Sunday 30 June 2024

Last day of blogjune

New adventures start tomorrow.

I’ll tell you about it in eleven months.

Saturday 29 June 2024

One week gone...

Well, as predicted, I fell behind in my blogging over the past week, which featured two big things - a four-day trip to Adelaide and finishing up in my job.


It had been three years since I was last in Adelaide - also for the Cabaret Festival. But it was a very different vibe. Last time was a very interesting time, and felt a bit like the world's biggest party before going back into lockdown in 2021.

This time, felt more like returning back to 'normal life' - or at least, the normal life for an 'artsy' city like Adelaide. I felt a sense of nostalgia for the cabaret scene in Melbourne, 10-15 years ago when I lived there. It was amazing just to go out and see a few shows a night, featuring world-class performers in an intimate setting. From the ridiculous to the sublime, this is definitely one of my favourite arts festivals, where any show that you pick from the programme is going to be a winner. And Saturday night - the final night - was the place to be in Adelaide, where the late-night show exuded with love and appreciation for the performers and programmers who had made the festival what it was.

It also made me realise that Adelaide is definitely a city that I would consider living in. Between the Fringe, WOMAD and the Cabaret Festival, there's not a lot more that I'd want from my non-work life.

We didn't stay up too late on the Saturday, because we also learnt that on Sunday was the inaugural Adelaide Wine Festival at the central markets. So, we were in bed by midnight, and by 10am the next day arrived at the farmer's market at the Adelaide Showgrounds for all kinds of tasty brunch food, and made it to the wine festival by lunch time.

Turns out, Adelaide has a lot of delicious wine. Who knew?

Monday was our final day, which was our last chance to explore. We made our way down to the Earl of Leicester for their famous schnitty, but sadly they had a power outage, so we ended up Unley for our obligatory pub meal. Since we were in the area, we visited the Haigh's factory, and then explored the gardens on the Southside, discovering an amazing Japanese garden. Then, back to the hotel, to the airport, and home to Canberra.

Finishing up

Returning to work on Tuesday, I had four days to finish up what I could, prepare handover notes, and say my goodbyes. It's always an odd feeling to leave a job, but this time felt especially so. Most times that I've left a job, it's because I've wanted (or needed) to seek out a better opportunity, whether in terms of pay, responsibility or upskilling - or all of the above. This time, it's more of a sideways step to another government agency, which is an exciting opportunity. But there's a part of me that feels like I'm leaving too early, and that if I had held out a little longer (even just the two months left in my contract) that I could have finished up with more of a sense of completion. 

Then I remember that I'm working in web content, which is never really going to be complete. There's always content that could be improved, built on, enhanced, etc. The nature of the work being operational and ongoing, there's always going to be a sense of unfinished business.

I really am looking forward to my new job. I get to work with some former colleagues from my library days. I'll be library-adjacent again, which means that I'll be drawing on a lot of my fundamental skills and knowledge, but it doesn't feel like I'm taking a step backwards. More like building and combining my broad set of experience. Plenty of people have also told me that it will be a good organisation to find new opportunities over the next couple of years, so I'm also looking forward to exploring what else is out there, and figuring out what my next move will eventually be.

Friday 21 June 2024

Sweet dreams are made of these

Yesterday, I was having a bit of a debrief with a senior colleague before they went away on leave, and they casually asked me, 'What's your dream job?'

It's a question that I kinda deflected - I've been around the traps enough time to know that any potential job that you put on a pedestal is bound to present unexpected challenges if you actually got them, and when there are people whose jobs you see as being enviable, changes are that there are many layers of complexity and frustration that you are completely unaware of.

So, they rephrased the question: 'What kind of job would you like to end up in?'

It stumped me. Mostly, because in the past, I've always been really focused on planning my career five years in advance, and looking at the next 2-3 career moves that I need to make. In the library world, there's often been a linear progression ie. from library officer - senior library officer/technician - entry level librarian - senior librarian - and so on.

But now, I feel like I'm on a flatter trajectory, where I'm just working on broadening my skills and experience at my current level. My career path could be described as being more opportunistic than aspirational. I don't know what I want to do two years from now once my next job's contract ends. I'm open to what comes my way, but I won't know if it's the right job for my current path until I'm actually doing it.

I am optimistic, though. The idea of my new upcoming job does excite me, based on my conversations leading up to and during my interview with them. That's definitely a good sign.

