Thursday 30 June 2016

The Unexpected Journey continues...

So, this afternoon, I am back on the road again, both figuratively and actually.

When I spoke at the ALIA National Conference in 2014, my paper was titled "The road goes ever on and on: a Librarian's Unexpected Journey." I never expected that my choice to become a librarian would take me to Darwin, let alone PNG, Vietnam, and the Balkans. I honestly don't know what will come next, but I'm comfortable with that now...

I'm also heading to Belgrade for a few days. From Pristina, it's a problematic journey, as I need to enter Serbia via one of its official border crossings, which means travelling two hours in the opposite direction (i.e. South) and then catching another bus from Skopje, Macedonia, which will then take me North the long way around. But I'm looking forward to spending some relaxing time floating on the Danube River and visiting the fortress in Novi Sad.

If you're keen to keep following my adventures, feel free to check out my instagram account where I'll try to take photos of pretty things and places along the way.

Otherwise, that's me checking out of BlogJune for yet another year. Who knows where I'll be, once next June comes around...

- A.

Wednesday 29 June 2016

The double-edged sword of democracy...

I like the fact that I come from a democratic country. I also appreciate that, in Australia, democracy is enforced through compulsory voting.

For an example of what happens when voting isn't compulsory, look no further than the recent EU Referendum in the UK. You'll read that 51.9% voted exit, whilst 48.1% voted remain.

What perhaps is more accurate is:
37.4% of registered voters voted exit
34.7% of registered voters voted remain
0.05% of registered voters submitted a blank or informal vote
27.8% of registered voters didn't even vote

And that's not even counting the number of adult UK citizens or residents who weren't registered.

No matter how skeptical you might be able your ability to influence politics, this is an important lesson - if you vote, then it counts. And it's scary that a minority of people in the UK can make this kind of decision that will have social and economical repercussions across the globe.

I mention this because, in two days, Australia has its Federal Election. It's a big one - the result of a double-dissolution of parliament (not to be confused with being doubly-disillusioned, which is what I imagine many people feel about the current two-party system).

Being overseas, it would be easy for me to say, "Oh, I'm out of the country, and it's too hard to find a way to vote." It happened last time, when I went to the Australian Embassy in Singapore to vote, only to find that they'd published the dates incorrectly on the website, and so I wasn't able to vote, and Tony Abbott became Prime Minister.

This time I'm going to try a bit harder. If I can make it to a voting poll, then so should you. Do your research on your candidates, make sure you've made time to visit a voting station, and exercise your democratic right.

On the point of doing research, I should mention that group voting tickets have been abolished as of this year. So, for the first time, you can vote about the line in the senate, and not worry about your voting being fed into a party's referencing deals. You get to control where your preferences go.

So, Australians, make sure you vote. It's your responsibility, and with great responsibility comes great power. If you don't, then somebody else will, and you may not like the result.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Libraries gave us power...

This is pretty much what I envisage working in a Canadian Library would be like...

The Haskell Free Library and Opera House is a neoclassical building that straddles the international border in Quebec and Vermont. The Opera House opened on June 7, 1904, and was deliberately built on the border between Canada and the United States. It was declared a heritage building by both countries in the 1970s. A thick black line runs beneath the seats of the opera house and diagonally across the center of the library's reading room to mark the international boundary. Today, the library has two different entrances (one from each country), and hence, two different addresses. Exiting the library through the opposite entrance requires one to report to the country's customs thereafter. [Wikipedia] Found and photographed by @todseelie. #haskelllibrary #internationalborder #curiousity #explore #adventure #amazing #wanderlust #neverstopexploring #photooftheday #picoftheday #travel #wonder #mytinyatlas #adventure #travel #travelingram #atlasobscura #hidden
A photo posted by Atlas Obscura (@atlasobscura) on

Stereotypes aside (because we all know how much librarians enjoy stereotypes), one of the fascinating parts of working in librarianship / information management abroad is observing the various cultural attitudes to organising, seeking and accessing information. And much of this is tied up with the local attitudes to authority and power.

Whilst I come from a background where we value transparency and open access as a way of removing barriers, others value the scarcity of some information, and the leverage available to those who wield it. The old idea that books should be locked away, lest those who are not worthy are exposed to them, are extended to electronic files. Or they see information as having a commercial value - if it can be organised into marketable knowledge products, then they will make a tidy profit.

As information becomes more accessible and abundant, it is that scarce knowledge that becomes the real information commodity. It's not necessarily something that I've considered at depth in Australia - I guess I've always come to appreciate information as something that's ubiquitous and open, and libraries do wonders as a great disseminator and equaliser. However, it's these rare commodities that libraries hold that are also important. Whether it's the magic of witnessing a unique ancient manuscript first-hand, or getting the first copy of a popular author's upcoming novel, or being responsible for handling strictly confidential information. In a manner of speaking, libraries do give us power, by the way of knowledge. So, by that token, with great libraries comes great responsibility.

Monday 27 June 2016

To blog or not to blog about work...

I used to blog about work a lot. This was back in 2007, when I was a new librarian and would blog about my experiences as a new professional, the successes and setbacks, aspirations and frustrations. I was also very careful not to directly criticise my employer - if there was criticism, it was always directed at the industry at large, which also seemed to work, since many of the endemic problems of the industry are common across the sector.

