Sunday, 26 March 2017

Once were New Grads - Part I: Me

Since my last post looking back at the New Librarian's Symposium in 2006, I've managed to get in touch with a number of delegates, and ask them a few questions about their experiences as a New Grad back then, and how it's perhaps influenced their career that has ensued over the past ten years.

So, while I wait for their responses *subtle hint!* I thought I'd interview myself for starters...

What were you up to when you attended NLS in 2006?

I was less than three months into my first professional role, as a "Liaison Support Librarian" at Charles Darwin University. I was about to graduate from my librarianship qualification, and took the leap, moving from Melbourne, where I'd lived all my life at that stage, to Darwin. So, it was a steep learning curve on both a professional and personal level. It was my first NLS, and I'd known that I'd wanted to go for a while, through being active on the New Grads Group listserv, which was quite busy back when Facebook was still a new thing and Twitter was yet to take off.

What are you up to now, ten years later?

Now, I work as a Reference Librarian at the National Library of Australia - a place that's been on my radar as a place that I've wanted to work at for at least eight years. It's taken that long to get my foot in the door in an entry-level professional role, and in the meantime I've had a varied career working across most sectors within the library industry, and related roles in the international government and non-profit sector. After NLS 2006, I was asked to join the team for NLS4 as their Marketing Coordinator, which was a lot of fun, though it also had its stressful moments.

How did your experience of NLS 2006 influence your expectations of your future career?

As a fresh graduate academic librarian, I honestly didn't have a lot of clues about what I was meant to be doing. Some of the papers held provide a bit of a wider context for the work that I should be doing, and best practices that I should be aiming for in my services as a librarian. I was also pretty optimistic about my career path, and networking with new graduates and industry leaders certainly emboldened my optimism for the future.

How have New Grad issues, and the nature of an event such as NLS, changed in the past ten years?

I say I was optimistic - that, unfortunately, wasn't always the case. It was a tough industry to succeed in back then, and it still is now. Back then, the focus seemed to be much more on more traditional delivery of library services and career progression, whereas nowadays, there is a much wider focus on the GLAM industry, which I think has made the scope of the program - and the target audience - much wider. Back then, we'd have two concurrent streams. This year, there are five, which I think is awesome. Especially considering that, in early 2008, we didn't even know if the event would continue beyond that year!

How would you describe your own professional Pathways and Possibilities over the past ten years?

It's been a long and winding journey. I've done a lot of diverse and interesting work, which has made me come to realise the wide scope of possibilities that the Information Industry has to offer. My NLS experience - which led to a lot of ALIA volunteer - played a big part of that, especially in all the connections that I made along the way. If I hadn't met Kate Davis, she wouldn't have encouraged me to pursue a career with the National Library all those years ago, and I probably wouldn't be where I am now. Similarly, if I hadn't met Romany, Kate and Susanne who have all worked in International Development, then I wouldn't have had my own overseas adventures in that field.

That said, in some ways, I still feel like a New Graduate, because every new job that I've done has been vastly different from the previous one, and therefore its own learning curve. And whilst I've accumulated a vast range of skills and perspectives, I'm not entirely sure if I've really "made it" as an information professional yet. (Financial security and job satisfaction plays into that in a big way - and rarely go hand in hand.) But I feel I'm on the right path, so that's something.

Having transcended the New Grad status, what words of wisdom would you pass on to the next generation of New Grads?

Never forget your initial reasons for pursuing a career in this industry - whether it's sharing a love of reading, helping people with technology, wrangling data sets, researching history, handling heritage artefacts, or just quietly sitting in front of a computer and classifying books all day. Figure out exactly how you want to be spending your time, and do what it takes to get that job. It may be competitive and tough to get there, but don't settle for a job in another sector that doesn't interest you as much - it'll just make you bitter and miserable, and that doesn't help anybody. Also, be patient. You won't figure it all out straight away, but you can have some interesting adventures on the way.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Pathways and Possibilities - Ten years later!

I went to my first ALIA New Librarians Symposium (NLS) in December 2006. I'd just graduated from my librarianship qualification, moved to Darwin for my first Librarian job, and was keen to be properly indoctrinated into the industry.

The event was held at UNSW, Sydney, and the theme was "Pathways and Possibilities. Being the keen fresh-off-the-boat new grad, I put my hand up when they put a call out for speakers in the debate for the event's opening session - the topic: "That librarians should be politically active." I was on the negative team alongside Kay Harris and Roxanne Missingham - two leaders in the library industry. It was a pretty good start to my ongoing relationship with ALIA, NLS and the New Graduates Group.

