Monday 19 December 2016

Ten Long Years in the Saddle...

I was recently looking at a calendar, and it realisation struck me that it's been 20 years since I graduated from High School, and 10 years since I graduated from my professional qualification and started working as a library and information professional.

It's hard to remember the kind of person I was at 18, and what my hopes and dreams were for the following 20 years of my life. High school for me had mostly been about studying hard and spending the rest of my time in creative ventures like choirs, orchestras and school plays. I guess the plan was to study hard, and then get a job and see what happened. Of course, it was never that straightforward...

But I won't talk about that decade - I'll save it for when I finally get around to writing the Great Australian Novel which will probably be best described as Zigzag St meets Praise meets He Died With a Felafel in his Hand

However, ten years as a library and information professional definitely feels like a milestone worth noting. Through my years of involvement with the New Graduates Group, there was the recurring question of what the definition of "New Graduate" was - which tended to vary between the first five and ten years of one's career. At any rate, I'm officially no longer a new graduate by any stretch of the imagination.

But, being the sometimes-prolific librarian blogger that I have been, I've been able to look back over the years, and gauge my ten year journey...

2006 - My First Librarian Job. I'd been working full-time in public libraries for almost two years, and was desperate to get a "real librarian job". Not content to be a library officer anymore, I jumped at the first professional opportunity, working as a liaison librarian at Charles Darwin University. It was a jump into the deep end, and a steep learning curve. After six months, an opportunity arose for a Team Leader position within Darwin City Council, and I took it, moving back into more familiar territory, and with it, opportunities to take leadership opportunities.

2007 - Finding my feet. Taking on leadership roles, first as the Reference Team Leader and then a Branch Manager, I found my confidence in asserting myself as a professional. Possibly a little too much, too soon, I was definitely precocious - some might say arrogant, even. I was enthusiastic about contemporary innovations in technology, but impatient with my peers' seeming unwillingness to adopt them. Furthermore, I wanted to apply my knowledge in my interaction with library users, but felt undervalued for what I - and my library - had to offer the communities that I served.

2008 - The Librarian Idol. A creative venture that arose out of the simple premise that through mainstream pop culture, librarians could reclaim their rightful elevated place in society. On the surface it was a silly self-indulgence, but at its heart, it was very personal. I daresay that I reached more people through performing at gigs and fringe festivals than I ever did at the reference desk. And they were valuable connections. I also started working as a Reference Librarian at the Northern Territory Library - one of the highlights of my career so far. The work was stimulating and enjoyable - even if my social / personal life was a shambles at the time. Around that time, the National Treasures touring exhibition came to Darwin, and I had the opportunity to meet and hear staff from the NLA who visited with the exhibition. At the behest of a few friends in my professional network, I also started applying for roles at the National Library of Australia, and came very close to getting in a couple of times, and although these roles eluded me, it became a personal goal to eventually work with these amazing collections at the NLA. I had the privilege of getting involved with the Centre for Youth Literature as an Inky Awards judge. I was also on the organising committee for the New Librarian's Symposium, held in December that year, where I met a whole bunch of amazing peers who still remain friends to this day. It was a huge year.

2009 - Return to Melbourne. Then it happened. After two and a half years in Darwin, I decided it was time to go back to Melbourne. After applying for a bunch of jobs from Darwin, with its share of phone interviews or, worse, straight from a red-eye flight to the face-to-face interview, I decided just to move back and try my best. By an amazing fluke, I picked up some project work at the State Library of Victoria almost immediately, which kept me afloat for a few months. But it was a tough year, with a few months of unemployment in the second half. I'd felt like my professional experience in Darwin wasn't considered equivalent to a similar role in Melbourne, and that those years had been a waste of time. Still, I was fortunate enough to pick up a few interesting projects, and by the end of the year, I was offered a job managing a school library in 2010.

