Monday 26 June 2023

The eye of the storm

Well, I'm still here!

Since my last post, we've had eight full runs of the show, five of which were performed to a full theatre which seated around 340 people. It's been pretty exhausting, but also exilerating to have an enthusiastic audience that helps you find the energy you need to bring life to your characters and routines.

I'm now one day into a three-day reprieve, after which we do it all again, with six more performances, all of which are already sold out. I look forward to performing this show whilst feeling refreshed and energised.

The other big thing that happened last week is that IFLA announced that its 2024 World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) will be held in Dubai. There have been a lot of feelings expressed about this.

I've spent much of the past couple of hours trying to sum up my feelings about this, and probably written and deleted a good thousand or so words on the matter.

Basically:

We need to be open to all cultures in order to have a global discourse.

If some choose to exclude others, then we need to find an equitable path forward.

This is not always possible, and you may need to pick a side that favours some people and discriminates against others. You can't be neutral.

I don't want to play this game.

Sunday 18 June 2023

Production week

I recently told somebody that I was involved in a community theatre show that was opening soon, and he asked how much time that took up. I mentioned the three-times-a-week rehearsal commitment, although not everybody was needed for every rehearsal.

But then there is production week. It starts with bump-in, usually on the Sunday, where the set is constructed, lighting is rigged, and cast settle into the dressing rooms with all of their costumes and supplies for the week.

Then we start a series of tech and dress runs. Every night, starting Monday, we arrive at the theatre after work, and stay there until everything that needed to be done that evening is done - sometimes as late as 11pm.

Then the show opens on Friday night. Saturday we do two shows - a matinee and evening show. Sunday we just have a matinee, and take the evening off, along with Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday we start all over again.

By this time next week, I will have done a full run of the show eight times, on top of full-time work.

I don't expect I'll be blogging much until then.

Thursday 15 June 2023

Using AI for good...

So, I was reading the latest issue of INCITE magazine, that came out today, and in Jane Cowell's introduction piece, she makes mention of how her team has been exploring ChatGPT in writing media releases, blog posts, and social media posts... and asks the question, "Have you experimented with this technology? Don't forget to blog about it and share your experience with us all."

Which seems as good a prompt as any to get semi-back on track with BlogJune.

Now, I fancy myself as a decent copywriter. About 80% of the time, if I'm given a brief to write something - such as a media release or briefing notes, I can sit down and bang one out a draft within an hour, depending on how divided my time is in that moment. But many people I've worked with struggle at this - as do I that other 20% of the time. You can call it writer's block, or waiting for the inspiration to strike - either way, it's not the best use of work time.

In fact, in some workplaces, I've relied on having a team member write up a first draft for me. Once I have that first draft, my editor instincts kick in, and I have a work that I can pull apart, mould and rewrite, adding tone of voice, nuance and in-house style to arrive at something that better resembles the final draft that I can get signed off.

But that first draft... getting it done is rarely the best use of anybody's time. So why not use an AI program such as ChatGPT to be your artificial copywriting minion?

Another example - I'm working on a marketing campaign, and I need to get a designer to create some visual collateral to be the brand of the campaign. Now I can spend the time writing up a marketing brief, send it to the graphic designer, wait a few days, get a first mock-up, and send it to and fro before eventually coming up with a finished image, maybe up to a week later. Or, I can experiment with an AI image creator, and come up with some mock-up images within a couple of hours. They won't be perfect - at the moment, much of it will end up in uncanny valley territory - but it's something that you can send to the designer and say, "Here's a rough visual indication of what I want. Please create a polished version." Theoretically, it saves so much time in the design process, using AI to create that first mock-up before you even need to talk to your designer.

The thing is, though, AI isn't magic. It doesn't pull that image - or first draft - out of thin air. It creates a derivative work, based on an immense source of textual or visual data which is, on the most part, somebody else's creative work. Presumably without their permission. In fact, there have been well-documented examples of artistic works that AI has blatantly used as the basis for artificially generated artwork.