Thursday 20 June 2024

Life is a cabaret (festival)

Tonight, I'm heading to Adelaide for a whirlwind trip to catch the end of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. I've been once before - in 2021 - which was an interesting time, to say the least. That time, three years ago, I few across just as South Australia was closing its borders to New South Wales, and the day after closing night (which involved many many people, including the SA Premier, dancing inside a crowded Spiegeltent, drinking wine and singing at the tops of our lungs late into the night), the state government imposed new COVID restrictions and closed the border to the ACT behind me as I flew back.

So, this time, it feels a lot more straightforward. I plan to see a bunch of shows over two nights, and it will be glorious. But I may not be posting here for a few days.

See you on the other side!

Wednesday 19 June 2024

Career planning in the public service

This is a topic that you'll often overhear young grads talking about over brunch in a Canberra cafe, with conversations littered with terms like 'APS 6', 'EL 1', 'substantive', 'secondment', 'section 26', and so on.

People get obsessed with trying to 'crack the code' of career planning in the public service - and I think part of the reason is that there are no hard and fast rules.

Some people trying to race 'up the ziggurat, lickety-split' as it were, seeking out every promotional opportunity. The risk, though, is that they get promoted to the point where they're either incompetent and/or burn out. Others play the long game, staying at a lower level, and moving sideways, building a strong portfolio of skills, and a long-term understanding of how an agency works. In fact, my supervisor when I secured my first ongoing APS role at the APS 4 level advised me, 'Don't try to move up too quickly - you might regret it.' Of course, the risk here is that of 'getting stuck' and never breaking through past a certain level of responsibility (or pay!)

Other questions to consider including:

  • Is this role purely operational, or do I build the capacity to contribute to strategic planning and manage projects?
  • Do I want to work in a small organisation or a large one? In a small agency, there's more scope to use a broader set of skills and contribute across the organisation, whereas in a larger agency, you'll have a bigger team to support you and more opportunities for development and promotion.
  • Are there opportunities to manage and/or supervise other staff? Is this something that I want to do?
I think the trickiest thing about trying to plan a career in the public services, is that there are no promises. We no longer live in a time where years of doing the hard yards will be rewarded by promotional opportunities. Nor is it even a case that, if you come on board as a temporary employee and you perform well, they'll 'find a way to keep you'. Even ongoing employment isn't a promise - just ask anybody who's been in an agency that's had a restructure.

There are only opportunities, often appearing when you're not looking for them, and being open to jumping at them when they arise.

(Of course, for me, I'm having all these thoughts when I'm approaching the end of one job, and about to start a new one at a new opportunity. It surprises me when people say, 'Oh, we'll be sad to lose you!' when they possibly never realised that I was only in a fixed-term role to start with. I even had somebody say to me, 'Oh, but fixed-term doesn't really mean anything,' when for some staff, 'fixed-term' has meant being unemployed at the end of that term. So, I do feel a bit sad to be leaving 10 months after starting, but also, in this economy, I can't really afford to be unemployed.)

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Timing is everything

In my last post, I mentioned merit pools. I only realised that these were a thing when I started working in the public service.

Basically, if you apply for a job, and you are considered suitable for recruitment, but you're not the top ranked candidate, you can be placed in a merit pool. This means that, for 18 months from date of the job listing, you can be offered a job on the back of that recruitment process.

This is why I sometimes apply for jobs - even if it isn't the best time to be changing jobs. If it's something I see myself doing in the next 18 months, then it's worth putting in the application now, and if I don't get it, there's a chance that, out of nowhere, when I least expect it, I'll get a call asking me if I'm interested in that job.

Sometimes it never happens. Sometimes it happens when I've just started a new job and I have to turn them down. And, in some cases, it happens *just* on the same day that I write a blog post about needing to start actively job-hunting.

The paperwork is done. I start my new job on the 1 July.

Monday 17 June 2024

Daily routine

Even when I'm not actively jobseeking, I'm keeping an eye out for new opportunities. Every so often, there'll be something that is so good a match for me that, even if I'm not looking for a job, I want to entertain the possibility that it might be a good career move, and I'll throw my hat in the rings. More often, though, I'll see opportunities that will be good for friends, colleagues, and other people in my network, and I'll send the listing their way. I think it's good to always have options - even if that option is to say, 'Actually, I'm happy where I am.'

