Saturday, 12 June 2021

Blogjune Day 12 - Lights up on Washington Heights...

Last night, I went to a special preview screening of In the Heights - the film adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda's first Broadway musical which won four Tony Awards in 2008.

It's been a long time coming, with the cinematic release delayed a year due to COVID-19. You can watch the opening number below...


So, what did I think of it?

There's always a lot of risk when it comes to adapting a hit Broadway musical to film, from Les Miserables to Cats. Incidentally both of those films was directed by Tom Hooper - one was epic and yet forgettable, and the other you can never unsee.

The first thing to know about In the Heights is that this is an adaptation - not a frame-for-frame remake. Which makes sense, since film is a completely different medium to stage. The big scenes are so much bigger, and the intimate scenes are much more nuanced. This film takes every opportunity to make the most of the medium - from the huge elaborate dance scenes filmed on location, to scenes in Abuela Claudia's kitchen, where you could almost smell every delicious dish being cooked.

As an adaptation, things have changed. Characters are fleshed out, and the sequence of events have changed. Some songs and plotlines are cut, whilst other more timely issues, such as racism and immigration, are more prominent. This felt like an organic progression to the work, perhaps cutting some of the weaker elements of the source material, and taking the opportunity to bring more depth and meaning to the characters and the film's ending.

And yes, they changed the ending. To be honest, I think it works so much better - as touching and emotional as the stage version's ending is, this brings a sense of joy and closure to the suenito (little dream) of the central characters.

The cast is an absolutely joy to watch. Anthony Ramos is a star as Usnavi - perhaps a bit too cool and charismatic compared to the passionate-yet-awkward energy that Lin Manuel Miranda brought in originating the role, but still very fitting in the role. Daphne Rubin-Vega - yes, that's Mimi from Rent - is phenominal as Daniela, as is Olga Merediz, who originated the role of Abuela Claudia and whose song 'Paciencia Y Fe' is a haunting and memorable swan song. Jimmy Smits is surprisingly good as Kevin Rosario. And there's a whole supporting cast of young up and coming stars that you should keep an eye out for. Finally, yes, Lin Manuel Miranda and Christopher Jackson (the original Usnavi and Benny) both feature as rival street vendors. Be sure to stick around to the end of the credits.

Visually, this is where the film really shines. You might know the director John M. Chu for making Crazy Rich Asians,  but it's his work on the Step Up franchise that comes through with the block-party-scale dance routines. The dancing is big - and I thought I knew a bit about salsa dancing, but the scene in the salsa club takes it to the next level. It's energic, raw, authentic - and these people can move.

The soundtrack is also amazing. Before the film, there was a trailer for Dear Evan Hansen, which felt a little overproduced, with not-very-subtle autotuning. However, the sound is very well done here - with some very clever moments, such as the subito piano toward the climax of '96,000' using an underwater shot. And not even an inkling that any of the vocals had been manipulated. Every song is an absolute banger, and I came out of the cinema wanting to play the soundtrack straight away.

Anyway, as you can tell, I loved it. 

If you get a chance, go see it on the big screen, the way it was clearly meant to be seen.


Friday, 11 June 2021

Blogjune Day 11 - more on labels and diversity

In my last post, I reflected on the strengths and flaws of the Own Voices label in identifying diverse works created by those from the same diverse backgrounds.

We also talk quite a bit about diversity in the library sector - but I'm not so sure that we've reached a point where it's necessarily a meaningful and inclusive conversation.

In my mind, diversity is another catch-all term, which both defines and others all that is not the dominant and privileged status, ie white, non-Indigenous, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered, neurotypical, without disability, and so on. There's the danger that if we're not careful, we simply define our workforce into 'diverse' and 'not diverse', which runs the risk of excluding those that need more careful consideration.

For example, in recent years, I've seen a lot of resources put into recruiting, embedding and supporting Indigenous people in the workforce - which absolutely is important work. But I've rarely seen similar affirmative measures created for other minority demographics.

At the same time, given that the Australian librarian workforce is made up of 86% of women, you could be forgiven for thinking that gender diversity isn't an issue. That is, until you realise that there is still a wage gap where men are more representative in the higher income brackets. Whether this is because more men are on a higher wage, or more women are working part-time or casual, it still amounts to the fact that there are gender considerations that go beyond simple diversity statistics. Equity is also important.

