A Day in the Life: the non-traditional librarian

Four fabulous speakers gave SALIN members an insight into working in non-traditional roles by describing their day-to-day experiences as archive officers, business researchers, information officers and special collections librarians.

Sara King – Adelaide branch of the National Archives

Sara detailed what it was like to work for a large Federal Government institution that is currently undergoing an intense time of change. Very nearly closed until a public outcry saved the Adelaide branch, the staff now reside with staff of the State Archives in a building now known as the SA Archives Centre. The campaign to save the office proved how useful users find having a person to interact with when undertaking research using the records of the National Archives 

In SA, the archives are very condensed. While once they totalled 33,000 metres of records, this has now reduced to 3 metres. Regardless, the work is still highly interesting to Sara. She liaises between people and records, responding to queries from researchers and genealogists for a vast array of information. Some preservation work is involved and Sara entertained us with stories of some of the more usual items found in archived material (Bees!). Data entry and digitisation are also regular tasks undertaken by the 4 staff members in the office.

Sara loves her job, but the bureaucracy involved in being part of a much larger organisation with shifting priorities is a downside of the job. The variety of work and the challenges involved in dealing with different enquiries is exciting. With very few staff members, the opportunities to undertake a range of duties and learn all aspects of the work is also a positive. Sara said the best part of the job are those goose-bump moments when she’s been involved in personal aspects of people’s lives such as helping families reunite.

Gillian Dooley – Special Collections Librarian at Flinders University

It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed just looking at Gillian’s position description. Her main task is to manage the special collection at the library. This includes development of the collection; overseeing activities in preservation, digitisation, security, recordkeeping; answering reference enquiries; and developing the Special Collections WebPages. Importantly so, she also liaises with potential and current donors, including work she is undertaking at the moment to develop the Bannon collection with John Bannon and his wife.

Aside from all this, Gillian also looks after the Thesis collection, is responsible for events and exhibitions (including the popular ‘Fridays at the Library’) and providing reference assistance at the nearest service point. The area is co-located with the Law Library which can make answering any queries at the desk more difficult due to the huge differences between the collections.

Current collections include a vast range of items from manuscripts, pamphlets, newspapers and letters to tapes, photo albums, paintings and even furniture and glassware. One of the best opportunities Gillian has had through her work was to visit Donington in Lincolnshire, UK to make connections with other organisations regarding the Matthew Flinders collection in the library. Issues with working in special collections including dealing with intellectual property and legal issues associated with items, coping with an idiosyncratic filing system, and not having enough resources for deep indexing and further digitisation.

Heather Carine – Independent Information Professional (IIP)

Heather is a librarian who now runs her own business as an independent researcher. Started up in 2006, Carine Research provides business research services to Australian and international businesses. Heather also speaks and writes regularly on business research issues.

Being an IIP requires much self-motivation, a drive to succeed and excellent skills not only in information research, but in strategic planning and estimating time and effort for work. Heather stated that the work is very interesting but the constant need to market yourself often puts potential IIPs off. Attracting clients is difficult, especially when new to the business, and it takes a lot of work to build contacts and a reputation. The positives of the role include the freedom of working for yourself, being able to utilise your creative and strategic skills, and having the backing of a supportive, collegial community.

When an information request is received, Heather has to estimate upfront what the costs will be for her time and access to required material. A quote is then sent to the client to reach an agreement before she begins work. At the end of researching, a report is written and sent to the client. Often resources need to be paid for before the money is received from the client, so coping with fluctuating cash flows and paying outgoings before receiving incomings can be a challenge.

Heather is a member of the Association for Independent Information Professionals (AIIP) an international community that provides a code of conduct, client referrals, as well as support to IIPs, including negotiating on their behalf with vendors to get access to resources at a reasonable rate. These contracts with vendors recognise the fact that IIPs download content and then on-sell it to clients.

When not undertaking research, Heather speaks at workshops, produces a newsletter on research tips, scans the online environment for new information sources, and edits the AIIP journal, AIIP Connections.

Katie Hannan – Information Management Project Officer, Connecting Up Australia

Katie joined the not-for-profit organisation Connecting Up Australia in March this year. Her role is to assist in building capacity within the community, whether through connecting groups or individuals with similar interests or providing resources and programs to enhance and empower other not-for-profit organisations.

Katie has a strong technology background, and has found that having skills in other areas is a real bonus when working in a small not-for-profit group. She utilises her knowledge of social media to let community groups know what’s happening in their areas and what other groups are doing. She also contributes to the organisation’s website, newsletter and marketing efforts. There is no typical day for Katie, and the freedom to pick up extra tasks helps to keep her engaged at work.

Working for a not-for-profit organisation fits really well with Katie’s values. She enjoys the flexibility of the workplace, the knowledge that she is expected to have a life outside of work, and the jovial, family type atmosphere. She also loves that she now gets paid to do things she previously did for free. Overall Katie finds her role rewarding – she is learning a lot and able to incorporate her interests and passions into her daily work.

This ‘A Day in the Life’ session confirmed that library workers are no longer restricted to working in traditional roles or libraries. The role of the library worker is continually evolving and the opportunities for using information skills is expanding. Thanks to the fantastic speakers for sharing their journeys through four very different information sectors.

Kelly Frazer


One thought on “A Day in the Life: the non-traditional librarian

  1. Hi Kelly,

    Thanks for providing this great report. I did not miss the speaker’s interesting stories by reading your report. Also, thanks to all other committee members for organizing the event.


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