Geoff Strempel commenced as Director of the State Library of South Australia in September this year but he is no stranger to the library. Prior to his appointment, Geoff managed Public Library Services – a division of the Libraries Board of South Australia – for 10 years, leading significant change in the state’s public library network, including the establishment of the One Card Network, for which he received the Jim Hullick Award in 2017.
Tell us briefly about your career path.
Most of my career has been working in libraries, or in agencies that provide leadership for, and support to libraries. This has included public, special, school and state libraries. During that time, I have seen the radical transformation of communities having access to limited information sources that needed special care by librarians, to the deluge of information that we see today.
What do you see as the value of NSLA?
NSLA is invaluable in both the additional capacity it provides for each library, as well as being a group that provides leadership in certain areas of the nation’s libraries agenda. It also provides some great peer connections for staff who work in specialised areas.
Projects such as NED, the amount of content in TROVE, the training we’re about to embark on in regard to cultural competency, along with so much else, are all possible because of the collaboration that happens through NSLA.
What is the most challenging thing about leading a library in the digital age?
We may be in a digital age, but we’re also drowning in a print legacy. We are in transition and all transitions are difficult to manage. All information, regardless of its format takes considerable resources to manage, store, preserve and make accessible. It’s not ‘all on the internet’ – and much of what is available on the Internet has been put there by libraries.
Where do you see your library in five years?
I can comment on where I want the staff to be in terms of their achievements as custodians of our State’s cultural heritage. I expect us to be:
- excited that we’ve significantly increased online access to the amount of original content we own
- thrilled to be collaborating more effectively with other collecting institutions to stitch together virtual galleries of information we all hold
- getting more comfortable that we’re preserving all of the valuable cultural heritage items we hold
- challenged by the ongoing changes in technology that hold great potential, but seem to be just out of our grasp because of cost
- resolute in our pursuit of being the best that we can be.
What is your favourite item in the collection?
There are so many valuable, interesting and quirky items it is difficult to choose one. At the moment my favourite is an item made by our staff and on display in the public area of the library. It is a mashup of seven photos of the same allotment in Adelaide from 1841 to the present day. The series of photos are themselves interesting in that they show changes in architectural styles, the arrival of electricity, etc. But more important to me is that in one image we see the purpose, the history and the value of our library. We hold all of these images that track the changes of the city and state over time. And being able to put these on display captures who we are.