Review by Caroline Frawley
State Library of South Australia /City of Burnside Library
11 May 2005
Curious about what REALLY goes on in an Academic, Public, Special and School Library, I attended SALIN’s A Day in the Life on Wednesday 11 May 2005 and loved every minute of it! The evening provided the opportunity to network with and learn from peers in the library industry.
We were treated to four very talented, inspiring and entertaining speakers, Kate Sinclair (Flinders University Law Library), Marty Williams (City of Marion Library Service), Russell Hanson (Davoren Park School), Janiece Pope (AIDS Council of South Australia).
A common theme in each type of library was customer service and the speakers shared some interesting customer experiences. As many of Janeice’s customers are people who phone the AIDS Council suspecting that they may have been infected with HIV, Janiece finds she gets into quite intimate details with her customers about their sex lives during the ‘reference interview’ in order to direct them to the best sources of information and support. She then finds herself in trouble at dinner parties for discussing the topics she discusses all day at work! Janiece has also had some scary customer experiences which she can share now with a sense of humour like the man who called himself “Dracula” and said he had a plan to save the prostitutes of the world by teaching them Jiu-jitsu!
There is also the need for the librarian to be flexible and acknowledge that the main purpose of the role is to help people meet their information needs, even if it means putting project work aside, as Kate has done, to help thousands of law students avoid having nervous breakdowns.
However, interruptions and scary customers aside there are plenty of the warm and fuzzy feelings that come with the job of librarian when we find just what the customer wants. Marty said that even though he’s not as much of a reader as many librarians he has found he can bring his life-experiences into the library helping people choose music to borrow, use electronic databases and using his general knowledge – particularly where it pertains to surfing – to connect people with information.
Taking a positive approach to job searching and developing your career path was another theme of the night. Marty in particular demonstrated how valuable it can be to move around a lot in your career. Currently Systems Librarian at the City of Marion he has had a diverse career working for state government, local government and the private sector. His work has involved information technology, database management, business reference services, marketing, and team leadership. He explained that when applying for some of the many jobs he has had that he didn’t necessarily have all the experience that was asked for but he had the passion, drive and ability to take on challenges and learn new things quickly. He has used career opportunities to learn and fill in the gaps in his experience and knowledge. This is an inspiring message for those just starting in their careers who may not have experienced all the aspects of library service they would like to from cataloguing to reference work to supervising teams. It’s such a positive approach to view the job search process – and the jobs we gain through the process as well as those we miss out on – as career and personal development opportunities.
Janiece’s experience in gaining her current role shows how important it is to stay positive and believe in yourself even if an employer doesn’t choose you for job you know you’re capable of and can do brilliantly at. You never know, you may get the opportunity to do the role later on down the track. The first time Janiece applied at the AIDS Council Library she was runner-up but knew she should have been chosen in the first place, so as fate had it the next time it was advertised she applied again and was successful.
Probably the most inspiring lesson from the night was that the phoenix truly can rise up from the ashes in life. Russell’s current major project is working on the development of a new library for Davoren Park School after the library was destroyed in an arson attack. Rather than focus on the devasting loss of the library Russell focused on the opportunity to develop a new library that better meets the school community’s requirements. He spoke of the joy of filling the library with the smell of new books. He has a team of parent volunteers around him who he works so hard that the parents created a sign called “Russell’s Sweat Shop” for their workroom, even more amusing is that when the kids see the sign they think it says “Russell’s Sweet Shop”.
It’s clear that Russell’s passionate about his role and a natural school librarian, despite the fact that being young and male he doesn’t fit the stereotype of school librarian. Russell became a school librarian because grew up with positive experiences of libraries and accompanied with his interests in child development and learning he wanted to work with young people and provide a positive early library experience for them. Russell and another school librarian encouraged other librarians to consider becoming school librarians. Even though it involves adding a Diploma or Bachelor of Education to the library degree, they expect that there will be plenty of employment opportunities for qualified school librarians in the near future.
Finally, there was no typical day in the life for any of these librarians as there is too much diversity in the information needs of their customers for this. Each day however offers opportunities to make a positive difference in the lives of library customers, staff and volunteers. The passion and enthuiasm of Kate, Marty, Russell and Janiece was contagious as I went home feeling a sense of renewed enthusiasm and positivity for my own work. If you weren’t at the event and want to know more seek these people out and speak to them – you’ll be inspired too!