Also, through my studies, there has been a growing trend for LIS students to be tasked with writing a blog, as a means of reflecting on professional topics, and critiquing them against their own personal and professional findings. Similarly, in the wildly successful "23 things" e-learning program, librarians were encouraged to blog as a means of actively reflecting on and sharing their learning experience, in the context of the application of new technologies in their own work. This is certainly most effective when critiquing their own work environment, and evaluating the relevance / feasibility of introducing of such technologies to their workplace.

However, through recent years, I've had progressively diminishing license to reflect and critique my professional work in practice, through a blog. During my assignments with the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, participants were instructed to refrain from posting anything on social media that might bring the program, the host country, or the host organisation into disrepute. Now, being in a developing country, there are going to be an assortment of challenges, whether it be the local approach to professional practices, social barriers, lack of resources, and the list goes on. And, given that miscommunication and misunderstanding is also easy in this context, if one of my colleagues were to discover a blog where I describe all the problems of working in said country, it may not be received well by my host organisation or country. So, that much is understandable, and if I ever blogged about my work in the AVID program, it would focus on the positive experiences.

Most recently, though, I've been in a position where I don't blog about work at all. I don't even mention my current employer's name on social media; the only connection I have to my employer is through my LinkedIn page. To blog about work would be to jeopardise my entire future career in the sector, and the only time that any real critical discourse comes into the public sphere is when a high-level official retires and their parting gift is a damning testimonial. Again, I understand that operational information can be sensitive, and criticism can bring the organisation into disrepute, but I still do believe that having open discourse on professional practices is a healthy way to address some of the issues in the industry. On the other hand, by creating insular bubbles, there is the risk that the critical evaluation of practices will be, at best, discouraged, and at worst, result in negative repercussions.

This, of course, is pure speculation - I'm not exactly at liberty to blog about these issues to more specific detail. I wish I could - it would certainly be of interest to others working in information management who might be interested in entering my sector.

Do you blog about work? If so, what limitations do you set about what you will or won't blog about?

Sunday 26 June 2016

Sort-of-Monday Meme

So, it might be Monday in Australia, where Fiona is blogging, but it's still Sunday here. And because I'm a little short on substance, I thought I'd use it as a convenient topic for today's blog. So here goes...
  1. The most recent text you received was… thanks! See u in a few min
  2. What is an overused word or saying that you hate? Lately, it's been "edition" - especially when it's not about a written publication.
  3. What was the last book that you read? Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  4. The best purchase you’ve made recently? A tote bag from the Bodelian Library.
  5. What was the last image you posted on social media and why? 

  6. A photo posted by Andrew F (@lib_idol) on

  7. What was the last movie you saw? Warcraft. Yes, I admit it. It was terrible, and yet still better than Batman vs Superman.
  8. What is the last risk you took and how did it turn out? Deciding not to renew my current contract. So far, it feels like it has been the right decision.
  9. What kind of mood were you in today? Irritable. I wanted to wake up early and go for a long walk before it got too hot. I slept in, and then it was too hot.
  10. What has been your biggest challenge lately? Personal budgeting.
  11. What is one new thing you have learned? Catfish are the only animals that naturally have an odd number of whiskers.

Saturday 25 June 2016

Bitten by the travel bug...

There was a time when I was never really interested in travel. After moving to Darwin back in 2006, I was in a unique position to be able to travel all over the outback, as well as be a short and relatively cheap flight away from Singapore and the rest of South-East Asia. I had a decent salary, and six weeks of annual leave. But, to be honest, I was mostly focused on my career, and didn't see the appeal of travelling; I didn't even have a passport back then. Looking back, I cringe when I think of how much I spent on trips down to Sydney and Melbourne, when I could have been visiting new and otherwise exciting places.

Now, almost ten years later, it's a different story. My work has taken me to the other side of the world, and with it, new and fascinating places. The more I travel, the more I want to travel, so much so that it's become part of who I am now. Every time I visit a new place, and pick up a map of the city, I eventually bring it home and stick it up on my wall. It's a growing reminder of how incredible my life has been this past year, and how much more there is yet to discover.

Challenge for the day - name all these locations...
It's also made me appreciate the diversity of the region I live in. It's amazing to think that I live within a couple of hours' flight from over fifty different countries. And my perpetual FOMO compels me to try to see as many of them as possible in my time here. So far, in these past 14 months, I've tallied 17 countries, so there's still plenty to go... I'm hoping to add at least five or six more in the next few months!

And finally, it's made me determined to make the most of the opportunities to also be a tourist in Australia. Whilst I've visited plenty of my home nation, there's still much that I have yet to discover!

Friday 24 June 2016

We're gonna teach 'em how to say goodbye...

So often, we're taught about best strategies to get a job and start working in a job. However, resigning and leaving is also an important process, and the way that you approach the end of your term in a job will still leave an important impression which may come back to haunt you if you do it badly. So, mindful of my imminent departure for my job, here's...

Ten tips for people who are leaving their job:

1. Always resign in person. This should go without saying. A job isn't a not-that-serious relationship that you had when you were nineteen when you dumped them over the phone. Grow a backbone, and do it face to face.

2. Be ready for people to ask you why you're leaving. If you've got another job to go to, then that's great. If not, then there will be questions. Make like a boy scout and be prepared.

3. Remember, you're still employed to do a job until your last day. So often, people start flaking out a week or two before they finish. Don't be that person. You've made it this far - you can stand to keep working hard until the final checkout.

4. Start cleaning up your workspace early. Like, a week in advance. You'll find all kinds of cool tidbits from your past work that you can share with your colleagues. Basically, clean out everything except what you're currently working on, and as you complete each remaining task, clear it from your workspace.