As a copywriter - or as an artist - you wouldn't just take somebody else's work and adapt it to pass off as your own. There are both moral and legal implications in doing so. So at what point does AI-generated work become plagiarism / breach of copyright? More importantly, as the volume of AI-generated work starts to overtake the volume of unique human-created work, what does that say about the progression of human expression and knowledge?

Honestly, I do think that AI has its place in the work of content creation - but as a starting point, not as an ends in itself. Ultimately, AI can get you part of the way there in putting together the foundation and bare bones, but human expression and creativity is still needed to finish the job well.

More importantly, putting my librarian hat on for a second, we still need to consider how we manage the rights of creative works that we make publicly available in the digital world. We may have been too keen to optimise digital access, and an AI bot isn't necessarily going to pay attention to that copyright statement or Creative Commons license - it just scrapes everything publicly available on the internet.

This may be a case of trying to close the gate after the horse has bolted, but perhaps what we need is some kind of "ethical AI" alternative - one that only uses content / data that has a Creative Commons license that allows derivative works. That would be a start. Or using library image content where the copyright status is clearly and accurately described in the catalogue record. Either way, it's our responsibility as the custodians of such collections to ensure that there is clear and sufficient data that allows for AI to use these collections ethically. 

Monday 12 June 2023

A half-life of blogging..

Today I found myself reflecting on how long I've been blogging, and it turns out that it's amounted to about half of my life - though for many reasons...

Pre-2007: Livejournal

I had a livejournal for many years, as did many of my friends at the time. I didn't even realise it was called 'blogging' until some techy dude used the word at a choir camp in a game of "I Never Never", and apparently I had to drink because I was a blogger. It was an interesting time - in the days before Facebook and other social media... we created streaming written content in the form of a daily blog, and then my feed kept me in the loop for everything that my social circle was up to. Blogging was plentiful, as was commenting, and there was much fun, oversharing, and drama. They were my audience and I was theirs.

2007-2011: Librarian Idol

In late 2006, I became a fully fledged librarian, and moved to Darwin for my first professional role as a new graduate. It was also the so-called golden age of 'biblioblogging', and I joined in on the community with my blog, "Librarian Idol". The name itself was something of a random conceit - it was April 2007, when I auditioned for Australian Idol. I made it onto the first episode on national television, and I found myself saying in front of a camera, "I think what Australia needs right now is a Librarian Idol." Whilst it was in itself a throwaway ad lib, the idea kinda stuck... after all, here I was as a new graduate librarian, a whole new professional career promised to me, but not all was as expected. My blog explored questions around why library and information professionals didn't necessarily have the esteem of the wider society that they'd like, and what we need to do as a professional to not only 'keep up' with emerging technology, but lead the way through innovative libraries. There was a fair share of opinions, frustrations and career-limiting rants (though never specifically directed at anybody or any organisation). I deleted the blog at some point around 2013... though there are still bits of it floating around web archive land. After all, nothing is truly gone on the internet.

2011-2013: Land of Surprising Pun

In mid 2011, I moved to Japan. The opportunity was there, and I needed a bit of a circuit breaker in the professional side of my life. I decided it was time to retire my library blog, and start a new blog documenting my travels, and experimenting with a little Flip Video camera, which became one of my favourite possessions (these were the days before camera phones, after all!). I'd never made so much great video content before... or since! Mid-2012 I returned to Melbourne, and spent six months in a temporary role, before planning new adventures, first backpacking in SE Asia, and then getting on board with the Australian Volunteers for International Development program, doing short-term stints in PNG and Vietnam. By the end of 2013, I made the conscious decision that whilst this was all great and fun and all, I needed to get serious about my career again, which meant... returning to a library job.

