Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Once were New Grads: Part IV - Matthias and Jennifer

Finally, we've reached the last instalment of this series, and to finish up, I contacted two people who, like myself, were absolute newbie new grads at NLS 2006 - Matthias Liffers and Jennifer Creese.

Back then, in 2006:

They both started their first librarian jobs in mid-2006, Matthias at the University of Western Australia and Jennifer at the University of Queensland, and this was their first New Librarian's Symposium.

...and now:

Ten-and-a-bit years later, Matthias has had a varied career, recently finishing up as Coordinator, Research Services at Curtin University, and returning to UWA as a Library Manager (Science) - "I have come full circle!" Jennifer, on the other hand, is currently taking a break from libraries. "I'm using the research skills I learned in my training and experience to complete a PhD in Anthropology and work as a consultant professional Historian."

On how NLS 2006 influenced their expectations of their future career path...

Matthias recalls the opportunities that came from networking at NLS: "I met a handful of excellent people who have been great contacts in the ten years since." Eventually, the convenor of the New Graduates Group roped him into becoming the WA Coordinator, which started him on the "slippery slope" of volunteering for ALIA. "The skills and experienced I gained volunteering for ALIA has led directly to my career success."

Jennifer found that attending NLS helped her build confidence as a new graduate, and realise that "new grads didn't need to be quiet little workplace "babies", and that we could make opportunities, take initiatives and do significant new things." She was able to take this attitude back to her workplace - "it got me into lots of new opportunities within my institution, even outside the library, that I'd never have been assertive enough to try for before."

On the recurring issues for NewGrads, and how NLS has addressed these and continues to do so...

Matthias notes that, ten years ago, there were many predictions that tech skills were going to be important for librarianship, and having seen the changes in emerging technology over this time, he acknowledges that this has largely become true. Not only that, but digital literacy is a serious issue right now. "It's not just 'tech' skills we need any more, but we also need more expertise in the social issues that arise with technology, such as privacy and challenging copyright laws that were written last century."

Jennifer feels that new graduates are coming into a field where professionalism, and the professional network, is going to be more important than it ever was. "I think the NLS of the future would best serve new graduates if it encouraged and enabled partnerships and collaboration as much as possible, and really established presenters and attendees as professional experts." Though she also adds that the conference dinner should still be a total party.

On their own career's pathways and possibilities...

Both Jennifer and Matthias have had their share of twists and turns in their ten-year career path so far. "I certainly didn't expect I'd jump to the other side of the academic fence!" Jennifer explains. "I think NLS was my introduction to the idea that not only do librarians have the ability to say something and make a contribution, but also have the skills to support it in an evidence-based rigorous manner. That was probably the main push that got me first into evidence-based research on what I was doing professionally, and then developed that love of research that saw me jump to academic research when the opportunity came up."

Matthias also admits that his career has taken a few strange paths over the years, ranging from non-librarian work to taking leaps of faith, such as moving overseas without a job to go to. "Sometimes the leaps paid off, sometimes they didn't, but they all gave me valuable experience. There's more to being a librarian than 'Being a Librarian' - there are jobs for people with our skills in all sorts of different places.

Jennifer also notes the value of her skills as a librarian being complementary to her research work - "having been a librarian makes me a better researcher, and having completed the research experience I hope I'll be able to come back to libraries with better abilities to connect our practice with what our clients do, and to ensure our practices are well-grounded in evidence."

Finally, some advice to new graduates in the library and information industry...

Matthias: Don't be afraid to rock the boat. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't be afraid to fail. Share your successes. More importantly, share your failures. Librarianship can be a very conservative profession and it's up to you to shake things up and and bring fresh ideas. Crusty, old managers like me are going to need your joie de vivre.

Jennifer: Increasingly, libraries and librarians across all sectors are going to be on the front lines of the fight for knowledge - whether you're a public, academic or corporate librarian, it's a crucial time for knowledge to fight disinformation, prejudice, "alternative facts" and Google Syndrome. And you're going to have to do it with less support, less funding, fewer staff and a constant need to justify your profession and even your position, over and over again. Be brave, be confident, be proactive, be flexible and be rigorous!

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And what better way to finish up?! If you're a new graduate reading this, I hope you're feeling inspired and emboldened. I'd encourage you to register for NLS8, but it's recently sold out, so if you haven't, then you're already too late. And if you, like me, were once a new grad, I hope that this has also provided you with an opportunity to reflect on your own pathways, recall our hopes and dreams for the future when we started out, and perhaps tap back into that inspired motivation that has led us to where we are, and into our future careers.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Once were New Grads: Part III - Trevor and Gemma

So, here with are with Part III, featuring Trevor Mackay and Gemma Siemensma, who I first met at NLS2006, and then had the pleasure of working with on the organising committee of NLS4 in 2008.