But here are a few of my standard activities that have pretty much become a regular routine:

1. Scan the landscape. For me, I'm mostly looking at government jobs. Living in Canberra, that means reading APSjobs every morning for all new jobs that have been listed overnight. ACT Government careers add their listings in real time, during business hours, so it's usually later in the afternoon that I look at their latest opportunities.

2. Check my jobsearch alerts. Speaking of ACT Government, they have RSS feeds set up, categoried by career interest opportunities, so I subscribe to these feeds (which, unfortunately have stopped working from time to time, so keep checking the website manually too!) using Feedly. I have a number of UN job listing feeds set up, which are a little more difficult to filter, but I usually scan through them every other day. Finally, I've set up a number of APSjobs and seek email alerts straight into my inbox.

3. Look at professional associations / arts websites. AMaGA and ALIA manage job listings on their website, which are worth keeping an eye on. This is by no means exhaustive, but are good to know about if people are specifically seeking job applicants with a GLAMR background. Sometimes there are jobs that I would never have otherwise considered. I've also for many years been a subscriber to ArtsHub, and they regularly post jobs in the Australian arts industry (as well as publishing many interesting articles). Much of their content is paywalled. Both ArtsHub and ALIA send out regular emails highlighting job opportunities.

4. Make some calls. Something that I've made a habit of these days is that if I see a job that I'm quite tempted to apply for, then I'll contact the person listed for further enquiries. Rather than completely cold-call them, I'll send an email introducing myself and asking if there's a good time that I can call and have a chat about the position. If it's somebody I already know, I'll take it that step farther and ask if they'd like to meet up for a coffee and chat in person. Then I'll have some intelligent questions, particularly regarding the nature of the work, the particular skills they're looking for, and the make-up of the team. By the end of the conversation, I'll have a very good sense of whether this is a good job for me to apply for.

5. Keep a list. I love a list, and I keep one in my Google Docs documenting every job I apply for, the application deadline, whether I got an interview/written test, and if I was successful, unsuccessful and/or added to a merit list/pool. I've kept this list since February 2012 - 12 years! In that time I've applied for 140 jobs, invited to 46 interviews and 7 written tests, with 11 merit pool listings and 19 job offers. Keeping these kinds of statistics are useful for me to keep some perspective and manage my expectations as I start deep diving back into the world of active jobseeking.

Sunday 16 June 2024

Upgrading and downsizing

When I properly moved to Canberra in 2017, I decided it was time to upsize my computer from my trusty MacBook Air that I'd toted around for many years, and so I invested in a brand new iMac.

Seven years on, it's not what it used to be. It takes a good 10-15 minutes to properly start up, and it's sluggish at best. Probably the best thing about it is the 1 TB hard-drive that I'd barely made a dent on. I've known for about a year that it was going to be time to move onto a new computer. But I wasn't quite ready to invest in another chunky desktop - nor was I inclined to move back to a MacBook. 

Not long ago, I also received a work laptop that I could use when working from home. Which is great, except that 7-8 hours a day hunched over a laptop isn't be best ergonomic option. So, I bought myself a nice sensibly sized 27-inch monitor. I also have my iPad set up on a tripod on the desk to attend Teams meetings, etc. As you can imagine my desk was getting a bit cluttered, with all this gear.

So, Friday's little episode was the impetus that I needed to make the final steps toward decommissioning my old iMac. The solution? A Mac mini. I already have all the Apple peripherals needed - a monitor, keyboard, trackpad *and* mouse. Plus it's the perfect computer for taking up minimal space on the computer. One trip to my local purveyor of electronic equipment, and I had a shiny new thing on my desk.

Transferring everything from my old iMac to my new Mac mini was as simple as pressing the on button, and making sure they were both connected to the same wireless network.

This part actually took a while. Afterwards, I realise that this was in no small part because I had never emptied my bin and therefore had 30GB of old files.

Four hours later, all my files had been transferred, and it was time to clean up my old computer. If it was a newer iMac, this would be quite a simple process, but unfortunately not in this case. There was a lot of manual 'deauthorising' and signing out of accounts, and then the final erasing of the hard drive. Another hour later, it's packed away and ready to be sent off to be pulled apart and recycled for parts.

On the plus side, my desk is now feeling SO spacious and my computer starts up in seconds.

