Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Building balanced professional perspectives...

I was recently asked to speak to a group of LIS students about my "less than normal" career path, working in the international development sector.

I was pretty honest about this stage in my career - there wasn't much strategy behind it. I didn't set out to build some super set of transferable skills. The reality was that there were no opportunities within the library sector that interested me, so I sought out opportunities elsewhere. One slightly-different thing led to an even more different thing further away for a longer period of time, and pretty soon I was living on the other side of the world working in UN peacekeeping operations.

After several years of working overseas, in a very different sector, I felt like I had drifted too far from Australian libraries to realistically move back into this profession. I'd struggled enough previously job-hunting as an active librarian; I didn't like my chances as a lapsed one.

It was mostly lucky timing that, when I returned to Australia late last year, a position became available, and I was in the right places and ready to start working in some very good libraries.

And yet, I was also wary. I was worried that a return to libraries would be a "step backwards".

However, it turned out that spending a few years in the international field, away from libraries, was well-timed, and exactly what I needed to build a broader perspective of the socio-political landscape that libraries exist in, not only in Australia, but on a global level.

Earlier this year, ALIA passed a constitutional change to endorse the principles of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, following similar leadership from IFLA in 2016 with their International Advocacy Programme (IAP), supporting and promoting the role that libraries play in relation to the SDGs.

These strategic priorities on a global scale became evident when I went to the IFLA World Library and Information Congress in August, and it was like a convergence of both my Library and International Development worlds. I heard so many fascinating stories of libraries from all cultures and political situations, from war zones and geographically-remote locations, to bustling metropolitan hubs and underprivileged urban communities.

It made me realise, moreso than ever, how much of a one-sided bubble many of us live and work in, and how much we have to learn by stepping out of that bubble, and applying our skills in very different cultural and professional environments. As important as libraries are, we are not the centre of the universe, but rather one of many vital components that need to work on a global level in developing the capacity of our communities. We can't achieve this in isolation, disconnected from the work that other community and cultural development agencies are performing on a global level.

By opening ourselves to experiencing other professional perspectives, we create a more balanced perspective that we can bring back to the library field, creating future pathways for wider connections and partnerships.