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.

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Finding balance in our life's work...

So, in my last post, I looked a bit at the idea that success comes from being able to make a significant, lasting impact on one's wider professional community, and that quite often this come about through making various commitments outside of work.

This also seemed to be a bit of a recurring theme last year, when I interviewed a number of people who were new graduates back in 2006, which I guess would make them mid-career professionals now. Many of them consider their involvement with ALIA as an important part of their professional development, particularly in volunteering in various groups and advisory committees and conference organising committees. In the past, I've been fortunate enough to have had, at least on one occasion, a workplace that has supported me in my professional involvement, but by and large, most of us need to spend our "ALIA time" outside of the workplace.

And even if we're not the ones tirelessly organising events, drafting discussion papers, or coordinating advocacy programs, there's the hope that enough professionals will come on board - enough just to show up to an evening event, or write one blog post a month. Without attracting a critical mass of peers participants, it can feel like a thankless and futile task. And yet, even that absolute minimum amount of professional engagement - enough to get your PD points - can be a lot to to ask of the average person.

Which (finally) brings me to the month's theme - Balance. I'm not going to call it a "work/life balance", because it's a lot more complicated than that. For many of us, our work is what motivates us in other areas of life, and our personal lives can often take more work than our paid employment. Depending on one's personal situation, you might be juggling a combination of the following:

  • Work - be it full-time, part-time, or multiple jobs, depending on which of the following you're also trying to balance;
  • Family - you might be a carer to some capacity, or just have familiar expectations to spend time with your relatives;
  • Relationships - they don't magically look after themselves... they take time and energy;
  • Studies - some of you are crazy enough to go back for more, and I know better that to ask anybody how their PhD is going;
  • Health - doing regular exercise, buying groceries and cooking healthy meals. Yep, that's a thing that's important, but most of us don't find enough time to do it properly.
  • Creative hobbies - whether it's dancing, crafting, writing, learning a language or a musical instrument, there's enough evidence out there to show that plenty of this will keep your brain in good shape.
  • Socio-political engagement - At the very least, there's a whole lot of emotional labour involved here, in trying to engage with your peers in improving our society, let alone getting actively involved in advocacy campaigning on socio-political issues.

Now, for many of us, all of the above are going to be higher on our priority list than Professional Involvement, and I daresay that many of us struggle to find the time to maintain a balanced ratio of engagement with some of these aspects of life without neglecting others.

To be honest, sometimes it's all I can do just to work all day, go home, cook some quick-and-dirty noodles for dinner, and read a chapter of a book, before falling asleep by 10pm.

So, on top of that, working on a professional committee, and using all your annual leave to self-fund and attend conferences to present a paper that you researched and wrote in your own time? It's pretty crazy and exhausting, and when I lay it all out like this, I don't know why anybody would choose this life. And yet, some of us do it again and again.

When I self-funded my trip to IFLA in Poland a few months ago, I was often asked, "Why would you spend your own time and money going to IFLA?" My response was quite simple - for some time, I've wanted to go to an IFLA conference, and I've also wanted to visit Poland. This seemed like a good opportunity to do both at once. For me, that's where the importance of balance lies - not in juggling a bunch of different unrelated things, but in finding intersections between these aspects of my life, and engaging there.

I work in a place that is highly engaged in culture and technology, with a good team of peers who are intelligent, sociable and supportive. I'm able to ride my bike to and from work, and live in a city where it's relatively easy to find and participate in cultural activities. Of course, it's not seamless - it still takes work, and this is where I'm still trying to figure out the missing piece - professional involvement.

Compared with other Australian cities I've lived in, Canberra has a relatively small number of people who are actively involved in their professional community. Part of me wonders whether this is because there isn't yet a "critical mass" of active professionals, like in other cities, or whether Canberra living isn't compatible with including professional involvement as part of a balanced lifestyle.

Part of the solution, of course, is to get employers to encourage their staff to at least participate in the wider professional community, both on a professional and social level. Again, balance. After all, I've often found that in the past, the most successful professional events that I've attended, are the ones where everybody has also gelled socially. (The ones where everybody is out the door the moment the final presenter finishes speaking - not so much.)

Once you get a bunch of people together who get along well socially, have exciting and fresh ideas, and trust each other to be able to successfully make it a reality - that's where the magic happens!

Sunday 5 November 2017

That S-word...


No, it's not the latest one-word theme for #glamblogclub (yet!), but it's a word that comes up from time to time within one's professional career.

When we're students, we see success in terms of our grades, and graduating. As new graduates, that next goal is the much-coveted first professional position - which can already feel next-to-impossible for many, let alone getting a permanent job, in a sector / organisation of choice, and finally having a demonstrated track record of competent professional work.

All of these are important steps of achievement in establishing one's career as a professional. It takes years of hard work to get to that point, and yet, once achieved, the questions remain: "Am I now successful? If not, how will I know when I am? How do I define success as a professional?"

Such is the status anxiety of the mid-career professional. Having jumped through all the hoops, and followed all the advice laid-out for New Grads, you reach that plateau where you join the masses of other professionals who are at the same level, and have been doing pretty much the same professional level of work for as long as they can remember. And I've had plenty of colleagues who have reached this point, and are perfectly happy to stay there until retirement. Whilst they might be doing their job well, and even creating innovation and progress in their organisation - is that really success, or is that just doing your job?

So, I was reading my recent-arrived copy of Incite magazine, and on page 14, there was an article (the first of three!) entitled Defining Success. And I thought, "Okay, this will be interesting."

It followed two examples - one historical, and one current. The historical example followed South Australian librarian Arthur Mortimer, who spent a number of years lobbying for funding public libraries until a newly-elected premier Don Dunstan relented and provided the much-needed funds. Mortimer continued to advocate for libraries for 30 more years, and was recognised by ALIA in 1996 for his lifelong devotion to libraries. The current example looks at Melanie Mutch and Megan Tolney, Sydney public libraries, who established a not-for-profit organisation, Librarians' Choice (presumably in their own time outside work), which generates monthly reader advisory lists of new release titles, as voted for by librarians, building strong partnerships between librarians and the publishing industry.

The article identifies strategies for achieving success, but in spite of the article's title, I struggled to identify exactly how they define success. Is it something that you can only identify in hindsight - once you've reached the end of a lifelong career - in terms of the impact that you've made in the information profession? Does immediate / short term impact count? And how exactly does one measure this impact, particularly in terms of reach and long-term sustainable change? And whilst both of these examples are admirable, there is a growing expectation that professionals should devote their time and energy outside of work to the betterment of their professional community and society. This in itself feels like quite a privileged attitude, especially since most mid-career professionals have enough on their plate raising a family or managing other personal commitments.

In my mind, the question still remains: How does one define success as a mid-career professional? Is it when you feel like you're making a tangible, sustainable difference in your communities? Is it when you're finally "following your passion" and getting paid for it? Is it when you're actually making the average individual Australian wage? Is it when you've pushed through to a management position? Is it something else entirely?

Or is success itself overrated? Are we being too hard on ourselves, setting an unreasonable expectation to achieve some elusive abstract ideal goal that we can't quite define, but figure that we'll know what it is once we've achieved it?

What do you think?

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...

Friday 29 September 2017

Playing it safe...

We work in a risk-averse profession.

