2022 Conference Bursary Report – Caitlyn Anchen

Firstly, I would like to thank the Queensland Public Library Association for the amazing opportunity. The QPLA conferences exceeded my expectations and I now go into my current role not only with new ideas for my library but a newfound passion and justification as to why I love my job. 

I joked with my Colleagues during the conference about creating a rap video just to be able to summarise everything I learnt but in reality, if I was to mention everything it would simply be too long so let’s stick to the highlights that made the biggest impressions on myself.

For me Libraries are a safe place, a place for everyone to feel like they belong and my favourite talks throughout this conference really emphasised this. We heard extraordinary stories of hardships to overcoming incredible things and to think, Libraries for them played such an important part.

You could hear a pin drop while we all intently listened to both Sami Shah and Johan Kalantar. Two extraordinary gentlemen from such challenging backgrounds defeat the odds and found their place here in our Libraries. Brave enough to share their experiences, it really opened my eyes to the hardships that many of our customers face. I found myself coming out of their speeches with gratitude, empathy, frustrations, resilience, and a real rollercoaster of emotions.

We truly do not know what someone may be going through and for me I am truly proud to be able to offer a place that may provide sanctuary even if it is in such a small way.

Because we are able to offer a service to such a diverse clientele, I found it very beneficial to be able to now understand how to best assist in certain situations. Ryan Dowd explained beautifully how trauma can affect the brain’s communication of the prefrontal Cortex and the amygdala which in turn can influence the way customers may act when they come in. I know I speak for many when I say that this understanding on how the brain functions will drive me to be more conscious when I personally deliver a service.

When trauma affects an induvial the prefrontal cortex takes more time to kick into action. With simple methods we can help de-escalate situations that in the past we may have deemed ‘difficult’. 

No longer will I see a ‘difficult customer’, but I will see someone that may be going through a tough time the question is how can we assist this individual without escalators?

Introduce yourself, take your time, shake their hand, check your stance, treat each individual you meet as a human being.

As Dane Cross and Nathan Greenfield mentioned in the Disability Awareness workshop, simply provide good customer service.

That brings me to my next highlight, the Disability Awareness Workshop. Accessibility looks differently for so many people and this workshop presented just how difficult the simple things in life can be. At first, we were unsure why the room was set up differently and why we had participants sent down to the back of the room who have been labelled ‘disabled’. We later discovered that these participants needed to make their way to the front of the room without assistance from the rest of us. I found it quite distressing not being able to help. As I watch the struggle of a ‘simple task’, such as walking to the front of the room, it hit us all that these barriers are things our customers endure every single day.

The question was asked, how can we make our spaces more inclusive?

What barriers can we think of in our Libraries that may restrict access to someone that may have a hearing impairment or may have difficulty walking? Much like the workshop with Ryan I began to think about how we can improve our service to assist such individuals. Something as simple as a word change from ‘disabled toilets’ to ‘accessible toilets’ can make such an impact on our customers experience.

Although I have mentioned very little on all the talks that really inspired, empowered and connected me, I’m glad I can now focus on mentoring my colleagues with all the information I absorbed.

Much like your roles, we connect strongly with our community through services and interactions we have every day. If I can simply work with my colleagues and share my experiences from this conference than I am confident that myself and my team will be inspired to continue our good work. We will be able to understand our customers better and we will remember just why we all love working in Libraries.

Thank you again QPLA for this opportunity, I have never been more excited about What the future holds. Perhaps you will all hear a fantastic lightning talk from us next time.

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