2010 - Back to School. This was an interesting year. Back in a management role, I was back in my element - managing budgets,  re-creating the library space that I envisioned, being a change agent in a risk-averse environment. I enjoyed that. However, whilst it was, generally speaking, a good place to work, I was always conscious that it was a dead-end job. Without a teaching qualification, I wouldn't be able to progress from that role on to something bigger and better. I knew that I wanted to aspire to something more, but didn't quite know what.

2011 - Turning Japanese. I stayed on at the school for another six months, part-time, spending that time handing over the role and completing a big project with the A/V collections. But the opportunity came to move to Japan - for the foreseeable future - so I took it. I can't say what the deciding factor was, but at that point, I'd reached complete disillusionment with the library industry. I needed a break. I was also lucky that I was able to keep a toe in the door by working on an online local history project. I had an amazing time - it was my first time really living overseas, and in many ways change my outlook on life. 

2012 - Back to Reality. So, it turned out that my new life in Japan was only to last for about ten months. After staying long enough to enjoy the cherry blossom season of Spring, I moved back to Melbourne, and into the Black Ness - a wonderful rundown share house in Northcote with a rotate cohort of creative housemates. Again, I was fortunate to pick up some project-based work, focusing on community development and cultural programming in libraries. It kept me busy, and I was connected with my creative interests, both in my professional and personal lives. When that contract ended, I started writing full-time, and within a couple of months, I'd written a new cabaret show - inspired by the impending apocalypse of 2012.

2013 - A Crazy Year. In lieu of having an actual job at the beginning of the year, I went and debuted the show at the Adelaide Fringe, and then went backpacking around SE Asia for a month. As you do. By the time I returned, I'd applied for two international development assignments back to back in Papua New Guinea working in libraries and museums. As you do. I returned to Melbourne long enough to revise my show for the Sydney Fringe and Darebin Feast Festivals, and then headed to Vietnam, working in museums in the amazing town of Hoi An. Professionally, it took me to completely new places, both geographically and in the way that I approached my work. Equal parts stimulating and frustrating, it was never boring, and I learned to apply my professional principles of information management outside the conventional library environment.

2014 - Bibliotheque Bound? With a newfound determination for professional practice, I took on a new library management role in a modern school in a fantastic location in Melbourne. It should have been a dream job. It turned out to be a bad fit, and I acknowledged this very quickly, resigning after four months, and taking on another international development role, this time working as a knowledge management consultant with a Vietnamese NGO in Hanoi. As much as I was keen to settle back into the library industry in Australia, the opportunity to live in Hanoi was too seductive to resist! Still, I returned to Melbourne in the week of my birthday to speak at the ALIA National Conference, and by this time my philosophy was that what defines us as professionals wasn't so much about "being a librarian" but rather in looking at the actual professional work that we do and the achievements that we accomplish.

2015 - Peacekeeper. At some point in the previous years, I'd signed on to the UN Volunteer register. In January, I was contacted for an interview for a position as an Associate Information Management Officer at the UN Mission in Kosovo, and by mid-February I'd received an offer, starting in mid-April. Again, working in a completely different environment with a different focus provided me with opportunities to develop my professional skills from a new direction. Plus, I'd never been to Europe before, and by the end of the year, I'd managed to fill up my passport with new stamps!

2016 - Onward and upward. I completed my contract with the UN in June, and decided that it was the best time to take everything I'd learned and bring it to a new professional role. I spent the following couple of months backpacking around Europe, whilst applying for the best jobs that were out there. By the time I'd returned to Australia in October, I'd picked up work at two employers of choice, and so far, I've managed to successfully juggle two jobs in two cities! I feel extremely lucky and privileged to be working in amazing organisations with wonderful collections and supportive teams, and hopefully it will be the beginning of a beautiful (working) relationship.

So, wow, that's been a long post. Ten years - that's over a quarter of my life, which I've devoted to this profession, and whilst it's had its ups and downs, it's wonderful to finally feel like I'm in a good place. 

If you've made it this far, here's a song to reward your efforts - which inspired the title of this post...

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