Teach, Learn, Live Podcast: Season 2, Episode 1

Illustration of Tim Bullard and Liz Jack for the Teach Learn Live Podcast.

Tim Bullard[00:00:02] Welcome to the Teach, Learn, Live podcast, I’m your host, Tim Bullard, Secretary of the Department of Education in Tasmania. Through this podcast, we’re going to shed some light on how we are connecting students and young people to succeed every day in our classrooms. We’ve got teachers working hard to inspire our learners. And I see great school leaders making a real difference in many people’s lives. Join me as we get to know more great teachers, curious learners and inspiring families and communities who teach, learn and live in Tasmania. 

Tim Bullard[00:00:42] Before we start our conversation today, I would like to acknowledge the Tasmanian Aboriginal people who have been caring for and educating their children and young people here on this island for tens of thousands of years. I pay my respects to elders past and present, and to all the Aboriginal community members who work in our child and family centres, our schools, our libraries and our business units. And I acknowledge our Aboriginal learners right across the state who will be the strong community members and leaders of tomorrow.  

Tim Bullard: Albert Einstein reportedly said that there is only one thing that you absolutely have to know, and that’s the location of the library. Today. I’m chatting with Liz Jack, Executive Director of Libraries Tasmania, about why that recommendation absolutely stands up, the role of libraries in our communities and what it means that we can now access the library wherever we are and whenever we want to. Libraries Tasmania has physical sites right across the state, and also has a really great online offering, providing access to e-books, audio books, journals and magazines. It provides a range of learning opportunities for all ages from birth onwards, including Rock and Rhyme and Story Time for early learners through to 26TEN, a coalition of leaders working to improve adult literacy and numeracy in Tasmania. Liz has responsibility for a statewide network of library services, community learning, adult literacy and the state’s archive and heritage services. She has over 20 years experience working within the Tasmanian government in leadership roles across a range of sectors, including property development, small business, community development, the arts and culture and sport and recreation. As a former Olympic diver, coach and administrator, Liz participated in both the 1976 and 1984 Olympics and managed the diving events at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. She has a strong interest in media, literacy and believes that all members of society need the skills to critically engage with media and information in all aspects of their life. Welcome, Liz. 

Liz Jack[00:03:00] Thanks, Tim. 

Tim Bullard[00:03:02] Now, I have really fond memories of the Launceston library, when I was growing up. Level two was the children’s library where you could go and borrow books and also watch a film on a Saturday morning. What are your memories of your local library when you were small? 

Liz Jack: [00:03:18] You’re gonna laugh at this, Tim. I have very fond memories of the Launceston library when I was going through school. every afternoon I would truck along from Launceston Tric or Launceston College into the library. And as dark and dreary and horrible as the building was, I absolutely loved it. I still remember to this day going through the card catalogue, and the smell, the smell of the card catalogue, it had a very special smell. I’d find whatever it was that I needed to do my projects and I would sit down in those little cubbyholes that were dark, and no computers, use my pen and paper to write my papers or whatever it was I was doing to hand back into school. So, I have great memories of the Launceston library and I must say they’ve done a brilliant job fixing it up. 

Tim Bullard[00:04:13] Certainly when you go back today, it’s just a shell of what it used to be. And some of those things you’ve described in terms of the lighting and the atmosphere have been overtaken by a lot of light and a lot of movement. And it looks like a really great place to meet and to borrow books and to learn. 

Liz Jack[00:04:30] Oh, it’s so much better now. And if you look around the world at libraries, they’ve changed incredibly. And I think one of the things is that we now not only have the light and the openness, but we’re trying to welcome people in as well as let them see out. And if you remember the Launceston library, the shelving was pushed up against the windows. You couldn’t see out, you couldn’t see in, and you didn’t know what was going on. Now you’ve got a cafe where people can go in and read the newspaper. 

Tim Bullard[00:04:56] And so that’s speaking of a little bit about the physical space. And for a lot of people, that might be the beginning of what they think libraries are. But talk to me about learning online and libraries online these days. 