Back then, in 2006:

This was Trevor and Gemma's second NLS, having both first attended the event in 2004 in Adelaide. They both graduated in 2005, but were certainly no strangers to the library world - before landing their first librarian jobs, Gemma had been working in libraries for seven years, and Trevor for eight years. In 2006, Trevor was one year into his librarian job, and the convenor of the relatively-newly formed New Graduates Group. Gemma was a base-level librarian in a health service.

...and now:

Ten years later, they have both worked their way up their respective sectors to a management level. Trevor is now the Branch Manager for Sandringham and Hampton libraries and Community Support Library. Gemma is still in a hospital library but as the Library Manager.

On how NLS 2006 influenced their expectations of their future career path...
Trevor remembers the impact of networking with other new graduates and industry leaders. "NLS was such a wonderful opportunity to be introduced to larger conferences in a non-intimidating environment. It certainly introduced me to the wide world of libraries and showed me what was going on, giving me the confidence to successful apply for the Aurora Leadership program."

Gemma, on the other hand, already had a plan long before NLS, which was quite simple: "to have my manager's job when she retired."

On the recurring issues for NewGrads, and how NLS has addressed these and continues to do so...

Trevor observes that expectations from library clients have certainly changed over the years - particularly from digitally-literate millennials, and that this poses as a challenge when many colleagues have trained as librarians in the pre-digital age.

From Gemma's perspective, the workforce is even harder to get into now than it was ten years ago. There is much more contract work and less stability, and so many people are competing for the same jobs. "I also think there is less opportunity at the basic level of Librarianship, although there are certainly opportunities at the higher end if people are willing to move for jobs, which isn't always possible." She also thinks that NLS is much more about networking, being visible and being in spaces to get one's name out there. "I get the feeling you have to be very career minded to get a job at the lowest level, to get you into librarianship as a career.

On their own career's pathways and possibilities...

Gemma attributes much of her career success to her involvement with committees and advisory groups. "Basically, ALIA involvement opened up so many networking opportunities, and a chance to learn new skills, such as organising events, charing sessions, and approaching vendors for funding." From here, the opportunities grew, and now, Gemma sits on two advisory committees and one group committee with ALIA, as well as another Health Library Consortia Management Group. "I feel like I am learning all the time and I get back just as much as I put in. From this, my passion grew and I have continued wanting to be involved in the profession at a higher level rather than as a bystander." She also recognises that such involvement also opens doors at work. "Much of what we do is outside the traditional health library role. Our jobs have evolved, and are now more concerned with making inroads into departments and having a direct impact. Some of these things have taken years to implement, but they are now coming to fruition and the library is looking amazing!"

Trevor also mentions the opportunities that professional involvement created. "My involvement with ALIA and as part of the NLS 8 organising team provided some fantastic opportunities to develop skills that I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to in the position I was working in." It has also provided him with the opportunity to present at different events and a build a wider network of colleagues.

Finally, some advice to new graduates in the library and information industry...

Trevor: Take every opportunity - as much as possible - to say "yes" to projects at work, to develop skills so you can discover areas that you would like to work in.

Gemma: Network and get involved - it really opens so many doors, which you may not see for years, but they will be there. Basically, put up your hand and say that you'll give it a go. Volunteer. And write to get your thoughts out there, even if it's just a small thing in Incite (the ALIA magazine). It's amazing where these things can lead...

Stay tuned for the fourth, and possibly final, instalment of this series... and to find out about how to get involved with ALIA, have a chat with your local friendly State / Territory Manager...

Monday, 3 April 2017

Once were New Grads - Part II: Adrianne and Alyson

For my second instalment of this series, I've managed to contact both of the co-convenors of NLS 2006, Adrianne Harris and Alyson Dalby. Having both pursued quite diverse and non-traditional career paths, I asked them to reflect on the past ten years since convening NLS.

Back then, in 2006:

Having both graduated from their qualifications in Library and Information Management three years earlier, Alyson was managing the History of Medicine Library at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, whilst Adrianne was a Knowledge and Project Consultant in the Staff Development Unit at UNSW, running a small special learning and development and career support library for university staff.

Now, 10 years later:

Adrianne left UNSW in 2016 after almost twenty years working there, and now runs her own small business focussing on supporting people making career choices and applying for jobs. "I never went into a traditional library role but instead have used the skills and knowledge gained by studying and participating in ALIA events and groups a lot over the past years. My friends still call me a 'librarian' and I secretly love that."

Alyson now works in Copenhagen as a Team Manager, Data Readiness, Regulatory Affairs, LEO Pharma. "In English, this means that I'm managing a team of new graduate pharmacists on a data migration project for a mid-sized pharmaceutical company in Denmark." She has also maintained connections with NLS over the years, particularly as a member of the ALIA New Generation Advisory Committee, and as an ALIA Director who served as mentor to the organising committee in 2015. She will be speaking remotely at this year's NLS, as one of the Keynote Speakers.

