Monday 16 January 2017

How I learned to stop worrying and love the GLAMR label...

I first heard the term GLAM about eight years ago when I was working at the State Library of Victoria. At the time, it was used in relation to the scope for collaboration and partnership between the major cultural agencies within the State Government, namely the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. This made sense - they were all cultural institutions that acquire priceless collections to preserve the cultural memory of the region, much of their public engagement involved public programs and exhibitions, they were based on similar principles of cultural collection management, and together, they make a cool acronym.

These connections became more apparent when I had the opportunity to use my librarian experience, particularly in working with local history collections, to work in a number of museums. During this time, I attended some professional development run by the University of Queensland, which explored the principles of "Museum 2.0" (this was back in the days when 2.0 was still a relatively new concept!) and for about 90% of the content, you could have replaced "Museum" with "Library" and it would have echoed everything I'd been reading in the library industry at the time.

And then, whilst my career moved more into NGO / intergovernmental agencies, focusing on the implementation of information and knowledge management in the international development sector, the GLAMR (the "R" being for Records Management) label took off back in Australia, acknowledging the scope and intersections between professionals in these industries. No longer were people like me simply librarians - no, we were GLAMR professionals!!

Except that I was working as an information professional outside of the GLAMR sector. I'd see my former colleagues and peers heading off to GLAMR events, and feel excluded. Sure, I could have turned up anyway, but they'd probably be talking about libraries and museums and records management principles - things that weren't a part of my professional life at that time.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it's not that I was being excluded by the industry - I'd pretty much taken my skills and left the industry in order to work elsewhere. And that's okay too. 99% of people in the GLAMR industry aren't going to be interested in working in the development / peacekeeping / humanitarian sector, and nor are their activities going to be relevant outside the context of the GLAMR sector. At the same time, information professionals working in civilian crisis information management or digital humanitarian aid going to be attending professional development for that field, and probably not the next ALIA conference.

And it's important, not only to open the scope of one's sector, as LIS has expanded to GLAMR, but also to recognise its boundaries, in order to manage their own brand and their community. The question I often dread in a new job is, "Where were you before?" as people make a snap judgement about your immediate past experience and its relevance to your new role. Generally speaking, most people in the GLAMR sector are familiar with what most other people in the GLAMR sector do. Other sectors... not so much.

And I must say, it's very exciting to see how far the library industry has come over the years. It would have been not even ten years ago where I'd witness fierce arguments over whether a library should consider recruiting professionals with non-LIS qualifications as librarians, but now I work in libraries where librarians might come from diverse fields such as teaching, museum studies, art curation, journalism and so on. Yes, it means having to compete with a wider range of professionals for those coveted jobs, but it makes for a much more interesting workplace. Plus, if I ever get bored of libraries, there's a wider range of fields to move into more organically.

By embracing this professional diversity, opportunities open up for us to question each other's professional practices, and learn from the successes across these intersecting sectors. And whilst I'm still a little sad to have left my not-so-GLAMR'ous (see what I did there?) career path behind, I'm pretty excited to be back in the GLAMR sector, and to see what this brave new world has in store.

Sunday 15 January 2017

The Difficulty of "Yes"

So, I may have been a little flippant in my last post when I stated that to "just say yes" is the easiest lesson. I should perhaps say that it's as easy as jumping off a cliff. Technically speaking, it's just a matter of moving in a certain direction, and you're there. You've even got gravity on your side.

But, of course, it's a little more complicated than that, and I feel that I need to acknowledge this. For every opportunity that I've "just said yes" to, I've also been faced with an opportunity that I've agonised over, and eventually said "no" to. They were really awesome opportunities too.

The reality is that, by saying "yes", you're inviting a huge change into your life. It could be a geographic change, a turn in your career path - either a slight deviation or a complete change of track - new colleagues, new expectations, and new challenges.

Many of these are unpredictable, which leads me to my main point - the paradox of making the "right decision".

We're raised in life to make decisions, and we're more or less taught that there is a "right" and "wrong" choice. The more informed we are of the consequences, the better position we are in to make these choices.

But life isn't like that. The most amazing opportunities in life are the ones where the possibilities are boundless - and with it, so are the variables. Yes, there are some known consequences, and these might be:

- You're leaving your home behind.
- You won't see most, if not all, your friends and family for a while.
- You'll be ending many of your current working relationships.
- You'll be ending a personal relationship.
- You'll be resuming a personal relationship - if that decision is to move back home to a former partner.
- You'll get to work in an organisation that you've always wanted to work with.
- You'll get to work in a team with somebody who inspires you.
- You'll get to live in an exciting place where you've always wanted to live.