Liz Jack[00:05:09] Libraries have come such a phenomenal way. I think the first ones were the very oldest library was from the 7th century B.C. and that was probably full of tablets. Now we’ve got our books on shelves and magazines and DVDs. But you’re right, online is such a big part of what people are looking for, for learning. So if they want to do family history and trace their history back to the convicts or wherever else it might be, if they want to research for school projects or they want to do research from the University of Tasmania, it’s all available to them online as well as writing for enjoyment. So lots of books, DVDs, music. There’s not much you can’t get online now through your local library. 

Tim Bullard[00:05:50] So obviously books are online and in physical spaces. But also, too, I know that libraries offers just so much more these days than what people might think of as borrowing and reading books. What are some of the other services and initiatives that are available at libraries tares from the early years into adulthood? 

Liz Jack[00:06:10] Where do I start? Let’s start with the early years. So, programs that link in really nicely to what’s happening in the early years across the department, in our services and elsewhere through the B4 coalition, we have Rock and Rhyme and Story Time, which is conducted for young pre-school kids and their parents, because for us particularly, it’s about getting families involved in children’s learning. That was put online during COVID-19 and it’s remained there. So, you can watch it on Facebook and participate that way if you like.  

We have courses for older adults, particularly those who have challenges with technology. So, if you’re a grandparent that wants to connect with your grandkids interstate and you don’t know how to use the iPad they bought you, we run courses or one on one instruction for them. Builders doing their licensing. We help kids with driver’s licenses. Anything you want to do that’s based on learning that you don’t get at school? We pretty much offer. 

Tim Bullard[00:08:08] So talking about early years and I’m really impressed that now Story Time is on Facebook, I didn’t know that. So I’ll have to look that up. But talking about that, I heard you mentioned the COVID word. Now during COVID our physical sites closed, but our libraries actually remained open. Can you tell me how we managed to do that? 

Liz Jack[00:08:30] Yes. And, you know, it’s really interesting. The number of members of the public that said, well, what are your staff doing now the libraries are closed? If they could see the work those people did to continue our services, it was amazing. So, we stayed open through online services like Facebook with Rock and Thyme and Story Time. But also, we ramped up the number of items that we had. So, we were madly purchasing online items so that people could borrow online, 

Tim Bullard[00:08:56] Including me, actually,  

Liz Jack: And me.  

Tim Bullard: It was great to be able to borrow a lot. 

Liz Jack[00:09:00] It was. We also established a one stop phone number. We did not have a number that you call as a single number from anywhere in the state to find out basic information about libraries. So, we established a number that people call to say, oh, I lost my glasses at the library, now you are closed. How do I get the more I need to get online to borrow a book, but I don’t know how to do it? I want to research my family tree where can I go. So, it was a very fast-moving place. But we’re now looking at that in a strategic way to keep it as a as a single point of contact for Libraries Tasmania, right around the state. We had our staff not only were providing services to the public. Learning is very important and it’s just as important for our staff. So, they did a lot of professional development that they would otherwise have not had the opportunity to do. Some of it was around building their Aboriginal cultural awareness and competency because that’s something that we’re focused on within Libraries Tasmania. But more broadly, nationally, the National and State Libraries Australia have agreed that it’s something that we want to build our confidence in as a library and information services. 

Tim Bullard[00:11:01] Libraries, it has to work in diverse and inclusive ways because we are an organisation that provides a service right across the state. What are the types of things that are happening to ensure that sort of equity of access and participation for everyone in Tasmania? 

Liz Jack[00:11:18] It’s a really good question, and it’s something that’s important for libraries everywhere around the world, because we based on the premise that all people, no matter where they’re from, have should have free access to information and the ability to express their ideas. We are always working to build on that. And I think there are some examples of which we’re not doing very well. So, for instance, the Hobart building, if you can recall walking in there, the foyer is pretty dark, uninviting. It’s not welcoming at all. You don’t know where to even go if you are new. We’re looking at revamping that and remodelling the foyer so that it is a welcoming space. And as part of that, we are determined to engage with the Aboriginal community to ensure that they feel that they’re part of the library. Because right now they are not acknowledged or welcomed in any way in that space. So that’s something that we’re working on. But we do lots of other things. Outreach with different groups. We work in Hobart, with Bethlehem House, with neighbourhood houses and other groups where we can go out and engage and not just be sitting waiting for people to come to us.  

