 30 per cent of current staff will reach retirement age in that period

* library staff are relatively well educated with 87 per cent of staff holding a minimum of one library qualification. Approximately 50 per cent have additional qualifications

* only 6 per cent of staff have done or are currently doing any type of formal management studies. 16 per cent are working as managers

* 62 per cent believe study is a good means of preparation for library work

* 72 per cent of people not working in a library, who studied to do so, believe increased work placements or library based work would have better prepared them to work in a library environment

* the majority of respondents state they found work placements and some course content successful in preparing them to work in libraries

* 41 per cent of respondents stated that nonlibrary subjects were not beneficial to their work in libraries. What these subjects were is not available--some comments suggest courses like psychology

* nearly all graduates either already worked in the industry or gained work in the industry almost immediately after graduation

* 81 per cent of library staff hold a permanent position with 19 per cent on contract

* 75 per cent of those on contract would like a permanent position

* the Territory has a highly transient work force with 74 per cent of staff having changed positions within the last five years

* just over half of those position changes having occurred within the past twelve months. This may reflect the level of organisational change that has occurred within the sector

* the fact that only 57 per cent of those surveyed were satisfied with their current position, combined with the high level of movement in the industry, may be an indicator of dissatisfaction with employment generally within the industry


The group concluded that the NT needs greater cooperation between library employers, educators and professional groups to explore issues of professional development and marketing in a systematic and cohesive fashion in order to attract the best people into libraries in the Territory. Libraries in the NT, as in most other states, are facing a major loss of qualified staff in the next decade due to the retirement of the baby boomer generation. Traditional difficulties in attracting and retaining staff because of issues of remoteness and distance will be exacerbated by this loss of staff and the profession will need to respond creatively to overcome these problems. Cooperative marketing and promotion of the profession to attract library people from interstate as well as individuals from related fields in the NT is seen as essential to maintain the library profession as a vibrant and attractive profession.

Currently employers often try to fill skill gaps within their organisations and through recruitment from interstate. This tends to occur in an ad hoc fashion. Professional development to fill perceived skill gaps is often uncoordinated. Marketing of the industry and profession is carded out in a scattered and unfocused manner with very limited resources. The project highlighted the benefits of a formal communication mechanism between all employer groups as well as those responsible for providing training. This type of group would be in a strong position to influence outcomes for training and recruiting to the Northern Territory library workforce. A coordinated approach would also allow national campaigns to promote working in the Territory among library and information workers, with the opportunity to produce marketing tools such as videos to educate people as to what living in the Territory may mean for them. It would also allow the opportunity for cross sector recruitment drives, increasing the possibility of finding the `fight person for the right job'.

The field of information management, of which librarianship is a part, is now an extremely fast moving environment due to changing technology. Skills gained in other related environments are becoming increasingly relevant. Formal education for all tertiary courses is increasingly competency based. The current small workforce could be utilised in a more dynamic manner if the boundaries are made more fluid with selection criteria allowing applicants with many different formal information management qualifications to apply. Academic library qualifications have become less significant when assessing applicants for senior positions. The accurate writing of selection criteria is a key factor in recruiting the best person for the job.

The management issue was first raised during the employers forum with discussion about the availability of suitable staff to assume higher level roles and responsibilities within the industry. Employers spoke of the lack of suitable staff applying for higher level positions within their organisations. There were either too few applicants or those applying did not have the management and leadership skills required. The survey identified that the majority of the library workforce holds library related qualifications, with many others having further qualifications in other fields. The gap exists in management skills with only six per cent reporting having done formal studies in management of any kind. This compares to 16 per cent currently employed as library managers. Both the Council of Australian State Libraries and the National Library of Australia have highlighted the lack of management training among library staff as an issue of high concern. Libraries in the NT need to identify shared opportunities to increase management training and skills, including exploring links with other professional management organisations in the NT. Such cooperation should also be aimed at encouraging more frequent exchanges between staff in NT libraries and allow the investigation of opportunities for exchanges between staff in the NT and other states.

Viki Chmielewski Darwin City Libraries NT

Viki Chmielewski is employed by Darwin City Libraries Address: PO Box 84 Darwin NT 0801 tel(08)89272280
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Article Details
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Author:Chmielewski, Viki
Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
Article Type:Excerpt
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 2002
Previous Article:People make the difference.
Next Article:Francis Aubie Sharr: librarian extraordinaire.

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