Don’t think framing is important? Think again.

Like Brexit, Donald Trump’s surprising victory is a product of successful framing.

Trump promised to ‘make America great..again’. Like the Brexiteers, he promised to claw back sovereignty, pride, self belief, independence.  I'll make make America safe again, he exhorted. We’ll get rid of wasteful, expensive ObamaCare (note the framing, he didn't say the Affordable Health Act!), he promised. We’ve been outsmarted by China, Iran, Isis, Mexicans, he lamented.  I know how to compete, I’m a winner. I’ll make America smart again. I’m going to BRING JOBS BACK to America, and I’m the only one who can!

And how did he frame his opponent? As ‘crooked’, part of an out-of-touch elite, the establishment, offering more of the same kinds of things that had produced the ‘not great’ America in need of massive change.

He acted angry, and that anger resonated with the deep seam of latent anger percolating through the American populace – anger about being left behind; anger at being swamped; anger at the political class; anger at the dilution of ’normality’.  

It didn’t matter how noxious, disingenuous or irrational his rhetoric became. In the end, it wasn’t about rationality, articulateness or considered thought.

It was about framing.

And Hilary?  Her framing may have worked more effectively at a different point in time. It certainly appealed to her existing metropolitan base, but never spoke to the middle.

Policies? She had plenty, he didn’t. It didn’t matter. Experience, know-how? She had plenty, he didn’t. It didn’t matter. Fact checking Trump? She did it, it didn’t matter.

We could talk endlessly about the racial and gender dimensions of the respective campaigns and the ultimate outcome. 

The important thing here is about framing. 

The really important thing for libraries is that we should never assume that our stakeholders share our frames.

Let’s be blunt.

Libraries, of all kinds, benefit from a more progressive and inclusive moral and political landscape.

The language we use – open, welcoming, inclusive, social, sharing - fits like a glove with what George Lakoff would call the ‘nurturant’ frame.

But there is another equally powerful frame at play in politics and in life.

It’s the strict father frame; the 'father knows best' frame. The strong leader frame; the frame that is built on discipline and responsibility for oneself, but also responsibility for one’s immediate family. It’s not about gushy things like ‘inclusivity’ and ’social capital', it’s about pulling yourself up and winning. 

They are opposites. And it’s not about good or bad. Most of us have a combination of the two, favouring one or the other depending on the context. 

At the polar ends of the continuum, it is like living in a different universe.

And, if we are firmly located at one end, we may never be able to fully understand the moral universe of someone at the other end.

But we can appeal to the middle, the ‘swinging voter’. There are so many variations and permutations here that the field is ripe for experimental framing.

We can shape, articulate and reinforce frames that strengthen our value and values. We have to. And we have to understand that our cosy, self reinforcing language and arguments only cut the mustard with people who share our frames. It’s time for change.


 Narellan Library, Australia

Narellan Library, Australia

Libraries support success.

Libraries support your freedom of opportunity - to get a good education, a good job, a satisfying life, a prosperous life.

Libraries are a public resource that under-girds private success/business success/economic success.

Libraries pay for themselves; look at how much they do? They are pragmatic and productive. The library is a resource that keeps on giving.

Students save money by using the library, and get a personalised service. Libraries promote collaboration, and collaboration produces things, ideas, start-ups, research, knowledge, art, connections, innovation.

Libraries welcome everyone, they are places where families can gather and learn/staff can take time out and think/students can study in peace and be productive. 

They come to the rescue when people need them.

Strong communities depend on people volunteering, giving something back, building resilience. That’s what libraries do, too. Imagine your campus, town, city or street without it’s library?

Libraries help us live and thrive together. Libraries are for winners! Okay, maybe that’s going a bit too far.

Let’s stick with...

Your library. All yours.

Say it again and again and again. 

And don’t think of an elephant!

Instead, come to Unfurl that Frame to learn more about how to reframe libraries!