We learn to play it safe - whether it be in providing access to collections or making copies of materials... whether in committing resources to innovative services or trialling programs that are completely out of the circle we exist in.

Sure, there are the trailblazers who we all admire at conferences, but once the inspiration and associated endorphins wear away, we return to work - back to the safe old familiar surroundings.

And then there are times where we adopt new, exciting innovations - usually in the form of a software platform that an external vendor has developed, and done all the required risk analyses and beta-testing - and preferably one that another library has already used, so that we have an working example to observe first.

Of course, this all makes sense. We need to be accountable for our actions, decisions and the consequences that follow.

On the other hand, one of the core values of librarianship is defending and promoting Freedom of Expression as a fundamental human right.

Exercising one's freedom of expression is not safe. I've lived in countries where people aren't able to express themselves freely, because to do so would make them physically unsafe. Even here in Australia, there are many who cannot express a political opinion online without the consequence being a torrent of abuse - much of which involves threats or physical harm.

We see it happen to others and yet we remain silent, lest we become a target ourselves.

And of course, many of us are public servants, and have to choose our words carefully, in case we're perceived as being critical of the government employers and put our employment - and financial security - at risk.

We demand to have the right to be safe, but also the right to freedom of expression - even though, in practice, these two freedoms rarely coexist peacefully.

So, what's the solution? Continue to play it safe, keep our heads down, work hard, achieve results and get along with our colleagues, so that we can enjoy a safe and stimulating career? Or strive to be a revolutionary, railing against the systemic social biases and pushing for more equitably accessible services, build teams and collections that are more representative of our communities... and risk the inevitable push-back, whether it be those who would decry your actions with words such as "social justice warrior", "political correctness" or "playing identity politics", or, worse still, silent passive-aggression.

Or is this a false dichotomy?

Is it perhaps possible to be progressively outspoken and still play it safe?

Is it possible, as champions for intellectual freedom, to facilitate safe forums for the exploration of highly-contentious issues without the fear of some form or retribution? Or is this nothing more than preaching to the choir, tweeting outrage into our own homophilic echo-chambers, and avoiding real discourse - however dangerous - with those whose mindsets are truly opposite to ours.

I don't have the answers. Sometimes I feel emboldened and inspired to try to push for social change, but sometimes I feel exhausted enough just trying to stay on top of my professional work and maintain the professional relations I need with my peers. I know many people who keep these two parts of their lives completely separate - and that is, in itself, a way of playing it safe. But just as the personal is the political, so too is the professional.

Monday 11 September 2017

Reflections on IFLA WLIC 2017

So, two weeks have transpired since I returned from my two-and-a-bit week trip from Australia to Poland and back. I've had to launch myself straight back into work, and have only recently managed to settle back into normal sleeping patterns.

Of the fifteen and a half days that I spent in Poland, seven of these were dedicated to attending the IFLA WLIC 2017 (that is, the International Federation of Library Associations' World Library and Information Congress), in the city of Wrocław.

I've been to quite a few conferences, but this one has left a lasting impression on me, in ways that other conferences haven't. Being a first-timer, I'm conscious of the fact that I haven't been able to fully process the sheer enormity of everything that this annual event has to offer, but here are a few reflections:

1. This is a conference for Libraries and Librarians, and they are doing a ton of awesome stuff. I think back to a recent GLAMR event that I attended, where one speaker declared that we need to stop using the terms Libraries and Librarians. If there's one event that really explores the breadth of this profession and the scope of what they do within every facet of society, it's WLIC. The wide range of topics and streams in the programme gave me plenty of food for thought regarding what my values are as a librarian, and the ways that I am currently specialising (i.e. as an art librarian in a National Library) and the ways that we, as librarians, need to further develop and focus our mindsets for the future, whether it's improving our knowledge and perspective on professional issues such as copyright reform, or becoming better advocates for ourselves and our communities. It's reminded me that this is a profession that is accomplished and diverse enough to easily fill six days of programming... plus satellite events!

2. This is a real International Conference. I heard stories of libraries and librarians from all over the world - from war-torn regions of Somalia and oppressive regimes in the Phillipines to public libraries in Scandinavia and the USA, and innovations in remote Indonesia. It's so easy to lose perspective of everything else when we spend our professional lives in a library workroom, or even at the reference desk. Furthermore, initiatives such as the IFLA Library Map of the World, collecting worldwide data on libraries, and sharing success stories related to the United Nations SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), and the IFLA Global Vision strategy, create more of a united front for the library profession, on an international scale.

3. Sometimes, it is as much about sharing as it is about listening. At many of the sessions I attended, there would be a number of speakers giving a brief presentation, but then the session would be turned around to the audience, and we would discuss the wider topics in small groups, and then eventually present to the rest of the room. I really enjoyed this aspect of the conference - something that I'd perhaps like to see more of in Australian library events.

4. Volunteering is a great way to get involved. For the first time, the conference opened up the volunteer program to the international library community. This meant that I could sign up as a volunteer, and then attend the event for free. Considering that registration for the event cost close to $1500 (AUD), volunteering was a great way to make my attendance more affordable. It also gave me the chance to meet other people who were also volunteering. The only downside was that it's also a considerable commitment (a total of 24 hours) which meant that I wasn't able to attend some of the sessions that I wanted to attend. But as it turned out, my duties involved checking passes for sessions - some of which I wouldn't have thought to attend, but turned out to be quite interesting. Like issues for agricultural librarians, or metadata standards for law librarians. It's also meant that I've had a good "test run" for my first IFLA conference - and now I've got a much better idea of how to get the most out of the event in the future, where I will commit to putting up the big bucks for attending, and get a better return on that investment.

5. I'm still very much a newbie in this profession. So, I've been working in libraries since 2000, and as a professional since 2006, and I've done my time in the past in the ALIA New Graduate's Group to the point that, in general, I don't feel much like a new graduate anymore. But arriving at IFLA feels a bit like showing up to the first day at University after having spent the past thirteen years at school. It's next-level stuff, and you're back at the bottom of the pecking order, with all the international big-wigs in attendance. Fortunately, I was far from the only person in this position, and was fortunate enough to fall in with the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group (NPSIG), who ran the satellite event, IFLAcamp, and quickly became friendly familiar faces around the event.

And so, I'm already looking forward to next year's congress, which is a little closer to home, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! Australia was fairly well-represented in Poland, but I would hope to expect a much larger contingent where distance is less of a factor. It's been an experience that I would thoroughly recommend to any librarian, as developing international perspectives not only gives us an opportunity to learn from one another, but creates a greater sense of what librarianship is, as an international profession, and what we can continue to achieve in the future.

Wednesday 30 August 2017

The privilege of silence in libraries...

In my high school, the librarian didn't insist on silence; she insisted on grace and decorum. Which is a pretty big ask for teenagers. For starters, they'd have to look it up in a dictionary. We didn't have the internet back then.

Grace and decorum. Some might interpret that as being the epitome of courteous, elegant good-will and propriety that is fitting to the setting of the library. And sometimes, that would certainly mean silence - like, if we were expected to sit and read without interruption. Other times, discussion and learning necessitated noise, and that was also acceptable, so long as it was respectful and productive noise.

