23 December 2022

Vulnerability, leadership & a mixtape

I had a great 2022. At work, that is. 

We successfully migrated to a new library services platform, completing this project on time and on budget, and winning a VC's Award for Professional Staff Excellence in the Innovation category along the way. We also completed a long project to provide our creative arts researchers with a second repository for showcasing their work. We were part of the university-wide effort to implement a new learning management system. We sought funding to digitise our legacy print theses and to implement a new archives platform next year, in order to support the University's upcoming 50th anniversary, and were successful on both counts. Some team members resigned to take up great new career opportunities and in turn we recruited some lovely new colleagues. It was busy, I said when asked, but good busy, like things were finally moving forward after two years of feeling like we were running all the time but not really getting anywhere.

Outside of work, things weren't so great. 

My year started with a cancelled 50th birthday party, due to the first Omicron wave. I hadn't had a big party since I was 21 and had been really looking forward to this. As it turned out, cancelling was definitely the right decision, as I tested positive two days after my birthday. My Covid experience was not too bad, until about Day 11 when I ended up in emergency with a low heartbeat and even lower than usual blood pressure. They monitored me for six hours, said I was fine and sent me home. Six months later, I still had 10% less lung function than pre-Covid and an increasing amount of rage an disappointments at the lack of care our governments and many community members seemed to have about it all. 

The second half of the year brought more lowlights. A family's member death from pancreatic cancer (and the aftermath). A painful shoulder injury. A week after finishing physio for the shoulder injury, an ankle injury - caused by, as I classified it in the health and safety report, "psychosocial factors", subcategory "distraction, lack of attention". Six weeks of skin cancer treatment for the latest of many BCCs. Another death from breast cancer of another extended family member. Another terminal diagnosis for another extended family member... It's just been one thing after another. 


Rumbling with Vulnerability: 4.6/10

Rumbling with vulnerability is a growth area for you. Vulnerability is the foundation for the other skill areas, so we suggest focusing your growth efforts here first.

Vulnerability is the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk,and emotional exposure. It’s having the courage to show up, fully engage, and beseen when you can’t control the outcome.

[Excerpt of my results from the Daring Leadership Assessment, completed this year as part of an internal series of workshops with our library leadership team. Not a great surprise.]


Our recent end-of-year Library celebration had the theme of Music. It included an album cover competition (hiliarious - librarians should really not be allowed anywhere near photo editing software when there's a theme), music trivia, team presentations and optional dress-ups. I went 90s with a Breeders' Cannonball T-shirt, cut-off jeans shorts, tights and Doc Martens. Others came in all their New Romantic, rock 'n' roll, roadie, band T-shirt, and disco glory. There was a Freddie Mercury and a spectacular spangly flared jumpsuit. There were giant scones (and other food, but the giant scones were most memorable). It was a really fun morning, the first time since 2019 that so many of us had gotten together in person from across our five campuses. 

Each member of our management team got three minutes to do whatever we wanted by way of a wrap-up of the year. My photoshop skills were not up the high standard of the album cover competition, so I went with an old school mix-tape (in the more modern form of a playlist) that captured the vibe of the year. 

My single Powerpoint slide contained this image: 

The night before I jotted down a few notes in an email to myself: 

back in the 80s, when some of you weren't born yet but i was a teenager, the most up to date music technology was the audio cassette

making a mix tape for someone was a project that could take you days or weeks. you couldn't just click the instant "add to playlist button" and then move tracks around later. you had to carefully select songs, work out what order you wanted them in, use your double cassette ghetto blaster to dub from one cassette to the other. sometimes you stayed up all night waiting for a song to come on the radio so that you could record it. and then when your tape was finished you'd carefully hand-write out a tracklist and if you were arty (which I'm not) you might even do your own cover art. 

it was a real labour of love and you only did it for people that you cared about. 

i've made a mixed tape for today, but of course since it's 2022 and my last cassette player was a Sony Walkman that would have died 30 years ago, I've had to create this as a YouTube playlist! 

like all good mix tapes, it's got some dancefloor fillers and some head bangers and some more introspective moments. i'm not going to go through each track individually but I've picked them all because for me they captured something of the 2022 vibe that I wanted to share. 

it's been a year with a lot of achievements and we are here today to celebrate that

but it has also been a difficult year for me and i know it has been for many others too. there are songs on my mix tape for you that are about staring change down and meeting the challenges that we are faced with.

there are also songs about not having to face things on your own - we can't all be as awesome as pat benatar! 

my big takeaway from this year is that it is OK, in fact it's essential, to ask for help

i am usually a pretty resilient and optimistic person but this year really broke me a few times. i've had to ask for help this year to deal with personal and professional challenges and it's always been forthcoming. many times i didn't even have to ask for it - it was offered before i even knew i needed it. 

it really means a lot to me to work in a place where people genuinely look out for each other, and i hope that you'll all agree that is as worth celebrating as all our other activities and achievements.