These kinds of known outcomes are what you can base your decisions on. Everything else is purely conjecture - and that's a scary thing.

On the other hand, to "just say no" is, conversely, just saying yes to many of the things that are already present in your life. But that's not to say that this choice isn't without its unpredictable factors either. Life can turn around even the most seemingly-stable lives.

The important thing to remember is that a "yes or no" choice doesn't necessarily mean you're making a "right or wrong" choice.

It might mean honouring commitments, or seeking new ones. Staying put or flying away. Choosing adventure or stability. But you do need to actively make a choice, either way. Worrying about hypothetical "what-ifs", or if it's the right or wrong choice is wasted time - just look at the options in front of you, and pick one.

You always have a choice.

Tuesday 3 January 2017

Ten Years of Lessons Learnt

So, given my ten years of professional work, I must have learnt a few valuable lessons, right? The kinds of things you can’t learn through the usual academic coursework and research? I had a good think about the main lessons I learned through my extensive experience.

Just say yes. This is the first, and easiest lesson - when a valuable opportunity comes by and taps you on the shoulder, say yes. In my case, it launched my career working in Darwin as a professional, which quickly turned into valuable management experience and working in top cultural agencies, and then working overseas. People often say that they're jealous of what I've been able to do, but they could have done it too, if they'd just said yes. Of course, this goes hand in hand with…

Be prepared to take risks. I’ve taken a lot of risks in my career, as you can clearly see from my earlier post. Some of them didn’t pay off in the short-run, to my perpetual frustration, but they all amounted to something in the end. I still take risks, opting for short-term contracts in dream jobs, rather than long-term security in something that’s less suited to my professional interests. 

Find your champions. Network in the industry and seek out those people who can provide you with support and advice - particularly those in higher places who you would ideally like to work for, and those who care about the future of the library industry, and want to foster the careers of those who will come after them.

Be confident and ask for opportunities. It’s not arrogance to talk yourself up and put yourself forward for upcoming opportunities. Most hiring managers often have an idea of who the main contenders are for a role that they hire for, and it’s important to be a contender. As above - network, and be mindful of your strengths, so that you can promote yourself and match your skills with a position when discussing an upcoming opportunities, whether it be a project or a vacancy for an ongoing position.

Know your limits. The beauty of having ten years of professional experience is that I now know what I want for my career - and what I don’t. I don’t waste my time - or a recruiter’s time - by applying for a job that’s not suited to my skills or interests. And know when to walk away.

Take time out. The nine months that I spent in Japan five years ago was one of the best things that I could have done for me career. Sometimes it’s important to take time out, recharge, and adjust one’s perspective.

It’s not who I am, but what I do, that defines me as a professional. Yes, I totally paraphrased that line from Batman Begins, but it’s an important realisation that I came to a couple of years ago. A professional career doesn’t amount to a historical list of position titles, but rather what my achievements have been in those roles. It made me realise that the scope for professional work was much wider than I’d originally conceived.

But you can’t have it both ways. There was a time when I wished I’d just stayed in my first job, and done the hard yards, building a ten-year career with one organisation. I see people who have done that, and are in much higher positions than I am now, and are in a position to be able to start a family, get a mortgage, etc. Having spent ten years building a strong portfolio of professional skills, I do feel that now is a good time to settle for the long haul with one employer - and if that opportunity comes up, then I would give it very careful consideration. If it doesn’t, then the long and winding journey continues…


So, what am I still working on? Here’s a few lessons that I still need to learn, and I’m working on every day…

Being a change agent. One valuable aspect of working at the UN is that it’s extremely process-oriented, and it’s meant that when I come to a new organisation, I’m keen to document and review operational processes in my role. Of course, something that goes with this is a desire to improve processes, when the opportunity to do arises. Unfortunately, whilst I am highly attuned to detecting these opportunities, and proposing solutions, the act of influencing senior colleagues and implementing changes to operational processes is still something that I need to develop my skills in. Key to this is developing working relationships, and building the confidence of those colleagues who I don’t necessarily work closely with, so that when I go to them with proposed changes, they can trust my judgement. But in large organisations, this can still be a challenge.

