Patrick Gregory moved from Melbourne to Darwin to take up the role of Director of the Northern Territory Library (NTL) in February this year.
Tell us briefly about your career path.
I’m an accidental librarian. My childhood rock collection led to a fascination with geology and several years in the mining industry, mainly working in IT. But at the bottom of an open cut mine in 40 degrees one day, I decided to try a different career path. In the mid-1990s I became interested in the world of the internet. I began training in web development and happened to get a one year cadetship at the Parliamentary Library in Victoria. I thought that working in a library for a year would be interesting – the rest is history.
I spent eight years at the Parliamentary Library in three different roles, from web development to management. In late 2006 I joined the State Library of Victoria (SLV). I was there for over seven years, during which time I was fortunate enough to work across a very wide spectrum of library activities: collections, front of house services, digital, programming and public libraries. SLV gave me a wonderful grounding in all aspects of library management. The position of Director at NTL came up late last year, and I’ve been here since February.
What is the most challenging thing about leading a library in the digital age?
Balancing the enormous range of opportunities that you have in the digital world with the reality of constrained resources, and the difficult decisions that have to be made about how to get the best bang for your buck. Finite resources have to be spread across a wide range of areas to cater for increasingly diverse community needs and expectations. At NTL we’ll be embarking on a community consultation process soon to delve into those needs a bit more.
For collecting institutions in general, the ongoing challenges are around collecting born-digital materials, managing digital storage and digital preservation, coping with the sheer volume of content out there, and the increasingly complex arrangements for library access to licensed digital content such as ebook collections.
What has been the most difficult or rewarding moment of the past 12 months?
The most rewarding moment was getting the job at NTL, coming to the Territory and getting to know the staff and the community around here. It’s been an extraordinarily welcoming organisation and a welcoming community in Darwin. The diversity of services and programs at NTL make it a very exciting and interesting place to work.
Where do you see your library in five years?
This year we’re undertaking a major strategic planning process based on extensive community consultation and stakeholder consultation. What we learn about community need through that process will really determine our direction. One of the things I’d like to see is the library being even more engaged with and embedded in the Northern Territory community.
Some of the most impressive work at NTL in recent times, given the available resources, has been in the digital environment. I would love to develop a Northern Territory Digital Library – a single, coherent, user-friendly interface for the digital presence of the library network across the Territory as a whole.
In your time with NSLA, has there been a piece of work that has particularly resonated with you?
Literacy and Learning: We’ve been running a project called OneNTL to help staff work together more effectively across our five different sites. We’ve found the outputs of the NSLA Literacy & Learning group, and particularly the concept of the learning organisation, extremely helpful in shaping our discussions about organisational culture and where we want to be as an organisation.
Digital Preservation: The whole idea of digital collecting and preservation is an existential threat to collecting institutions. There is no way that NTL could solve this alone, so being able to participate in a national project that looks at the broader industry challenges around digital preservation is a godsend for us.
For NTL, being part of NSLA as a whole is a real boon. Having access to that network across the NSLA libraries and being able to tap into expertise that we couldn’t get locally enables us to do things that we would never be able to do otherwise.
NTL has a very broad reach across metropolitan, regional and remote communities. What’s been most striking about moving to Darwin?
On a personal level, living this close to nature is just fantastic. It’s the tree frogs in your letterbox, the frill-neck lizards, the scrub hens, the bats, the skies and sunsets… A very different natural environment and quite different weather – I suspect that many of my Melbourne clothes won’t get worn very often.
From a library perspective, it’s the diversity of the NT library network, and the challenges of service delivery given the distances involved and the relatively small population, which is also wonderfully diverse. In Victoria, though public libraries differ in size and capacity, there’s a mental model you have of a ‘public library’ that doesn’t necessarily hold in the NT. I really enjoyed visiting a range of libraries on the drive up, and I’m looking forward to getting out to some of the remoter communities as well – I’m visiting Groote Eylandt soon, which I’m excited about. There’s a very strong connection between NTL and the public library network, which gives us a central role in supporting the sector, and even running individual libraries in some instances.