5. Finish well. Do everything in your power to complete everything that you're currently working on. If you can't, write some good handover notes.

6. Don't be surprised if some people treat you like you've already left. It might feel personal - and some colleagues might feel awkward or betrayed by your imminent departure, and focus on others. Or they might just want to avoid giving you more work as you're finishing things off.

7. Let go. As above, your boss is probably already working on creating new directions in your wake. It's perfectly natural to want to make sure that you leave your job in good hands for the next person, and you should certainly support your boss in this, if requested. But you don't get to call the shots.

8. Mend bridges - don't burn them. You've probably had tensions with some colleagues over your time working in the organisation. Now's your last chance to bury the hatchet, even if it's just a chance to shake their hand and tell them that it's been a valuable experience working with them.

9. Make yourself available for a chat to the head of your organisation, if possible. Even if you've never spoken to them before, this is a good chance to end the job on a professional note. They may even ask you for feedback on your experience of working in the organisation, and this is an opportunity to be completely honest.

10. Say goodbye properly. Make yourself available to your closest colleagues to enjoy those social moments on your last day. You've cohabited with them eight hours for the last few years of your life. If it's hard for you to leave, then it's going to be difficult for them too. Respect the fact that, whilst we're all professionals, we're also human too.

Thursday 23 June 2016

Too busy to blog...

So, after 19 days of daily posts, I've gone and blown my run, and missed three days in a row.

After having nothing to do last Saturday, the last four days have been busy non-stop, mostly with work. Whilst I can't really blog about work, much of it involved working closely with a visitor from another office who was both (a) an information management professional and (b) an Australian.

When you work in a diverse workplace such as mine, it's amazing the kind of rapport you instantly develop with somebody who is on the same wavelength, both professionally, and "culturally". And it's interesting - after two years of negotiating cross-cultural barriers, I think I've become somewhat attuned to being culturally sensitive and professionally adaptable. So, when I have the opportunity to basically "be myself", it makes such a huge difference. It's been a breath of fresh air, and a nice productive end to my time working for this organisation.

And so, my final week begins...

Sunday 19 June 2016

Climb every mountain...

...or just this one.

A photo posted by Andrew F (@lib_idol) on

After yesterday's post about having nothing to do, I went hiking today. It was only a 12km hike, but it involved climbing to the highest mountain in Kosovo, Gjeravica / ─Éeravica. At 2656m, that's 428m higher than Mt Kosciusko.

A photo posted by Andrew F (@lib_idol) on

Travelling there took about 3.5 hours each way, and then it was a 5-hour return hike to the top. There were many wild flowers, snow drifts, glacial lakes, and spectacular views at the top. There was also blood (not much), sweat (a lot) and tears (almost).

I will be in a world of pain tomorrow.

Saturday 18 June 2016

What to do when you have nothing to do?

I have nothing to do today.

Well, that's a lie. I have two commitments today - write this blog post and attend a birthday party tonight.

It's a strange feeling. It was strange to go to sleep last night, and not have to set my alarm clock, but instead let my body sleep as much as it needed to, and then wake up naturally. That turned out to be eleven and a half hours of sleep. It makes me realise exactly how busy my life has been lately, and how much I've fallen into a pattern of being perpetually busy. Most days of the week, I'm in the office from 9am to 7 or 8pm. Even when I went on vacation for 15 days, I didn't give myself time to just relax and do nothing - such a thing would have felt like a waste of valuable time when travelling abroad.

Even now, I'm resisting the temptation to head into the office and get ahead on some of my work.

And yet, when I compare myself now to myself back in Australia, there would have been many a time when I'd go to my favourite cafe or park, and listen to music or just read. I don't know if I've changed since then, or if it's more my status as an ex-pat, where I need to use every moment to get the most out of my experience overseas, because once I return, that opportunity will be gone.

Or maybe I should just stop overthinking it, chill out and go read a book or see a movie. There are worse problems I could be having.

Friday 17 June 2016

On Bookishness

A oft-bemoaned source of angst amongst many librarians seems to be the perception of, "Oh, you're a librarian? You must really love books. Do you get to read books all day?"

To which, many librarians many librarians would respond, "Oh come on, it's the 21st century. Being a librarian isn't just about books anymore. It's mostly about mostly about managing knowledge and information in all its forms - most of which doesn't involve books at all."

This is certainly true for me - over the past two years, I haven't been required to even handle a book, let alone read one!

At the same time, I suspect that the source of said angst isn't so much the misconception that being a librarian is all about loving and reading books, but rather about wishing that this were actually the reality of being a librarian.

I remember working in school and public libraries, and being frustrated by the fact that here I was, surround by books, and I would spend 80% of the time either finding books, shelving books, checking the order of spine labels of books on the shelves, or providing customer service (i.e. directing patrons to the toilet or negotiating disputed library fines), when what I mostly wanted to do is share my love of literature with the others in the library. Of course, I also cared about community development, information literacy and local history, but it was mostly about the books.

A photo posted by Andrew F (@lib_idol) on

And yet, I still hold on to my bookishness as an integral part of who I am as a library and information management professional. I attend (and occasionally work at) literary festivals. I read a bit - not as much as I'd like to, but apparently much more than the average person. I review my books, reflecting on my experience as a reader, and on the book's own literary merits against its contemporaries. I engage on twitter chat sessions, particularly on YA literature. I share my experiences with others, and engage them in gleaning their own thoughts.