But when it came down to it, our school librarian was also a formidable no-bullshit kind of woman. On top of teaching us all how to navigate the library's collections, and cultivate fantastic reading programs, she was a champion against bullying, sticking up for the little guy, and had no hesitation in kicking out anybody who even started acting up in the library. In this way, an understanding of grace and decorum could be summed up by Wheaton's Law: Don't be a dick.

Like many librarians, I cut my teeth through the trial-by-fire rite of passage that is the public library service. By the time I was working there, we had done away with arcane rules of "silence" and patrons were even able to bring drinks into the library, which was deemed far considering that they were just going to borrow the books and read them over a cup of tea at home anyway. And although, silence wasn't enforced, the space was often very quiet, mostly with the regulars who'd come in and read the newspapers in their usual couch, or use the public access computers for hours.

The complaints would only really happen when the children's programs occurred... "This is a library, and they're making so much noise, singing and running around!" That phrase, "this is a library", indicating a holy place of silence, the sanctity of which the children's library had violated. Grace and decorum - children should be seen, and not heard. We politely addressed such complaints with the information that the library runs children's programs at these hours, and that perhaps they might prefer to visit the library at a different time.

Then there was the time that I was running sessions for the English Conversation Club. I'd set up a discrete corner of the library with a little coffee table, and there would be a small gathering of people from the community who were usually non-native English speakers, and spend an hour mostly just having a chat, with occasional explanations of the more idiosyncratic aspects of the English language.

It was at this time that I received the most vehement - and somewhat personal - complaint. "This is a library, and I can't read my newspaper when it's sounding like a Chinese laundry." He practically spat out the words. It seemed so nonsensical - I mean what the hell was a Chinese laundry? But the imagery was direct - invoking that of a horde of immigrants, creating cacophony and chaos, and destroying their civilised order and silence. In his eyes, we were the antithesis of grace and decorum. In my eyes, he was being a dick.

However, the library is for everybody, and we were soon able to move into a separate meeting room, where nobody would be disturbed.

I've worked in libraries for quite a while since then, and every time the issue of silence has come up, it's been at the instigation of the library user, as a result of another library user either engaging actively with computers, with each other, or seeking assistance from me. This is particularly the case, when assisting elderly people who are hard of hearing and need patient help using the internet, and as government services become more automated and online, it's going to be a growing demand in libraries that have online computer access. Every time somebody complains, that phrase "This is a library" is uttered, and each time, I have responded with, "We're here to help everybody who asks for it."

And the fact is that, generally speaking, you need to make noise to ask for help. It's the silent ones who are privileged enough not to need help, as they already have the skills and knowledge to be able to use the library unassisted. They don't need to be told that they're welcome in the library - they already expect it.

It's everybody else that we need to make noise with - to speak to, engage with, sing to, share stories and listen to. In that sense, grace and decorum means having the goodwill to welcome everybody into the space, and connecting with them in a meaningful way that allows them to succeed in whatever their needs are that have motivated them to visit the library. These people, who need the library - rather than those who demand the library, and silence - have just as as much right to be in the library space, using its collections. And anybody who thinks that these people don't belong is probably being a dick.

Monday 21 August 2017

IFLA 2017 - First impressions

It's Monday night, and I'm in the city of Wroclaw, Poland, attending my first ever IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC). I've been wanting to attend IFLA since it was first announced that this world-class library profession event would be held in Brisbane... and then wasn't!

Flash forward to last year, when I had already made vague plans to visit Poland, and discovered that WLIC 2017 would be held there, and so my mind was set!

I arrived in Wroclaw last Wednesday, a few days early, so that I could attend IFLAcamp 5 - the satellite event of the New Professionals Special Interest Group. Running over two days, with the theme "Librarians are on the move", the first day consisted of a creative movement workshop and an unconference of discussions. The second day, a bicycle tour around the city of Wroclaw and some of its libraries.

The NPSIG people was super-friendly and welcoming - a perfect start to my first IFLA experience, and the cycling tour was a wonderful way to explore this beautiful city, and its exquisite library collections, engaging spaces and innovative services. And on Saturday, we decided to put together a librarian flashmob...

And then there was the congress itself. Before coming along, I asked Clare Mckenzie if she had any tips for attending IFLA, and she suggested that I attend some of the business meetings for the standing committees of different sections. I ended up sitting in on the Art Libraries meeting and the National Libraries meeting, and it was an insightful way to start to understand how the sections at IFLA operate. I also made some good connections with other art librarians, who became friendly faces in the crowds of attendees at sessions and the vendor exhibition.

But nothing could prepare me for the opening ceremony... I'd truly never seen so many librarians in the one place, and in the UNESCO world heritage listed Centennial Hall, the opening event was somewhat akin to a rock concert - complete with smoke machines, acrobats and all-singing-and-dancing performances, alongside speeches and a most fascinating lecture about the socio-political history of Poland. Only at an event like this, with over 3000 attendees, could such extravagance be possible at a library conference. And it was glorious.

In the last two days, I have already attended some truly stimulating events - from stories of tragedy and hope for libraries attempting to survive through times of crisis and turmoil, to keynotes about library trends and the how libraries and support the SDGs, and creating a united voice and global vision for all libraries around the world. And then there were some that I would never attended - such as sessions on cataloguing and subject access for law libraries - because I had also signed up as a conference volunteer (which I will reflect more on in a future post).

All in all, it's been an amazing experience so far. I've made many new professional connections, and reconnected with a few other familiar faces from the past. But most importantly, it's helped me maintain my sense of perspective as an international professional - something that I didn't realise I was yearning for since returning to Australia. My personal aim for the rest of this conference is to figure out how I can best maintain these connections and perspectives, once the event has finished and I return to Australia... To be continued!

Sunday 23 July 2017

On finding Asian-Australian voices in our nation's memory...

Over at the #GLAMBlogClub, this month's theme is identity. Being a person of colour, specifically an Asian-Australian, racial identity is a topic that I tend to shy away. I was brought up in a multicultural community, singing "We are one, but we are many, and from all the lands on Earth we come... we share a dream, and sing with one voice... I am, you are, we are Australian." I also grew up, quite conscious of racism, and even to this day I am super-conscious when I overhear casual racism, and feel personally hurt when I become the target of racial slurs by unknown passers-by - which happens more often than I'd like to admit.

Besides, as far as I was concerned, I was Australian, and anybody who suggested otherwise because of my racial background, wasn't worth engaging in a pointless argument with.

But recently, there's been a growing amount of literature in the field of critical librarianship which analyses and addresses whiteness in the industry. It's something that I've become super-conscious of, and I feel that it's a topic that I should engage with more. The problem is that when I've occasionally brought it up in conversation with colleagues, at best it's acknowledged politely, at worst, I'm accused of invoking identity politics, and playing the race card. I haven't done it in a while, purely because I care about my career and don't want to make any of my colleagues feel offended / upset / guilty / awkward.

I have a lot of admiration for my peers and friends who are actively feminist, especially in addressing the ways that patriarchy is still are present in our society and workplaces. Yes, even the library industry, where over 85% of librarians are women, and yet male librarians still earn $6.9k more on average every year. And yet, I still feel strangely reluctant to speak out when there's a noticeable lack of representation, perhaps not always in our workplace, but certainly in our collections. I don't even sense any kind of solidarity amongst Australian librarians of colour, where I can comfortably discuss these issues to any depth.