We are very good at providing support to families and researchers. It’s what we do on a day to day basis. But there are people that want to come in just because they don’t have anywhere to stay warm. They may be homeless. They may be a visitor who doesn’t know what they’re doing and where to go. Someone might want to just charge their phone. Our staff are very proud of the fact that they don’t judge. They are welcoming. And when we get feedback that says that we haven’t been, we will look at it and address it. 

Tim Bullard[00:12:51] And I was at the Chigwell Child and Family Centre the other day and they gave me a demonstration of the library’s amazing book locker.  

Liz Jack: Fantastic.  

Tim Bullard: Tell us a bit more about that. 

Liz Jack[00:13:01] Yes. So, and that’s another one where it’s a partnership between us and the CFC. A few years ago, now, we had the government provided additional funding through an election commitment called Bringing Back Libraries to give us funding to what we’d say is enhance the visitor experience. And in doing that, we wanted to look at not just buy more books to put on shelves but trying to look at ways that would really make the experience of the visitor to one of our spaces more hospitable and engage them more. We’d been researching book lockers for quite a while, so we decided that we should put one in, and we looked around where we could do that and landed on the Chigwell CFC because we know that there are people out there that don’t have ready access to a library. We’ve put it in, and it seems to be going really well. 

Tim Bullard[00:13:54] So the concept for people that don’t know is that you order a book and then it turns up in the locker. 

Liz Jack[00:14:00] Magically. 

Tim Bullard[00:14:01] Magically. 

Liz Jack[00:14:02] Through our wonderful staff who drive the books out to the book logger and put it in. And when with your card you swipe and it opens the locker up and hey presto, you have your book. 

Tim Bullard[00:14:12] Fantastic bit of technology. So you came into the role of executive director of libraries in 2016. And I’m wondering what surprised you? You would have had a concept of what Library Tasmania was going to be. What surprised you about the organisation or the role? 

Liz Jack[00:17:26] The two biggest things for me. One was the breadth of what Libraries Tasmania does. I had a general idea because I have always been a library user. But I will be honest, up until I started with Libraries Tasmania, it was more about grabbing a book when I wanted one. I had no idea the breadth of the programs and the services that are offered, particularly the support that’s given to people that have low levels of literacy, numeracy, poor digital skills that need help, that aren’t of school age, that aren’t going to get it from anywhere else. That blew me away. As well as even simple things like free Wi-Fi, free access to the Internet, free access to computers. We did a bit of a survey in 2018, just went out to the public to ask them what they thought we should be offering at Libraries Tasmania. And there were people that said, well, if we could download free music, that’d be great. You can! If you had free Wi-Fi, we’d love it. We’d come in. And so, I think maybe hand in hand with being surprised with what was on offer is, not surprisingly, we don’t promote what we do enough. And I know that that takes resources. But I think people in libraries tend to be, they don’t beat their chests and talk about what they do. And that was the other thing that surprised me was the absolute passion and skill of the staff that we have. They care about the community so much, they are all eager to learn themselves and want to share what they learn, and they want to encourage other people to learn. And it still blows me away. And the comments that I get, the feedback that I get from visitors to the library, either through a phone call or a handwritten letter or an email. It’s just incredible that the number of times I’m told how fantastic the staff are. So, for the fact that we might want our buildings to look nicer and be more contemporary and be inviting, at least I know we have staff that do that. 

Tim Bullard[00:19:16] And you do also have some outstanding buildings in terms of the paranaple Centre and the Launceston Library. And I think, again, if you haven’t been to those libraries, get along there to have a look at what libraries of the future are going to be. 

Liz Jack[00:19:29] Yep, those two are brilliant. And the Burnie Library, they had a minor redevelopment probably back in about 2014. It was before I started. And for the relatively modest amount that was spent on it, they did a fantastic job of turning a brutalist architecture building into something that it pops. It’s got beautiful artwork out the front. The inside is nice and broad. It’s really welcoming for kids. It’s easily accessible for older adults and people with disability. It’s another library that that has been redeveloped and looks fantastic. 