Saturday 15 June 2024

Not-quite-spring cleaning

So, yesterday's little episode was a reminder to myself that I need to do this intermittent task commonly known as decluttering.

I have this little habit which is my own version of hoarding, also known as holding onto things 'just in case'. Clothes I haven't worn in ten years, 'just in case' I lose four inches off my waist. Books I haven't read 'just in case' I want to read them again. A box of electrical cords 'just in case' I need them to connect one thing to another. And so many USB drives, 'just in case' I need to use them to copy files and transfer them to another device the old fashioned way.

I also have various musical instruments, 'just in case' I find the time to learn to play them!

So, we're still two and a half months away from spring, but I thought I'd get started. I've already filled a box of books - in great condition, but not my favourites and will probably never read again - to donate to Lifeline for their book sale. Various clothes are now packed away in a bag, until I have enough to fill a box to send to Upparel for up cycling. And lots of recyclable paper / cardboard that has moved from my room to the recycling bin outside.

To be continued...

Friday 14 June 2024

Hot desking at home

I've always had my own study/office area, mostly full of my junk, but also where I try to do a lot of creative work. It's not incredibly tidy, but it's a work in progress.

My partner currently has a job where she has the option of working from home. She doesn't have her own set up, so I recently suggested that she could use my desk.

So, I've just come home, with a little time to spare to catch up on my blogging. Only to find all of my stuff moved off my desk, and things moved around to accommodate her stuff (laptop, power cords, keyboard, mouse, books, etc). Which is a completely normal and rational thing to do if somebody offers you their desk to work from home.

This is going to take a while to adjust to.

Wednesday 12 June 2024

How I became a 'comms guy'.

I often refer to myself as somebody who was a librarian doing comms work who became a comms person in libraries - and then ended up as a comms person in the cultural sector.

But what does that actually mean, being a 'comms guy'?

It's not really something I worry too much about. To me, 'comms' is a function, not a professional identity. But recently, Arts Hub published an interesting article (and I hope it's not paywalled) about the growing need for communications coordinators in the arts sector and what skills you need.

It's a pretty good summary for those who are considering moving into this field of work. A particularly interesting point that it makes straight up is that there are no strict rules. For formal education, they mention comms, marketing, advertising, public relations - but you know what? My education and work experience in library and information management provided a strong grounding in understanding audiences and their needs, communicating in different tones of voice, and both gathering and disseminating information through various physical and digital channels of communication.

One criticism - which is also a criticism of many organisations when they try to hire a comms person - is the suggestion that a comms professional should also be a skilled photographer, graphic designer, video editor, etc. It's going to be rare to find a person that has all these skills - at least not to the same level as somebody who has training and a focused career in one of these areas. Better to hire a dedicated professional in each of these fields.

That said, it doesn't hurt to cover the basics of Photoshop (or Canva!) for basic image manipulation, or know how to trim and edit audio or video files on a basic level. About 90% of all my photo-editing needs have involved cropping, pasting layers, resizing or adding text.

So, if you're in a job that involves drafting lots of written content and/or a fair share of basic image editing, then maybe a stint in comms could be what you need to expand your horizons.

Tuesday 11 June 2024

Riding the fixed-term gig economy...

Today marks nine months into the one-year contract that I'm in. At this stage, it's an entirely fixed-term contract - though these things often including the phrase 'with the possibility of extension' to their job listings.

I used to only apply for ongoing positions - there are definitely perks to it. Banks are more inclined to give you a loan, secondment opportunities are often only available to those with ongoing roles, and of course there's a feeling of financial security (though it's important to note that 'ongoing' doesn't mean 'permanent' - just ask anybody who's been through a organisational restructure).

I'm currently in my fourth fixed-term contract - each in a different workplace. It's definitely been an interesting time - in all senses of the phrase. And yes, there are also perks to it. Often, these kinds of roles are created by people taking on temporary promotions, and so there's often somebody around to actually hand over the job and stick around to ask questions. Fixed term roles can also be created by special projects, and I quite enjoy project work - especially that feeling of progress toward a goal. It can be so much more satisfying than day-in, day-out operational work. They're also a great opportunity to take a risk and try something that I'm not 100% sure about; if it's not working for me, then I can stick it out for the short term and if a future employer asks me why I left then I can truthfully say that it was a fixed-term contract. And finally, it keeps me honest about my work - I need to keep building and maintaining skills in the knowledge that I'll have to apply for jobs in the near future.