I recently attended a talk at the National Library of Australia, outlining two of the exhibitions currently on display. One is an impressive collection of Japanese "kuchi-e" woodblock prints from the Meiji period, and the other is a collection of Chinese propaganda posters from 1949-1976. These, like most collections from the NLA's Asian Collections, are managed by language, focusing on the countries that collections are derived. It also includes Australian works which are published in foreign languages in these countries. And this is all good and important - as a collecting agency, we need to engage and collaborate with our regional neighbours.

However, there's a part of me that's deeply uncomfortable with the "otherness" that is associated with Asian culture in this context. We are looking outward at Asian cultures external to this nation, where there have been plenty of Asian communities and influencers in Australian society since the mid-19th Century. I'm conscious of this in state collections, particularly from my time working in the Northern Territory, and some of the Victorian collecting agencies, such as the State Library of Victoria and the Melbourne Museum. And, of course, the Immigration Museum has done important work in acknowledging the changing face of Australian society over the last two centuries.

And yet, when it comes to our national collections, I am conscious of the absence of these representations, when I browse these organisations that are charged with preserving Australia's national memory. One of my colleagues occasionally teases me about the fact that much of my work involves moving boxes full of papers of dead white people. It's become a reminder to me to keep an eye out for boxes full of papers that may be from people of colour. Their voices may tell a different story of what it means to be Australian. These are important voices, but so far they are literally buried in the stacks - waiting to be heard.

So, what else can I do?

As a Reference Librarian, there are opportunities to shine a light on parts of the collection that might otherwise go unnoticed. Some colleagues in recent years have identified indigenous content that we weren't even aware of, and made important and meaningful connections between them and the communities that they came from. I personally feel like I need to do more delving into the collections, and develop my own familiarity with the voices and stories that lie therein, so that I can then increase the wider awareness of diverse representations in these collections.

But most importantly, I would encourage Asian Australians who have played a part in this nation's history and culture - whether they are writers, artists, politicians, community leaders, etc. - to consider donating their papers, whether they be sketches, diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, computers, hard drives, and so on, to the National Library. It might currently be a place that's full of boxes of papers by dead white dudes, but it doesn't always have to be that way. This way, we can preserve a national memory that's representative of the diversity of Australian culture.

It's a start, anyway.

Friday 30 June 2017

Day 30 : Farewell to another Blogjune!

I made it! Blogjune is done for another year!

I also made it through my first month in a new role. Today was a good day. It turned out that all the frustration from yesterday paid off, and all the difficulties I addressed yesterday paved the way to get a heap of things progressed forward today. So, it's a timely reminder to myself to be more patient - both with myself, and with the process - and to keep on keeping on, and these things will sort themselves out.

And looking back at the month, it's been a big one. Possibly the biggest this year so far. The new role, obviously, played a major part in it, and whilst I haven't blogged overtly about it, there are aspects of it that have prompted a few of my posts, and, if nothing else, affected my mood and the corresponding tone. It's brought career development into the fore of my thoughts, as I learn new processes and develop new skills, and wonder which direction this big change will take me.

Speaking of professional development, I mused about the mentor programme - which I did decide to sign up for! I attended the ALIA New Librarians' Symposium, and found a renewed sense of professional exuberance. Perhaps they should rename it the Renewed Librarian's Symposium...? Actually, I was always a fan of the Emerging Leading Library & Information Professional Symposium Experience - or ELLIPSE... I do love a good acronym! But I digress...

Looking back at the past month, and comparing it to Blogjune 2017, I feel like I'm in a much better place now. I'm definitely starting to settle back into my life in Australia, and I currently have a stable basis for continuing my career, and a solid plan for the immediate future, with a few exciting adventures on the way. I look forward to looking back onto these posts in future years, as I have recently on past years, and appreciate how much my life has changed, and continues to change who I am, and where I'm going.

Until next June!

(Or whenever I decide to blog again in the meantime...)

Thursday 29 June 2017

Day 29: Post-conference comedown... and making a plan.

So, it finally hit me today. The post-conference comedown.

I'm not talking about physically crashing - that happened on Monday! No, I'm talking about the crash to reality after a weekend at NLS8 - feeling inspired and motivated about being in a socially and technologically progressive professional community, and like we were ready to take on the whole world and change it.

I mean, really, today was just one of those days - everything that I tried to do got hit with frustrating setback after another, and by the end of the day I felt like I'd gotten nothing done, compounded by the fact that I had my rostered evening shift, which turned it into a ten-and-a-half hour day. We have those days, sometimes, and my brain should know this.

But no, suddenly it felt like the world was crumbling around me, and all my professional dreams that I'd been striving for for the past twelve years were turning to utter crap, and I may as well just give up rather than keep deluding myself that this is a profession worth being a part of. Admittedly, I do sometimes have those days, but not so often.

So, what did I do?

I sat down and worked on the ALIA Career Development Kit. Strange choice, I know, but (a) I needed to do an activity to get my PD points up a bit further this month, and (b) what better time to be brutally honest with yourself about your career path than when you're feeling negative and disillusioned about it?

And you know what? It kinda made me feel better. I identified nine professional development priorities, identifying people in my professional network who could support me in developing certain skills and knowledge, and other external courses / activities to pursue over the next twelve months. Which is good timing, since it's almost performance review time anyway, where I get to propose PD activities for the next year.

I mean, sure, it's not a perfect plan, and most of it may go out of the window, but there's something comforting about at least having a plan.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Day 28: Time-travel Challenge!

So, in the continued spirit of going with other people's blog themes, I'm playing along with Kathryn's Time Travel Challenge - which involves answering these questions three two:

If you could go back and tell your 20 year old self one thing that was going to happen to you between then and today, what would that be?

Well, thinking back to 20 year-old me... let's say, for argument's sake, it's June 1998. I've already decided that I know longer want to be an engineer, and drop out of a course that I'm probably about to fail, to focus on my Arts degree. I'm still with my first girlfriend, and have no idea what the future will hold.

I could tell myself that life won't go according to plan, but that's okay, because that's when all the awesome adventures and unexpected twists occur. But then again, that's something that I need to figure out for myself. After all, spoilers.

I could tell myself that I'd eventually end up working as a librarian at the National Library of Australia, but I'm not entirely sure if 20 year-old me would be impressed by that. That's more like something I'd tell 30 year-old me.

I could tell myself that I'd have adventures working in weird places around the world but, again, I never really learned to appreciate them until I actually got there.

Honestly, I'd probably just tell myself something lame, like I would finally get to see Morrissey perform in concert, and hearing How Soon Is Now live up the front of the crowd of Macedonian fans would be one of the single most self-affirming moments of my life. I think 20 year-old me would be impressed by that.

In 20 years time (presuming the world gets better, not worse) what do you think will be the biggest technological difference between your life now and your life then?

I think the ways that we can access, experience, copy and manipulate digital information will become instantaneous and seamless. Which means that the scope of creativity will increase exponentially. However, it means that issues of authority and authenticity in works will become more problematic. You think fake news is an issue now? Wait 20 years...

At the same time, I'd like to think that it will mean that we can continue to build a greater appreciation of artistic work in all its forms. And as a librarian, I hope the technology for accessing and copying collections reaches that point where we don't have to pour our energies into the transaction, and instead focus on cultivating creative collaborations and partnerships.