Even sub-categories of diversity are problematic. The one that I always bring up is 'culturally and linguistically diverse' (or CALD), which in Australia is defined based on which country you were born in, and which language you speak at home. It's a measure that's left over from the days of the White Australia policy, and excludes many second- and third-generation migrants living in Australia, such as myself.

Other catch-all phrases, such as ATSI (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander), BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic - often used in the UK), BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color - often used in the US), and FNPOC (First Nations and People of Colour - increasingly used here in Australia), all serve a purpose in defining and drawing attention to underrepresented people, but we do need to avoid the temptation of stopping at that level.

I recently read a piece that criticised the 'Stop Asian Hate' campaign, because it focused too much on East Asian hate, and didn't do enough to create awareness on the experiences of South Asians who were subjected to Islamaphobic attacks.

These are all just examples, but they highlight the fact that words matter, and detail is important.

Ultimately, diversity is just a measure - an indication of how well you are representative of your community. Just as important, if not more so, is considering equity and inclusion. You may have the diversity statistics, but without implementing equity and inclusion measures, many of the existing systemic power imbalances will remain.

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Blogjune Day 10 - on #ownvoices writing

On Sunday 6 June, We Need Diverse Books announced that they were no longer using the #ownvoices hashtag, saying that the term 'become a “catch all” marketing term by the publishing industry', which as then been 'used to place diverse creators in uncomfortable and potentially unsafe situations'.

They have announced that, instead, they will 'use specific descriptions that authors use for themselves and their characters whenever possible (for example, “Korean American author,” or “autistic protagonist”).'

Personally, I first became familiar with the term 'own voices' in 2018 when Fremantle Press published the anthology Meet me at the intersection. Described as an anthology of Own Voices, containing diverse stories written and created by authors of the same diverse group - in this case, people who are Indigenous, people of colour, LGBTIQA, or living with disability.

It felt like an important term at the time - not only was important that we have diverse representation in the stories that we read, but that we provide opportunities for diverse creators to be creating these narratives based on their lived experiences. It was a way of raising these voices and perhaps distinguishing them from writers who perhaps use other peoples' lived experiences as a device for propelling their own creative work.

So, what's changed? I'm actually not that sure, to be honest. I suspect that this decision is, in part, due to the experiences of Becky Albertalli last year, where she was effectively forced to come out as bisexual after prolonged and intense scrutiny and criticism online. She appeals to the literary community: 'Can we all be a bit more careful when we engage in queer Ownvoices discourse? Can we remember that our carelessness in these discussions has caused real harm? And that the people we’re hurting rarely have my degree of privilege or industry power? Can we make space for those of us who are still discovering ourselves? Can we be a little more compassionate? Can we make this a little less awful for the next person?'

Furthermore, there is a danger with catch-all labels, whether it be Own Voices, or even 'diverse', is that it creates a false dichotomy where it becomes the be-all and end-all of what is good and acceptable. There are many white writers who have written awful works featuring people of colour - but there are also those who have researched, consulted and had people of colour as their first readers to help create authentic narratives in what have become excellent works. There are also Own Voices works that are unfortunately not great.

And then, there are those who would claim their work as Own Voices, where that claim is in itself somewhat dubious, and they rely own the label as a way of raising the profile of their own work instead of its individual merits.

Ultimately, whilst measuring diversity is a useful indicator, it's the specific elements that make the industry diverse that is valuable. So, yes, I'm very happy for us to be more specific in the ways that we celebrate cultural and literary works - all the more opportunity to identify those specific voices that are underrepresented and absent, and raise those voices into prominence.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Blogjune Day 9 - on library leadership

Back in April, I attended the ALIA Information Online In-Depth virtual event on Leadership. It was a stimulating session, that reminded me of a lot of the issues that we need to stay on top of in both the Australian library sector and the wider GLAMR sector.

One thing really struck me, during the first section featuring three leaders in the GLAMR sector, was that none of them were qualified professionals in their given field. David Fricker, Director-General of the National Archives of Australia, comes from a computer science background, Director of the Australian Museum comes from a marketing and communications background. Kate Torney, CEO State Library Victoria, comes from a journalism background. More notably, all of these leaders stepped into these roles without having previously work in the GLAMR sector. We've also seen similar trends in leadership appointments in some of our state and public libraries.

