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.