Well, that is what I would have said, had I not burst into tears in front of dozens of my colleagues in a lecture theatre about a third of the way through what I was trying to say. 

I took a few moments, tried to keep going, couldn't, stopped again. My boss who was at the side of the stage came over and gave me a pat on the back and eventually I managed to bumble through to the end. Another colleague took my place on the podium and that, I thought, was that. 

Except that it wasn't. In the following days a few colleagues messaged me to see if I was OK and to say they'd had a hard year too. Others that knew me well said they were proud to see me present such an honest view of how I was really feeling instead of bottling things up. Someone from another team came up to me a couple of days later and said they'd really wanted to give me a hug when they saw me crying. I said hugs were always welcome, and accepted one gratefully. 

The more I have thought about this, the more I have realised that moment was really important and I shouldn't just forget about it. It shows me how much I have changed as a person and as a leader. Three years ago I would have been mortified and beating myself up thinking I'd embarrassed myself in front of all my colleagues. But now, after the past three years? I'm not too bothered that people I work with have seen that side of me. If they didn't know it before, they now know that managers are human beings too, with all our own feelings and issues. I knew that I was in a safe space with all my amazing and supportive colleagues, and that overwhelmed me. In a good way. 

Happy 2023, everyone. I hope it's a better year for all of us. And as for you, 2022 - get in the bin. I'm so done with you. 

08 March 2021

Non-use of preferred names - addressing a diversity, equity & inclusion issue in library systems

In this post I share some recent experiences at my place of work, where we've been addressing both technical and procedural issues relating to the use of preferred names, particularly in the context of trans and gender diverse library users. 

I was prompted to share this after responding to a tweet from a library sector colleague on Twitter.

I hope this post will encourage other library professionals to evaluate whether our systems are addressing our diverse communities appropriately. I would also encourage you to collaborate and step up to escalate any issues as a broader IT concern within your parent organisation. 

What prompted this? 

Late in 2020 members of our university's Ally Network were informed some students had experienced deadnaming (being called by their name prior to their gender affirmation/transition) in their interactions with the university. 

Why is this important?

According to Queensland Human Rights Commission guidance for schools and universities:

While accidental slip ups may happen when the change is new, continually and deliberately referring to a student by the wrong pronoun or a former name is discriminatory


Hearing others use the correct name and pronouns is strongly associated with positive wellbeing and can reduce mental health risks for students who are trans and gender diverse.

Most libraries in Australia will have responsibilities under discrimination legislation, but this should not just be seen as a compliance issue. Failing to provide safe and inclusive experiences both on-campus and online for staff and students is a failure to live up to the core values of our profession. 

What did we do? 

My team conducted an audit of 20+ library and corporate systems that make use of personal names. 

We identified that several important systems and services were not making use of preferred names. This included reading lists, interlibrary loans, and our primary webform for seeking help from the library. 

We then either made changes ourselves or requested the assistance of our identity and access management team in the IT area to enable use of preferred names. 

This then raised some broader issues. While the identity team could make changes in the systems that the Library owned, they couldn't make hanges in other systems without the approval of the owners of those systems. This meant, for example, that our library help form was not something we could immediately get fixed, as this had been built using the enterprise content management system owned by our marking and communications division.

At this point, we shifted the conversation beyond the Library to trusted colleagues in our HR and Information Management areas to work out next best steps. We all agreed that the university needed to address this issue in a consistent and comprehensive way. As this is a requirement under human rights legislation, we did not think changes should be subject to the conscious or unconscious bias of the owners of individual systems. 

After this discusison, we helped our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion leads in our HR area to escalate this to our Chief Digital Officer (CDO) as something requiring an all-of-university approach. It was helpful for them to have someone from the Library in the conversation who could "translate" the diversity, equity and inclusion issue involved in deadnaming into a set of requirements that IT providers could understand and take action on. 

Our CDO responded immediately and very positively to this initial request and within a few weeks a comprehensive systems audit was underway. Action is already being taken across the board to ensure the use of preferred names.  

What can you do in your library? 