That's not to say that they are not capable leaders in each of their roles - they've all shown a long-standing track record of achievement, and as I've often said, a librarianship qualification is not the be-all and end-all of one's capbility to work in a library, nor should it be treated as a hurdle requirement to do so.

However, it does raise the question: is there a lack or reluctance of qualified librarians who are suitably experienced to step up into leadership positions in the Australian sector? Or is it just that leaders coming from other sectors are far more experienced and capable, and obvious choices when appointing leaders into these roles?

When I think back to some of the best and brightest emerging leaders that I'd met when I was starting out, 10-15 years ago, I'd say that at least half of those who I would have tipped as future library leaders have moved sectors or shifted roles, and no longer associate themselves with the library profession. Some have burnt out, or gone on to do bigger and better things in another sector that they find much more meaningful and rewarding.

There was a time when we used to look forward to that oft-predicted time when all the baby boomers would retire, opening up all kinds of leadership roles. In more recent years, many have bemoaned the lack of new leadership opportunities, due to a combination of said baby boomers delaying their retirement, and shrinking library staffing budgets.

But perhaps this isn't the biggest thing we need to worry about - the fact is that the cultural sector has always been a desirable and competitive option for employment, and there are many very capable professionals out there who are building up a track record of achievements, and would jump at the opportunity to take on the top job in a major library. And they're better at running libraries than the librarians.

So where does that leave the library and information profession?

My view: we need to adapt, and let the strengths of those who join us from beyond the sector be our strengths as a profession. We need to stop pigeon-holing ourselves and the people we work with, otherwise we limit our opportunities to grow professionally. We need to encourage our library professionals to get experience and build better skills outside the sector - experience and skills that they can hopefully bring back. And we need to be a sector that our past emerging leaders might want to come back to in the future.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Blogjune Day 8 - on musicals

Anybody who vaguely knows me will know how much I love musicals. If there's even just an opportunity to sing showtunes, then I'm in... I'm always the guy at the karaoke bar who'll inevitably be belting everything from Heaven on their minds to Part of that world.

So, on the weekend, I saw that my local cinema was showing the National Theatre's production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, as part of their NT Live series. I'm familiar with quite a number of Sondheim's shows, but Follies was not one of them - with the exception of the songs 'I'm still here' and 'Buddy's blues', which were both standout performances. But, damn it, why does every Sondheim musical have to be so depressing? Sure, Phillip Quast and Imelda Staunton were both incredible on stage, but I stepped out the theatre feeling like my life was already over and all my youth had been wasted - all I had left were memories and regrets. Yep, it's that kind of Sondheim musical.

On the other hand, this Friday I have tickets to see In the Heights on the big screen. Now this is something that I'm really looking forward to, being the big screen adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda's *first* Tony-award-winning musical (you know, before he went and wrote Hamilton). Yes, Hamilton is a intricately layered work of lyrical and theatrical genius, but In the Heights is still my personal favourite - it just has so much passion and heart... it's raw and honest, full of joy and fear and hope, with its central theme of community. I already know that this will be one of my favourite nights out at the movies this year - there will be much laugher and tears.

As for Hamilton... I'm definitely looking forward to seeing it live on stage next month. I just wish that it'd happened sooner - like six years ago when I was so obsessed with it and I had it playing on repeat for months. Part of me has definitely moved on, but hey, I'll probably be absolutely wowed by the choreography, set changes and surprise reinterpretations by the Aussie cast.

Finally, I myself am going to be in a musical soon. My first musical theatre production in... *counts on fingers* over 15 years! Though it hasn't been for lack of trying. The local community theatre scene is definitely a tightknit community, and I've been occasionally auditioning for a few years now with no luck... until now. So, if you're in the Canberra region, keep an eye out for Oklahoma! in October...

Monday, 7 June 2021

Blogjune Day 7 - my TBR pile

Continuing on yesterday's theme of catching up, I've spent much of the past year catching up on my "to be read" - or TBR - pile of books.