That time has come for me. I generally allow 2-3 months to apply and secure a job (of course, assuming that I'm successful!). Many public service agencies have a requirement that recruitment decisions be made within four weeks of the closing date of applications. However, my experience has been that it takes 6-8 weeks from sending the application to receiving an offer. Then there's 2-4 weeks of notice and preparing a handover for the role.

So, that's 10-12 weeks that it takes to get a new job. With three months until unemployment, it's time to get cracking!

Monday 10 June 2024

Social cohesion... in life?

Making friends used to be easier.

In high school, there was a bunch of people the same age as me who I saw stuck with for eight hours a day. Some of them were bound to be on the same wave length as me. Some weren't, which could be challenging, but I still had a few friends I could count on.

University was even easier to make friends - people who had similar academic pursuits and cultural interests. Student clubs, theatre groups, choirs... my life was never more socially engaged as it was during those years. Friends, creative collaborators, lovers, housemates... to be honest, I didn't have to try that hard, I just had to be there, and be open to social connection.

And then, it all ends. I started working full-time hours. Uni friends start settling down, starting families, moving away interstate or overseas. We used to have a social group that met weekly at the pub... it continued impressively well, but eventually dwindled. Very occasionally, there's a big birthday party from that social group, but the last one I went to was in 2019. It was a lot of fun, and I caught up with lots of people I hadn't seen in years.

I found new ways to make friends. Back in Melbourne, I started swing dancing in my early 30s and that created new and interesting social connections. It was a thriving scene where I could attend classes a few nights a week, and go social dancing at least twice a week. It also became a great skill to take with me as a traveller, both interstate or overseas. I've been known to show up to a social dance in a random place, from Osaka to Transylvania, from Ireland to Iceland, and if you're a dancing from out of town, everybody will line up for a dance and a chat.

Being an expat, living in the Pacific, Asia and the Balkans, there were also no shortage of social opportunities. Life as an expat in a developing country can often be challenging, and so people in my social bubble definitely stuck together for regular catchups and social engagements. You could hit anybody up for dinner or a coffee or a drink on any given day and there'd be a taker for some company.

Now, I live in Canberra in my 40s. People talk about how Canberra is a hard city to make friends in. It took me a few years, but I found my niche in the local community theatre scene. But it's a double-edged sword - when you're in a show, it's rehearsal three times a week, and creating close creative connections with talented people. I did that almost continuously for two years. The hard thing they don't tell you about is that, due to the very nature of auditioned shows, not everybody can get in. And if you're not in, then there's a huge social gap in your life.

I thought I'd be sufficiently emotionally mature to handle not landing a particular role I had my eye on - after all, I'd never be so arrogant as to assume I deserve a role over anybody else. But the thing that stings is the social exclusion that comes from it.

But the thing is, I think it's a widespread social trend that many people, at a point in their life, just stop being open to hanging out. It would be easy to blame the cost of living crisis, but the reality is that it feels hard to just contact a friend and say, 'Hey, let's go get a coffee before work some time this week.' Especially if you've already fallen out of regular touch, and feel awkward about being a bad friend.

So, my personal commitment - next time I say, 'We should catch up some time' - I'll mean it and actually set up a time.

Sunday 9 June 2024

How do you measure a year in the life?

Like most elder millenials with an interest in musical theatre, I was raging RENThead through the better part of a decade in my younger years. Strangely enough, I didn't get into it the first time I listened to the cast recording on CD (back in the day) - I thought it sounded rough and disjointed compared to a lot of the other musicals that I'd come to know at the time.

But two songs changed all that: La vie Boheme and Seasons of Love. The first tapped straight into my life surrounded by share-house-living, anti-authoritarian, philosophically curious, creatively driven students, and the second was a simple chorus song that would become the anthem of my generation.

I never saw RENT when it first came to Australia as a professional production. By the time the film came out, I was already hooked, and then in February 2006 the non-professional Victorian premiere hit Melbourne. Pretty much everybody in the Melbourne musical theatre community auditioned. A few people I knew got in. It was an amazing experience seeing what was at the time my favourite musical, finally live on stage. That was almost 20 years ago.

Last November, tickets went on sale for a professional touring season of RENT coming to Canberra. It's unusual for me to snap up tickets at the earliest possibility, Swiftie-style, but in this case I was determined to get the best tickets possible (for me, at the Canberra Theatre, it's around Row E, no. 20). 