On how NLS 2006 influenced their expectations of their future career path...

Alyson recalls being quite inspired by the huge variety within the profession. The following year, she made the shift from special libraries to academic libraries, and imagined a very traditional career path where she would move up the ranks through a large organisation. "At the time I believed that in 10 years I would be managing a department in a university library." Instead, she found herself jumping between organisations as she sought new knowledge and challenges. "I found I got bored more quickly than I had expected, and needed really challenging roles. I believed that one could fain really useful skills and experience working for vendors, the private sector, even working for ALIA (as in, being paid by them, rather than doing it for free!) This opened up possibilities for me - but also created limitations, because my non-traditional career path was sometimes challenging to explain.

For Adrianne, what NLS did was to clarify that she didn't actually want to work in a library, but to utilise librarian skills and approaches in any work she did, and to share that with her colleagues. "I did think I might end up working in a special library, and I guess I did for a while at the uni. I was highly energised by the conference and the skills and topics we explored work well with most jobs and industries."

NLS also whetted Alyson's appetite for further involvement in professional associations. "Being a convenor of that conference really opened my eyes to what I was capable of. When we ran NLS there wasn't much structured support available from ALIA, so we had to figure out a lot of stuff on our own. Our success there probably directly contributed to my confidence in creating the International Librarians Network with Kate Byrne and Clare McKenzie. That DIY feeling is really powerful, when it works!" 

Alyson also started studying for a MBA; "I loved the project management aspect of NLS and wanted to know more about the legal and financial aspects. I joined the ALIA board because I wanted to use the corporate governance skills I learned in my MBA. The decisions weave in and out of each other."

On the recurring issues for NewGrads, and how NLS has addressed these and continues to do so...

As a New Graduate, Adrianne had attended the ALIA National conference and tried to find sessions appropriate to new librarians, but didn't have much luck. "I was looking for new professionals and some of the topics were a bit over my head. I felt so little surrounded by the big wigs of the library world." Since then, she feels that some things have changed, but would like to see NLS continue to cover some of the basic skills that new graduates still require. "We had an advanced networking session at out NLS where everyone learnt to walk with a plate of food, glass of drink, and be able to shake hands or swap business cards - core skills that you just don't get taught in Library school! I also like new professionals to have a space where they can grow and try things out without the State Library of NSW / QLD etc. judging interactions and behaviour."

Similarly, Alyson isn't sure that professional issues have changed. "Some of the flavours have changed - we don't talk about MySpace anymore, thank god - but the broader issues haven't. New grads still struggle with moving from education to practice, and being supported to do so. They still struggle with trying to bring all their exciting new ideas into conservative workplaces. I think that the wider adoption of social media tools has allowed new grads to communicate and collaborate with a wider audience, so there are some more possibilities there, but generally speaking I don't see much difference in professional issues. And I see that reflected in the programs of NLS events over the years - it feels (to this old timer) like it's the same topics over and over again, but that's because the issues haven't been resolved yet."

Advice for new graduates in the library and information industry...

Both Adrianne and Alyson stressed the importance of networking, collaborating with one another, and using the energy generated at events such as NLS to create solutions and overcoming professional barriers. "I'm not sure how many of those attending NLS realise how closely it came to being shut down," explains Alyson. "It was only due to the engagement and activism shown by a group of new grads that NLS continues to be run by ALIA. We saw ALIA as not "them" but as "our" member organisation, and it was out responsibility to ensure it reflected our needs - no one else was going to do this for us."

So, Alyson's advice to New Grads? Do it yourself. Or, even more succinctly, do it. Don't just watch. "If you enjoy NLS, if you think it's valuable, ask yourself what you can do to ensure that it's run again, and again. One caveat to this is that you don't actually have to do it yourself, and really, you shouldn't. You should do it with other people. Find people that are better than you at something and collaborate with them. But still: do it."

Similarly, Adrianne's advice has always been the same since 2006: network, network, network. "Join ALIA, volunteer and develop skills quickly that you can't in your currant job, build strategic alliances and capture your competences and successes."

Finally, as a Bonus Convenor Question, I asked what vital piece of advice they would give to the current organisers, now that NLS 8 is less that three months away...

Adrianne: The conference is looking terrific and before you get too much closer to the conference, take a step back and reflect on what you have learnt and achieved so far; you will be amazed and energised! Then don't forget to do it again a few weeks after the conference. You have done an amazing job and you need to capture your achievements before you forget the details of them.