It would have been during last year's lockdown that I faced the fact that a large proportion of my bookshelf contained books that I'd never read. Whilst this certainly isn't unusual for many in my social circle, the librarian in me decided that enough was enough, and it was time for some proper collection management.

That is, either I read those books that I always intended to read, or off they go to Lifeline to sell at the bookfair.

The rules are simple:

  • Pick up a book from the shelf that I haven't read
  • Proceed to read the book
  • If the book hasn't grabbed me by page 50, then I'm allowed to let it go in the box to Lifeline
  • If, at the end of the book, I'm unlikely to ever read it again or recommend it to anybody - again, Lifeline.
  • Otherwise, it can go back onto the shelf.
  • Repeat
  • Don't buy any more books in the interim (with a couple of exceptions, ie the next in a series that I'm reading comes out, or I'm at a book launch)
This has been a remarkably effective way of (a) motivating myself to read those books that I never got around to, and (b) realising why I was subconsciously avoiding that book!

I have recently reached the point where I've most of the 'fun' books on my TBR pile... Cormac McCarthy's The Road is still waiting for my attention, but for now I've started moving on to some of my non-fiction collection. After wizzing through Clara Bensen's No Baggage (a particularly nostalgic read, as we count the months before the international borders are likely to re-open), I've decided to take on something with more heft - The Fog of Peace, Jean-Marie Guehenno's memoir of his time as the Under-Secretary General for UN peacekeeping operations.

It's not a light read - especially for somebody like me who doesn't come from an international relations background - though after a while, I begin to get a feel for the blow-by-blow accounts of diplomatic issues in the international sphere, and definitely gain an appreciation for the sheer level of complexity in managing the many relationships involved. But something in his introduction that struck a chord with me was describing how he had come from an academic understanding of peacekeeping, and had a reputation as an intellectual, but needed to assert himself as a capable operator.

Something that I've thought a lot about these past years are these strange dichotomies that we often try to connect. Whether it's between between practice and theory, operational and strategic, support and substantive. For the longest time, I've worked in day-to-day operational roles, whilst trying to make the transition to something more strategic and influential. At the same time, there are plenty of times where I've been critical of those who make the big decisions, because they are based more around practical and operational efficiency rather than upholding idealistic principles of altruism and progressing cultural development.

Everything's all well and good in theory, until I'm the one who actually needs to carry it out - and I realise that by saying that, I'm sounding like an apologist for everything awful that's happening in the world - which is not my intention! So, instead, I'll end with a Hamilton quote: 'Winning is easy, young man. Governing is harder.'

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Blogjune Day 6 - on catching up

I said that I'd catch up by Sunday night... here I am, in the wee hours of Monday morning, but I feel like it still counts. I often feel like I'm falling behind, and catching up.

I was out to dinner with my partner's family and friends, and I was struck by some comments around the importance of making the right career decisions that will help ensure a comfortable retirement. This was from somebody who was only a handful of years older than myself.

I felt that familiar pang of, "So, Andrew. How are you going with that, then?" How long will it be until I catch up with where I need to be to be able to retire comfortably by my mid to late 60s? Yes, I have a mortgage, a moderately sized superannuation - and a sizeable HECS debt - certainly not yet on track for where I "need" to be...

Then again, I feel like the goalposts are always shifting. I hear from those a decade younger than me who feel like they'll never be able to own property. For every person who I hear talk about putting extra money into their super, I hear about others contemplating taking out of the super to pay their daily bills and rent.

Part of me still aspires to try to aim higher, earn more, purely for the sake of being able to hang up my hat in 25 years and not have to worry about these things. But at what cost? If I'm comfortable now, somewhere in the middle, then why should I risk making my life more difficult or miserable, for a few dollars an hour more?

Then I think back to the years that I spent volunteering overseas. There's not a day that I look back and wish that I'd spent that time working in a regular job in Australia, earning more money, getting a mortgage sooner, putting more into my super, etc...

I realise that this is a position of massive privilege as it is. So why do I constantly feel like I'm still at a disadvantage?