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Day 27: My first library job

So, following on from flexnib and Jane's post about their first library job, here's mine (since I'm running short on original ideas today!).

My first library job was not a library job.

It was in the Percy Baxter Collaborative Learning Centre, which was a state-of-the-art learning facility located on the first floor of the University of Melbourne's Baillieu Library. It was equipped with new PCs and Macs, complete with scanners, and the centre was one of the very few places on campus that had wireless internet access. There were two large separate training rooms for group learning, but the main centre had, iirc, about 60 or so computers. But this was more than just a student computer lab - the unique setup was designed so that computers were grouped into carrels for small-group collaboration. It opened in June 2000, and I was one of the original staff, working there until I moved to Darwin in September 2006.

I worked as an ongoing casual on the front desk, working regular shifts, primarily helping people with printing and loaning our wireless cards (remember them?). I would also assist students and academics in accessing journal databases, and showing them how to identify and download full-text articles. I also received training in using Endnote and supported students and academics in using it. In the later years, we offered technical support to teaching staff using the Learning Management System (LMS), uploading and organising course material for online delivery.

What interests me in highsight was how "not part of the library" this centre was. We would often have people referred to us from the information desk downstairs - particularly those wanting to access online resources. There was quite a bit of referencing and citation training too - academics would often bring groups of postgrad students up for their research methods training using the training rooms.

For me and my colleagues, this facility seemed to be the exception to what a library was at the time - where it really should have been quite integral! And there's no doubt that my experience working in this centre over those six years equipped me with many of my primary skills for becoming a librarian - customer service, supervising a space, troubleshooting equipment, one-on-one information literacy training, referencing and citation knowledge, and so on...

A year or so ago, I revisited the Baillieu Library after hearing that they'd completed a major renovation. The Percy Baxter Centre now seems to have been superseded by the modernisation of the rest of the library, and just feels like a run-down computer lab. The service desk and offices are now vacant, as there doesn't seem to be a need for in-person support.

I suppose, these days, they'd just go and ask a librarian.

Monday 26 June 2017

Day 26: Overall reflections on NLS8.

It's been a day since NLS8 ended, and my head is still spinning with the ideas that we've been exploring over the weekend. That probably means it's been a good event. :)

Whilst there was a broad range of topics explored, some recurring messages stood out, and whilst some of them are hardly new ideas, they still act as an important reminder to me as I go back to work tomorrow...

Do something - Don't wait for somebody else to do it. Take the plunge and say Yes. You are your own best champion. You are the CEO of your own career. Don't worry about being perfect - you're fine the way you are. Be curious, and try new things.

Create - Whether it's playing with new technology, tapping into your own passion to find new approaches to delivering training / services, or allowing collections to captivate and inspire your imagination, and the imagination of those who come to the library, to create new things and tell new stories.

Collaborate - Don't do it alone, do it together. Colleagues will sanity-check your "brain farts" and help you through lonely times. As a librarian, don't ask "How can I help you?" but instead ask, "What are you doing, and can I be a part of it?" Become community activists - your job is not to inform communities, but to improve communities. Be seen in the workplace, and share your knowledge and successes with them. Have coffee dates - exchange knowledge, skills, experiences - and be open to saying yes to new projects.

Listen - To your clients and communities. Again,  be curious. Ask them what they need. Ask them to tell you their stories. Pay attention to who your clients are, even if it means changing the way you dress to make them more comfortable and open up to you. Remember that they are human - pay attention to what they are doing, and what their goals are, so that your service is more than just a transaction, but a collaboration - you becomes weavers of community understanding by connecting communities with conversations.

Be Global - The world doesn't stop at the doors of your library, or your sector, or your country's borders. We are a world-wide professional community, and the more we connect, the greater our understanding and awareness of the diversity in our society, the challenges that are faced by our peers around the world, and the ways in which the global socio-political climate can affect us in the services and products we deliver.

Reflect - Whether it's recording PD, or developing training, it's important to take the time to reflect on what you're learning and how these lessons learnt can be applied in your work.

In terms of my own work, I'm still relatively new in my current role, and so most of my time has been preoccupied in understanding and staying on top of workflows. As such, my experience of the role has been predominantly focused on providing access and delivery in terms of technical procedures and transactions. Attending NLS8 has reminded me that I need to allow myself the time to step back from the task from time to time, and look past the procedures and instructions - to see the people who are at the receiving end of our service, and connect with them and whatever creative ventures they are undergoing. To appreciate how our collections not only inform them, but captivates their imagination, transports them to another time, brings deeper understanding to human relationships, and connects them with their communities of the past, present and future. These are what it means to be preserving our nation's collective memory - not just merely collecting materials and providing access to them - but facilitating the development of knowledge, understanding and meaning, sharing our stories, and creating new stories - with the ultimate purpose of improving our communities.

That's what being a librarian means to me, and it's what motivates me in this industry.

Sunday 25 June 2017

Day 25: Day 2 of NLS8

So, more brief thoughts before I go to sleep...

Keynote: R. David Lankes

Words are important. We use words like information services, customer service, library users. But as professionals, do we really want to be "used" or "consumed"? Furthermore, the problem with seeing our product as information or data, means that people then become processors of that info / data to facilitate an action.

Library materials themselves do not equate to knowledge. It is not our job to inform - but to improve.

Information literacy itself is not enough - because it makes people feel better about having lousy skills. In order to improve, people must first acknowledge their ignorance.

Rather than merely provide access, new librarians need to keep a critical eye, listen to people, and connect conversations and communities. Stop asking "how can we help" and instead ask, "what care you doing and can we be a part of it?" We need to listen.

Librarianship is political, because it deals with empowerment. We need to get rid of the idea of neutrality. We're no longer gatekeepers, but rather weavers of community meaning and understanding.

These ideas echo much of what I've learned in the past, particularly in relation to librarianship and reader development, and my work in international development. We should stop seeing ourselves as simply provider of a transaction of resources, but see each interaction as an opportunity to build, collaborate, create, learn, etc.

eResources, licensing and copyright

My main takeaway from this was mostly to do with the tensions between licensing contracts and copyrights - especially when they come at odds with one another. Fair use doesn't solve this, as it's still an exception. Do we serve our clients and be bold in observing copyright legislation, or do we honour our contracts and maintain vendor / donor relationships?

Guerrilla research

This was more of a refresher than anything else, but was still handy to remind myself of the steps to go through when undergoing informal DIY research, and helped prompt me to reflect more on the kinds of research I'd like to pursue in the future.

Librarians and Dragons

I thoroughly enjoyed this as a creative and engaging way to teach people about applying transferable skills. I'm kinda tempted to re-write my resume as a DnD Character Sheet, as a way of looking at my skills and experience from a different perspective.

Keynote: Jane Caro

Jane is such an engaging speaker, telling it how it is. She reminds me of why feminism is still important today, and how we should all be mindful of the impossible standards that a patriarchal society places on us all.

Final words: Vicki McDonald

I'm keen to see how ALIA is planning to focus more on the wider Asia Pacific region in the coming year, and again, I'm further reminded on the importance of becoming a global librarian.

Okay, sleep time. I'll write up further overall thoughts and reflections tomorrow.