Alyson: Make sure you give yourself some time to stop and just watch. Watch a room full of people talking to each other and know that you facilitated that. Oh, and when it's over, I know you're going to be tired, and probably grumpy. You're probably going to hate each other and want to never see another librarian again. But after a few months' break, come back. Ask what's next, and dive back in. The profession needs you!

In case you needed a further reminder, registrations are now open for the New Librarians' Symposium, held in Canberra this coming June.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Once were New Grads - Part I: Me

Since my last post looking back at the New Librarian's Symposium in 2006, I've managed to get in touch with a number of delegates, and ask them a few questions about their experiences as a New Grad back then, and how it's perhaps influenced their career that has ensued over the past ten years.

So, while I wait for their responses *subtle hint!* I thought I'd interview myself for starters...

What were you up to when you attended NLS in 2006?

I was less than three months into my first professional role, as a "Liaison Support Librarian" at Charles Darwin University. I was about to graduate from my librarianship qualification, and took the leap, moving from Melbourne, where I'd lived all my life at that stage, to Darwin. So, it was a steep learning curve on both a professional and personal level. It was my first NLS, and I'd known that I'd wanted to go for a while, through being active on the New Grads Group listserv, which was quite busy back when Facebook was still a new thing and Twitter was yet to take off.

What are you up to now, ten years later?

Now, I work as a Reference Librarian at the National Library of Australia - a place that's been on my radar as a place that I've wanted to work at for at least eight years. It's taken that long to get my foot in the door in an entry-level professional role, and in the meantime I've had a varied career working across most sectors within the library industry, and related roles in the international government and non-profit sector. After NLS 2006, I was asked to join the team for NLS4 as their Marketing Coordinator, which was a lot of fun, though it also had its stressful moments.

How did your experience of NLS 2006 influence your expectations of your future career?

As a fresh graduate academic librarian, I honestly didn't have a lot of clues about what I was meant to be doing. Some of the papers held provide a bit of a wider context for the work that I should be doing, and best practices that I should be aiming for in my services as a librarian. I was also pretty optimistic about my career path, and networking with new graduates and industry leaders certainly emboldened my optimism for the future.

How have New Grad issues, and the nature of an event such as NLS, changed in the past ten years?

I say I was optimistic - that, unfortunately, wasn't always the case. It was a tough industry to succeed in back then, and it still is now. Back then, the focus seemed to be much more on more traditional delivery of library services and career progression, whereas nowadays, there is a much wider focus on the GLAM industry, which I think has made the scope of the program - and the target audience - much wider. Back then, we'd have two concurrent streams. This year, there are five, which I think is awesome. Especially considering that, in early 2008, we didn't even know if the event would continue beyond that year!

How would you describe your own professional Pathways and Possibilities over the past ten years?

It's been a long and winding journey. I've done a lot of diverse and interesting work, which has made me come to realise the wide scope of possibilities that the Information Industry has to offer. My NLS experience - which led to a lot of ALIA volunteer - played a big part of that, especially in all the connections that I made along the way. If I hadn't met Kate Davis, she wouldn't have encouraged me to pursue a career with the National Library all those years ago, and I probably wouldn't be where I am now. Similarly, if I hadn't met Romany, Kate and Susanne who have all worked in International Development, then I wouldn't have had my own overseas adventures in that field.

That said, in some ways, I still feel like a New Graduate, because every new job that I've done has been vastly different from the previous one, and therefore its own learning curve. And whilst I've accumulated a vast range of skills and perspectives, I'm not entirely sure if I've really "made it" as an information professional yet. (Financial security and job satisfaction plays into that in a big way - and rarely go hand in hand.) But I feel I'm on the right path, so that's something.

Having transcended the New Grad status, what words of wisdom would you pass on to the next generation of New Grads?

Never forget your initial reasons for pursuing a career in this industry - whether it's sharing a love of reading, helping people with technology, wrangling data sets, researching history, handling heritage artefacts, or just quietly sitting in front of a computer and classifying books all day. Figure out exactly how you want to be spending your time, and do what it takes to get that job. It may be competitive and tough to get there, but don't settle for a job in another sector that doesn't interest you as much - it'll just make you bitter and miserable, and that doesn't help anybody. Also, be patient. You won't figure it all out straight away, but you can have some interesting adventures on the way.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Pathways and Possibilities - Ten years later!

I went to my first ALIA New Librarians Symposium (NLS) in December 2006. I'd just graduated from my librarianship qualification, moved to Darwin for my first Librarian job, and was keen to be properly indoctrinated into the industry.

The event was held at UNSW, Sydney, and the theme was "Pathways and Possibilities. Being the keen fresh-off-the-boat new grad, I put my hand up when they put a call out for speakers in the debate for the event's opening session - the topic: "That librarians should be politically active." I was on the negative team alongside Kay Harris and Roxanne Missingham - two leaders in the library industry. It was a pretty good start to my ongoing relationship with ALIA, NLS and the New Graduates Group.

