Finding alt-HSC

Asking Twitter for advice often doesn’t seem like the best idea, however, over the last week, I’ve received an outpouring of advice, support and information about alternatives to the Higher School Certificate aka year 12.

Our son hasn’t enjoyed the last few years of school, he’s chafed against the structure, lost his love of favourite subjects and is feeling, as many of us did at the end of 13 years of school, directionless. Not to mention COVID-19 and that overwhelming sense of will life ever return to normal, will there be an economy, what about climate change?

Every year, there are news articles about whether there’s any true value in ATARs any more and are year 12 exams worth the stress. Many well known faces pipe up right about now and say that they are doing really well despite doing badly in their year 12 exams. Every year. Yet nothing changes.

Young people are told to ‘focus your energy on these exams, but remember there’s more to life than this, but focus your energies and this one pathway will get you where you want’. I remember these conversations with the careers counsellor at my school and that was 27 years ago!

Before I start to rant, I’ll share the entire Twitter thread of advice from folk who have all types of careers and lives since finishing or not finishing year 12.

From PhDs to carpenters to mature age students, to TAFE graduates, to people who worked their way up from the first job . . . THIS is what our children need to know about. ALL the pathways. Add these conversations to careers subjects at high school!

As for what’s happening here. We’ve used all these golden nuggets of advice and support to keep talking about what’s next, what can wait and how to be well now.

And we are talking about a family side project, a website with all the information found in these tweets plus more that we’ve discovered all in one place. An alt-HSC guide for kids who need it. And for adults to who want to share their story.

More soon.

Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.

Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.

Headspace on 1800 650 890.

Stop and ask why

In 2018 I pushed myself to learn more about critical librarianship by reading more and listening. At ALIA Sydney’s Saturday School of Critical Librarianship a few key voices in the room constantly reminded us that as library people, we see a problem, and more often than not, immediately jump to finding a solution. You know what I’m talking about. It’s like an automatic library reflex, solutions are comfortable.

As a profession, we need to STOP looking for solutions (e.g. programs, events, displays) when we talk about decolonisation, racism, homophobia, the fact that library people still make the grand claim that “libraries are neutral” . . . but instead look at WHY.

BUT there are issues within the library profession that need more than immediate solutions.

Power structures, racism, recognising Indigenous knowledge, classification . . . this is the uncomfortable part of librarianship, because we have to admit that the profession has made and is still making mistakes. That there are library people who don’t want Drag Queen Storytime and LGBTQI+ collections, that we don’t want to admit that collections are heavily weighted towards white privilege and white history. That libraries are NOT safe spaces for all and that includes library staff. That being a community hub means being welcoming  to everyone that comes in, and that many members of the community don’t visit libraries because they don’t feel welcome, included and seen.

In a world that is fundamentally unequal, neutrality upholds inequality and represents indifference to the marginalization of members of our community. If the majority of what is published represents a white, male, Christian, heteronormative worldview, then we are not supporting the interests of other members of our communities by primarily buying those works.

Meredith Farkas

Conversations I’ve had and articles I’ve read about this topic show me that we have a long way to go. I have a long way to go in understanding critical librarianship.

Some library folk don’t like to hear these statements, it makes them uncomfortable, really uncomfortable. Of course it does. No-one likes to hear that they aren’t the all knowing, kind, benevolent sharers of knowledge the the memes say we are.

Where do we begin? I’ll say it again. By stopping before reaching for a solution, a program, a class, an experience. Stop and think about what stops or discourages people from using libraries in the first place. About power, racism and colonisation. Stop and think what diversity in the library workforce actually means (I agree with Archival Decolonist – diversity means disruption). Think about the language we use and the books and resources we add to collections. Think critically.

We need to stop and have the difficult conversations otherwise, we will never change, learn or be “a place for everyone”. The critical librarianship (and radical librarianship) movements are growing, but we cannot rely on one group of library people to change it all. We all need to listen. Really listen and then find solutions.

We can’t do it all. I really liked a point Kirsty Thorpe made about gaining power through focus—as library workers, choosing an area to focus on and directing energies towards making that area better, focusing on a couple of select things we can do, rather than spreading ourselves too thinly on things we can’t.

Alissa McCulloch aka Lissertations

Read more. Be ok with discomfort and criticism. Listen without adding your two cents.