Saturday 24 June 2017

Day 24: Day 1 of NLS8

So, today was Day One of NLS8. I am so happy to be back at this event - it's so inspiring and invigorating to be attending these presentations and hearing frank and open stories and discussions from my peers. Here are some very brief highlights and my reflections...

Welcome to Country
I feel very privileged to currently be residing in Ngunnawal Country.

Welcome from Marie-Louise Ayres, D-G of the National Library
She never had a career plan. She didn't start her library career until her 30s.

I feel like there's hope for me yet.

Keynote One: The International Library Network
- If something isn't happening, don't wait for somebody else to make it happen.
- BUT don't do it yourself. Do it together.
- Also, be mindful of workplace politics and find ways around it rather than in the face of it.
- Know when it's time to move on.
- But do something.
- And let others know when you admire / appreciate the things that they do.

I'm so happy to see Alyson, Kate and Clare deliver this keynote - it feels like I've come full circle and connecting with the people and ideas from my earlier librarian days.

ALIA PD Scheme
All ALIA members will need to participate in the PD scheme soon. I may as well get used to it, and seeing as I'm already pretty active, I can already claim enough points from the past 11 months to get my CP post-nominals.

Torres Strait Islander collections at the NLA
We have pretty amazing collections at the NLA. I must make sure that I give myself those moments during my hectic work life to pause and appreciate them, and reflect on the meaning that they can evoke in our readers.

Visibility for Library Professionals
Be heard and be seen. whether it's providing services to clients, sharing knowledge with colleagues, or interacting with others on social media. Be knowledgeable, be confident, be well.

Have coffee dates with colleagues / peers, and exchange ideas and skills.

Digital Preservation
I discovered that this is in fact Preservation of Digital Objects, and not Digital Preservation of non-digital collections. Still, fascinating stuff. It seems very easy to alter the integrity of digital collections. Also appreciated the "Eureka!" moment with the Acorn Archimedes story.

Styled for success... Fashion, individuality and dressing professionally for librarians.
This was kinda awesome - the overall message being that ultimately, you should wear what makes you most comfortable and confident, and otherwise be awesome at your job, and if anybody has a problem with that, then it's their problem.

At the same time, I felt that there was an elephant in the room, where everybody knew that it *shouldn't* matter what we wear, but unfortunately, our choices in will ultimately affect our relationships and interactions with colleagues in clients. My personal feeling is that we should wear what works for us *but* be mindful of the demographic of our clients, and perhaps tailor our fashion choices to mutual advantage.

From selling insurance to buying rare books at SLNSW.
Yay! Congrats to Amy on delivering her first conference paper. The most interesting part of this was less about her actual duties, and more about the wider context of a staffing restructure, and how this change was managed by her team and colleagues in the way they had to change their approach to their work and communicate with one another.

Keynote 2: Mylee Joseph - Adding a growth mindset to your library career.
Key to a growth mindset: curiosity, listening skills, creativity, collaboration and creation.

And cups of coffee.

Be a global librarian - this is something I'm trying more and more to work on, especially with my next trip to Poland in August. Think outside the library to the wider GLAM industry, and create partnerships.

Overall thoughts from Day One.
- Be reflective on what we do and learn
- Partnerships are key to success
- Be confident in yourself
- Embrace creativity in yourself, in your clients, and in the collaborations that ensue.
- Say yes to yourself and to others, and accept opportunities.

Friday 23 June 2017

Day 23: Learning to reach back...

On Wednesday night, I went to an event at the National Portrait Gallery for Returned Australian Volunteers, with a keynote presentation from Dr David Chong, which was in itself quite inspiring.

However, one thing that struck me was a point made by a staffer at AVI in her introduction to Dr Chong. In reference to the time and energy that volunteers spending taking their skills and experience to other places, she acknowledge the work in reaching out to those communities that we are working to develop, but at the same time what is arguably just as important is taking those experiences and lessons learnt in the field, and reaching back into the professional industries that we come from, which seemed like an odd turn of phrase.

A similar message came through in Dr Chong's presentation - that "We need each other to change." Not only are we trying to effect change in the individuals and communities we reach out to, but it is only through these interactions, and coming to understand the experiences of others, that we can change ourselves and the places that we work in.

In terms of working in libraries, we focus a great deal of energy outwardly to provide services that support others. It's moments like these that remind me that I also need to take away lessons from these interactions, in order to apply them inwardly - to reach back into the organisations that I work in. Tapping into these experiences, we can best develop and innovate our services to make us more empathetic and relevant to the communities that we serve.

Thursday 22 June 2017

Day 22 : Karaoke.

I kinda love karaoke. I encouraged a bunch of librarians who were visiting Canberra for NLS 8 to come out this evening for karaoke in town. It was fun.
The beauty of karaoke is that it can be good, or it can be awful, but it doesn't matter - as long as you get up there and give it a shot, the audience will love you for it.

And if you can get up in front of a bunch of strangers and belt out a Beatles, Bon Jovi, or Backstreet Boys ballad, then delivering a conference paper or presentation to peers doesn't seem as scary...

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Day 21: Apologies... and my work setup!

So, first an apology of sorts. I neglected to blog yesterday, and I'm self-conscious of this. In my defence, yesterday consisted of:

7:00am - Alarm goes off.
7:15am - Second alarm goes off.
7:30am - I wake up in a panicked state as I realise I've slept through both alarms. I have a quick shower and get dressed.
7:50am - Leave the house and head to work.
8:30am - Arrive at work.
8:30am to 4pm - Work
4:30pm - Catch bus to Sydney Airport
8:00pm'ish - Arrive at Sydney Airport. Get some kind of dinner. Socialise. Sleep.

And then today:
4:30am - Wake up. Shower.
5:15am - Catch bus back to Sydney.

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9:00am - Start work all over again...

Today I've committed my blog to Paul's modest #blogjune proposal - that we all describe our "set up" with the following four questions:

  1. Who are you, and what do you do?
  2. What hardware do you use?
  3. And what software?
  4. What would be your dream setup?
So, here's my extended answers, followed by some further thoughts:

1. Who am I and what do I do? I'm Andrew. I'm a librarian who provides reference services, responding to enquiries and requests related to the picture and manuscript collections at a major collecting cultural agency based in Canberra, Australia.

2. Hardware: Computer-wise, I use a PC. I honestly don't know any more about it, other than that it's a PC that uses Windows, and has a monitor, a mouse, a keyboard and a barcode scanner. 

I also have an desk with adjustable height, and adjustable swivel chair - ergonomics are important! We also have numerous kinds of trolleys for handling numerous formats of material, which are also important for protecting our collections.

3. Software: For accessing the Library's collection information, we have numerous software packages and platforms: (a) The web-based OPAC, (b) the non web-based library management system, (c) the digital collections management platform for images and electronic documents, (d) the archive management platform, (e) the rights management database which documents all access permissions for collections, and (f) the discovery service that links our collections with others around Australia.

In addition, we have one software package that manages orders, another for managing reference queries, and another for managing electronic records (i.e. TRIM).

And finally, we have the good old MS Office suite, where we rely particularly heavily on Outlook for delegating and tracking many simultaneous jobs. For everything else, there's Word and Excel.