The ten years that ensued have provided the opportunity to follow a varied range of Pathways and Possibilities in my career, and a major influence in this has come from the many different people that I've encountered through NLS, either through their presentations or through forming social connections, that opened my eyes to the scope of work that my qualification and skills could take me to.

Anyway, in my most recent move to Canberra, I was unpacking some boxes, and out of one box fell the program from NLS 2006 - along with a list of delegates, complete with their place of work at the time! And this prompted the question: Where are they now?

So, I decided to do some social media sleuthing! For some of these people, I'd remained in touch over the past ten years, keenly watching their careers progress. Others, I lost contact with. And then there were those who I've been colleagues with in recent years, and never even realised that they were there.

But trawling through LinkedIn, I was able to locate 101 delegates from NLS 2006 - along with the details of their career paths. And each account told its own story. Some stayed with the same organisation, moving up through its various eschalons. Some moved about from place to place, either to other library roles, or outside the industry. Some stayed comfortably in the same role for the whole time. Others graduated from their degree, but never entered the industry.

So, I decided to crunch some numbers. I realise that this isn't an exact science - especially where people may have neglected to update their LinkedIn account, and I did cross-check against any other online information where there was doubt. I was definitely curious to see if there were any overwhelming trends.

And here's what I found:

Of the 101 NLS 2006 delegates that I was able to track down, 87 were still working in the library industry. Of these, 33 had shifted library sectors, whilst 54 stayed in the same sector. 36 had remained with the same organisation, moving through a range of roles, and 11 were still in the same role.

Then there were the other 14 delegates - 12 of these have since moved away from the library and information industry. 2 graduated with their qualification, but never entered the industry.

For those of you who'd like some basic infographics, here are some pie-charts:


So, what does it all mean?

The fact that a bit over 50% are still in the same library sector that they were in ten years ago could either be quite comforting, in terms of long-term stability, or disconcerting, in terms of versatility. Furthermore, that just over 10% are still in the same role that they were in ten years ago could mean that (a) they're in their dream job and are quite comfortable thank you very much, or (b) they've hit the extent of their career path, and are possibly trapped at a dead-end.

On the other hand, one third of these delegates have moved around the industry, beyond the sector that they were in ten years ago. This has to be encouraging, that there is sufficient opportunity within the industry to try different things. Or, maybe they got frustrated with the sector that they started with, and moved to a different one for different opportunities.

Finally, there are those who no longer, or never did, work in the LIS industry. Is it a testament to their skills and experience that they are able to take it to bigger and better things? Or did the LIS industry just not work out for them, and they're working on their Plan B? (Or was the LIS industry their plan B all along?)

So, make of this (very limited range of) data what you will. However, I think it would be an interesting exercise to track down some of these delegates from 2006, and interview them about the Pathways and Possibilities that the past ten years have provided to them...

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Beyond GLAMR..

A couple of nights ago, I attended an ALIA New Graduates event, "GLAMR Connect". It was a well-attended event with a wide range of speakers from across the GLAMR sector, and you can read all about it here.

And of course, it wasn't without its share of contentious statements bandied around, with one of the speakers suggesting that librarians in government agencies should shed the L-word and refer to themselves as Information Specialists, and in conversation afterwards, one person suggested to me that if I want to work in museums, I'd be better off getting an accredited information science degree than going for a museum studies course that has no accreditation. I also had an interesting conversation with a somewhat-perky newgrad who was adamant that the sooner we became fully digital in the way we handle knowledge and information, the better.

Whilst it was a lengthy night, showcasing the extensive range of work and supporting organisations within the GLAMR sector, I couldn't help but feel that this already-growing acronym could really use a few more letters that connect with the LIS industry just as strongly...

Publishing - There are so many connections between libraries and the publishing industry, whether it's education texts, academic journals, e-books, online publishing, or good old novels. Without the publishing industry, there would be no libraries, and many librarians that I know have gone on to work in the publishing industry. We organise knowledge and information and connect it with readers.

Education - Similarly, librarians and educators have worked side by side pretty much since the dawn of civilisation. Some librarians also have teaching degrees. We guide students in learning to access, analyse and use information in all its forms and contexts.We teach students critical thinking. And many librarians work outside schools and universities, as trainers in the workplace, and promoters of information literacy.

News - Last year, I attended an excellent training course on media verification, which was certainly more targeted to journalists and media monitors than traditional librarians. But in this age of alternative facts and fake news, there's a huge crossover in the work that information professionals and journalists do, particularly in analysing information, identifying sources, and disseminating that knowledge in a way that contributes to an informed society.