2014 - present: Bibliotheque Bound

Well, that job didn't last very long... five months in fact before I quit and moved overseas again, first to Vietnam and then to Kosovo... and then back to Australia, moving to Canberra in 2016. It's interesting that I named the blog "Bibliotheque Bound" - there is something of a double meaning. That is, I am headed in the direction of the library, and I am perpetually connected to the library. I've never stopped caring about the importance of libraries in society, especially now that misinformation and disinformation has become such pervasive issue. I've also felt that there are many other organisations out there that make a much bigger social and cultural contribution, and that I have much more capacity to make a difference and effect change elsewhere. And still, I find myself looking back at the library, and dreaming about what else is possible. Can I take the lessons I've learnt elsewhere, apply them in a library context, and help them do better?

But in the meantime, where is this blog going, audience-wise? I feel like nowadays, I'm mostly blogging for myself. Like the original idea of a "live journal" online, where I can look back on episodes in my life and reflect on everything that's happened so far. It's already given my hours of nostalgia fodder... some extremely fond memories, a few cringeworthy, but I'm ever grateful to past-me for taking the time to document all the things that I'm potentially going to forget in the future.

And whilst, in the past, I blatantly shared out the URL for every post via my social media channels, I no longer crave the validation of seeing hundreds of clicks from around the world. I am content to merely exist and reflect for now, and if you happen to be accidentally reading this right now... hello there. :)

Sunday 11 June 2023

Gratitude

Lately, Sundays have been for all-day show rehearsal. So this will be a brief post.

But there are moments when I'm on my way home on a wintery evening, and I look up to this kind of view.

Honestly, I think Canberra has been one of my favourite places to live for its beautiful landscape, especially during winter. I don't mind the colder temperatures, especially since it's much drier than anywhere else I've lived, and once you get past the frosty morning, it's often clear and crisp. It's hard not to be grateful.

Saturday 10 June 2023

The Great Promotion

There is an idea that, from a young age, we have this expectation of a career. That is, the more we build our:

  • Work experience
  • Technical skills
  • Professional knowledge
Then we can expect the following to grow in the workplace:
  • Increased responsibility and decision-making
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Increased salary
This timeframe works alongside the assumption that, as we grow older, we have:
  • Increased financial burdens, such as mortgages or rents on growing families / households
  • More refined sense of a work-life balance, and what we want to do with our time
  • A developed sense of social responsibility and how we want our work to align with those values
The dream career is where we have a deeply satisfying job, utilising the best of our skills, that aligns with our personal values, and also adequately covers our living costs and affords a quality of life on top of the bare necessities.

Yep, I know, right? In this economy?

Two years ago, there was much talk of The Great Resignation. Interest rates were low and after a year of lockdown conditions, morale was precarious, so there was a tendency for people say, "Actually, I can probably afford to take a pay-cut to pursue something completely different and potentially better aligned with my personal goals and values." Or, alternately, take the opportunity to take a side-step into a different field with less experience - with an corresponding pay-cut at a step down - but use it as a launching pad into a new career path.

We then saw an all-time high industry on staffing - particularly in frontline service roles in hospitality, retail and health services. And who can blame them, really?

Now the tables have turned. Mortgage interest rates (but unsurprisingly not savings interest rates) and the cost of living have skyrocketed. We're told that we need to spend less to slow down inflation, which is apparently why we shouldn't get pay rises - not that those pay increases come anywhere near the rise in the cost of living that we're meant to cover! So much for the worker's right to a living wage.

So, what's the alternative? If we can't get a wage rise, then it's time to step up into a new job. Cue the Great Promotion - where all those people who left their previous jobs for a better quality of life or to explore new career options need to re-align with hustle culture and get that promotion in order to make ends meet.

At the risk of sounding like a raving socialist, I resent the fact that my career decisions are currently influenced by the changing economy. It feels suspiciously like I need to start behaving less like an idealist and more like an adult. 🙃

Wednesday 7 June 2023

Jettisoning my life cargo

I've been thinking about travel a lot lately. My social media channels have a habit of reminding me of the weird and wonderful places that I've been in the past, and now my feeds are filling up with friends travelling the world again. One of my colleagues is about to head off to Europe for a few weeks, and we are all understandably jealous.