AuthorAnnie Talve

The Australian Prime Minister calls for an “ideas boom”. Like many CEOs, administrators and politicians worldwide, he sees ‘innovation’ as a key to boosting economic and financial success. 

Yet, the self evident truth behind the importance of innovation conceals multiple frames. Let’s take a recent statement from the Australian Education Minister as a classic example.

Admittedly, the Australian vocational education is broken, and policy decisions made by both sides of politics are responsible. But the current Education Minister’s proposal to pivot fee support and resources towards STEM subjects and cut loan support to arts-related subjects is perplexing. Creative arts subjects are portrayed, by the minister, as a “lifestyle choice”. 

“We have ensured that all agriculture, engineering or related technologies, information technology and natural and physical science courses remain on the new course list recognising the national importance of agriculture and STEM jobs as we transition to the 21st century economy,” Minister Birmingham said.

Legitimate students choose practical subjects, which inevitably lead to employment.

These words - ‘legitimate’, ‘practical’, ‘valuable’, ‘lifestyle’ - signify frames at work. To be practical, sensible, serious and legitimate, a student must choose STEM or business subjects. Choosing creative arts subjects is frivolous, indulgent, a ‘lifestyle choice’ that is counter to proper vocational outcomes. Tax payers should not be supporting basket-weaving, clay-throwing, textile making artistic aspirants who are not serious about employment and, because of this selfish indulgence, will place an additional burden on the state when they are unemployed.

It doesn’t matter how many reports and research studies demonstrate that creative artists and communities produce enormous benefits to citizens and the economy, or that ‘innovation’ is fueled by the kind of creative thinking and imagination the arts and humanities encourage, once the frame is established it is very hard to dislodge it.

Legitimate - illegitimate. Productive - indulgent. Responsible - irresponsible. Contributor - burden. These are the frames invoked by the Minister's use of ‘lifestyle choices’. 

Arts training provides the capacity to problem solve, think outside the square, be divergent and come up with new and untried solutions. These are skills that are essential for innovation and change. The arts are a basic foundation of the culture of this country. Jo Caust, The Conversation
 Photo: Annie Talvé. Albury LibraryMuseum

Photo: Annie Talvé. Albury LibraryMuseum

If linguist George Lakoff is right, these polarities are the symptom of deeper frames buried in our collective unconscious.

What relevance do they have to libraries?

It may be that libraries have a stronger case to make about the direct causal link between what they offer and what is ‘produced’ than their counterparts in the creative arts. Nevertheless, all libraries (academic, public and corporate) are situated in a dynamic ecology of complex interacting forces. When HSC students flock to a public library in order to concentrate on their studies and socialise with peers; when university students inhabit the only place on campus that is open for extended hours, provides quiet and sociability and a place to take a quick nap; when corporate librarians make decisions about which resources to acquire and how to assemble them in ways that contribute to better strategic decision-making – it is very difficult to draw a straight line between the provision of the service and a tangible outcome. It’s complex; it’s systemic; it’s not bounded by immediacy, volume or surface appearances. Like global warming, there are systemic forces at play that are difficult to ‘frame’ in ways that speak to people’s everyday ‘frames’.

Let’s take another example of frames at work.

Libraries = books.  Every time you hear that phrase and pairing, you react, don’t you? Libraries are no longer just about books, you retort, they are about information, interaction, play, civility, community, knowledge, making, creating, and the list goes on.

But every time you negate a frame – we’re not just about books!  –  you reinforce it. You’re inadvertently buying into the frame that already exists and, taken to its logical conclusion, is not in your long term interests.

So, we need to understand frames in order to change them.

We need to craft language that speaks to and sometimes shifts the frames that inform our stakeholders’ actions and decisions. 

This is essential to our advocacy efforts, and our capacity to develop strategic communications.

It’s not about being everything to everyone; it’s about speaking our values and value using frames that fit the audience.

This is what Unfurl that Frame is about.