Development - I've spoken much in the past about the similarities between the development sector and the information sector. Ultimately, we all work in capacity building people, organisations and communities, with the end goal of living in an equitable and sustainable society.

There's much scope for the GLAMR sector to contribute and share knowledge across these other sectors - not only through traditional means of information access, but with a growing trend in developeing collections of public datasets (for example), these can be used to support news reporting, teaching practices, and particularly the development sector. Even the humanitarian aid sector is reliant on GIS and data management experts to gather and present information on crises such as natural disasters and irregular migration.

So, bring on the PERMGLAND sector! Okay, we're definitely going to need to find some more letters, unless somebody can think of a better acronym...

Monday, 16 January 2017

How I learned to stop worrying and love the GLAMR label...

I first heard the term GLAM about eight years ago when I was working at the State Library of Victoria. At the time, it was used in relation to the scope for collaboration and partnership between the major cultural agencies within the State Government, namely the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. This made sense - they were all cultural institutions that acquire priceless collections to preserve the cultural memory of the region, much of their public engagement involved public programs and exhibitions, they were based on similar principles of cultural collection management, and together, they make a cool acronym.

These connections became more apparent when I had the opportunity to use my librarian experience, particularly in working with local history collections, to work in a number of museums. During this time, I attended some professional development run by the University of Queensland, which explored the principles of "Museum 2.0" (this was back in the days when 2.0 was still a relatively new concept!) and for about 90% of the content, you could have replaced "Museum" with "Library" and it would have echoed everything I'd been reading in the library industry at the time.

And then, whilst my career moved more into NGO / intergovernmental agencies, focusing on the implementation of information and knowledge management in the international development sector, the GLAMR (the "R" being for Records Management) label took off back in Australia, acknowledging the scope and intersections between professionals in these industries. No longer were people like me simply librarians - no, we were GLAMR professionals!!

Except that I was working as an information professional outside of the GLAMR sector. I'd see my former colleagues and peers heading off to GLAMR events, and feel excluded. Sure, I could have turned up anyway, but they'd probably be talking about libraries and museums and records management principles - things that weren't a part of my professional life at that time.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it's not that I was being excluded by the industry - I'd pretty much taken my skills and left the industry in order to work elsewhere. And that's okay too. 99% of people in the GLAMR industry aren't going to be interested in working in the development / peacekeeping / humanitarian sector, and nor are their activities going to be relevant outside the context of the GLAMR sector. At the same time, information professionals working in civilian crisis information management or digital humanitarian aid going to be attending professional development for that field, and probably not the next ALIA conference.

And it's important, not only to open the scope of one's sector, as LIS has expanded to GLAMR, but also to recognise its boundaries, in order to manage their own brand and their community. The question I often dread in a new job is, "Where were you before?" as people make a snap judgement about your immediate past experience and its relevance to your new role. Generally speaking, most people in the GLAMR sector are familiar with what most other people in the GLAMR sector do. Other sectors... not so much.

And I must say, it's very exciting to see how far the library industry has come over the years. It would have been not even ten years ago where I'd witness fierce arguments over whether a library should consider recruiting professionals with non-LIS qualifications as librarians, but now I work in libraries where librarians might come from diverse fields such as teaching, museum studies, art curation, journalism and so on. Yes, it means having to compete with a wider range of professionals for those coveted jobs, but it makes for a much more interesting workplace. Plus, if I ever get bored of libraries, there's a wider range of fields to move into more organically.

By embracing this professional diversity, opportunities open up for us to question each other's professional practices, and learn from the successes across these intersecting sectors. And whilst I'm still a little sad to have left my not-so-GLAMR'ous (see what I did there?) career path behind, I'm pretty excited to be back in the GLAMR sector, and to see what this brave new world has in store.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Difficulty of "Yes"

So, I may have been a little flippant in my last post when I stated that to "just say yes" is the easiest lesson. I should perhaps say that it's as easy as jumping off a cliff. Technically speaking, it's just a matter of moving in a certain direction, and you're there. You've even got gravity on your side.

But, of course, it's a little more complicated than that, and I feel that I need to acknowledge this. For every opportunity that I've "just said yes" to, I've also been faced with an opportunity that I've agonised over, and eventually said "no" to. They were really awesome opportunities too.

The reality is that, by saying "yes", you're inviting a huge change into your life. It could be a geographic change, a turn in your career path - either a slight deviation or a complete change of track - new colleagues, new expectations, and new challenges.

Many of these are unpredictable, which leads me to my main point - the paradox of making the "right decision".

We're raised in life to make decisions, and we're more or less taught that there is a "right" and "wrong" choice. The more informed we are of the consequences, the better position we are in to make these choices.