Not only because this is what brings me some degree of happiness in my life, but when that dream job comes along when I get to be both innovative in my information professional skills and pursue my bookish passions as a core part of my job - I will be ready.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Why BlogJune?

So, we've just hit the halfway point of BlogJune, and this seems as good a time as any to reflect on the act of blogging... in a blog post, of course! For those unacquainted with BlogJune, it all started here on CW's blog. The challenge - to blog every day for the month of June. This is my third year of participating.

I originally started blogging on 22nd of April, 2001. Over fifteen years ago. Of course, we didn't call it "blogging" back then - we were on LiveJournal, or LJ. And it wasn't a challenge to blog every day. In fact, if I didn't blog at least once or twice a day, there was probably something very wrong. It wasn't just a blogging platform - it was the online community space of choice, before Facebook joined the scene. Most of my friends had an LJ account, and we'd casually update our peers on what was going on in our lives, whether it was ranting about personal issues (often), organising social events (sometimes), or leaving cryptic posts that were more attention-seeking than of actual significance (rarely but more often than I'd care to admit).

Looking through it now, I spotted this choice post:

My LJ account still exists - as do the accounts of many of my friends - and now it stands as something of a time-capsule of my mid-to-late 20s. The very thought of deleting one's LJ back then would be akin to deleting one's Facebook account now - so many memories erased from existence. I don't remember the exact point when Livejournal "died", but I pretty much stopped using it when I moved cities in March 2009, and with the change of scene comes a change of social circles. By then it was all about Facebook.

Of course, I don't have the time, energy, or narcissistic exuberance to be blogging like this 3-4 times a day anymore. However, one thing I like about BlogJune is that it creates a month-long snapshot of my life - where I am, what I'm doing, what my hopes and dreams are. I like going back to another time, and watching my life unfold from day to day, with its associated thoughts. It reminds me of who I used to be - the good and the bad - and thus appreciate how far I've come (or how far I've deviated!).

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Game of Loans.

Following on from my previous post... yes, developing a future-proof set of skills will ensure that you are employable in an ever-changing information society. But it's not necessarily going to get you a job, let alone a fulfilling and/or successful career.

Because, like any personal journey, navigating challenges to develop one's own status in society, and live a prosperous and fruitful existence, it's a game. A game in a competitive world, where there are more would-be librarians than jobs. A game with rules, often secret rules, that will give you either an advantage or a handicap, depending on the path you choose to take. A choose your own library adventure.

A Game of Loans. And when you play the Game of Loans, you win or you die end up unemployed and/or frustrated.

Back in the old days - or so our parents told us - it was simply a case of getting a job in the mailroom, and one day you could be CEO of the company.

For my generation, it was always the tautologous frustration of needing experience to get a job, but needing a job to get experience. And for most kids, it was a case of finding a family friend who could help out getting you that first job.

And in the library world, experience is everything. The vital step is getting that library experience - preferably long before you've even considered becoming a librarian. I was lucky in that my first job was in a computer lab that was *in* the library - though technically not actually part of the library, since it was back in the days when libraries were still all about books, and wifi didn't exist yet, or if it did, you had to buy a seperate wireless card and jam it into the slot in the side of your enormous laptop, and then ask the guy at the desk (i.e. me) for the proxy settings to configure your computer to connect to the wifi. Ah, those were the days... but I digress! I was lucky, because I developed librarian skills in the form of information literacy training skills before they were really a thing!

By the time you're halfway through a librarianship course, you really need to have a job in a library. Even if it's just casual shelving, it all counts. Because once you've graduated as a librarian, you absolutely must have experience, or it will be extremely difficult to get any job in a library. Despite policies of merit-based recruitment, libraries will rarely employ qualified librarians into sub-professional positions (such as library officers, library assistants, etc.) because they know that you just want to job as a stepping stone into a "real librarian" job. I've known of qualified librarians who have underplayed their qualifications, just to get their foot in the door.

Which brings me to the next great Game of Loans - writing resumes and addressing key selection criteria. If you want to get a librarian crowd to an event, just put on a workshop, and they'll come in droves. This is a game that seems easy in theory, except that every job is different, and requires tailor-made tactics. One-resume-fits-all is now a foolhardy approach, and writing KSC is a careful exercise in concise detail, choosing every word for all of its loaded potential.

And then, like the Great Houses of Westeros, there are the various sectors of the library industry, and you need to choose your allegiances (does that make me a wildling?). Or perhaps it's more like the factions of the Divergent trilogy, where certain personality types are naturally drawn to certain sectors (does that make me Divergent - or possibly factionless?). Some librarians start out with an attitude of "I don't care - I'm happy to work in any sector as long as I'm a librarian." I would urge caution to such an approach. As much as we don't want to admit it, there is a social order of library sectors - it's easier to move from some sectors to others, but if you find yourself at the "bottom", it can be quite a struggle to climb "up".

Finally, once you've picked your tribe, passed all of the challenges, and got that library job, then the real Game of Loans begins - working with others in the library. Every job is a political minefield. You want to form alliances, familiarise with the landscape, take advantage of the benefits, and learn to negotiate the hurdles. Be assertive without being arrogant; obliging without being easily-exploited. Pick your moments. There are various approaches to succeeding at this particular Game of Loans, and depending on your workplace.

