Wednesday 17 May 2017

Once were New Grads: Part IV - Matthias and Jennifer

Finally, we've reached the last instalment of this series, and to finish up, I contacted two people who, like myself, were absolute newbie new grads at NLS 2006 - Matthias Liffers and Jennifer Creese.

Back then, in 2006:

They both started their first librarian jobs in mid-2006, Matthias at the University of Western Australia and Jennifer at the University of Queensland, and this was their first New Librarian's Symposium.

...and now:

Ten-and-a-bit years later, Matthias has had a varied career, recently finishing up as Coordinator, Research Services at Curtin University, and returning to UWA as a Library Manager (Science) - "I have come full circle!" Jennifer, on the other hand, is currently taking a break from libraries. "I'm using the research skills I learned in my training and experience to complete a PhD in Anthropology and work as a consultant professional Historian."

On how NLS 2006 influenced their expectations of their future career path...

Matthias recalls the opportunities that came from networking at NLS: "I met a handful of excellent people who have been great contacts in the ten years since." Eventually, the convenor of the New Graduates Group roped him into becoming the WA Coordinator, which started him on the "slippery slope" of volunteering for ALIA. "The skills and experienced I gained volunteering for ALIA has led directly to my career success."

Jennifer found that attending NLS helped her build confidence as a new graduate, and realise that "new grads didn't need to be quiet little workplace "babies", and that we could make opportunities, take initiatives and do significant new things." She was able to take this attitude back to her workplace - "it got me into lots of new opportunities within my institution, even outside the library, that I'd never have been assertive enough to try for before."

On the recurring issues for NewGrads, and how NLS has addressed these and continues to do so...

Matthias notes that, ten years ago, there were many predictions that tech skills were going to be important for librarianship, and having seen the changes in emerging technology over this time, he acknowledges that this has largely become true. Not only that, but digital literacy is a serious issue right now. "It's not just 'tech' skills we need any more, but we also need more expertise in the social issues that arise with technology, such as privacy and challenging copyright laws that were written last century."

Jennifer feels that new graduates are coming into a field where professionalism, and the professional network, is going to be more important than it ever was. "I think the NLS of the future would best serve new graduates if it encouraged and enabled partnerships and collaboration as much as possible, and really established presenters and attendees as professional experts." Though she also adds that the conference dinner should still be a total party.

On their own career's pathways and possibilities...

Both Jennifer and Matthias have had their share of twists and turns in their ten-year career path so far. "I certainly didn't expect I'd jump to the other side of the academic fence!" Jennifer explains. "I think NLS was my introduction to the idea that not only do librarians have the ability to say something and make a contribution, but also have the skills to support it in an evidence-based rigorous manner. That was probably the main push that got me first into evidence-based research on what I was doing professionally, and then developed that love of research that saw me jump to academic research when the opportunity came up."

Matthias also admits that his career has taken a few strange paths over the years, ranging from non-librarian work to taking leaps of faith, such as moving overseas without a job to go to. "Sometimes the leaps paid off, sometimes they didn't, but they all gave me valuable experience. There's more to being a librarian than 'Being a Librarian' - there are jobs for people with our skills in all sorts of different places.

Jennifer also notes the value of her skills as a librarian being complementary to her research work - "having been a librarian makes me a better researcher, and having completed the research experience I hope I'll be able to come back to libraries with better abilities to connect our practice with what our clients do, and to ensure our practices are well-grounded in evidence."

Finally, some advice to new graduates in the library and information industry...

Matthias: Don't be afraid to rock the boat. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't be afraid to fail. Share your successes. More importantly, share your failures. Librarianship can be a very conservative profession and it's up to you to shake things up and and bring fresh ideas. Crusty, old managers like me are going to need your joie de vivre.

Jennifer: Increasingly, libraries and librarians across all sectors are going to be on the front lines of the fight for knowledge - whether you're a public, academic or corporate librarian, it's a crucial time for knowledge to fight disinformation, prejudice, "alternative facts" and Google Syndrome. And you're going to have to do it with less support, less funding, fewer staff and a constant need to justify your profession and even your position, over and over again. Be brave, be confident, be proactive, be flexible and be rigorous!

And what better way to finish up?! If you're a new graduate reading this, I hope you're feeling inspired and emboldened. I'd encourage you to register for NLS8, but it's recently sold out, so if you haven't, then you're already too late. And if you, like me, were once a new grad, I hope that this has also provided you with an opportunity to reflect on your own pathways, recall our hopes and dreams for the future when we started out, and perhaps tap back into that inspired motivation that has led us to where we are, and into our future careers.

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