But life isn't like that. The most amazing opportunities in life are the ones where the possibilities are boundless - and with it, so are the variables. Yes, there are some known consequences, and these might be:

- You're leaving your home behind.
- You won't see most, if not all, your friends and family for a while.
- You'll be ending many of your current working relationships.
- You'll be ending a personal relationship.
- You'll be resuming a personal relationship - if that decision is to move back home to a former partner.
- You'll get to work in an organisation that you've always wanted to work with.
- You'll get to work in a team with somebody who inspires you.
- You'll get to live in an exciting place where you've always wanted to live.

These kinds of known outcomes are what you can base your decisions on. Everything else is purely conjecture - and that's a scary thing.

On the other hand, to "just say no" is, conversely, just saying yes to many of the things that are already present in your life. But that's not to say that this choice isn't without its unpredictable factors either. Life can turn around even the most seemingly-stable lives.

The important thing to remember is that a "yes or no" choice doesn't necessarily mean you're making a "right or wrong" choice.

It might mean honouring commitments, or seeking new ones. Staying put or flying away. Choosing adventure or stability. But you do need to actively make a choice, either way. Worrying about hypothetical "what-ifs", or if it's the right or wrong choice is wasted time - just look at the options in front of you, and pick one.

You always have a choice.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Ten Years of Lessons Learnt

So, given my ten years of professional work, I must have learnt a few valuable lessons, right? The kinds of things you can’t learn through the usual academic coursework and research? I had a good think about the main lessons I learned through my extensive experience.

Just say yes. This is the first, and easiest lesson - when a valuable opportunity comes by and taps you on the shoulder, say yes. In my case, it launched my career working in Darwin as a professional, which quickly turned into valuable management experience and working in top cultural agencies, and then working overseas. People often say that they're jealous of what I've been able to do, but they could have done it too, if they'd just said yes. Of course, this goes hand in hand with…

Be prepared to take risks. I’ve taken a lot of risks in my career, as you can clearly see from my earlier post. Some of them didn’t pay off in the short-run, to my perpetual frustration, but they all amounted to something in the end. I still take risks, opting for short-term contracts in dream jobs, rather than long-term security in something that’s less suited to my professional interests. 

Find your champions. Network in the industry and seek out those people who can provide you with support and advice - particularly those in higher places who you would ideally like to work for, and those who care about the future of the library industry, and want to foster the careers of those who will come after them.

Be confident and ask for opportunities. It’s not arrogance to talk yourself up and put yourself forward for upcoming opportunities. Most hiring managers often have an idea of who the main contenders are for a role that they hire for, and it’s important to be a contender. As above - network, and be mindful of your strengths, so that you can promote yourself and match your skills with a position when discussing an upcoming opportunities, whether it be a project or a vacancy for an ongoing position.

Know your limits. The beauty of having ten years of professional experience is that I now know what I want for my career - and what I don’t. I don’t waste my time - or a recruiter’s time - by applying for a job that’s not suited to my skills or interests. And know when to walk away.

Take time out. The nine months that I spent in Japan five years ago was one of the best things that I could have done for me career. Sometimes it’s important to take time out, recharge, and adjust one’s perspective.


It’s not who I am, but what I do, that defines me as a professional. Yes, I totally paraphrased that line from Batman Begins, but it’s an important realisation that I came to a couple of years ago. A professional career doesn’t amount to a historical list of position titles, but rather what my achievements have been in those roles. It made me realise that the scope for professional work was much wider than I’d originally conceived.

But you can’t have it both ways. There was a time when I wished I’d just stayed in my first job, and done the hard yards, building a ten-year career with one organisation. I see people who have done that, and are in much higher positions than I am now, and are in a position to be able to start a family, get a mortgage, etc. Having spent ten years building a strong portfolio of professional skills, I do feel that now is a good time to settle for the long haul with one employer - and if that opportunity comes up, then I would give it very careful consideration. If it doesn’t, then the long and winding journey continues…

LESSONS STILL TO LEARN...

So, what am I still working on? Here’s a few lessons that I still need to learn, and I’m working on every day…

Being a change agent. One valuable aspect of working at the UN is that it’s extremely process-oriented, and it’s meant that when I come to a new organisation, I’m keen to document and review operational processes in my role. Of course, something that goes with this is a desire to improve processes, when the opportunity to do arises. Unfortunately, whilst I am highly attuned to detecting these opportunities, and proposing solutions, the act of influencing senior colleagues and implementing changes to operational processes is still something that I need to develop my skills in. Key to this is developing working relationships, and building the confidence of those colleagues who I don’t necessarily work closely with, so that when I go to them with proposed changes, they can trust my judgement. But in large organisations, this can still be a challenge.