Blogjune Day 5 - June 2020

 I don't think I'd blame anybody for not participating in Blogjune in 2020. Looking back on that month:

  • More than two months into lockdown, and six months after my Dad died, I was just not in a good headspace.
  • Also four months into a new job in a new organisation, in what felt like something of a trial by fire approach to learning a new role, and overcoming imposter syndrome regarding my writing and editing skills.
  • I pretty much withdrew from most social media interaction - deleted my Twitter account, and vary rarely posted on Facebook. 
  • I took time to develop some skills in amateur photography
My attempt at being arty
  • Being in a full-time live-in relationship tested my ability to adjust and adapt to new domestic arrangements...
  • I did a lot of cooking - more than usual.
  • Finally, I committed to hiring a plot at the Canberra City Farm - a decision that brought a lot of hard work through the following months, but a good excuse to get out of the house, and develop a bit of a green thumb.
It was a horrendous month, to be honest. I was pushed to the limit, which I guess was the only way for me to learn when to step back, and find beauty and value in some of the simpler pleasures in life - an important lesson that has made the past year much more bearable in hindsight.

Blogjune Day 4 - June 2019

 Flashforward a year to June 2019.  A lot had changed...

  • The month began with a mushroom-foraging adventure in a local pine plantations, using newfound foraging skills learnt at a workshop the previous week... 
Spotting the easily identifiable, and edible, saffron milk-cap mushroom.
  • I was working for the same organisation, but in a very different role, and presented a webinar all about the Australian Web Archive
  • The Broadway Cast Recording of Beetlejuice the Musical came out, and became my new musical obsession
  • I went to Sydney to see the Vivid festival for the first, and so far only time.
  • I bought tickets to travel to Athens for IFLA 2019 conference, along with a backpacking adventure around Romania.
  • I was five months into a new relationship, which had quickly turned into a long-ish distance relationship, but worked surprisingly well. I developed a newfound fondness for the village life in the Southern Highlands every other weekend.
After what had felt like a challenging year in 2018, I was finally settling into something that felt like a comfortable pattern. My professional and social life was great, and I was still discovering new and wonderful things.

Blogjune Day 3 - looking back on June 2018

So, what *did* happen in June 2018 to break my four-year streak of blogging every June?

Looking back on my old emails and social media posts, I can glean the following things that happened:

  • The month began a week into home ownership. As the month progressed, I slowly started discovering some of the issues with the apartment that could only become apparent after living in it for a number of weeks.
  • This resulted in me spiraling into a mess of anxiety, entertaining notions that I'd made a poor decision and that I would be forever stuck with a crumbling piece of worthless property (which wasn't the case, but my brain couldn't logic in that particular moment).
  • I'd deal with this situation by spending every Thursday evening at the Phoenix bar, belting out pop bangers at the weekly karaoke competition night.
  • I came equal first at the grand finale, winning half a keg of beer's worth of a bar tab. Unfortunately, the Phoenix closed down in the following months, and whilst I drank a fair portion of this tab, never managed to finish it.
  • I also performed at the grand final of the very first Canbeurovision song contest, with my song "Down like Chowne". I did not come last, which felt like an accomplishment in itself.
Who knew that my old scout uniform would still fit,
let alone come in handy for this occasion?
  • I bought a lot of second-hand furniture online, and slowly my apartment started to feel like a home.
  • I also learnt a lot about how plumbers work, and got to know my neighbours a bit better. By the end of the month, I was settling into an uncomfortable but stable level of security about my life choices in property ownership.
  • In my job, I was doing simple but awesome stuff with my social media project, NLA50ppl, and had my conference proposal accepted to speak at the ALIA Information Online conference in 2019.
  • I was also working with an international team with NPSIG, preparing what would be an awesome program of events at the IFLA 2019 conference in Kuala Lumpur.
  • All in all, it was the best of months, it was the worst of months, one of those roller-coaster months, where I was at both my best and my worst.

Friday, 4 June 2021

Blogjune Day 2 - ghosts of blogjunes past

One thing that I enjoy about blogging is the ability to go back and read my past reflections that encapsulate a moment in my life. Yes, sometimes this can be embarrassing and cringeworthy, but it's a moment in time captured through words (and sometimes images and videos).

By the same token, Blogjune is a whole month captured in words. So, I thought I'd take this opportunity to look back at my past forays into Blogjune...

Whilst the tradition of Blogjune began back in 2010, when I think back to that year, it was the year that I first started to really disengage with the sector...