Tim Bullard[00:21:41] You spoke before about one of your pleasant surprises being the focus on literacy, adult literacy. And I know that 26TEN, which library hosts, is a group with an ambitious strategy to improve literacy and numeracy in Tasmania. So what does that actually look like for Tasmanians and how can Tasmanians get on board? 

Liz Jack[00:22:01] Lots of ways. 26TEN has been around for quite some time and it is really a whole of community and government approach. It’s supported by all parties in Tasmania. And its aim is not just to raise awareness of the fact that we have 48 per cent of Tasmanians who are not functionally illiterate. That means that they find it difficult to ride a bus timetable, read the prescription that they’re given from the doctors or the label on their bottle. So, it’s about raising awareness, but also giving people the skills to just help them. And we call it having the 26TEN chat. Because I’m sure that there are lots of us that know someone who constantly forgets their glasses, or perhaps is tired and can’t see properly. And it’s repeated and you know that maybe they’re struggling with a form. It’s not an easy subject to broach, so 26TEN is about raising awareness, giving people skills to have the conversation themselves. But also building a whole of community approach to the wicked problem, as we call it, of low levels of literacy, numeracy in the state. So, we want communities to band together. So, whether it’s the agricultural sector and employers working with local councils where there’s a location where you can bring people together to work on the issue collaboratively, then we think we’ll have a better outcome. And through the adult learning strategy, which was announced just last year, 26TEN has been given additional funding to support one of the three goals in the adult learning strategy to put its three million dollars over the next four years to put more focus on building literacy, numeracy in identify communities where you do have the entire community focused on building that. 

Tim Bullard[00:23:42] It’s a really, really, great initiative. And I know if you go to the 26TEN website, there’s some great stories about what learning to read has done for people in their personal life, but also in terms of a pathway to a job. 

Liz Jack[00:23:56] Absolutely. It’s just incredible hearing some of these people talk about what they’ve gone through. I think we are the fortunate ones who, until you hear someone else talk about how difficult it’s been, the stigma that’s attached, the embarrassment it causes. Not just embarrassment with peers and co-workers, embarrassment with your own kids. Can you imagine going home and not being able to read to your kids when they were little? I’m sure they would prefer to read their own stories now. 

Tim Bullard[00:24:20] I’ve still got an eight year old who loves a story. 

Liz Jack[00:24:23] So, just being able to sit down, read a book, they’re the things that really make the big difference. 

Tim Bullard[00:24:28] So I understand that Library and Information Week is coming up. 

Liz Jack[00:24:32] It is Tim, and it’s something that happens every year. It runs this year from the 17th to the 21st of May. And it’s a great opportunity for us to promote to the public the great things that happen in libraries. So, there will be activities in each of our libraries around the state. But it also gives us a chance to focus on what library and information week means for our own staff. This year’s theme is Adventures through Space and Time. So, in terms of our staff, we’re looking at reflecting on where we’ve come from, where we’re heading and what things might look like in the future. And it’s a way of encouraging staff to do some more professional development and learning in their own space on the things that we see as being important in the next, say, five years. One of those is media and information literacy. It’s becoming more and more clear from things like the US election with COVID-19 and vaccinations that people need to think critically about the information they get. And we believe that it’s a role of library staff to help people not give them the information but help them understand that they really should be questioning the source and understanding where the information has come from. And even understanding when they’re telling people something that’s a fact that they’re actually clear on where they got their information from. So, it’s a bit of a two-pronged approach in terms of library information like it’s promoting to the public and opening our doors wider to the community, encouraging more involvement in reading another library and information activities, but also encouraging our own staff to build their own learnings. 

Tim Bullard[00:26:08] So how can communities find out more about what’s happening during Library and Information Week? 

Liz Jack[00:26:13] Well, there’s a really exciting thing happening during library and information week around all our libraries, and it involves a lot of the schools. Through the Australian Library Information Association, we’ve negotiated to have a book being flown by a rocket up to the International Space Station. And at 11am on the 19th of May, which is a Wednesday. 