And then, on Thursday, I got a message through my musical theatre channels. The producers wanted to get a bunch of locals to come along to opening night, and in the beginning of Act 2, sing Seasons of Love with the cast. I jumped at the opportunity.

And that's how I came to see RENT at two consecutive shows. They were both unforgettable experiences - the first for the opportunity to participate as part of the audience, and the second to see it from some of the best seats, witnessing every move, every facial expression, down to the tears in performers' eyes during the most emotional scenes.

It also reconnected me with a part of myself that I've perhaps forgotten for a little while - that idealistic young man who had perhaps an endless drive for creativity and making the most of every day.

There's only us, there's only this.
Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.
No other road, no other way,
No day but today.

Friday 7 June 2024

Social cohesion in the workplace

I caught up with a friend for a coffee before work today. It had been more than a year since we'd caught up - perhaps the topic of a future blog post. She asked me how my new (as of nine months ago) job was going.

I told her that I was really enjoying it, the subject matter is interesting and my teams are nice and supportive. However, there was one thing I was really struggling with.

In my previous job, I worked with an amazing team. We were all in the same open-plan office together. It was a hive of activity. We worked hard, planned all our deadlines everything together on a big whiteboard, supported each other through stressful times, shared skills and had plenty of 'teachable moments' with technology, had meals together, cracked jokes regularly, celebrated birthdays with cake and engaged in more than a few shenanigans.

In my new job, due to the nature of the available office space, our team is divided into a series of small offices, which are usually shared between two. We have flexible office arrangements which means that, at any given day, half of us are working from home and, more often than not, I'm working alone in my office. It's a very different atmosphere to what I'm used to.

As a result, it's much harder to reach a sense of social cohesion with this kind of setup. I see other team who, due to the nature of their work, are mostly working on-site in the office in more physically collaborative environments, and as much as I enjoy the flexibility that I currently have, I feel... jealous.

I do try to find ways to manage this. I make a point of never eating my lunch at my desk, but walking across to the biggest lunchroom in the building and sitting there to eat lunch and chat with whoever might be around. A few of us also have a crafting group (varying in size from 2 to 5 people at any given session) who meet every Friday lunchtime, which is also a fun social opportunity. But these are momentary snippets of social interaction in what is, for the most part, quite an isolating experience.

Also, my home office is either too cold, or I'm cranking the heater for the benefit of one person, which just feels wasteful. 

Now, by no means am I advocating that we should all be returning to the workplace full-time - I completely respect and value the opportunity for flexible office arrangements. And I totally get that, for some people, a job is about doing the job and not trying to make friends with your colleagues. You just want to do the job and get paid, and if you can do that without the added stress of commuting, then all power to you.

It's just that when I think back to those times when I've felt most excited about going to work - it hasn't been for the work itself, but for that feeling of being in physical proximity with a great time that I love working with.

Thursday 6 June 2024

A modest proposal

A brief post, because it's been a long day.

In my first public library job, every single person in the library service worked reference desk shifts. All the way to the very top.

I see the value in this - if you lose that face-to-face connection with people in your community, how can you truly understand their information needs, and develop services that cater to what they want and needs - whether it's building collections, managing catalogue systems, planning programs or producing forms of in-person and digital engagement products.

So, my modest proposal: all organisations should have this approach to their frontline services. If your organisation (cultural or otherwise) has frontline customer services, then everybody - especially your senior staff - should have regular shifts working face-to-face with their customers. Even better - they should also roster in time moderating their social media channels and responding to comments and feedback.

I think a lot could be gained - especially in establishing measures that minimise the risk of harm to frontline staff. But also, it'd help everybody understand what their organisation means to their community.

Wednesday 5 June 2024

Masked crusaders, working overtime, fighting crime...

So, firstly a nostalgic blast from the past, just because.

But seriously, this week the Canberra Times reported a huge recent spike in COVID-19 cases which has prompted a return to mask mandates and restricted visitor numbers in health facilities.

Which raises the inevitable question: what should we be doing in other public spaces right now? That includes libraries, museums, and entertainment spaces such as theatre that hold a huge number of people in a tightly enclosed space.

We already know that people are infectious usually a couple of days before symptoms emerge. So if there's currently a higher risk of infection, why aren't we wearing masks when indoors and in close quarters with other people?