And then, there are other games. I've been playing a very different game in recent years - perhaps a bit like Arya Stark in Braavos, trying to pass her initiation into the guild of the Faceless Men. And it's a difficult game at the best of times, where the rules often change or seemingly contradict each other. Perhaps I should go back to playing a game that actually I'm good at.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

My top five skills for future proofing a librarian's employment opportunities.

So, today I'm being lazy, and riffing off Kathryn's latest blogjune post, entitled "Top five skills for future proofing a librarian's employment opportunities".

This is a particularly apt topic for me, as I am soon to be going back into the job market, and I, naturally, want to have employment opportunities. At the same time, I currently work in an organisation where many people are very concerned about their employment opportunities. Some are anxious that every professional decision they make will determine their future career success - or failure. Others feel completely trapped, but have stayed so long that they don't have the skills to move to another sector.

When I started out as a new graduate librarian, I was very focused on my career path. I took opportunities to move up into management roles quickly, but soon found that this could only get me so far, and my career was, by no means "future proof". More recently, I've opted for the path less-travelled, which has made for a much less-conventional librarian career, but hasn't made me any less a librarian in my mind. The former was about establishing valuable core skills and experience. The latter has been about developing resilience and versatility. I suppose that time will tell how "future proof" my current career path has become, but for the time being, here are my top five.

Skill 1 - Competence. Yes, it's important to know your core principles of librarianship. That's what education is for. However, what takes time to learn is being able to get the job done, and get it done properly and on time. And part of this is understanding the barriers in the workplace, and knowing how to overcome them. These may be due to a limited budget, lack of professional capacity in the organisation, internal politics, or purely social barriers. The more you diversify your experience, the better you'll be at negotiating these pitfalls and getting things done. We all know the people in the workplace who are reliable, and the ones who aren't. You want to be the person that everybody can count on. Get a reputation for it, and people will remember you.

Skill 2 - Resilience. Even the most competent person has a breaking point, and we've all had times in our working lives where we've wanted to flip the table and walk away. But being able to handle constant setbacks, but return with a new approach until you succeed is an indispensable skill. No work place is perfect, and the more experience that you get in achieving results in imperfect work places, the more resilient you will become as a professional.

Skill 3 - Mindfulness. At the same time, as a renowned poet once said, You gotta know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em. The more you challenge yourself, and build resilience, the more you're going to be mindful of where your own professional limitations are - where your strengths and where your weaknesses lie. You'll learn to be able to promote your strengths to prospective employees. You'll also know where you might want to take some professional development - or just decide that some aspects of the professional field are never going to be your thing. 

Skill 4 - Connectedness. Call it networking, schmoozing, or just spending too much time on Twitter. The more you connect with your peers, the more you'll appear on the professional radar. I'm not saying that you should be a big self-promoter - quite the opposite! Engage with others by responding to what they've been doing, whether it's writing a blogpost, or taking part in an online discussion. Share your own learning moments, and learn from others. Be the kind of professional that your peers will want to engage with.

Skill 5 - Heart. Yeah, I know, it's all very Captain-Planet-fifth-element-y, but when I think about what makes libraries future proof, it often goes back to Michael Stephens' core principle of the Hyperlinked Library - that the library should encourage the heart. And as facilitators, we need to have the skills to make these human connections between our services and the user. To do this, we need to express our own genuine wonder of our world, and be need to be passionate in the ways we pursue and create our own life experiences. Only then can we inspire communities that create, share and engage with one another with their own experiences.

So, that's me. Looking back at Kathryn's post, I think we perhaps have a different approach to coming up with our top five, but ultimately, when put together, they are very similar sets of skills.

What are yours?

Monday 13 June 2016

Catching up... the worst part of returning from vacation.

All of my unread work emails are a reminder that the rest of my workplace didn't stop, just because I went away. Whilst I try to catch up with everything that happened in my absence, colleagues will welcome me back in the office - not just because they're happy to see me, but also so that they can hand back the extra load that they've had to take on... along with the various things that they weren't 100% sure how to handle so instead they kinda figured it could just wait until I got back. And, of course, there are others who will expect me to be back up to speed like I haven't been away, but the reality is that, after 15 days of not thinking about work, I'm going to need half a day to get back "in the zone" - or at least a couple of coffees!

This, of course, has been my experience many, many times, in almost every job I've been in. And it doesn't get easier! Back when I was an entry-level employee, my tasks were more interchangeable, and there'd be at least one other person who could do my job in my absence. But as my roles become more specialised, I become less dispensable - which is a good thing if I want to keep my job, but a source of frustration if I want to take leave. There's rarely going to be a convenient time to take leave, and (of course, arguably) few people in my workplace are going to be able to do my job as well as me - at least not on top of doing their own job at the same time!
So, it's made me think a bit about team skills when it comes to managing leave. When I was managing a small public library, the main thing was that there was always somebody on the desk, and somebody available to do story time. My priority as a manager was to keep my staff happy, and to keep the wheels turning. If people had earned their leave, and they wanted to go away, then as long as there were enough staff left, then I'd approve them on their merry way.

But now, I do wonder more about best practices when it comes to managing leave. The more specialised and valuable a staff member's skills and knowledge are, the more there is at stake every time they go on leave. Is it enough just to keep the basic wheels turning while they're away - letting the work pile up? Or do we exercise some knowledge management in documenting specialised processes that another staff member can follow in their absence - with the risk that the less experienced replacement might make mistakes? Or do we put our foot down and refuse to grant leave to staff during times where their knowledge and skills might be in particular demand? Or worse still, allow them to go, but expect them to respond to work emails or phone calls while they're away?