We also have our brains, which we need to use in order to prioritise our various tasks, and facilitate workflows depending on the variables at play in each particular job. There are many variables.

I'm not sure if our brains count as hardware or software - probably both. My point is that they're a vital part of the equation. If they weren't, we'd be out of a job.

4. The dream setup? Some kind of integrated library management system that incorporated all of the above software into one system. Perhaps cloud-based, so that we could have flexibility in accessing systems and delivering services. 

Of course, such a package would have to be developed in-house in such a way that it could accommodate all the various intricacies of our job, and would be insanely expensive and take years of development, and then there's the information security issues. Given that collections - and the demands of clients - are always changing and certainly not future-proof, it perhaps makes more sense to work with various different concurrent systems, and customise our procedures and workflows accordingly.

My thoughts... I think it's definitely important to thinking about the hardware and software we use, and perhaps how changes might improve the way that we work. I'm still relatively new in my current role, and realise that there is a whole lot of history behind all the decisions that were made, technology-wise, that I'm not yet aware of. However, as somebody who works primarily in engaging with clients, I definitely feel that delivering a seamless and consistent service should be of the utmost important. When a client receives an email, it doesn't matter to them which office it came from, or which software it was created in - it's communication that came from the library. So, we need to understand were the disconnects and inconsistencies lie between our various systems, so that we can bridge those gaps and delivery a quality, reliable and timely service. The more we can minimise those gaps using the technology, the more we reduce the risk of providing less than our best service.

Monday 19 June 2017

Day 19: When is a librarian no longer a librarian?

Firstly - I lapsed from blogging from the weekend. Oops.

So, today, a colleague mentioned to me that, based on the nature of the work she was doing, she didn't really consider herself to be a librarian anymore. This was a library professional, who is currently doing project work developing knowledge resources that focus on areas of the collection related to particular historical events and organisations.

Similarly, in the recent past, I've observed collection managers and cataloguers pointedly distinguish themselves from librarians, based on the nature of their core duties. Then there are those who select, develop and manage collections of non-bookish materials, such as pictures, manuscripts, maps, oral histories, ephemera, etc. who might once have been called librarians, but now are officially curators. The more I enquired, the more vague the distinction was - though the overall impression was that the "Librarians" were the ones who worked on the reference desks and "Ask a Librarian" service, and everybody else - the curators, cataloguers, collection managers, coordinators, directors, etc - were a distinctly different calibre of professional.

And not that long ago, I went to a GLAM industry event where one of the speakers declared quite emphatically that it was about time we did away with the "librarian" title.

Even my current role, officially, I am an "Officer" - though all our official external communications to clients refers to me as a Reference Librarian. And in the work that I do, I do often feel like a librarian.

Of course, I often proclaim that it doesn't matter what you job title is, but rather the work that you do. Still, I do get a kind of joy and pride in telling people that I'm a librarian. I perform duties that facilitate access and connect people and communities with unique collections of cultural material that preserve our national memory and tell the stories of its people, places and events. And whilst I'm doing that, especially with library collections, I don't think I would ever not consider myself to be a librarian.

And I certainly wouldn't ever consider it a title to shy away from.

Friday 16 June 2017

Day 16: Seeing the forest from the trees...

This evening, I've been putting together a presentation that I will deliver tomorrow to a group of Australian Volunteers for International Development who are heading to Vietnam. It's been an interesting exercise in recalling my memories of that year of my life - many of them good, but not without its fair share of challenges and frustration. I also have plenty of awesome photos to show off.

When I left Vietnam, a little over two years ago now, I felt like a failure. After nine months of frustrating challenges, and only a handful of victories that felt barely worth mentioning, I cut my assignment short, and moved on to a new role in Kosovo. I wanted to move on, and write the whole experience off as a waste of time.

But now that I look back on it, I realise that I couldn't have done any of the things that ensued afterwards, if it weren't for that experience of failed expectations. I went on to make achievements in other roles, having learned from those previous setbacks. I developed resilience and determination, and with it, the knowledge that with each stumbling block, I can pick myself up and take on new challenges from a different approach.

Which never would have happened if I hadn't tried in the first place. That's kind of a win, right?

Thursday 15 June 2017

Day 15: Social Club Trivia Night

This evening, we had our work Trivia Night. Our team was pipped at the post, and came in second place. However, one of the team challenges was to use our creative skills to craft a scene from a book or film. This was our effort...

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Wednesday 14 June 2017

Day 14: On this day...

One thing I love about BlogJune is that I can always look back at previous years and see where I was - geographically, professionally, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and so on, for the past three years since I first participated back in 2014. For everything else before that, there's Facebook's On This Day function, which currently takes me back eight years. So, this seems as good a time as any to reminisce on Junes past...

June 2016
I spent the first two weeks travelling around the UK, from London - Cardiff - Hay-on-Wye - Birmingham - Stratford-upon-Avon - Oxford and back to London! The following two weeks involved finishing up my work with the UN, and starting to plan for the future...

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June 2015
I was starting to settle into life in Kosovo, and taking every opportunity to travel around. I fell in love with beautiful cities like Prague, ugly cities like Skopje, and indescribable something-in-between cities like Sofia. Almost exactly two years ago, I travelled to Gevgelija, a town on the border of Greece and Macedonia, and met up with another lindy hopping friend who was in the US Peace Corps, and we taught swing dancing to local Macedonian youth.

June 2014
I was four months into a new job managing a school library in Melbourne, and after spending most of the previous year not working as a librarian, I was struggling to settle back into this role. Much of this month's posts were looking at whether it was more important to be a librarian, or to do the kind of work that I found fulfilling - much of which I found in librarian roles. On the last day of that June, I resigned from my job, and committed to going overseas to work in another development role with an NGO in Vietnam.

June 2013
I wouldn't have been able to participate in Blogjune if I'd wanted to, as I spent most of this month working in Alotau, PNG developing a health library at St Barnabas School of Nursing.

Me and my counterparts at St Barnabas School of Nursing
It was my first foray into international development work, whilst still being strongly aligned to my skills and experience as a librarian. Whilst I was initially apprehensive about going to Papua New Guinea, I embraced the challenge headlong with the knowledge that I could always leave if it turned out to be way too hard. It wasn't - I would have been happy to stay longer! Fortunately, the opportunity came the following month to go to Rabaul on another assignment, and I was hooked...

June 2012
I had just returned from living in Japan for most of a year... to Melbourne winter. Started a new temporary job in a library, and enjoying the challenges of returning to full-time work, predominantly focusing on community and cultural development programming in a public library - back in the same public library where I'd gotten my first library job over seven years earlier!

June 2011
I was gearing up for the move to Japan (which didn't happen until the beginning of September!). On the 14th of June, I also got my confirmation of a Commonwealth Supported place in the Masters of Information Studies - this less than five years after swearing I wouldn't go back to uni ever again. At least I didn't have to pay full fees.

June 2010
It was a very different and fun time. I was Convenor of the ALIA New Graduates Group, and had a side-project co-organising a group called The Desk Set Downunder, which mostly involved making zines and badges and going on bookstore crawls in Melbourne and this one time in Newtown. I was also involved with the Emerging Writers Festival, and was involved with the Zine Bus - which was filled with Zine Makers and we toured around Melbourne for a morning, culminating in a pop-up zine fair in Fed Square.

