In the spotlight with Jane Cowell!

In the spotlight with Jane Cowell! I feel very honoured to have met and worked with Jane across the globe! Libraries have seen dramatic changes in the last years because of COVID and other external forces. Therefore as librarians look to the future, we thought we’d ask global movers and shakers in the library industry just what makes them tick.

Jane Cowell is the CEO of the Yarra Plenty Regional Library which recently featured in The Guardian article about her library service reaching out to families without the internet in Victoria with home wifi.

Known as an innovator in the library world Jane worked for 8 years at the State Library of Queensland as both the Director of Engagement and the Director of Regional Access & Public libraries. Key projects during this appointment were the development of the First 5 forever programme which attracted $20 million investment for early literacy in libraries over 4 years, employing a Creative in Residence Dr Matt Finch, to drive new thinking and the creation of the Impact of Creative Spaces Toolkit for libraries to measure their impact.

Jane is currently serving on the International Federation of Library Associations Public Library Section (IFLA) committee and has previously held a director position on the Australian Library Information Association Board (ALIA). Jane is passionate about public libraries as creative community spaces and their role in connecting communities with technology trends and is working with her team on the challenge of building community confidence to return to libraries after such a challenging two years.  Jane’s blog on Medium discusses Library issues and library innovations and she is known for her Twitter library presence

Jane has worked with us at Solus since 2015 on driving a new digital experience solution for libraries which came out of a research project at the State Library of Queensland and has evolved with Solus involvement and many public libraries input into LUCI. Want to know more?


In the spotlight with Jane Cowell! Jane is the second of our movers and shakers. We love that Jane has made the time to talk to us about her work so we asked her 10 quick coffee break questions.

  1. What does your current role involve?

My current role is CEO of a Regional Library Corporation which is a government entity formed to deliver library services to three member Councils (Local Government areas) in the north east of Melbourne.  We deliver library services to a community of 450,000 people with 9 Branches, Mobile Library, Outreach Services Library for Retirement villages and nursing homes and are developing outreach touch points with Click and Collect Hubs in Community Centres where there are no Branch Libraries.  Yarra Plenty Regional Library (YPRL) offers a wide range of physical and digital collections with a focused library program of events.  We have a wide range of Makerspaces for textiles, design, technology and gardens so run a broad range of maker activities across a number of Branch Libraries.  As CEO my role is strategic and focused on our Governing Board and strategically delivering on our Library Plan #ThisLibraryCan

2. What was your earliest ambition?

In my teenage years I planned to be the first female Prime Minister of Australia.  Fortunately, my life took a different turn and I became a librarian instead.

3. What has been the proudest moment in your career?

This is an interesting question.  I think the proudest moment for me was the library industry response to Covid.  Not only our YPRL response which did get national and international attention but all the ways libraries adapted their ways of reaching the community to continue to support them through lockdowns, our digital pivot to deliver programs, opportunities to learn and connect socially online happened across the world.  Other responses included moving our programming outside and all while managing our own anxieties around the pandemic and managing the community’s anxieties as well.  Library staff are emotionally tired and now need to think about how to recharge and build their emotional health back to normal and I know they will do it together with collaboration, agility and with kindness to each other.

4. What drives you on?

Seeing the positive outcomes of our work in community realised.  The recent Library Survey revealed community comment gems such as “I think the Library makes my brain big” from a library member under 15.  What a fantastic endorsement for libraries – we make your brain big!  Also some young people doing burnouts in the carpark of the library being invited into the library for pizza on our Up Late night (open till 10pm) and realising that the library is for them.  You mean we are allowed in? was their question – and the answer was yes.

5. Have you got any hidden talents?

Would you believe that I love to crochet!  Not sure it is a talent but I am developing my artistic ability which I started during the lock downs in Covid. Family members pretend to be grateful for my efforts which consist of blankets, leg warmers and cup cosies at the moment.  I can also speed read but I do think this is a talent most librarians can do.

6. What’s the coolest (or most important) trend you see in libraries today?

The coolest trend I see in libraries today is not the technology but the involvement of community in co-designing programs and library spaces for the future.  Building this deep model of engagement is bringing new communities into the library world, changing libraries at the local level and building staff skills in deep community engagement.  And of course, robots, especially those that dance – I do love a good robot!

7. What three traits define you  

Curiosity, Passion and Kindness

8. What is the best thing about being a library leader? 

The best thing about being a library leader is the staff you get to work with and the gratitude and love for the library generated by the communities that you serve.

9. How has covid made you change anything about the way you used to run your service?

We now have a blended work model for all our back of house staff with working from home for a portion of our working week the norm.  Our model of working is now “Work from anywhere at anytime” so occasionally I will be working from Queensland which is on a different summer time than Victoria and I can do this effectively.  Our business systems now support this mode of work and we are about to refurbish the main office space to formalise this way of working and designing a co-working space for staff which is designed around tasks rather than individual owned desks.  Laptops and docking stations with screens will be our modus operandi and staff will be mobile, flexible and agile in their response to future crises.

We also have taken our Outreach programming seriously with an extended effort to get out of the library buildings to reach the community where they are gathering to remind them about libraries and to invite them back in.  We have also developed some beautiful outdoor spaces and when the weather is good we take the programs outdoors which makes the community feel a bit safer.  Programs such as Active Arvos for children which encourage active educational play are really well attended, adding garden play to storytimes is building our storytime attendance well above pre-covid levels.  A lot of our programming is designed for greater social connection, about improving mental health and focussed on making a difference for where the community is at now in their own recovery from the pandemic. 

10. If money was no object, what would be your top priority?

My top priority would be ensuring that every home had access to good quality Internet – it is the tool that drives learning, job creation and ability to engage in today’s government services, and society.  And my second priority would be to ensure everyone had a home to put the internet in!  Once people have a home, food and access they can concentrate on literacy – both digital and reading which would improve their health, their lives and their income potential.

Thank you so much Jane! We hope you enjoyed In the spotlight with Jane Cowell!

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