Ideally, the solution could be simple - that we have two full-time staff performing each specialised role. They can collaborate and learn from each other, and if one goes on leave, then the other one is still present. But perhaps such a organisational structure is a little idealistic, in this day and age where organisations are cutting back more and more...

Perhaps the most effective model was when I worked in schools. Everybody goes on leave during the school holidays. Nobody goes on leave during the school term. Problem solved!

Any other solutions?

Saturday 11 June 2016

In transit.

I'll be travelling most of the day, returning to Kosovo. So, this post is dedicated to this lovely couple I met on the Tube last night who had travelled all the way to London from the US just to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. They'd just seen part one. I asked if it had ended on a cliffhanger. They replied, "Of course."

I'm also reminded that I missed out on tickets and will have to remain vigilant to avoid spoilers on the internet.... "Crucio!" to anybody who dares spoil it for me.

Three for free in London...

So, it's my last full day in London, and even with limited funds, I was able to fill it up with a few interesting places that I could get into for free...

1. The British Library. An uninspired monstrosity of a building from the outside, this place makes up for the ugliness with its amazing collections. The Treasures Exhibition has something for everybody - from hand written musical scores of Handel's Messiah, to hand written lyrics by the Beatles, to maps and illuminated manuscripts, including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and ephemera like Suffragette Olive Wharry's scrapbook. Across the hallway, for something completely different, was an exhibition on the London punk scene from 1976-78, looking at the Sex Pistol's rise to popularity, and the other bands that followed. It was while I was walking through this exhibition that I realised that I had vaguely considered going to the Queen's Birthday Parade and completely forgot. God Save the Queen indeed.

2. Sir John Soane's Museum. At a friend's recommendation, I decided to go check out this museum that I'd never heard of, and I'm glad I did. A professor of Architecture, but also an enthusiast of art, literature and antiquity, he filled this house with all manner of artifact, and his dying wish was that the museum be kept in its current condition. Somewhat cramped and seemingly chaotic in its arrangement, with rooms filled with stone sculptures and paintings, this is a unique place to behold. At the centre of the exhibition - in his "catacombs" is the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I, and hanging nearby is the (incorrectly labeled) death mask of Oliver Cromwell. Upstairs is not only a Shakespeare First Folio in perfect condition, but also the Second, Third and Fourth!

3. Tate Modern. Britain's renowned gallery of Modern Art was relatively close to my hostel, so I thought I'd pop inside quickly. I emerged several hours later. So much amazing art - I felt exhausted by the time I left. I'm just a bit sad that I didn't have time to visit the Tate Britain as well.

Now it's time to pack...

Friday 10 June 2016

How to travel cheaply in the UK (but still manage to blow your budget)

So, as the end of my trip approaches, I look back at what worked (or I should have done) to minimise my expenses in an expensive country.. 

1. Stay in hostel dorms. (Or get a partner to split a double room with... Stupid accommodation conspiracy that allows couple to travel more cheaply.... :( )

2. Catch buses between cities. (Depending on the time difference and the price difference! It may not be worth losing a day, if a train takes half the time for only a few pounds more.)

3. Book flights that leave at a sensible hour. You may think you're saving money by getting that cheap early flight... Until you have to catch a taxi at 4am. Expensive and exhausting, it'll cost more and it's hard to enjoy travel in a sleep-deprived state!

4. Book hostels that come with breakfast. Make secret sandwiches for lunch.

5. Find cafes / restaurants that have lunch specials for around five pounds. Chinese and Indian places are often good for this - cheap and filling!

6. Supermarkets will often have a three pound sandwich / snack / drink combo which will suffice for dinner if you're desperate. Also - reduced for quick sale meals are handy if your hostel has a kitchen.

7. Walk everywhere - until your feet end up covered in blisters.

8. Buy an Oyster Card, and pray that there's enough on it to magically get you past the next tube station barrier.
Getting acquainted with Victorian art.

9. Visit all the libraries, galleries and museums. I spent more than half the day at the Victoria and Albert Museum today, and could have easily stayed for a few more hours. I'm off to the Tate and the British Library tomorrow.

10. Blow your budget anyway with cheap last-minute tickets to a theare show. Totally worth it. :)
Guess which show I saw?

Thursday 9 June 2016

And now, the end is near...

I have returned to London - where I started this vacation - and though I don't fly out until Sunday, I'm already feeling the end approaching. Now I'm feeling the pressure to see as much as I can for my last three days. After checking in at my hostel near London Bridge, I walked along the Thames, past the site of the original Globe Theatre, across to St Paul's Cathedral, though Covent Garden and Leicester Square to Trafalgar Square, and then on to Big Ben and Westminster. As I crossed to the London Eye, I noticed that my feet were getting decidedly sore, and that I'd been walking for three hours. It all looked so much closer on the map!
I couldn't find the little old birdwoman.
I didn't expect it to be so shiny!
I'll soon be closing up another chapter in my life. After 14 months in Kosovo, my current contract is ending, and as valuable as the experience has been, the time has come to move on to other things. Of course, I'm feeling the pressure to tie off all the loose ends, and prepare all my handover notes, with the aim of leaving the role in a good condition for the next person. Still, it can be difficult to let go! I plan to stay in the area for a couple of months, with some travel and side-projects, but it'll be hard to resist dropping into work to check up on things!

