Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Adrienne Brown graduated from University as a high school English and History teacher. She taught for a while, then fell into the book trade at Dymocks and did volunteer work for Jessie Street National Women’s Library. After earning a Post Graduate Diploma in Librarianship, Adrienne worked as a librarian in 4 council libraries, TAFE Library at Ultimo, University of Newcastle Library, St George Migrant Resource Centre Library, and Nature Care College Library.
Adrienne now serves as Branch Librarian with Blacktown Council at Dennis Johnson Library, Stanhope Gardens, one of five libraries in the Blacktown City Libraries (NSW, Australia) network, and prides herself on raising four children who love reading and education.
You’ve been a librarian a long time. What changes have you seen over the course of your career?
I think the most obvious change over time is technology. Public libraries offer more resources and services than the customer knows. I believe library staff have become friendlier, working with patrons assisting them to learn rather than simply providing “answers”. Libraries are now social places, with events, quiet study, community groups with music, displays, awards, cultural shows…even games and training courses. Librarians don’t necessarily sit quietly behind a desk, with glasses perched on the end of their noses, not to be disturbed unless it is urgent.
In my library, on a typical day there are families with prams, little kids shouting enthusiastically about a book, staff decorating the space, JPs signing papers, teenagers playing WiFi games, people chatting in book groups, people from different cultures lining up to borrow up to 35 items (lots of children’s books, DVDs and adult fiction) or searching computer catalogues. Library services are very broad, serving a diverse clientele in a vibrant city!
What impact has technology had on the way you do your job and the way you see visitors using libraries?
I see technology with two faces – the public one where library patrons are sitting at computers in the library for study, leisure (eg movies), communication (emails), and printing and scanning (eg plane tickets, assignments, forms). We offer that “face” which is open to everyone.
The other face is the library staff’s toolbox that has intricate systems for classifying resources, creating spread sheets, listings, genres, reports, labels, circulation of resources, databases, education programs – fascinating systems. The technologies have many layers, continuing to grow and improve.
I think technology is exciting and essential for libraries to continue to reach people. There was a fear that as we moved into the 21st century technology would wipe libraries out, but I believe libraries adapt and expand and review and assess and stay relevant even as society changes.
We talk about judging a book by its cover. Can you look at a reader and guess what kind of book might appeal to them?
I usually go by what a reader has borrowed before, what they hold in their arms, and by talking to them about what they have liked in the past and even who they are with. I love that part, as I feel like a shop owner with customers grabbing lots of items from the shelves. I also read reviews and encourage discussions with staff and other customers.
Have you ever dipped into writing or is your love for books strictly from the reading side?
From when I learnt to read in kindergarten until I went to university, I did lots of writing and had a story about my dream of having a dog published in the local paper! My teachers always encouraged me. I think it was my hunger for information and reading about other people’s theories, ideas, and experiences that directed me towards teaching English, working in the book trade, and being a librarian.
What kind of relationship exists between librarians and authors and how can that be stretched to further advantage for both?
I like to link my customers to the authors they are familiar with (similar styles) as well as expanding on what is familiar. I am also keen on displaying new books to catch their eye.
Recently our libraries celebrated Library Lover’s Day (i.e. Valentine’s Day) with books wrapped in red paper with a barcode for customers to borrow as a “blind date”. Author promotions throughout our libraries are many: author talks, creating bookmarks that celebrate writers (for example, International Women’s Day with bookmarks listing female authors), and displays for events like the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Education Week, and NAIDOC. These encourage library patrons to borrow different authors.
Other ways to encourage our customers are: book clubs, chatting to patrons about authors, encouraging patrons to download eBooks and eAudiobooks when travelling, having a writers club meeting at the library and creating shelf labels: for example, “If you like Ruth Rendell, try reading these authors” with a list 6 or 7 other authors. These tools and many others stretch the relationship between the reader and authors, and librarians can serve as the curator.
What do you see as the best way for libraries to stay relevant going forward?
One of the key areas I see libraries taking on board is networking with community groups. As a librarian, I look outward, wondering: What are the popular interests and hobbies in our local area? What community events have worked in the past to promote libraries as a place to connect people and offer learning experiences?
We host events like author talks, computer training, book clubs, knitting groups, school holiday programs and multicultural education programs. Baby rhyme time and storytime programs have been going for a long time. Research and experience have greatly improved children’s library programs which are learning tools and fun for children, parents, and carers.
And of course linking technology and libraries for access to information has been vital. Old library resources like books and magazines now sit side by side with ebooks, audiobooks, databases and Internet.
Let’s talk women writers. Who is your favourite and what’s the last book you loved by a female author?
I can’t pick one favourite. I like Dale Spender and Anne Summers, Jane Caro and Helen Garner, as well as current popular authors like Liane Moriarty and Paula Hawkins.
After your Wordmothers interview with author Louise Allen, I really enjoyed The Sisters’ Song, and I just finished a bio called Ida Leeson by Sylvia Martin which was about the first female head librarian appointed at Mitchell library in 1932!
Thank you, Adrienne Brown!
— Nicole Melanson