 Photo: Monica Redden: Unfurl that Frame participants grapple with frames 2014

Photo: Monica Redden: Unfurl that Frame participants grapple with frames 2014


Our forthcoming workshop, Reframing Libraries, will support library leaders to:

  • ensure that when important resource decisions are made we are not parked in a version of ‘lifestyle choices’
  • sharpen and improve strategic communication
  • expand our descriptive vocabulary about the benefits of libraries
  • understand systemic causation and how best to frame it.

    Join us in Wellington: 7 and 8 December, 2016

AuthorAnnie Talve

Collective learning isn’t new; after all, it’s what humans have been doing for millennia. But how to keep it fresh, vibrant, deep and real – that’s the question. The Unfurl that Frame Collective doesn’t have a template or 10-point plan. We learn by doing. When we decided to pursue a community of practice, we knew that it would only work if we did things together. The act of doing, even when we didn’t yet know what the doing would lead to, has been the primary medium for learning.

What is a community of practice?

Well, let’s start with what it isn’t.

It’s not a group of friends, as important as good friends are.
It’s different to a ‘community of interest’ because it involves the ‘doing things together’ dimension combined with a reflective learning practice.
It’s not a course, program or vocational endeavour. If there is a pedagogy, it could best be described as self-directed, entirely volitional, and full of surprises. At least for Unfurl that Frame, that is; other kinds of communities of practice exist with varying degrees of formality or informality.

The anthropologists responsible for first coining the phrase ‘communities of practice’ describe practitioners as:

  1. taking collective responsibility for managing the knowledge they need
  2. making sure there is a direct link between learning and performance
  3. addressing the tacit and dynamic aspects of knowledge creation and sharing, as well as the more explicit aspects
  4. not limited by formal structures or institutions; able to work across traditional boundaries (Wenger, 2015).

With no money, no authority to do anything, giving up lots of time and energy with no performance reward in sight, taking a risk (financial and professional) with no institutional backing, brokering partnerships through the power of our ideas, spread out geographically, coming up with ever more ambitious learning challenges every year....well, it sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

Our collective members say:

The Unfurl that Frame Collective seeking distraction before 2015's Experience Lab at the State Library of Victoria

“It refreshes our thinking."

“We hear and see new things; it’s stimulating."

"We all get stale and keep doing the same things; the collective gives us confidence to change."

"When you take risks, it gives you confidence to take more risks, then you’re more in control of your destiny."

“It opens up possibilities, you get out of your comfort zone, it’s all about courage, really.”

 Cooking up some plans. Unfurl Collective meets in Melbourne 2016

Cooking up some plans. Unfurl Collective meets in Melbourne 2016

Wenger, E. & Wenger-Traynor, B. (2015) Communities of Practice: a brief introduction.

AuthorAnnie Talve

The famous Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan was reputed to have once said: "We cannot know who first discovered water, but we can be sure that it wasn't a fish." So it is with cognitive frames. We're swimming around inside them, they inform how we think and what we value, but if we were asked to describe them, well, it would be a struggle.

Language and imagery inform frames; they can strengthen existing frames, or weaken them. The Unfurl that Frame Collective believes that we, those of us who work in libraries, need to do a bit of both. We need to strengthen frames that contain language, imagery and associations about libraries as creative, dynamic places of infinite potential; and weaken frames associated with libraries as places of the past, mere repositories, a drain on limited resources vs an incredible investment in human creativity and connection.

In Reframing Libraries we will unpack, rebuild and re-pitch our collective frames. There will be homework. The homework will allow us to bring more 'voices' and, therefore, more language into the workshop. We will listen to what our users, partners and stakeholders say about us, in their own words. We will interrogate the 'data', looking for congruence or the lack of it. We will experiment with a new, expanded vocabulary. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but we'll grow into it. We'll practise using it: four carefully selected stakeholders have been invited to join day two of our workshop; they come with their own 'library frames' and we'll be doing a lot of show and tell. The intent is revolutionary: the medium is practical. Register now:

Unfurl that Frame 2015

AuthorAnnie Talve