So, in both cases, it's a moment of reflection and mild anxiety / excitement of what the future may hold! Change can be scary but healthy, and the more widely I work and travel, the more perpective I will gain.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Exploring Oxford University...

Today's adventures started with a 90-minute tour of the Bodleian Library - which in itself started with a 30-minute summary of English history from King Alfred burning the cakes through to bishops being burnt at the stake on Broad Street, through to the filming of Harry Potter in the Divinity School. Then we had the actual tour, including Duke Humfrey's reading room, the Radcliffe Camera, and the underground stacks. We were't allowed to take any photos in the library, but here's a photo I took outside afterwards...
Then I ventured down the road to the Botanical Gardens. Those of you who have read the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman will know why... It took a while, but I found Lyra and Will's bench!
You need to zoom in to the the etchings...
The gardens themselves were also wonderful to stroll around. The lily pond is especially beautiful, and  there was a certain serenity about the place, even with the occasional lads attempting to punt down the river.

My next port of call was the Weston Library, where there were two exhibitions and a lecture - all free. One exhibiton was part of the celebration of 400 years since Shakespeare's death, aptly named "Shakespeare's Dead". It had an array of manuscripts and artifacts either depicting death in shakespeare's work or exploring themes of death in his world. The lecture also coincided with this exhibition, looking at the topic of Shakepeare's female characters and death. Presented by Professor Simon Palfrey, the lecture certainly awoke the English Literature major in me that's been largely dormant for the past few years - perhaps a timely reminder to myself that the world of literature and books is really where I'm most at home and at my most passionate. It was also kinda weird being in Oxford, listening to a lecture on Shakespeare by a guy with an Aussie accent!

Finally, i ventured to the Bodleian Treasures exhibition, which was a special treat, with something for everybody. My two favourites, though, were a suffragette pamphlet that had been printed onto Japanese rice paper (how they kept it in such good condition for so long is beyond me!)

And a hand drawn map of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.
So, that's about it for Oxford this time... Like London, there really is an otherworldly feel about the place, which can be overstimulating and overwhelming, but I'd definitely consider living here if the opportunity ever presented itself. Also, more places should have people wearing coloured geraniums to indicate their place in the social hierarchy...

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Oxford - Part One

From one literary place to the next, I am now in Oxford - home to influential figures such as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman and Richard Dawkins. The city is a sandstone jungle, its streets alive with crowds of young (presumably) students. At its centre is the University of Oxford - the oldest university in the English-speaking world at 920 years old. I'll be venturing onto its hallowed halls tomorrow, but first...

To the pub!
Not just any pub, the Eagle and Child was, from the early 1930s to 1949, the home of the Inklings - a group of literary enthusiasts and writers who would meet every Tuesday. At their meetings, they would discuss, in particular, the writing of fantasy fiction, and amongst its members were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Indeed, it would have been in this space that people were first exposed to the world of Middle Earth, in early drafts of The Lord of the Rings.
I then jumped on a bus to the nearby cemetary in Wolvercote, to pay my respects to Tolkien's final resting place.

It's quite a nice cemetary - there were bunnies bounding around the grounds, which I thought was cute - until I saw one disappear into a grave. So, if the zombie apocalypse starts in Oxford, I'm pretty sure the bunnies will be the ones to blame...

Monday 6 June 2016

From Shakespeare's birthplace to his final resting place...

Firstly - you are reading the 100th entry for this blog! Sure, many of them are thanks to my participation in BlogJune, but let's treat this as an auspicious moment, all the same.

So, today's excursion took me to the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, most notable for being the home of William Shakespeare.

I initially had planned to travel through Stratford to Oxford. However, I recently checked my bank balance, and after recovering from the shock, decided that I was not being nearly careful enough about my finances. And so, after doing some number-crunching, i realised it was much more cost efficient to stay in Birmingham for an extra night, take a return train to Stratford, and then a bus to Oxford in the morning. Furthermore, there are no left luggage services at Stratford-upon-Avon station, so I'm glad I was able to keep my luggage in Birmingham, because that would have otherwise been a huge pain!

Anyway, travel logistics aside, Stratford-upon-Avon was a delight to visit. After a 45-minute train journey, my first port of call was Shakespeare's birthplace and family home. Adjacent to this building, they've set up an exhibition space / museum, with all kinds of Shakespeare-y displays. In the garden, there were actors reciting his best-known soliloquys to (sometimes) appreciative audiences. And then there was the house itself, which gives an insight into the lives of those living in Elizabethan times, and perhaps what was most interesting was how over the centuries, the house has become a place of pilgrimage for writers, with a multitude of engraved signatures of visitors on the windows.
Selfie in front of Shakespeare's birthplace
Included in the ticket was entry to the Harvard House - not in itself related to Shakespeare, but its owners were contemporaries of Shakespeare - and Hall's Croft, the home of Susanna, William's eldest daughter. Both were in good condition, especially the latter, with its gardens which were perfect for a cup of tea in the sun. Unfortunately, I had arrived several weeks too early, as New Place - Shakepeare's main residence in his later years - was being prepared as a new commemorative space to be unveiled as part of the celebrations of 400 years since his death in 1616.

It seems fitting that he was buried a short distance from where he was born - at Holy Trinity Church. Presumably, he's still there, given the curse that is engraved on the stones "curst be he that moves
my bones.
Overlooking his grave is an effigy that was created around that time - one of the earliest representations of William Shakespeare's physical appearance, predating his portait on the cover of the First Folio which was published in 1623.