Managing expectations - of clients and colleagues, and of myself. Starting a new job, I’m often asked by colleagues, (a) what my position / team is, and (b) where I worked before. I daresay that the way I respond to these questions will then prescribe that colleague’s expectations of me. Coming from a very diverse professional background, I still struggle with getting my “elevator pitch” right. Similarly, with clients, I’m probably seem more as “that youngish-looking guy on the front desk” rather than “an information professional with over ten years of progressive experience in Australia and overseas across government, education and cultural organisations”. The more that I’m able to convey to colleagues and clients the value of what I have to offer them, the more professionally satisfying and productive the interactions will become within the workplace, which as far as I can see would be a win-win situation. Similarly, I’m always needing to manage my own expectations of a role that I’m in. After all, at the end of the day, it’s not about me. If I wasn’t there, then somebody else would be doing the same job…

Making myself indispensable. And this is a clincher. With a wide range of experience and knowledge, I still need to learn to find ways to capitalise on those skills which are in high demand in an organisation. Anybody with a Masters in Information Management can do most of the individual jobs that I’ve done. However, by finding ways to take the initiative and offer something outside the square which is much-needed in an organisation, then I place myself in a position where I bring something valuable to an organisation, rather than just being a replaceable cog. I recognise that my current career path is unique and valuable - I just need to learn to leverage that specifically to my advantage.


So, that’s enough navel-gazing for now. I wonder how things will change, looking back on these posts ten years from now…

Monday, 2 January 2017

Grand Ambitions

I don't do New Year's Resolutions. My life hasn't changed overnight since the clock ticked over, and I don't have any regrets for which I want to redeem myself with the new year.

However, it's three months since I returned to Australia, and lately I've felt myself overcome with a dreadful feeling of inertia - that I'm moving with the passing of time, but nothing's really changing. Of course, I've spent most of my energy settling into new jobs, and sorting out my domestic arrangements. However, now that I have moved all my things to Sydney, and have a place to live for the foreseeable future, it's time for me to get my shit together.

So, these are not new years resolutions, so much as grand ambitions for getting my life back on track. I turn 40 years old next year, so it seems an arbitrary a deadline as any to achieve the following:

Make new friends and form closer connections. This is probably the most vital part of settling into a new place, but I find it the most difficult. I feel like making friends used to be simple - especially during my uni years. You either made friends in class, or at uni, then you hung out more often, and suddenly you have an interconnected social web of friends. And being an expat in another country, friendships were easier because most people were in the same boat - isolated foreigners who needed to connect to maintain their sanity. These days, it feels more complex. You might make friends at a choir or swing dancing classes, but you’d rarely see them outside those activities. Many people my age are coupled-off and starting young families, which takes up the bulk of their time. Somebody recently said to me that there needs to be a support group for single people in their late 30s, and maybe that’s true. I also realise that, in recent years, I’ve become a fiercely independent person, and I need to learn to let people into my life, and allow closer friendships to form. I’m not entirely sure what else the solution is, other than try to take every opportunity that I can to go out and meet new people - something I find hugely exhausting after a while.

Establish job security with a permanent job. I am extremely lucky to have two awesome jobs, which take up quite a bit of my time, but is worth every minute. The trade-off is that they are on renewable short-term contracts, which means that there is always the risk that I will be unemployed in a matter of months. I do not regret this at all - I’d much rather be in a contract that progresses my career than be in a permanent job on a dead-end career path. However, there’s no reason it needs to be an either/or situation… especially if I want to…

Buy property. I’m ready. I don’t care if it’s a tiny shoebox of a studio apartment, as long as it’s in a good location, and it’s mine. I haven’t wanted this in the past, but something that’s shifted in my mind these past couple of years, and just really want a place to call my own, that I can decorate with my own furniture and books and stuff. It doesn’t have to be much, as long as it’s home.

Keep travelling. Even if it’s just one big trip a year, I want to keep seeing new places. The IFLA conference is in Wroclaw this August, so that’s what I’ll be aiming for, with a few more weeks scheduled to explore the parts of Eastern Europe that I didn’t make it to when I lived in Kosovo.

Write a new show. In some ways this is the easiest of my grand ambitions, as I only have to rely on myself to get this done. I have a basic premise, I just need to give myself time.

And that’s the real clincher, when it comes to my grand ambitions - time. At the moment, I’m working 39 hours and travelling 16 hours a week. The time I have available for socialising - or doing anything outside of work, really - feels quite limited. Ultimately, I need to exercise more discipline in the ways that I use my time. Develop better sleep patterns so that I can get up earlier, use the time I have better, and have the energy to be awake when I need to be. Spend less time on social media and prioritise my pop culture consumption to the bare essentials (i.e. enough to remain socially engaged and informed!).


It feels like life used to be so much easier… but it’s probably just that I didn’t worry about these things as much as I should have. Now I have to play catch-up before my mid-life crisis sets in!