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...

Thursday, 2 March 2017

What have I become, my sweetest friend?

This is a film review, of sorts. Two, in fact.

I remember when Transporting first came out in 1996. I have vivid memories of hanging out at HMV in the Bourke St Mall as a teenager, listening to the soundtrack at the new CD listening posts. I didn't end up seeing the film until 1997 - probably when it came out on VHS tape. I probably borrowed it from the Rowden White Library. I loved that place. It was like nothing I'd seen before - a dark, gritty, yet strangely charming and funny look at a bunch of youth living in Edinburgh, saying "f*ck you" to taking on the burdens and responsibilities of modern life, as if they had a real choice when it came to "choosing life". It ends with Mark Renton finally making a choice, that choice being to betray his friends and take the opportunity to find something better, with a ray of hope that at least he can turn his crappy life around.

And sure, I was young and impressionable, a wannabe-rebel who at that point had discovered my baby goth identity, with long hair and big coats, hanging out at the Student Union bar drinking cafe latte in the mornings and cheap wine in the afternoons. I never got into heroine, but could appreciate the bitter irony behind the mantra of "choose life". So began my years of bohemian student life, living in share houses and surviving from week to week on casual shifts and Newstart payments.

You could say that I also fell in with a somewhat geeky crowd. When the first X-Men film came out in 2000, we could hardly contain our excitement - this was the film that started a new trend of comic superhero films that would take itself progressively more seriously as they went along, with Ramie's Spiderman coming out in 2002, Nolan's Batman Begins in 2005, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2007 with Iron Man. Sure, there were a few flops along the way *cough* X-Men 3, Spiderman 3, Superman Returns, and all three Fantastic Four films *cough* but if it wasn't for X-men in 2000, with a bright young cast (even Hugh Jackman was only 31 back then!), a sassy script by Joss Whedon, and directed by Bryan Singer, who had made a name for himself earlier with The Usual Suspects. And it was an awesome cinematic experience, that I shared with a bunch of geeky student friends.

Flash forward to 2017.

Twenty years after the original Transpotting, we revisit the lads from Edinburgh. Renton's failed to make much of his life, Sick Boy is running one failing scam after another, Spud is a junkie who's lost everything, and Begbie is in jail. Returning to face his betrayed comrades, Renton attempts to deal with the past, and what ensues is a hell of a lot of nostalgia - which is very carefully and deliberately-layered, tapping into the audience's nostalgia of the original film, but also carefully reminding us not to view the past through rose-tinted glasses, and that letting a deep betrayal simmer for 20 years can turn former friends into deeply bitter enemies - scars that can never really be healed. Most notable is the reprise of the "choose life" soliloquy, but rewritten for the middle-aged man in 2017, wondering where choosing life ever got him in the end.

And tonight, I saw Logan. The Wolverine's story has finally come full-circle, and he is once again alone, all the X-men long gone, with the exception of Charles Xavier, who is losing control of his mind in his old age. Where the original film was colourful, camp and family-friendly, this is dystopian, bleak, and extremely visceral.

In both of these films, which I saw within a few days of one another, I can't help but feel that they were made for people like me - who saw the original films when we were younger, more hopeful, and in a more optimistic time. Now that I'm fast-approaching 40 years old, the joys of my youth are being revisited, forcing me to consider my ageing self, and what I've achieved in life so far. I've spent the last few years building my skills in strange and wonderful places around the world, but in doing so, I've also become accustomed to a more solitary life, and the friendships I've made have become more transient. I've learnt to become self-assured and independent, but lost my sense of community and belonging. Now that I've moved to Canberra, I'm not entirely sure what the future holds for me, either personally or professionally, and whilst I'm comfortable being out on a limb for a while, there comes a point where I have to ask - is this what my life has amounted to so far? Is this choosing life? Do I let myself grow old and bitter and more withdrawn from a society that's moved on without me?

Damn it. I need to go and watch some happier movies.