The ten years that ensued have provided the opportunity to follow a varied range of Pathways and Possibilities in my career, and a major influence in this has come from the many different people that I've encountered through NLS, either through their presentations or through forming social connections, that opened my eyes to the scope of work that my qualification and skills could take me to.

Anyway, in my most recent move to Canberra, I was unpacking some boxes, and out of one box fell the program from NLS 2006 - along with a list of delegates, complete with their place of work at the time! And this prompted the question: Where are they now?

So, I decided to do some social media sleuthing! For some of these people, I'd remained in touch over the past ten years, keenly watching their careers progress. Others, I lost contact with. And then there were those who I've been colleagues with in recent years, and never even realised that they were there.

But trawling through LinkedIn, I was able to locate 101 delegates from NLS 2006 - along with the details of their career paths. And each account told its own story. Some stayed with the same organisation, moving up through its various eschalons. Some moved about from place to place, either to other library roles, or outside the industry. Some stayed comfortably in the same role for the whole time. Others graduated from their degree, but never entered the industry.

So, I decided to crunch some numbers. I realise that this isn't an exact science - especially where people may have neglected to update their LinkedIn account, and I did cross-check against any other online information where there was doubt. I was definitely curious to see if there were any overwhelming trends.

And here's what I found:

Of the 101 NLS 2006 delegates that I was able to track down, 87 were still working in the library industry. Of these, 33 had shifted library sectors, whilst 54 stayed in the same sector. 36 had remained with the same organisation, moving through a range of roles, and 11 were still in the same role.

Then there were the other 14 delegates - 12 of these have since moved away from the library and information industry. 2 graduated with their qualification, but never entered the industry.

For those of you who'd like some basic infographics, here are some pie-charts:

So, what does it all mean?

The fact that a bit over 50% are still in the same library sector that they were in ten years ago could either be quite comforting, in terms of long-term stability, or disconcerting, in terms of versatility. Furthermore, that just over 10% are still in the same role that they were in ten years ago could mean that (a) they're in their dream job and are quite comfortable thank you very much, or (b) they've hit the extent of their career path, and are possibly trapped at a dead-end.

On the other hand, one third of these delegates have moved around the industry, beyond the sector that they were in ten years ago. This has to be encouraging, that there is sufficient opportunity within the industry to try different things. Or, maybe they got frustrated with the sector that they started with, and moved to a different one for different opportunities.

Finally, there are those who no longer, or never did, work in the LIS industry. Is it a testament to their skills and experience that they are able to take it to bigger and better things? Or did the LIS industry just not work out for them, and they're working on their Plan B? (Or was the LIS industry their plan B all along?)

So, make of this (very limited range of) data what you will. However, I think it would be an interesting exercise to track down some of these delegates from 2006, and interview them about the Pathways and Possibilities that the past ten years have provided to them...

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Beyond GLAMR..

A couple of nights ago, I attended an ALIA New Graduates event, "GLAMR Connect". It was a well-attended event with a wide range of speakers from across the GLAMR sector, and you can read all about it here.

And of course, it wasn't without its share of contentious statements bandied around, with one of the speakers suggesting that librarians in government agencies should shed the L-word and refer to themselves as Information Specialists, and in conversation afterwards, one person suggested to me that if I want to work in museums, I'd be better off getting an accredited information science degree than going for a museum studies course that has no accreditation. I also had an interesting conversation with a somewhat-perky newgrad who was adamant that the sooner we became fully digital in the way we handle knowledge and information, the better.

Whilst it was a lengthy night, showcasing the extensive range of work and supporting organisations within the GLAMR sector, I couldn't help but feel that this already-growing acronym could really use a few more letters that connect with the LIS industry just as strongly...

Publishing - There are so many connections between libraries and the publishing industry, whether it's education texts, academic journals, e-books, online publishing, or good old novels. Without the publishing industry, there would be no libraries, and many librarians that I know have gone on to work in the publishing industry. We organise knowledge and information and connect it with readers.

Education - Similarly, librarians and educators have worked side by side pretty much since the dawn of civilisation. Some librarians also have teaching degrees. We guide students in learning to access, analyse and use information in all its forms and contexts.We teach students critical thinking. And many librarians work outside schools and universities, as trainers in the workplace, and promoters of information literacy.

News - Last year, I attended an excellent training course on media verification, which was certainly more targeted to journalists and media monitors than traditional librarians. But in this age of alternative facts and fake news, there's a huge crossover in the work that information professionals and journalists do, particularly in analysing information, identifying sources, and disseminating that knowledge in a way that contributes to an informed society.