I didn't start officially participating until 2014, though it's interesting to note that in June 2011, I felt like I was on the verge of leaving the profession for good, and in June 2012, I was already back in a library job in Melbourne, and in June 2013, I was halfway through my first overseas AVID assignment, in Alotau.

June 2014: After a year of hopping between working overseas assignments in PNG and Vietnam, performing at arts festivals in Melbourne, and working casual public library shifts in-between, 2014 was the year that I was making my triumphant return to the library sector, managing a swish school library in the inner suburbs of Melbourne (again). June was a pivotal month for me - clearly I was having a lot of thoughts about whether this was right for me, and by the end of the month, I'd decided to give it all up, and move back to Vietnam to take up a 18-month contract with an NGO in Hanoi.

June 2015: A year later, and I was no longer in Vietnam! The role wasn't a great fit for my skills and experience, which happens, but I think I made the best of a less-than-ideal situation, and still have many positive memories of my time there. On the plus side, I'd been successful in a securing a place in the UN Volunteer program at the UN Mission in Kosovo as an Associate Information Management Officer. Through this month, I was still processing a lot of initial impressions of a new country, dealing with feelings of failure from my previous assignment not working out the way that I'd liked, and trying to maintain a balanced perspective of working in a developing country... clearly I was already mindful of my own mental wellbeing, and the challenges in managing it in these situations.

June 2016: Another year on, and I was coming up to the final month in my UNV contract. The first week comprised of me using up the last of my leave to travel around the UK, volunteering at the Hay Festival, and visiting lots of places on my bucket list, such as Cardiff, Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford. I was also getting to the point where I needed to figure out which direction my career would continue - whether that would be in libraries or maybe another foray in development.

June 2017: Turned out, it was libraries. By June 2017, I'd finally ticked off another career objective, and secured an ongoing position at the National Library of Australia. It was also a month where I really started reengaging in the sector - I joined ALIA again, after a six-year absence, went to the New Librarians Symposium, and signed up for the ALIA Mentoring Scheme - all things that set me on the path that has led me to where I am now.

2018-2021: Blogjune fell by the wayside, but a lot has happened. I'll reflect more of these in coming posts.

However, it's interesting to note that June has, in many ways, marked some real turning points for me in the past. I wonder if June 2021 will be remarkable in a similar sense?

Blogjune Day 1- on deadlines

It's June again, and this blog post is prompted by Con, snail, and Kathryn...

I could be forgiven for letting #blogjune slip by me last year, but it's actually been four years since I last participated. My life has changed in oh so many ways since then, that I feel like there's enough that I can catch up on from the intervening years that will fill the month.

Speaking of catching up... I'm starting this series three days behind schedule. Time to set myself some deadlines, I think!

My working life is currently dominated by writing deadlines, and true to form, I'm already behind, but determined to catch up before my tardiness impacts on anybody else's workflows.

Deadlines are a funny thing, aren't they? My usual practice is to set deadlines that allow a couple of days flexibility, so that I can chase things up, or accommodate the occasional spanner in the works.

The problem is, once my reputation for flexible deadlines precedes me, everybody knows that when I set them a deadline, a couple of days late isn't going to end the world. I react by offsetting future deadlines by a few days, and before we know it, I've set a whole lot of deadlines that don't actually represent the timeframe in which I actually need work done by.

And then there are those who want to know, 'Yeah, but what's the actual deadline. You know, the absolute deadline that you actually need stuff by?'

Fair question.

I'd love to work in a world where we only work by actual deadlines. ie if you don't meet this deadline, then there will be actual consequences (probably not actual death, but at least death stares). None of this mucking around dancing around arbitrary dates, running on the assumption that we're all equally as unable to exercise discipline in getting our jobs done... but to err is human, and to ignore the fallibility of human behaviour is to set oneself up for failure.

So, my deadline to get back on track will be this Sunday - you can expect another five posts by then.

Monday, 12 April 2021

I could show you my favourite obsession.

I have always loved a good puzzle. Jigsaws, wordsearches, crosswords - particularly cryptics - and high school maths, which totally counts. There's something satisfying about trying to crack a code, or just working through a process of elimination, to gain a solution to a problem that's seemingly impossible.

