Records Management to Libraries: how does that work?

David BaldWelcome to the first in what we hope will be a series of short pieces written by South Australian information professionals, sharing perspectives on the diverse people and jobs who make up our industry. This piece is written by David Bald, a treasured volunteer from the SALIN committee.

When I thought back about my life and what my dream job would be, I seemed to always come back to libraries, followed by galleries, archives and museums.

I was mid-career at the time and desiring a change. Here’s what my career journey looked like in a nutshell: through a series of unplanned stepping stones after university and a geographical from Adelaide to Melbourne, I ended up in ministerial correspondence and was involved in ‘road testing’ a new electronic document & records management system (EDRMS). From there I ended up helping users of the system to manage their briefings and correspondence. It was a short hop over into a training role.

What qualifications did I have? I didn’t have any formal training qualification. However, what I did have was the realisation that I enjoyed helping make information systems easier for people to use and to understand (accessibility). I then ended up in a role as a full time ‘systems trainer’ in government. What I loved most about the role was helping people to search for and discover information. When people got a sense of achievement from being able to find their ‘stuff’ (documents and more) it made my day.  A lot of what I did involved teaching people how to use search criteria to find their Microsoft Office documents and emails in a database with a search engine interface and a hierarchical file structure with a twist! In this brave new world of e-records (early to mid-2000’s) documents could contain other other documents electronically, such as attachments.

The other thing I taught was how to understand business classification schemes for the filing structure and how to select the ‘set-in-stone’ classification (broad and narrower descriptors) which had to be followed by a free-text field to form the title of the file. So naming conventions were a big focus of what people needed to get their head around in my training sessions.

Fast forward to considering further studies. As I thought about libraries I realised that there are many similarities between the management and discovery (e-discovery) of records and the management and discovery of a library collection. Integrated library management systems have many similarities to an EDRMS. The other aspect of libraries that I love, is the community aspect (libraries as the ‘third space’) and in higher education knowing that libraries are crucial to academic research and business endeavour.

It is now early 2017 and I am over halfway through my Diploma of Library and Information Services at TAFE SA. I may go on to do the Graduate Diploma at University or I may work for a while in the industry to further refine my vision for what I would like to focus on for the next few years as I enter the world of a qualified Library Technician.

Having a University background prior to TAFE studies has been advantageous because it enables me to relate to both community lenders in public libraries and to academic library clientele having conducted academic research myself in the days when computer catalogues were green letters on a black screen. My first computer was an Apple Macintosh when I was typing my thesis. Before that I typed my assignments on an electronic typewriter. I say this, because some of you might be former students from the late 80’s/early 90’s as am I.

What I would encourage readers to do, is to think about your transferable skills from whatever industry you have been in across to the area of GLAMR you wish to pursue. For me, I love collections and organising them. I always have. When I was able to study the Dewey decimal system and Library of Congress subject headings at TAFE I felt I was in heaven. The organisational side of my brain had a field day.  So, from reading my background you can probably see how I would have a penchant for cataloguing. When I studied the subject of ‘reference interviewing’ at TAFE I was able to use all my previous experience in training delivery to craft well worded questions to help the customer be specific about their information request and to delve deeper into what they were truly seeking.

So, whether it is a TAFE course or a University course you wish to pursue, I would encourage the enquirer to speak to the course coordinators personally in order to truly discern the direction you want. For me, I felt I wanted to focus on the library technician end of the librarian spectrum as I had previously completed five years of academic studies. I am pleased with my decision thus far.

Another tip is to volunteer as well. I know this is encouraged all the time but it bears repeating. Try out different work environments by volunteering in them. Even if you are in a GLAMR sector job currently, can you volunteer on a committee (like SALIN), or at the local public library on the weekend to assist with their local history collection? If records or archives are your love, is there a digitisation project somewhere that you can assist with?  These are the principles I have used thus far in my career change and I’m glad I followed the advice from ALIA and other professional bodies I researched before deciding that the ‘L’ of the GLAMR sector was the sector I wanted to spend my next career in. Who knows, I could end up in a gallery, archive or museum too.  I don’t know yet, but libraries are definitely the direction for now and I am so pleased.

I hope to meet some of you who read this post. Please feel free to contact me via SALIN. Alternatively, my twitter handle is @david_bald.  Best wishes.

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