The last time I travelled overseas was almost four years ago, which feels like an eternity, especially considering everything that's happened since then. I had made further plans for travel but... well, you know. And even though the world has opened up again, the cost of travel has skyrocketed alongside the prohibitive cost of living.

I've also been living in hope that international travel from Canberra airport would open up again. In the past, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines have flown out of Canberra, which has thankfully saved me from the horror that is the Sydney International Airport terminal.

But recently, I made an impulse decision. Air Asia had a sale, and now I'm the proud holder of return flights from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur... cabin luggage only! I don't know if I'll regret it yet, but it'll be an adventure.

It's something that I've been wanting to try, ever since reading No Baggage by Clara Benson. In her case, the challenge was to travel overseas for six, with nothing but a handful of essential possession in a small shoulder-bag (i.e. passport, mobile device, wallet, toiletries), no pre-booked accommodation and no flights. But for me, it's baby steps... I'm only going away for ten days, and cabin luggage seems like a good compromise, especially if it means I have a couple of changes of clothes and don't need to hand-wash my undies in the sink every night.

I do often feel weighed down by my possessions. They're necessary to feel settled - to create a personal sanctuary of physical objects that surround me and provide a sense of comfortable belonging in a space. There are times, however, that I would happily give it all up if it meant having the freedom to pick up my life and explore the world once again.

So, another challenge to set for myself: do some spring cleaning! That means clothes, books, and all the random junk that clutters up my life. I already keep it moderately contained, but I think I can do better. That way, when that dream overseas opportunity comes my way again - and it will - then I'll be ready.

Tuesday 6 June 2023

I want to be where the people are...

It was at a job interview early last year, where one of the panelists asked me, "Do you miss working in libraries?"

It wasn't a question that I was expecting, but it's one that I do ask myself from time to time. Librarians are often great champions for libraries and the role that libraries can and should play in society, but they can also be the worst detractors - for all sorts of reasons. It's true that familiarity breeds contempt, and it can become so easy to get disillusioned, whether it's at the sometimes-blatant social and cultural biases that libraries can represent, or their seeming impotence in this amazing age of information, or their inability to demonstrate the kind of value proposition that they should to our funders and budget makers.

Of course, the same can be said for many of our cultural institutions. It's certainly not just libraries.

That said, now that I've been expanding my experience as a communications professional around the cultural sector over the past three and a half years, there is something that I have come to miss: the people who create a sense of professional community.

When I was a new graduate, many years ago, there was a thriving online network of library and information professionals, who would regularly blog - and later tweet - sharing stories, supporting one another, firing up about professional issues, provoking and disrupting where necessary. We'd inevitably gravitate to one another at every ALIA conference, and those online connections turned into IRL connections. We'd go off on adventures around the world, and crash on each other's couches, and have long cups of coffee discussing all the world's problems and how we could address them in our work.

And I do miss that.

Since moving into that somewhat nebulous field of "communications", I've been keeping an eye out for a similar professional community. I don't know if it's just not there, if I'm looking in the wrong places, or I'm just in the wrong city, but so far I haven't found "my peeps" in the same way that I did in the library and information profession.

It's made me come to better appreciate the value of professional associations, such as IFLA, ALIA, AMaGA, etc in providing opportunities to create that kind of community amongst likeminded professionals. Without these opportunities in our professional lives, we run the risk of just becoming solitary workers - not necessarily engaged with progressing our professional practice, or pushing for change in our cultural sectors.

So - I'm setting a challenge to myself. I need to do more work to find my new peeps in this sector, and make a more concerted effort to actively network better, and if necessary, travel to those places where I'll become more engaged with a professional community.

Monday 5 June 2023

Been workin‘ so hard…

So, it’s Day 5, and I’ve already missed days 3&4, and it’s almost midnight. Great start to #blogjune, Andrew…

In my defence, one key difference between this month and previous Junes is that I’m currently in the final weeks of rehearsal for a theatre show. It’s my third show with the Queanbeyan Players, and it’s Footloose the Musical.