Tim Bullard[00:26:33] And I think that’s national simultaneous story time. 

Liz Jack[00:26:36] Yes, it will be read on national simultaneous story time, which is always held in library and information week. 

Tim Bullard: from space!  

Liz Jack: and it will be, from space, read by a female astronaut. 

Tim Bullard[00:26:48] And Liz, are you in a position to reveal what that story is? 

Liz Jack[00:26:52] I am. It’s Give Me some Space by Philip Bunting. And I’m pretty sure you can pick it up from your local library, although it might already be out. I know it’s also in bookstores. It looks like a really fun story. I have seen it. And that will be read around our libraries by the astronaut. Some of our libraries will be hosting that event for schools only because with COVID restrictions and physical distancing, we want to make sure that our school students take part. Others, it will be open to the public. And if you go on to the Libraries Tasmania website, all of those details will be there. That’s the big activity that’s happening in Library and Information Week. But we have lots of others at each of the individual libraries, and it’s always best to check with your local library or go on to our website. Coincidentally, it also runs the same time as National Volunteers Week. So we’re also doing lots of activities in our libraries to acknowledge the incredible work our volunteers do. 

Tim Bullard[00:27:51] And again, if we go back to 26TEN and adult literacy, very, very reliant on amazing volunteers that tutor people to read. 

Liz Jack[00:28:00] Yes, they do. And during covid-19, they got creative and they were hosting zoom sessions for the students that really wanted to continue with their work. It had never been done before. You know, we always thought it had to be in person. So for some people, it actually reduced the time it took to get there, those living in remote areas. Suddenly it was much easier and some of them are continuing that on. 

Tim Bullard[00:28:26] So we started off at the beginning of this podcast talking about your memories and my memories of the Launceston library, and I think probably pitching it into the 1970s there. If we come right back and go into the future, what do we think that libraries are going to look like in years to come? 

Liz Jack[00:28:45] One thing I can say is that they will be there. If you think back to the fact that we’ve had libraries, as long as people have been on this earth, pretty much in some shape or form, they will certainly be there. Interestingly, back in November 2019, our Libraries Tasmania managers started a discussion about forecasting into the future what would it look like? What if? What if this happened? What if that happened? None of us predicted COVID-19, so we got it completely wrong. So, whatever I say now, I’m saying take with a grain of salt. But I do think books will remain as an important part of libraries. I have heard people say that, oh no, it’ll go online. It will all be, you know, sit at home and download it from your computer. There are people that still love to hold a book. 

Tim Bullard[00:29:33] I’m one of those I might just say. 

Liz Jack[00:29:35] And I am to. And some people that want to actually feel the pages under their fingers. Libraries are a space that draw communities together. Libraries connect people with each other, with ideas, with learning, with the world around them. So, in whichever way they do it, libraries, I think, will still be doing that. Now, there might be a lot of that being done with programs and virtually and all kinds of ways that we haven’t even thought of. But it will still mean people come together. If you think about it, there aren’t many places anymore that are free, that are warm and welcoming, that you’re not judged when you walk in the door where you can pretty much choose whether you’re quiet, whether you engage with someone, whether you sit and reflect in a quiet corner. You can’t really do it in a park, because while it’s most of the things in the wintertime, particularly in Tasmania, it’s not exactly nice. So, I think there will be a need for those things. Yes, there will be people who choose to do that online. I think that we’ll just see changes in technology as they occur that will change the way we might connect and the way we might explore information and ideas, the way we might learn. But libraries will be there for that as well as, as I said, bringing communities and people together. 

Tim Bullard[00:30:48] I absolutely agree, and I think it’s a really exciting space to watch. So thank you, Lz, for your time today. It’s been great. 

Liz Jack[00:30:55] Lovely to talk to you, Tim. 

Tim Bullard: [00:31:05] I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s podcast. To hear more about those people who teach, learn and live in Tasmania, join us at www.education.tas.gov.au/podcast or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Why not subscribe so that you can keep up to date with what we’re doing? Or if you have a story about an inspiring teacher or student. Email us at teachlearnlive@education.tas.gov.au