On leaving the church, I still had much of the afternoon left which was spent walking along the banks of the Avon river, past the majestic Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and the canals headed for Birmingham, noting that it was 23 hours away by narrowboat - substantially longer than the 45 minute train trip. After sitting on the grass, watching the swans and geese pass on the water, and finishing my book, I headed back to Birmingham, ready to pack my bags and head on to Oxford tomorrow...

Sunday 5 June 2016

Birmingham - city of far canals...

I'm back on the road again!

Today's travels have brought me to the city of Birmingham. Now, to be honest, I hadn't given this place much thought until a couple of years ago, with BBC's most excellent Peaky Blinders - a visceral gangster serial set in 1919, where the likes of Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill, Tom Hardy and Noah Taylor do a lot of nasty gangstery things, in very three-piece suits, to a gritty Nick Cave soundtrack. And, of course, the industrial landscape of Birmingham makes for the perfect setting.

That said, whilst I'm staying in quite an industrial area, the hostel is actually a renovated warehouse, in a region that reminds me of Collingwood - somewhat gentrified with many apartments, bars and cafes, often overlooking the canals.

Which brings me to my discovery of the day - Birmingham's canals! Once upon a time, back in the 18th century, a system of canals was established for transporting goods across the country, and Birmingham was at the centre of network. These canals still operate - with about 100 miles of canals still navigable, with many long, narrow canal boats chugging along though the city. One thing I find fascinating about this is the system for travelling uphill on these channels. Through a system of gates, the channels are separated in a terrace-like arrangement of levels. If a boat wants to go *up* a level, one of the gates is opened, and the boat enters the section.

That gate is closed, and the other gate is opened, filling the section with water. As the water fills, the boat rises, until it has reached the next level, and continue on its merry way. Ingenious, no? Ah, the wonders of not-so-modern technology...

Saturday 4 June 2016

Volunteering at Hay...

The thing about the UK is that it's expensive. Even when I'm not in London, which is ridiculously expensive, my budget is being stretched.

And when attending a literary festival, sessions range in price from 5 to 13 pounds, which initially doesn't sound like a lot for somebody like myself who deals mostly in dollars and euros... But (a) it adds up when I want to attend a couple of dozen sessions, and (b) when I actually convert prices, I feel poor.

And so, I've one again signed up as a volunteer, which means I have to be friendly, wear a hi-vis vest, wrangle queues, check tickets, and give directions. In return, I get to see a bunch of sessions for free, 20% of book purchases, and 3 hot meals a day - which pretty much accounts for all my expenses other than travel and accommodation. And I still get plenty of time to wander around and appreciate the town.

It's a pretty good deal, actually.

Friday 3 June 2016

Making Hay...

And then, on Monday, I arrived in Hay-on-Wye - a small Welsh town on the border with England near Hereford. With a medieval castle ruin on its hill, and many bookstores, this town's population increases exponentially every May / June with the Hay Festival - one of the UK's most prestigious literary and arts festivals.
A paddock on the town's outskirts is transformed into a village of marquees where a diverse range of author talks, political debates, cultural discussions and evening performances play to thousands of visitors.

Just over the last few days, I've been able to fuel my YA interests, with UK YA royalty such as Melvin Burgess, Malorie Blackman, and Patrick Ness, as well as an assortment of up and comers.

It's been interesting being here - I've already learnt a lot of new names to look out for, and have come to appreciate how much the Australian and US YA scene has dominated my own bubble... I'm ashamed to admit that, before this week, I would have struggled to name 10 recent UK YA novels. This is something that I must try to remedy... :)

Thursday 2 June 2016

Cardiff - the home of Torchwood 3

So, since I was travelling to Wales anyway, I decided to spend the intervening evening in Cardiff. To be honest, I knew very little about the Welsh capital - I certainly wasn't aware that it was the birthplace of Roald Dahl - the centenary of which they will be celebrating later this year!

However, there was one reason I wanted to make the special trip...

Looking for the secret entrance
It was, of course, the location for that ill-fated Doctor Who spin-off series, Torchwood. You can actually visit the site of the main entrance to the Torchwood 3 Facility, where there is now a shrine devoted to the memory of Ianto Jones, a favourite character who was unfortunately killed off quite unceremoniously... May he rest in peace!

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Blogjune begins... In London

So, once again, June is here, and it is time to embark of that foolish endeavour known as BlogJune, where I blog every day of the month.

Fortunately, I have recently started travelling, and so I hope I'll have interesting things to blog about. So, without further adieu:

Ten things that cross one's mind when going to London for the first time.

1. ZOMG I'M IN LONDON!!!!!!!!1!!!!111!!!

2. How do I get out of Heathrow airport?

3. Surely ten pounds on my Oyster Card will be enough for the week.

4. Do they really need to warn us about The Gap so many times? It probably wouldn't have even been an issue if they hadn't mention it, but now I'm a little paranoid that I'll suddenly fall into it.

5. Distances look a lot smaller on the map - and it is a rather long distance from Buckingham Palace to London Bridge.

6. Considering that they wrote a song about London Bridge, it's really quite boring.

7. They should have written a song about Tower Bridge instead.

Not London Bridge. Not falling down either.
8. Everything feels so familiar, since I've read so many stories about London throughout my life. Being here in the flesh is just surreal.

9. The night bus is awesome and convenient. I also understand where JK Rowling got the inspiration for the crazy driving.

10. 24 hours is not nearly enough time to take it all in - I'll have to come back for a few days next week... :)