Development - I've spoken much in the past about the similarities between the development sector and the information sector. Ultimately, we all work in capacity building people, organisations and communities, with the end goal of living in an equitable and sustainable society.

There's much scope for the GLAMR sector to contribute and share knowledge across these other sectors - not only through traditional means of information access, but with a growing trend in developeing collections of public datasets (for example), these can be used to support news reporting, teaching practices, and particularly the development sector. Even the humanitarian aid sector is reliant on GIS and data management experts to gather and present information on crises such as natural disasters and irregular migration.

So, bring on the PERMGLAND sector! Okay, we're definitely going to need to find some more letters, unless somebody can think of a better acronym...

Thursday, 2 March 2017

What have I become, my sweetest friend?

This is a film review, of sorts. Two, in fact.

I remember when Transporting first came out in 1996. I have vivid memories of hanging out at HMV in the Bourke St Mall as a teenager, listening to the soundtrack at the new CD listening posts. I didn't end up seeing the film until 1997 - probably when it came out on VHS tape. I probably borrowed it from the Rowden White Library. I loved that place. It was like nothing I'd seen before - a dark, gritty, yet strangely charming and funny look at a bunch of youth living in Edinburgh, saying "f*ck you" to taking on the burdens and responsibilities of modern life, as if they had a real choice when it came to "choosing life". It ends with Mark Renton finally making a choice, that choice being to betray his friends and take the opportunity to find something better, with a ray of hope that at least he can turn his crappy life around.

And sure, I was young and impressionable, a wannabe-rebel who at that point had discovered my baby goth identity, with long hair and big coats, hanging out at the Student Union bar drinking cafe latte in the mornings and cheap wine in the afternoons. I never got into heroine, but could appreciate the bitter irony behind the mantra of "choose life". So began my years of bohemian student life, living in share houses and surviving from week to week on casual shifts and Newstart payments.

You could say that I also fell in with a somewhat geeky crowd. When the first X-Men film came out in 2000, we could hardly contain our excitement - this was the film that started a new trend of comic superhero films that would take itself progressively more seriously as they went along, with Ramie's Spiderman coming out in 2002, Nolan's Batman Begins in 2005, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2007 with Iron Man. Sure, there were a few flops along the way *cough* X-Men 3, Spiderman 3, Superman Returns, and all three Fantastic Four films *cough* but if it wasn't for X-men in 2000, with a bright young cast (even Hugh Jackman was only 31 back then!), a sassy script by Joss Whedon, and directed by Bryan Singer, who had made a name for himself earlier with The Usual Suspects. And it was an awesome cinematic experience, that I shared with a bunch of geeky student friends.

Flash forward to 2017.

Twenty years after the original Transpotting, we revisit the lads from Edinburgh. Renton's failed to make much of his life, Sick Boy is running one failing scam after another, Spud is a junkie who's lost everything, and Begbie is in jail. Returning to face his betrayed comrades, Renton attempts to deal with the past, and what ensues is a hell of a lot of nostalgia - which is very carefully and deliberately-layered, tapping into the audience's nostalgia of the original film, but also carefully reminding us not to view the past through rose-tinted glasses, and that letting a deep betrayal simmer for 20 years can turn former friends into deeply bitter enemies - scars that can never really be healed. Most notable is the reprise of the "choose life" soliloquy, but rewritten for the middle-aged man in 2017, wondering where choosing life ever got him in the end.

And tonight, I saw Logan. The Wolverine's story has finally come full-circle, and he is once again alone, all the X-men long gone, with the exception of Charles Xavier, who is losing control of his mind in his old age. Where the original film was colourful, camp and family-friendly, this is dystopian, bleak, and extremely visceral.

In both of these films, which I saw within a few days of one another, I can't help but feel that they were made for people like me - who saw the original films when we were younger, more hopeful, and in a more optimistic time. Now that I'm fast-approaching 40 years old, the joys of my youth are being revisited, forcing me to consider my ageing self, and what I've achieved in life so far. I've spent the last few years building my skills in strange and wonderful places around the world, but in doing so, I've also become accustomed to a more solitary life, and the friendships I've made have become more transient. I've learnt to become self-assured and independent, but lost my sense of community and belonging. Now that I've moved to Canberra, I'm not entirely sure what the future holds for me, either personally or professionally, and whilst I'm comfortable being out on a limb for a while, there comes a point where I have to ask - is this what my life has amounted to so far? Is this choosing life? Do I let myself grow old and bitter and more withdrawn from a society that's moved on without me?

Damn it. I need to go and watch some happier movies.

Monday, 16 January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Difficulty of "Yes"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You always have a choice.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Ten Years of Lessons Learnt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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