In a previous workplace, we used to have jigsaw puzzles in the tearoom, which in theory is an excellent way to momentarily clear one's mind between workplace tasks. Our outgoing team leader, as a farewell gift, gave us a 1000-piece puzzle of the Magna Carta. It was ridiculously difficult - and whilst it was probably envisaged as a team exercise, it became more of a spectator sport to see how long it would take Andrew to persevere until it was completed. And I did complete it after several months, and many flex hours taken over long lunchtimes, and the occasional afternoon after clocking off.


But that was nothing, compared to a far greater puzzle - one that has taken up many years of my life, and had an impact on friendships, mental health and my personal finances....  yes, I'm referring to the puzzle that is career planning in the library sector.

I was one of the lucky ones. I got my foot in the sector as a library casual worker when I was a student. That led to a full-time job as a library officer - which was when the obsession started. The first two steps were relatively straightforward: (a) get relevant experience, and (b) get a qualification. My strategy: do whatever it takes to make sure I have an entry level professional role by the time I graduate - preferably sooner. In my case, 'Whatever it takes' meant moving to Darwin, and within two years I was managing a small public library branch.

But that wasn't enough for my obsession. Getting to this point in regional Australia was one thing, but making it in the library sector in a capital city was another, and that was my next goal. I thought it would be easy. It wasn't. Turns out, in the days before Zoom, it's hard to be competitive in a phone interview from the other side of the continent, and it's even harder to be competitive when you're fresh off a four-hour red eye flight. Every rejection felt like failure, and I would rerun the interviews through my head, checking that I'd done all the right things - worn a suit and tie, spouted prepared responses to questions anticipated around the selection criteria, shook hands (in pre-COVID times!), and followed up with enthusiastic emails reiterating my interest in the job.

I felt trapped - particularly by one of the big rules of career planning: 'Don't quit your job until you have something else lined up.' And then, somebody gave me contradicting advice: 'Why don't you just move back to Melbourne, and see what happens?' Against all my instincts, I decided to embrace the insecurity, and quit what really was a dream job at the time, and moved back to Melbourne. Within two weeks, I had a new job, developing new skills in the library sector.

It wasn't the last time that my obsession reared its ugly head. It happened when I would submit application after application for overseas volunteer assignments. It happened for years of applying for the APS - really, when your guide to job applications is entitled 'Cracking the code', you do have to wonder! Living in Canberra, I remember once sitting in a cafe, and overhearing a couple of fledgling public servants engaged in looping conversations about their plans to move up and make it to EL1 by the time they turn 35. I also saw it in my colleagues at the UN when I was a volunteer at the UN Mission in Kosovo. Their obsession with their career planning strategies was next level. It was horribly unhealthy, and overwhelmed their hopes and dreams for their future.

When I left my last job - and with it, an ongoing place with a coveted library employer - one of my colleagues was shocked, and told me that I was taking a huge risk. 27-year-old me would probably agree. But if there's one thing that I've learned, it's that some puzzles are far too complicated to crack, and that obsession with the long game is just not worth being thwarted by human randomness getting in the way. At at its heart, career planning is about trying to control the uncontrollable. At its worst, it feels like an impossible thought spiral that will never end. At its best, it's an addiction that I know that I shouldn't feed.

These days, I sympathise for those who are entering the sector - it's certainly no easier now than it was then (despite the repeated promises of retiring baby boomers!), and the rules are constantly changing. Recently, my eye caught a new series of articles from ABC Everyday, entitled 'Ready for a career glow up?' Apparently, career plans are becoming a thing of the past, so now I definitely feel a bit silly, right? (To be fair, the list of 5 tips at the end of the article sound suspiciously like career planning...)

Of course, I do feel privileged to be in a position where I no longer feel like I need to break into the sector, nor am I feeling like I'm getting close to obsolescence. I'm somewhere in the middle. You could perhaps call it 'career inertia' - and there's definitely something comforting about it. Rather than obsessing over regaining control, for the first time in fifteen years I'm really content to embrace the insecurity, and go with the opportunities that come my way.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

International involvement...

The recent call for nominations in the 2021 IFLA Elections prompted some reflections on the past two years since the last IFLA elections.