Our zine from a Literary Crawl in Newtown, and a random selection at Gould's.
I really should do more cool stuff like this again, and I'm not sure why I ever stopped.

June 2009
I was working temporarily part-time at the Centre for Youth Literature, and the month started with my first Reading Matters conference. John Green came to Melbourne, and so did all the Nerdfighters. Then I travelled to Vanuatu for a week and a half and hung out with Romany, a librarian who I'd met the previous year at NLS, and was spending most of the year overseas as an Australian Volunteer for International Development. When she suggested that I come over to visit her, I decided to take her up on the offer, and pretty soon we were having all kinds of weird adventures.

Cousins at a wedding in Vanuatu...
June 2008
I was living in Darwin, working as a Reference Librarian at the Northern Territory Library. The previous month I'd performed a solo cabaret show Librarian Idol at the Butterfly Club in Melbourne. I also took a trip to Canberra, but I wasn't sure if I could give up the tropical weather for such a cold climate.......

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Day 13: Defining a work-life balance...

Lately, I've been spending the majority of my waking hours with my headspace in library land. Yes, forty-something hours a week of that time is spent at work. I could easily spend more time at work too - especially as it's still all new, and I want to immerse myself in the work so that I can better familiarise myself with its various tasks, processes, workflows, variables and all the cool stuff in-between. I rarely take lunch breaks that are longer than half an hour, and often skip at least one of my tea-breaks.

When I'm not at work, I've been thinking and writing for blogjune for at least an hour a day. I engage with other librarians via email and social media, often on library-related topics. I work hard on networking where I can, I develop my LinkedIn profile and update my resume from time to time - so many hours of tweaking! I do a bit of professional reading here and there, and in the past, I've dedicated many many hours volunteering on various committees within ALIA.

It's not that I'm a work-a-holic - it's more that I'm just really focused on the library industry, figuring out where I fit in it and which directions I can move within it.

But I've also been thinking of how to develop more of a work / life balance. Honestly, I don't know how to establish that kind of balance. People who have families, for example, don't have as much of a choice. And working in the library industry, the phrase "work / life balance" often implies that they have flexible working arrangements so that those with children can manage their family commitments better. Which is great.

At the same time, there are often days when I could easily work a ten-hour day in the office. I love the feeling of being productive and getting things finished. And with the Canberra winter setting in, I'd much rather stay in an extra hour or two and put off the inevitable exit into the cold night. And Canberra in the winter isn't exactly a buzzing hive of evening activity. Most people seem content to be at home snuggled up and watching the latest season of American Gods or Orange is the New Black. Or arguing with people on the Internet.

The more I think of it, the more I've realised that it's often been my work that's dictated my life decisions. It's been responsible for many of the interesting places that I've lived. It's contributed to the break-up of relationships, but also opened me up to opportunities to start new ones. A good income has enabled more enriching life experiences that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford, whereas a lesser wage has left me feeling like I need to make sacrifices. And, of course, there's the feeling of personal fulfilment or the existential angst that comes and goes depending on where I am in my career path.

So, for me, work and life aren't two opposing forces that need balancing. It's more like a causal loop that directly feeds into one another, often overlapping - and both need nurturing. I need to look after my professional life and keep it in good condition in order to then be happy in my personal life. Being in the library industry, I feel incredibly privileged that I can follow a professional career that also aligns with my personal interests and, for me, it's never just a job. And if I didn't have that work, then my life just wouldn't be the same.

Monday 12 June 2017

Day 12: When is a mentor not a mentor?

On Saturday's post, I mentioned mentors as a possible means to managing ones career path. It's no coincidence that this subject has come up around the time that ALIA has announced its Mentoring Scheme - it's something that I've been pondering for a couple of weeks now.

There are many approaches to mentorship - how does one find a mentor and approach them, and how does one manage their own relationship as a protege? (Note: I refuse to use the word "mentee". It's not a real word - even my spellchecker won't accept it - and protege sounds like you're taking the relationship far more seriously.)

I've often felt that finding a mentor is often the responsibility the responsibility of the person who wants to be mentored - much like finding an apprenticeship. You seek out those in the industry who inspire you, or who have paved a career much like the one you'd like to have yourself. You strike up a conversation with them - it might be at an ALIA event - exchange business cards, see if they're on Twitter, and then take opportunities to continue the relationship. Sometimes you'll hit it off, sometimes you won't. If you do, send them an email, let them know that you're interested in progressing into their sector / area of specialty, and you'd love the opportunity to chat more about it over coffee some time.

When you do meet up, have some interesting questions, and be prepared to listen and learn. Again, gauge how the relationship is going, and whether you're on the same wavelength, and the more confident you feel, take opportunities to open up a bit about your own challenges in your work (without sounding like a whinger!) and see how they respond. Stay in touch - meet up for regular catch-ups - again, coffee is generally a good option, and keeps things casual and friendly. A good mentorship is one that doesn't feel forced or bound by obligations. But, of course, you don't want to be wasting their time either. If you're not prepared to work to progress your own career, then a mentor might initially offer you advice, but as time passes, they'll lose interest in supporting you.

Also, I've formed a number of supportive professional relationships over the years - but I would never refer to any particular one as a mentorship - especially not to their face! That's not to say that I haven't appreciated the support I've received from time to time through my career - I have and I do! And similarly, in my role as the New Grads Convenor, I've often started ongoing relationships providing support and advice to new graduates starting out. But I've mostly felt that these connections have been more through a mutual commitment to the industry and overcoming common professional challenges, rather than necessarily just finding help to get a better job. I think it totally counts, but is a mentor a mentor if it's not formalised? It can be a fine line sometimes between having a supportive more-experienced peer / supervisor, and a mentor that provides advice and possibly even grooms you for promotion / poaching into another team (if they work in the same organisation as you).

That said, an organised mentoring scheme is something else completely. It's like a matchmaking service for people who can't find the right mentor for them - and really, it's such a changing industry that what worked for one person five years ago might not work for somebody else starting out right now. And, of course, those in isolated roles/locations or highly-specialised field can find it hard enough to find peers let alone mentors.

(On a side-note, running with my online dating comparison, wouldn't it be cool if there were a Tinder-like app for finding mentors / proteges? i.e. swipe right if you'd be prepared to mentor or be mentored by the person on the screen. If they match - instant mentorship!!)

I don't mind paying for an organisation like ALIA to set up a mentor-protege pairing. After all, there's substantial labour involved in setting it all up, and ensuring that people are paired off appropriately. The idea of quality control is one that I'm still curious about, though. On one hand, it's great that a program like this provides access to a wider pool of mentors, who are prepared to set up a formal mentor / protege relationship, and sign agreements that they will commit to forming a productive relationship. On the other hand, I also feel like you only get out of these things what you put in, and so the onus is ultimately on the individuals to maintain their commitment, rather than on ALIA to exercise quality control for a paid service.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to either approach. Personally, I have a good idea of which direction I need to take in my career, and where the challenges and pitfalls lie, so I'm already building the kinds of relationships I need to be able to address them. However, I'd also be curious to sign up for the mentoring scheme purely to see who I get paired up with, and what interesting conversations might ensure from there...

For those who are interested, the ALIA Mentoring Scheme is open to ALIA members, and applications close on 23 June 2017.