Gene Tan speaking at Future Libraries: Better Communities Stakeholder Symposium, State Library of Queensland, 16 March 2023. Credit: Katie Bennett, Embellysh.

The symposium, presented by State Library of Queensland, boasted a stellar line-up drawing together online and in house, library practitioners, local councils, government, industry partners and other stakeholders from across Queensland and internationally.

A warm and engaging Welcome to Country was provided by Jahmarley Dawson, who generously shared story and culture and set our collective attention on creating a better future for our communities.

Speakers included keynote presentations from thought leaders including university researchers, State Library of Queensland’s State Librarian and Chief Executive Officer, Vicki McDonald AM FALIA, regional library staff, and musician storytellers, Bulkaway Muruku from Cairns demonstrating the success and diversity of their local programmes.

A pivotal session with Alison Smith, CEO of Local Government Association of Queensland followed by an expert panel including Aimee McVeigh, CEO, Queensland Council of Social Services; Luke Twyford, Principal Commissioner, State government Family and Child Commission; Cameron Costello, Deputy Chair, Queensland Tourism Industry Council; and Heather Rea, Senior Specialist from Telstra’s Sustainability Centre of Expertise presented the challenges and opportunities ahead for Queensland communities in the decade to come.

The symposium addressed key questions in preparing for the development of a new 10-year Roadmap for public libraries:

  • What is the vision for your community in the next 10 years?
  • What role can libraries play in contributing to a better future for your community?

Underpinning the discussions were two evaluations of State Library’s Digital inclusion and First 5 Forever programmes which can be downloaded here.

Several themes and intersections emerged including the need for people to have access to social services, secure housing, personal safety, digital connectivity and for children, young people, and their families to feel welcomed to engage in community. Libraries play a pivotal role as community and cultural hubs, places of learning and refuge that are staffed by people who connect and contribute to the wellbeing of individuals and communities beyond the delivery of library collections.

With this in mind, we looked to the future with Gene Tan, Chief Librarian and Chief Innovation Officer, National Library Board of Singapore providing the final keynote. Gene presented successful models for developing and scaling programmes that leverage the public’s passions, position libraries as the go-to source of new discoveries, and ensure access and empowerment is a core focus of our business. In closing, Gene reminded us to remain relevant, and that the future of libraries is beyond libraries.

First 5 Forever Round table

In a meeting of expert practitioners, partners and researchers with a shared vision, the First 5 Forever round table hosted a deep dive exploration of the possibilities for the 10-year Roadmap. Delegates addressed how First 5 Forever is working in communities, what aspects to amplify, and how to capture and measure the successes to tell the First 5 Forever stories.

“No one left behind” discussions responded to the first day of the symposium and sought ways to reach Queensland families. Jemima Eveans, First 5 Forever Officer, Cairns Libraries, Cairns Regional Council demonstrated her amplified programming that has grown over time and responds to the unique Cairns-ness of the community. Jemima inspired and engaged listeners to imagine the possibilities for the future of First 5 Forever in local communities.

In discussing growth for the future, the round table proposed a pact that stakeholders and advocates could take in committing to supporting First 5 Forever towards reaching the ambitions for children and families in our communities.

Digital Inclusion Round table

Committed, passionate local government, library and industry practitioners took part in a Digital Inclusion Round table that included additional research presentations.

Dr Kim Osman, Dr Amber Marshall, Dr Jessa Rogers, and Carrie-Ann Wilson from Queensland University of Technology’s Digital Media Research Centre shared key findings from several digital inclusion research programmes that focused on participation, community engagement and impacts on communities of need.

Professor Andrew McCosker from Swinburne University and ARC Centre of Excellence in Automated Decision Making and Society (ADM+S) spoke about the Australian Digital Inclusion Index and demonstrated the ongoing digital divide between those with and those without the digital skills and access to technology to be part of an increasing digital world.

Jess Wilson, CEO, Good Things Foundation Australia, spoke about how everyone in Australia has the right to affordable technology and access to a local, friendly place to learn digital skills.

Dr Daniel Featherstone of RMIT University node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for ADM+S, provided further evidence of the digital gap faced by remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, through Mapping the Digital Gap 4-year research programme.

Round table groups dissected the research and discussed ways to close the digital gap through themes of access, affordability, and ability to ensure no one is left behind. Participants committed to taking actions that could help turn the digital inclusion dial in the week after the symposium and identified key digital inclusion priority for the 10-year Roadmap.

Contributed by Public Libraries and Engagement, State Library of Queensland.