For the unintitiated, IFLA is the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions - put (very) simply, you might call it UN of the library world. They hold elections every two years, with vacancies from the top positions, such as President-elect and Governing Board roles, all the way down to special interest group standing committee members - and everything in between. But to the unintiated, not much of this will really make a lot of sense until you've been to at least one IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC).

I didn't consider running in an IFLA election until one of the last days of the 2018 WLIC, in Kuala Lumpur. I'd already found myself involved with the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group for a couple of years, which had been a good introduction to IFLA, both from the perspective of learning how IFLA works, and networking with similarly professionals.

It wasn't until late in the conference that I found myself sitting in the IFLA Library Services to Multicultural Populations Section's open session with the topic 'Library services: empowering people to develop their inter-cultural identities', featuring some really engaging and progressive presentations from around the world - in particular, one presentation that explored the lived experiences of library workers from migrant backgrounds. These were the kinds of conversations that I'd wanted to be able to have in the Australian library sector - but we don't - and all of a sudden it was clear to me that this was a circle that I wanted to be a part of.

I sought out a few members afterwards, and said, 'I wanna get involved. How do I do that?' and they said, 'Well, good thing you asked, because elections are coming up...'

Eight months - and one election - later, I was officially an elected member of the section's Standing Committee. It's been quite an experience so far. There are many things that I'd wished I'd know, and a few things that I certainly couldn't have foreseen (ie COVID-19).

Me (second from right) and my fellow committee members, at WLIC 2019 in Athens.

So, are you thinking of running for an IFLA Standing Committee this year? Here are a few tips that you might find useful:

1. Know why you want to get involved

When I started talking to the standing committee members, back in 2018, and told them that I wanted to get involved, the first question they asked me was 'why?' Big organisations like IFLA certainly attract their share of people who want to get onto committees for the prestige of having it on their resume - but aren't always proactive in taking the initiative. So, have a plan of what you'd like to contribute and achieve as part of the section. For me, it's always been about being able to facilitate conversations around multicultural workforces and library services, and share the experiences of library staff and users from culturally diverse backgrounds.

2. Show up and network

As I implied before, it's going to be hard to understand why you want to get involved unless you actually show up to the annual conference, and get to know the key players. WLIC is an amazing experience - if overwhelming at times - but my number one favourite thing about this conference is the people you meet, have amazing discussions with, and form collaborative partnerships and longlasting friendships. This social stuff is the essential glue that makes everything else work. Plus it helps you get elected if people know who you actually are.

3. Be prepared to do the work

Whilst these roles are elected, they are also volunteer positions, which creates almost a dilemma. On one hand, you're not being paid to do the work, which means that it's going to be less of a priority. On the other hand, you're in an elected position, and if you don't do the work, you're taking the place of somebody who might be a better fit for the role. Of course, it's easier said than done - especially when living through a global pandemic, so anybody can be forgiven for dropping the ball this past year!

4. Be aware of timezones

Speaking of work - unless you're fortunate enough to live in Europe or the USA, be prepared to be working some strange hours. I work with committee members who are rarely awake at the same time. Strangely, the most convenient time for getting things done is early in the mornings before work, because we can actually have an exchange. If we don't get the timing right, it can take up to 36 hours for three of us to organise and agree on a simple task. And living in the Asia-Pacific region, I will have the unenviable honour of taking the minutes at a meeting that will run from 12 midnight until 2am. I will be making sure that the record function on Zoom is activated, oh yes!

5. Stay motivated and connected

This has been a really hard one this past year. I have to confess that, for me, much of my motivation is centred around the fact that, each year, we all get to meet again in some amazing city on the other side of the world. I was even excited at the prospect of welcoming everybody to *our* side of the world - before plans for WLIC in Auckland were scrapped. But with last year's WLIC cancelled, and this year's conference going virtual - and, of course, worldwide pandemic disrupting everybody's lives - it's hard to stay motivated. Fortunately, I've recently found my own mojo again, and it's with things like elections, meetings and plans for an engaging virtual event, that we're starting to reconnect again, and remind each other of why we got involved in the first place. Little things like Zoom catchups between international friends also make a huge difference.

So, if you're thinking of running for IFLA elections - do it! But be prepared - it's the boy scout's marching song.