I feel like the main answer is because it triggers a lot of feelings for a lot of people. You just need to read the comments in the above Instagram post. Nobody wants to be the one to make that call. And certainly nobody wants to be the person to have to enforce that rule (see my previous post).

At the same time, I'm also observing a growing trend of people lobbying for people to opt to mask up anyway when indoors at public events as a sign of being a good ally to those who may be immunocompromised and more susceptible to the effects of COVID-19, especially those who have been experiencing long COVID. Basically, refusal to wear a mask in a public place is ableist behaviour which contributes to harm to people living with disability.

I think that things are also becoming more dangerous, now that COVID tests are no longer freely available. I think I saw a packet at the pharmacist for $20 the other day. But the reality is that many people just don't want to know, and would rather pretend that they're not sick and infect others. I am fortunate that if I'm not feeling 100% then I can (and do) work from home. Both times that I've come down with COVID, I isolated until I was clear, and even then masked up for a few days to minimise the risk to others. But I had no obligation to, and there are plenty who don't have enough sick leave and/or cannot work away from the office for a week.

Again, it comes back to those frontline workers who are face-to-face with the public every day. Another way that we are putting workers at risk of harm. And whether we enforce mask-wearing in our spaces, or allow people to enter these spaces freely without masks, it's those frontline workers who will bear the brunt of the resulting harm.

Tuesday 4 June 2024

Has the world changed or have I changed?

After many, many years of delivering face-to-face customer service, I worked my last desk shift in February 2019. That's over five years ago.

That's not to say that it was the end of my work in customer service. I've still continued to have many years of responding to public enquiries, mostly in digital form via email and social media, or over the phone. And people can continue to behave in many challenging ways, especially when you're a faceless channel that represents an potentially oppressive or at best bureacratic institution.

But it's been more than five years since I've had to physically put myself on the frontline and deliver immediate in-person services to a member of the general public.

Of course, things have happened in those five years that have impacted face-to-face customer service. One very big thing in particular - the COVID-19 pandemic.

Libraries closed in line with public health orders. Well, most of them. With time, they reopened, but with requirements for social distancing, QR code check-in, room capacity limits and mask-wearing.

And guess who often had to enforce these requirements? You got it - the frontline staff.

I've heard many stories from library staff on the frontline who were abused by the public on a daily basis. In one extreme example, a staff member at a university library was spat on. Such an act would be considered assault at the best of times, but in the middle of a pandemic for a highly contagious disease where there had not yet been adequate vaccination programs in place, it seems particularly malicious.

Whilst many in society seemed mostly compliant at this time, it was those who objected to these orders who would make life particularly difficult for our frontline customer service staff. I feel somewhat fortunate that I'd somehow managed to pivot away from working in the front-of-house side of things.

At the same time, responding to some of the online discourse when moderating online communities and responding to social media enquiries also seems to be getting increasingly more abusive and fraught with inflammatory behaviour. Perhaps this is a consequence of our online environments being the main platform for widespread disinformation, misinformation and the perpetuation of communities that seek to discriminate and harm others in our communities.

It feels easier to dismiss a lot of this, saying that it's just a vocal minority of people making life difficult wherever they can. But I feel like it's just getting worse. Or maybe I'm just a bit tired and don't want to argue with people anymore.

The thing is, I do miss working with the general public. At least some of the time, I'd have positive interactions with regulars, interesting conversations with researchers - and I love the thrill of helping people find that piece of a puzzle that they need to complete their work. And finding ways to surprise and delight people with stories and collections that come with working in a cultural institution. That's the job that I signed up for. But is it worth the job that I *didn't* sign up for?

Monday 3 June 2024

Occupational hazards

I spent 18 years working on the frontlines of library services. I started out as a casual at the Baillieu Library at the University of Melbourne, and most interactions involved helping students access online databases, connect to the wifi or use the printing system. At times, these systems would not operate as designed, and students would get a little grumpy, but more often then not I couldn't do anything about it, and so they'd go off to try their luck at another student computer lab. The other very mildly challenging thing was that at night time, usually during the winter over SWOTVAC when we were open until 1am, we'd have homeless people come in to escape the cold. They napped on the couches and didn't bother anyone. When we closed, they'd quietly leave without a fuss.

