27 October 2023

Values-based procurement and university libraries

This post captures some thoughts on values-based procurement in university libraries, based on two 2023 events. Values-based procurement is something that I am really passionate about and it was great to get the chance this year to hear from others working in this space and to share my own thoughts.

 THETA (The Higher Education and Technology Agenda) Conference - May 2023

This conference had a lot of highlights for me, but one that really stood out was Nick Baker from the University of Windsor in Canada. 

Nick's presentation was titled "Practical resources supporting ethical, equitable, accessible and sustainable procurement practices in educational technology". You can view Nick's slides here, which I highly recommend. 

While not focused specifially on libraries, Nick's definition of education technology as "any technology that supports or enhances student learning" would clearly encompass many library products including our catalogues, reading lists, and library guides. 

Nick discussed the decolonisation of edtech, with specific examples including handling of Indigenous languages, removal of Eurocentric terminology, and customisable pronouns. He also discussed the rapid increase in use of surveillance technologies and the way in which online pedagogies can embed control, compliance, and power imbalance and can erode trust, engagement and reputation. 

Nick referred to existing regional Ontario and federal Canadian procurement frameworks which which include guidelines for accessibility, and will be extended to environmental sustainability and rerpesentation of under-represented groups. Social procurement in Canadian Universities has included a collaborative project in British Columbian universities to increase supply-chain diversity and ensure community and social value is delivered. 

Nick noted that while equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) was becoming broadly embedded in Canadian university activities, few institutions had specific procurement guidelines that addressed this directly. This is particularly needed for edtech as these systems "are deeply embedded in the technological fabric of institutions" and "directly and intimately interact with students, staff and academics in multiple, potentially risky ways". 

Nick discussed a collaboration between a number of universities in Ontario to build awareness and capability in edtech procurement. The team working on this project are developing resources and a microcredential framework that will be published via the Ontario Open Library platform when completed. Practical strategies included ensuring diversity on procurement committees, providing vendors with strong signals of the important of EDI, and consdidering weighting for price vs social impact factors.  

Queensland University Libraries Office of Cooperation (QULOC) University Librarians Forum - February 2023

I was asked to provide a lightning talk for this event on the topic "One thing I'd like to see in University Libraries is...". The following is a lightly edited version of my speaking notes for the day. 

You can also watch the video of this presentation on the QULOC YouTube channel

We don’t have time to run polls today but I would guess that many of you attending today practice ethical consumption at least some of the time.  

Maybe you buy recycled toilet paper from a company that builds toilets in developing countries.  

Maybe you’ve given up fast fashion in favour of supporting local makers.  

Maybe you check the sustainability of your seafood or only buy free-range eggs.  

As individuals we make these kinds of choices because we believe it’s the right thing to do and that we can contribute to positive change through mindful purchasing.  

Yet, when I mention procurement, which is basically just institutional purchasing on a bigger scale, most of the reactions I get range from boredom to fear.  

For a lot of people in libraries, procurement has been and is maybe still is experienced as a rigid set of rules, a painful process to endure so that something more interesting will happen.  

It’s safe to say that excitement is NOT the emotion that is generated by this word. 

Like most work practices, procurement does evolve and change. Procurement professionals, just like us, care about getting the best outcomes for the institution and there can be more common ground and flexibility than you might think. 

Did you know that the Queensland Government's 2021 Procurement Policy actually says that procurement should improve the long-term wellbeing of our communities and that agencies should actively try to achieve better economic, environmental and social outcomes through how they spend money? 
 Does this sound like a match made in heaven with library values? I think so!

Understanding what is possible is really important. I do not believe that many library professionals understand our options and how to influence procurement in our organisations. 

The list below shows some procurement considerations and approaches. You will notice in the that the arrow in the middle goes both ways. These aren't binary choices, with one better than the other. These simply represent choices we can make. In any given situation we can consider where on a continuum things might best sit to bring about the best possible outcomes. 

supplier​ ↔ partner  
transactional​ ↔​ strategic​ 
focus on cost​ ↔ focus on value​ 
meet functional needs​ ↔​ meet needs and align with values​ 
accept what’s on offer​ ↔​ improve the offer​ 
focus on process​ ↔​ focus on outcomes​
scan market at time of need​ ↔​ engage with market continuously​
procurement as a hurdle​ ↔​ procurement as a opportunity​

If you only take one thing out of today, I want it to be this phrase: focus on value.  

When the Queensland government says value for money is not the same as the lowest cost, what does that mean? Here are some library examples to get you thinking.  

If you are doing a big library building project, might you ask potential suppliers to offer work-integrated learning opportunities or graduate internships for your architecture or engineering or interior design students?   

If you are buying equipment, might you ask potential suppliers to tell you how many local jobs they support, and how many of these jobs are in manufacturing, not just sales? Might you ask them if they employ staff off-shore and if so, to confirm what they do to prevent workers from being exposed to safety risks that would be unacceptable in Australia?  

If you are buying a library system, might you ask suppliers what they are doing to make their systems less US-centric and more multi-lingual, to enable the use of preferred names, to contribute to global efforts to decolonise cataloguing, and to enhance open access to the scholarly record? 

Whatever you are buying, you can ask your suppliers to describe their track record on things like environmental sustainability, gender equity, their reconcilitation action plan, and preventing modern slavery in their supply chain.

By weighting these things appropriately in your evaluation, you might choose differently. Or you might get the same procurement outcome, but you will still have sent a strong signal to your suppliers about the kinds of things you want to see improved in their delivery of products or services. 

In closing, there are three things I’d encourage you to do, especially if you have purchasing duties.

Firstly, have a read of the procurement strategy documents for your organisation and the relevant local, regional or federal jurisdiction. These can sometimes be really dry but there are nuggets of gold in there if you take the time to look. 

Secondly, actively seek opportunities to build your University’s and Library’s values into your decision-making processes.  

Thirdly, really get to know your procurement folk. Respect and value their time and expertise. Be curious about their world and the trends that are impacting on their work. Don’t let IT project managers or finance business partners mediate these conversations for you. In trying with the best of intentions to simplify and speed things up, they can sometimes reduce our options and take away our ability to positively influence our vendors.  

Thanks for listening, and I hope that at least some of you will be a little bit more excited by procurement in future!  

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).