  1. Reach out to the HR diversity, equity and inclusion specialists, Pride committees, and/or ally networks in your organisation to ensure you understand any legal, regulatory, or policy requirements. This will help you make the case for change with other staff who may not have a detailed understanding of how serious these shortcomings are in terms of the wellbeing of trans and gender diverse staff and students. In my case, this was the Queensland Human Rights legislation and guidance mentioned above. 
  2. Find out if your organisation has any internal diversity strategies or best practice guidelines for supporting gender diverse staff and students. Again, this will help if you need to request action beyond your own sphere of influence. At my organisation guidelines were already available covering support for trans and gender diverse students, and an associated guide to inclusive language and presentation for both staff and students. A further guide to gender affirmation/transition for employees was released around the same time that discussions about preferred names were taking place. 
  3. Conduct an audit of library systems to find out what names are being used and how (e.g. displayed online, within system notifications, email or SMS notices). This can be quite tricky depending on how names are stored and what other systems your library systems are integrated with. It will be much easier if you can find an existing library staff member or user with a preferred name (usually stored in the HR system) to help you out with this. At my place of work we were fortunate to have a staff member in our digital library team with a preferred name, who was happy to undertake this testing. If I had needed to ask a trans or gender diverse user for assistance, I would definitely have discussed with them the possibility that they could be deadnamed during this process and confirmed that this would not cause them undue harm. Alternatively I may have sought to establish a dummy test user instead, although this can be very difficult depending on your IT set-up.
  4. For systems owned by the Library, work as quickly as you can with vendors and your local identity and access management team to ensure use of preferred names. You may need to be patient in explaining the context for your query, as policies, practices and general awareness in some parts of your organisation and in other organisations could be lagging behind where you are at. Pointing your vendors and colleagues to some of the resources that you have gathered earlier in this process might be useful; don't assume that everyone even in your own organisation will be across the latest changes in policy or have a detailed understanding of the guidelines and how these should be interpreted in their own work area. 
  5. For systems not owned by the Library, work with HR diversity, equity and inclusion specialists, Pride committees, and/or ally networks to escalate a call for action. This could be via an appropriate committee or to the leadership level within your central IT division. Ask your colleagues how best they can take advantage of your networks and your expertise (e.g. in being a bridge-builder between technical and non-technical colleagues).

21 September 2020

Notes from a CAUDIT webinar: Career Design in Uncertain Times

woman in a field looking at two different paths
Photo by Burst on Unsplash

Last week I attended a Council of Australasian University Directors of IT (CAUDIT) Leadership Series webinar focused on career planning. 

This topic would normally be covered in depth as part of the annual CAUDIT Leadership Institute. The CLI is on hold for 2020 and has been replaced with a series of free bite-size sessions like this one. This particular session had also changed in focus due to COVID-19 impacts on universities that mean that many university library and IT workers are now faced with unexpected career decision making.

The session was led by Jill Benn, the University Librarian, University of Western Australia and current Chair of the Council of Australian University Librarians, and Michael Cato, the Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Bowdoin College in the US.

Jill and Michael introduced us to the work of the Stanford Life Design Lab, which “applies design thinking to tackling the wicked problems of life and vocational wayfinding”. Through various Designing Your Life courses and books (available via many public libraries), co-founders Bill Burnett and Dave Evans argue that we can all apply the processes and principles of design thinking to career planning in the same way we might apply them to the development of products and services.

The first step of this process is acceptance of the current state; you can only start from where you are! The CAUDIT session started with a reflective exercise in which we were asked to think about three things that have drained us in the past six months and three things that have energised us.

Some of the things that attendees had found difficult included missing social contact with workmates, lack of meaningful holiday time, unhelpful blurring between work/life with WFH, online meeting fatigue, worries about interstate and overseas family (especially elderly parents), and the personal emotional strain involved in supporting their teams during such difficult times.

But people also noted finding better work/life balance, including having more time for exercise, family, pets, home and garden, and fulfilling interests outside of work. Some had forged more meaningful connections with workmates and enjoyed having more insights into others’ personal lives. Jill and Michael spoke about some of the silver linings that have emerged for them in their leadership roles; Jill spoke about how gratifying it was to be able to act more quickly and decisively than usual, and Michael talked about the way his team became “almost addicted” to rolling out quick fixes and having very grateful staff and students as a result.

One of the tools from Designing Your Life is the Odyssey Plan. This is a reframe of the usual five-year-plan that focuses on brainstorming three different options and seeing your career more as a journey or adventure than a single pathway. In the CAUDIT workshop this timeline was reduced; we were asked to spend some time reflecting on our current idea of what the next 6-12 months may hold (baseline), what we might do if our Plan A fell through (backup), and what we would do if money was not a concern (dreaming).

This last part of the session was quite a confronting exercise, particularly as many participants were facing upcoming job losses at their organisations. However, some people commented that being asked to visualise what their Plan B might look like had reduced their fear. Michael had earlier noted the positive power of negative thinking, including an exercise from the Stoic school of philosophy that encourages people to deliberately consider the worst case scenario; by facing our worries head-on we might be more able to brainstorm other alternatives. Another interesting thing that emerged from this exercise was that people’s dreams often have very little to do with work!

Overall this was a really useful and thought-provoking session. I have always struggled with the idea of a five-year-plan and this approach seemed a lot more intuitive to me. Especially at the moment with so much personal and sector-wide change on the horizon, it seems logical to continue to have some broad ideas and plans, but also to recognise that there will be bumps and swerves and new signposts always appearing along the way. I am planning to follow up with reading the Designing Your Life book and completing some of the other exercises in it.