Managing expectations - of clients and colleagues, and of myself. Starting a new job, I’m often asked by colleagues, (a) what my position / team is, and (b) where I worked before. I daresay that the way I respond to these questions will then prescribe that colleague’s expectations of me. Coming from a very diverse professional background, I still struggle with getting my “elevator pitch” right. Similarly, with clients, I’m probably seem more as “that youngish-looking guy on the front desk” rather than “an information professional with over ten years of progressive experience in Australia and overseas across government, education and cultural organisations”. The more that I’m able to convey to colleagues and clients the value of what I have to offer them, the more professionally satisfying and productive the interactions will become within the workplace, which as far as I can see would be a win-win situation. Similarly, I’m always needing to manage my own expectations of a role that I’m in. After all, at the end of the day, it’s not about me. If I wasn’t there, then somebody else would be doing the same job…

Making myself indispensable. And this is a clincher. With a wide range of experience and knowledge, I still need to learn to find ways to capitalise on those skills which are in high demand in an organisation. Anybody with a Masters in Information Management can do most of the individual jobs that I’ve done. However, by finding ways to take the initiative and offer something outside the square which is much-needed in an organisation, then I place myself in a position where I bring something valuable to an organisation, rather than just being a replaceable cog. I recognise that my current career path is unique and valuable - I just need to learn to leverage that specifically to my advantage.

So, that’s enough navel-gazing for now. I wonder how things will change, looking back on these posts ten years from now…

Monday 2 January 2017

Grand Ambitions

I don't do New Year's Resolutions. My life hasn't changed overnight since the clock ticked over, and I don't have any regrets for which I want to redeem myself with the new year.

However, it's three months since I returned to Australia, and lately I've felt myself overcome with a dreadful feeling of inertia - that I'm moving with the passing of time, but nothing's really changing. Of course, I've spent most of my energy settling into new jobs, and sorting out my domestic arrangements. However, now that I have moved all my things to Sydney, and have a place to live for the foreseeable future, it's time for me to get my shit together.

So, these are not new years resolutions, so much as grand ambitions for getting my life back on track. I turn 40 years old next year, so it seems an arbitrary a deadline as any to achieve the following:

Make new friends and form closer connections. This is probably the most vital part of settling into a new place, but I find it the most difficult. I feel like making friends used to be simple - especially during my uni years. You either made friends in class, or at uni, then you hung out more often, and suddenly you have an interconnected social web of friends. And being an expat in another country, friendships were easier because most people were in the same boat - isolated foreigners who needed to connect to maintain their sanity. These days, it feels more complex. You might make friends at a choir or swing dancing classes, but you’d rarely see them outside those activities. Many people my age are coupled-off and starting young families, which takes up the bulk of their time. Somebody recently said to me that there needs to be a support group for single people in their late 30s, and maybe that’s true. I also realise that, in recent years, I’ve become a fiercely independent person, and I need to learn to let people into my life, and allow closer friendships to form. I’m not entirely sure what else the solution is, other than try to take every opportunity that I can to go out and meet new people - something I find hugely exhausting after a while.

Establish job security with a permanent job. I am extremely lucky to have two awesome jobs, which take up quite a bit of my time, but is worth every minute. The trade-off is that they are on renewable short-term contracts, which means that there is always the risk that I will be unemployed in a matter of months. I do not regret this at all - I’d much rather be in a contract that progresses my career than be in a permanent job on a dead-end career path. However, there’s no reason it needs to be an either/or situation… especially if I want to…

Buy property. I’m ready. I don’t care if it’s a tiny shoebox of a studio apartment, as long as it’s in a good location, and it’s mine. I haven’t wanted this in the past, but something that’s shifted in my mind these past couple of years, and just really want a place to call my own, that I can decorate with my own furniture and books and stuff. It doesn’t have to be much, as long as it’s home.

Keep travelling. Even if it’s just one big trip a year, I want to keep seeing new places. The IFLA conference is in Wroclaw this August, so that’s what I’ll be aiming for, with a few more weeks scheduled to explore the parts of Eastern Europe that I didn’t make it to when I lived in Kosovo.

Write a new show. In some ways this is the easiest of my grand ambitions, as I only have to rely on myself to get this done. I have a basic premise, I just need to give myself time.

And that’s the real clincher, when it comes to my grand ambitions - time. At the moment, I’m working 39 hours and travelling 16 hours a week. The time I have available for socialising - or doing anything outside of work, really - feels quite limited. Ultimately, I need to exercise more discipline in the ways that I use my time. Develop better sleep patterns so that I can get up earlier, use the time I have better, and have the energy to be awake when I need to be. Spend less time on social media and prioritise my pop culture consumption to the bare essentials (i.e. enough to remain socially engaged and informed!).

It feels like life used to be so much easier… but it’s probably just that I didn’t worry about these things as much as I should have. Now I have to play catch-up before my mid-life crisis sets in!