On the plus side, it’s pretty much sold out and it doesn’t open for another two and a half weeks!

Rehearsals have been all day on Sundays, and in the evenings on Mondays and Thursdays. Which means that over the past 36 hours, I’ve spent more time at rehearsal than I have at work or asleep.

Two weeks from now, I’ll be into production week, which means that we “bump in” to the theatre over the weekend, then Monday-Thursday are full runs on stage, before opening night on Friday, two shows on Saturday, a matinee on Sunday, and then we collapse for two days until Wednesday night when we get back on stage doing shows every day until Sunday. Then bump out and party / collapse in a corner and wonder what to do next with our lives.

I’ve particularly enjoyed working on this show. I still get my moment in the spotlight, but mostly I get to step back and let the “young people” shine on stage. Which, to be fair, works for me. The last show I did was one of the most exhausting things I’ve ever done, so it’s nice to have a change of pace this time.

Furthermore, I’ll actually have some time tomorrow to think of more insightful things to write. I can’t promise too much at this stage, though…

Friday 2 June 2023

The more things change...

So, what's changed in the past eleven months?

A few things...

I've moved jobs. Again. Back in early 2022, I made the conscious decision to take up a 0.8 EFT part-time role with a community arts organisation. I did the maths, and I could make it work. I wanted to shake off the so-called golden shackles of public service, roll up my sleeves and get into the "real world" of the non-government arts sector, and get some creative work done on my one day off a week.

It would have worked out too, had it not for the insane rise in the cost of living that has ensued over the past year. By June last year, the maths no longer added up, and so I applied for a job back in the ACT Public Service, and long story short, I'm now working as a Marketing Coordinator at the Canberra Theatre Centre.

It's not where I planned to be, but I feel incredibly lucky to be working in a large Marketing / Communications Team, with some incredibly talented people, supporting a creative sector that I'm passionate about. I also earn a living wage which has, for the most part, been more than sufficient - though we'll see how that goes as interest rates continue to rise.

The other big thing that's happened is that about six months ago, I made the conscious decision to work more on my health. I've never been the physically fittest of people, but I acknowledge that for most of my life thus far, I've taken a lot of my health for granted. But I know that I can't do this for much longer.

It's still a work in progress - a mixture of spin classes and resistance training, 4-6 days a week. I'm trying to find the right balance, that doesn't leave me in too much muscular pain for several days a week, but also makes me feel like I'm making some progress, and setting myself into a weekly pattern that's sustainable for the long term.

I find that the hardest thing is the early mornings - many of my sessions start at 6am, because it's the only time I have available, especially with show rehearsals in the evening. So, the biggest change I've needed to make is actually going to bed at a sensible hour... preferably around 9.30pm.

Of course, I write this at 11.30pm, which brings me to my final big change coming up. I've been up late working on the IFLA Library Services to Multicultural Populations Section Newsletter, for which I am the editor. I'm also coming up to the end of my four-year term on the section standing committee, and looking forward to hanging up my hat. As a volunteer, it hasn't been a *huge* amount of work, but it's been enough of a disruption to some of the new changes in my life, that I know that it's time to stop. But more on that later, I guess.

But overall, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I'm still on a meandering career path which never feels like it's in control in the moment but in hindsight there's definitely a trajectory at play. I'm still overcommitted to a point where it impacts my health, but I'm actually doing something about it this time. I don't feel like I'm hitting many of my personal goals at the moment, but it's a weird time - not weird in a post-COVID "we've been living in lockdown" way, but in a "everything's just a bit harder than it used to be" way. Same as it ever was.

Thursday 1 June 2023

June is actually the cruellest month...

For some people, it's the new year, or a birthday, or an anniversary that heralds the passing of another year.

For me, it seems that this is the first of June, when blog posts start popping up in my feed, I fire up the old blogspot editor, I look at where my life was at a year ago, and start reflecting on how much my life has changed, yet again!

So, let's do this again, shall we?