P.S. This shared doc created for the #SydCritLib event is absolutely BURSTING with articles, blog posts and books about critical librarianship. If you don’t know where to start, start with this.

Never Neutral. (2018, June 04). Retrieved from

Alissa. (2018, November 11). Five things I learned from #SydCritLib, the Saturday School of Critical Librarianship. Retrieved from

2019 in books – or the year of did not finish

2019 was my ‘worst’ year of reading for a long time. I abandoned more books than I finished. My bedside table has unread books on it from the start of 2019 and my various iPad book apps are loaded with books returned after a few pages or just left to automatically return without being finished.

I’ve spent a few days trying to pinpoint why this happened and haven’t reached any conclusions. My preferences haven’t really changed – fantasy, YA, fairytales, historical fiction, non-fiction…I am focusing more on female, LGBTQIA+ and non-binary stories and character.

I do know that my tolerance for stories about women being assaulted, treated badly, used as a crappy excuse for a plot device or any awful behaviour towards women (that goes for film and TV too) is zero. One of my last attempted reads of 2019 was a beautifully written book, however the sense of foreboding and impending doom of the main female character was too much and I had to stop.

Do I put it down a challenging year with not much head space left for reading for pleasure? Maybe.

What did I finish and love this year? Here are my best reads of 2019.

The Poison Song (Book 3 of The Winnowing Flame Trilogy) by Jen Williams. I’ve raved about this book quite a bit on Twitter and to anyone who will listen. Jen has written the perfect ending to a fantasy story I absolutely loved. There were many tears shed over this book, and the story if full of strong, feminist characters that take no shit. Glorious, funny, brilliant. 5 million stars.

The Binding by Bridget Collins. This novel that has stayed with me since finishing. I went back and re-read it straight away and have just downloaded the e-book. This story is beautiful, haunting and unexpected. Also 5 million stars.

That’s it! A slow year for me (and a very out of date GoodReads list…).

Got any book recommendations for me? Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter!

Note: I started Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green on 1 January and finished it on 2 January and loved it. Fingers crossed 2020 will be year of more finished books!

10 career building tips for library students and new graduates

I recently spoke at an online careers evening, with two other library professionals. The central idea for my talk was “It’s Up To You” and I wasn’t surprised to hear the other speakers talk about taking control of their career post-study, reinforcing my theme perfectly! And I wasn’t surprised to hear that both speakers talk about seizing opportunities, making hard decisions around study, moving for work and joining special interest groups to network and learn.

Once you have graduated from your library course, the learning begins all over again. You might secure a role straight away and HELLO! time to learn all the things about your organisation and job. Or you may be job searching or learning how to maintain your enthusiasm and library knowledge whilst working in another industry. But how do you find the right people to connect with, find a mentor or learn more about the specific area of library/information you are interested in?

Before the information session started, I created a Google Doc to capture articles and links that would be useful for those attending, and of course I shared it on Twitter and the Turbitt & Duck Facebook group, with a request for my fellow library people:

The collaboration and knowledge sharing game is strong in the library and information world, so here are ten tips from the It’s Up To You Google Doc, Twitter discussion, information session and me!

  1. Join Twitter – it’s brilliant for following conferences from afar, connecting with people, finding resources and sharing knowledge.
  2. Brush up on your interview skills.
  3. Ask a colleague or friend to review your resume or use a resume review service. If it’s been a long time since you’ve updated this document, do it now.
  4. Join a special interest group. You will expand your networks and find opportunities very quickly!
  5. Be curious! Ask questions and read widely.
  6. Create networks. If you are happy to do this online, join Twitter, Facebook groups, participate in online chats. If face to face is your thing, find a local group or event or start one.
  7. Volunteer at GLAM events. You’ll meet people, hear from industry experts and flex your networking muscles.
  8. Professional development comes in many forms – articles, blog posts, YouTube videos, podcast episodes, hands on learning, books, online discussions  . . . get creative!
  9. Spend time learning about transferable skills and how to translate what you already have into library and information terms.
  10. Don’t expect your employer to provide opportunities for you. It’s up to you to develop the skills, attributes and knowledge you need.

The “It’s Up To You” doc will stay open to all, so if you have something to add, please do! And thank you to everyone who has contributed, let’s keep adding and sharing!