Monday, 30 October 2017

Life before libraries...

I feel like I've already spoken / written at length about the winding sometimes-exciting, sometimes-frustrating path that I've taken in the past eleven-ish years. I feel like any success over this time can be attributed to either being in the right place at the right time or (when I wasn't so lucky) taking a leap into the unknown and hoping for the best.

But it's easy to forget that there were twenty-something years of my life prior to getting my first library job, and they were certainly formative years in terms of setting me on my current path. So, that's what I want to explore today - after all, we are talking about Origin Stories this month.

I didn't always want to become a librarian. I'm pretty sure that option never crossed my mind during my childhood. To be honest, I don't think I ever really knew what I wanted to be, growing up. I think I figured that I'd just do as well as I could in high school and see where that got me. I probably would have done better if I didn't spend so much time arranging music, hanging out in the drama room, or spending late nights dialling in to Bulletin Board Systems (these were the days before the Internet, after all). But I graduated with good enough marks to get into an Arts / Engineering double-degree course at Melbourne Uni, so that seemed a good idea at the time.

A couple of years later, I dropped out of the Engineering degree - strangely enough, there was so much more maths involved than I really cared for, and I was far too busy managing several student clubs, performing in theatre productions, and otherwise hanging out with role-players and re-watching Labyrinth, Willow, and episodes of Red Dwarf for the gazillionth time. My first paid job was a casual position working for the university's School's Liaison Unit, talking to visiting school groups about how awesome student life was at Melbourne Uni.

These activities grew into bigger things. I became heavily involved in student arts, and in my next paid gig, I was the Communications Officer for MUDfest, a biennial festival of the arts. Also, every summer, I would volunteer my time developing learning activities for a VCE Summer School which was delivered to students from underprivileged backgrounds, and eventually I was paid to co-run the whole program. At the same time, I picked up ongoing casual work, sitting at the front desk of a computer lab in the Baillieu library, helping students connect to the wifi, figure out the printing system, look up journal articles on databases, and show academics how to use EndNote.

Plus my academic life was picking up again - I'd discovered the Classics and English Literature departments, and one of my favourite subjects was medieval paleography and codicology, where my lecturer had developed state of the art software for reading digitised medieval manuscripts. It was awesome.

In hindsight, it seems so obvious that I'd become a librarian. Not the traditional sort which was still prevalent back then, but the kind that we talk about now. But it hadn't crossed my mind yet. I had more interesting things to do than to put books on shelves.

Eventually, in 2004, I graduated and was forced to go out into the real world. I still had my library computer lab job, and my younger friends at uni, but I couldn't stay there forever, and they would graduate soon enough. My problem was, I still didn't know what to do with my life - other than all the cool, interesting and rewarding things I'd been doing as a student. I eventually brainstormed a whole lot of vocational fields, based on my skills and interests, and the top three options (in no particular order) were:

- Secondary Education
- Arts Administration
- Librarianship / Information Management

I seriously considered going into teaching - even though I (correctly) had my doubts as to whether I'd be a good school teacher. Similarly, I would have loved to have gone into the Arts sector and worked at a fringe or writers festival, but the pragmatist in me felt that it wasn't really a sustainable option. Libraries, on the other hand - now *there* was a solid investment in my future! After all, there are so many kinds of libraries - it couldn't be that competitive to get in, right? The course could be done online, and fees were subsidised by the government. Plus I kinda had a bit of relevant knowledge and experience, with my computer lab work and English Literature degree.

So, I signed up, and quickly found some part-time volunteer work assisting the librarian in a small disability non-profit organisation. By the end of that year, I was invited to an interview that would become my first full-time job as a library officer in a public library. The rest, as they say, is history.

I never set out to become a librarian, but now that I look back, it's felt like an inevitable destination. It's extraordinary how well this field has suited my range of interests - a combination of culture, technology, learning, community-building, social justice - in ways that I couldn't have predicted at the time.

And, I mean, really? Me, an engineer? At least if I screw up something in the library, the ensuing damage would be limited...

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