Then, after graduating, I got my first full-time job in a public library. I thought that, with five (casual) years of library customer service experience, I'd be all over that. I was wrong - this was next level. Public libraries, by their very nature, often attract people who are socially marginalised and often moved along from other public spaces. But as Neil Gaiman famously said (and I paraphrase), libraries are one of the few remaining public places where you can go and aren't expected to spend money. Unfortunately, this means that from time to time, as a frontline worker, you have to content with very challenging behaviour. I've witnessed people behaving physically and verbally aggressively - to me, to other staff, and getting in full-on brawls with other patrons over something as banal as a computer booking or wanting to sit in a particular chair. I've had to confront people who are viewing pornographic online material in a public space.

So, it was really no huge surprise to me when I viewed Jane Garner's recent presentation about her research into occupational violence experienced by frontline workers in public libraries:

In some ways, I was lucky. I worked in a 'nice' neighbourhood in Melbourne. Those who were struggling with mental health and associated antisocial behaviour were relatively straightforward to address and once we got to know them as regulars, we do what we can to make them feel welcome and comfortable during their visit. Part of the reason I wanted to work in public libraries was to try to make a difference in the community, and help bridge those social divides by providing free access to information and culture to those who wouldn't otherwise have it.

On the other hand, the kind of behaviour that I personally found most challenging was the kinds of attitude that come from residents in one of the most privileged suburbs of Melbourne. The defensive behaviour when somebody is "accused" of returning a book overdue, and declaring that they have "never been so insulted in all their life". Or the personal offense of not having the specific issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine that they requested half an hour earlier ready to hand over to them, and being told that "My rates pay your salaries". Or the regular guy who is first to walk straight through the door every morning, and just taps expectantly at the counter for "his" copy of the newspaper, as though he owns the place.

This kind of behaviour wore me down far worse than the overtly aggressive behaviour. It felt abusive - not physically or verbally, but psychologically abusive.

Of course, I realise that this is nothing that anybody in the hospitality industry hasn't experienced day in, day out. But, at least as a new graduate, I had the (perhaps misguided) expectation that workers should be treated with professional respect. After all, there's a reason that most people who start out in hospitality eventually move on to something else (other than being underpaid). And there's also a reason why public library managers love to hire staff who have extensive experience in customer service.

In hindsight, I'm not certain that there are really any 'safe' work environments for frontline workers. I see jobs advertised with euphemisms along the lines of 'It's challenging work - no two days are the same - but it's incredibly rewarding'.

I'd like to think this is true - but perhaps this is all just a textbook case of 'vocational awe' at work. But if so, where do we draw the line in protecting our workers, whilst still ensuring that those who need library services and spaces can access them?

Sunday 2 June 2024

Still talkin' about the issues...

I was looking back at my blog posts from ten years ago, and this one particularly struck a chord. I had attended an ALIA New Grads event, and took the opportunity to get some quick vox pops for a Uni assignment on youth services in libraries:

A lot of these felt like a tale as old as time, being:
  • Keeping up with the technology that youth are engaging with and connecting with them on those platforms and devices
  • Ensuring that public and professional communities are aware and appreciative of the professional principles that are embedded in the practice of youth services library professionals.
  • Creating new spaces that are engaging for young people - and ensuring that these spaces continue to be dynamic
In that blog post, I also recounted a story from a librarian who had to contend with parents who did not want their storytime programming to cater for the diversity of their community. Sound familiar?

Reflecting on these things, ten years on, it's so striking to realise that these are issues that have been around for a long time and will likely continue to be issues for the foreseeable future. It's a reminder that sometimes it's less about trying to "fix" these problems, but instead being constantly vigilant and committed to "holding the line", as it were, and aspiring to do better.

And, of course, it's exhausting. When you consider the emotional and cultural labour that goes with some of these issues, and the constant pressure to 'do more than less', it often feels like it's an unending battle that you're never going to win.

But it's better than giving up, right?

Saturday 1 June 2024

Ten years of blogging here

I've been blogging for a long time – since before blogs were called blogs. Once upon a time, there was my personal Livejournal, then there was my professional newbie Librarian Idol, then my mostly-travel vlog, The Land of Surprising Pun, and now here.

And as far as I can gather, I first participated in Blogjune in 2014 – that's ten years ago for those of you who are counting.

Once again, June feels like a pivotal month for me and I'll need to make some important decisions in the coming weeks, so perhaps this is a good space for me to start reflecting once again on all my life choices and the current state of the world.

Let's go.