“As a coaching partner, Inspire Group invested themselves personally. They saw our success as their success. It never felt like they were ticking boxes or delivering contracted services. They were invested in the programme, and they enjoyed its success as much as we did.”
The New Zealand Libraries Partnership Programme was a Covid initiative to ensure library services continued through the pandemic. Hundreds of secondees were recruited across Aotearoa to support permanent library teams. Their role was to maintain the breadth of service libraries offered their community, with a programme of community activities and engagement.
Project manager at the National Library of New Zealand, Jonathan Beveridge recalls, “Many secondees were not qualified librarians. They were recruited fast. Most of them were running community engagement initiatives that weren’t their traditional area of expertise. And because it was only a two-year programme, there was a lot of pressure on the secondees to come up to speed quickly. They couldn't go through the normal process of learning on the job.”
Jonathan explains the programme was challenging from the outset. “The timeframes were unbelievably tight. It really needed months of pre-planning, but we had to have the whole thing up and running from the day we got the funding. So, we were nervous about time constraints. And some of the tasks were challenging. Collaborating with 60+ regional councils wasn’t easy. And it can't be expressed how difficult it was coordinating secondees to come to Wellington for onboarding early on in Covid, with people very nervous about flying.”
The programme took a two pronged approach. Jonathan says: “We developed two key support mechanisms for secondees. We offered one-on-one coaching because we knew they were going to come under pressure to do a lot in a very short period of time, and they needed support. We also facilitated communities of practice. Peer support is powerful, so we were keen to build a network of people sharing the same interests supported by professional facilitators.”
The programme established six facilitated communities of practice: Te Reo and mātauranga Māori, Digital Inclusion and Digital Literacy, Reading for Pleasure, Community Engagement, Content Creation, and Library Workforce Development. Secondees were asked to pick an area of focus. Jonathan says, “The programme was designed both to maintain library services through Covid and to develop libraries as a community recovery agency. Hence the focus on community engagement and digital inclusion.”
When it came to measuring success, Jonathan explains: “The government’s definition of success was the extent to which libraries maintained services and engaged with their communities. But we added other success criteria. We wanted to leave a legacy, to develop a new cohort of people who would stay working in the library sector after the programme came to an end. Other success factors were the amount of coaching secondees did and how much they engaged with the communities of practice. If nothing else, we wanted people to gain valuable experience for their CV and take advantage of some personalised coaching.”
“Before the project started there was a high degree of anticipation. We were stepping beyond what was required, taking on additional risk, and opening ourselves up to potential failure. Offering coaching and facilitated groups was an expensive exercise if nobody took it up.”
This project was a collaboration between Inspire Assist, our L&D talent recruitment arm, and our learning team who manage facilitation and coaching.
The National Library stipulated they wanted coaches specially recruited. Jonathan says, “Inspire Group had to recruit and onboard the coaches. We provided criteria, with priority given to ex-librarians and people registered with the Library Association, LIANZA. Recruitment went very smoothly. Inspire Group really took the heat off us. They've good internal structures and processes, and they launched straight into recruiting, onboarding, and training. Then they connected coaches with secondees, and if a relationship didn't work out, they allocated the secondee to another coach. There was a lot to do in a constrained period of time.”
The communities of practice kicked off with a hui in Wellington. Secondees spent time together and were introduced to their community. We allocated facilitators to each of the focus areas, and the National Library set up Slack channels so the groups could communicate.
Other tasks included:
An integral part of our brief was upskilling the new coaches so mentoring skills remain in the libraries beyond the programme. Jonathan says, “These were not professional coaches, but people with library experience and an interest in mentoring, so they needed support.”
Outcomes from the communities of practice were rich and diverse. Over 100,000 people across New Zealand felt the impact of the programme. New community initiatives included:
Jonathan says, “The programme was highly successful. It led to hundreds of thousands of interactions with the community in all sorts of ways. And it led to highly engaged and motivated staff. We ran a survey at the end of the programme asking secondees if they’d stay in the library sector and got an overwhelmingly positive response. Secondees felt good about what they were able to achieve and we’ve no doubt the coaching and facilitation created that environment. Another success factor was the number of secondees employed by libraries after the programme. They made themselves indispensable and the libraries were very keen to keep them on. We’re very proud that our success criteria were met, as well as the government’s.”
“One thing that led to the success of the partnership was Inspire Group’s people. Their recruiters and facilitators were fantastic. The people who coordinated the huis were fantastic. Everyone involved launched themselves into the project, and we considered them part of our team because we felt they were invested on a personal rather than a purely professional level.”
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