Choose Your Own Information Adventure Part 2

Part 1 is here.

Bumps in the road

Whilst studying the Bachelor of Information Studies at CSU I experienced some interesting and challenging obstacles which shaped my experience of the degree and also my expectations of the library and information profession.

Having zero experience of working in a library was the biggest challenge. Most of the subjects assumed knowledge of library management systems, jargon (argh the acronyms) and library processes. In the first couple of years the degree was solely focused on “library”, any discussion of information professional roles (aka not working in a library roles) didn’t occur until much later on.

Luckily I’m fairly handy at research and had also made uni friends who did work in libraries so many emails were sent asking “what’s this thing?” and “can you tell me how a library does XYZ?”.

Seriously, if you’re studying online, take a chance and strike up a friendship, it is worth it.

About halfway through the degree I’d run out of steam. The more time I spent online talking to library folk, the more despondent I became. I applied for library assistant roles with no success. The more I studied, the less I could see where I would fit. There were a few times when the words “why the fuck did I do this degree?” were thrown around at home and in my head. It really made me look at myself properly and figure out what makes me tick, what I really wanted for this new career and how to find the right fit for me. Not going to lie, some of this was painful and towards the end of four years of study, I had decided to not even attempt to apply for library roles. My direction seemed clear, I would stay in community services. The skills and knowledge gathered during my time at uni were transferable, and useful in lots of situations. Libraries were not for me.

At last!

One of my last subjects was Value-Added Information Services. I loved this subject. Finally, a non-traditional information professional subject!

In a nutshell, I spent a semester writing a report on the development of a website and online community for a continence advisory group working with Prostate Cancer patients (unusual topic, however a good friend works in this area and I enjoyed having someone to interview face to face for the purpose of the report). I loved the research, the report writing, developing an idea into something tangible, conveying it in a way that was meaningful to the client. It was great.

Suddenly, my enthusiasm was back and a path began to clear in my mind. If I really felt that I wasn’t the right fit for libraries, then information consultancy or working as an information professional in a non-traditional role was the direction for me to head in.

And then I got a library job

Yes. My university placement was at my local hospital’s library and whilst there, someone resigned. I accepted a short contract and then applied for a library technicians role and was suddenly employed in a library.

What followed was a very steep learning curve. The technician role was so different from what I had studied for and so precise. There were just so many new things to learn and bloody hell did I learn them, from patient colleagues who were generous with their knowledge and time.

During the (almost) two years I spent in the library technician role I learnt everything I could, thought and researched potential ‘next moves’ and really pushed myself to network and make more connections (mostly online). I presented at NLS7 with a university friend, formed the NLS8 committee and became co-convenor and took on a project role with the hospital’s research office organising their inaugural research symposium.

Working with the research office really helped me explore the non-traditional information professional world that I’d encountered in that one subject at uni. There are many people in these sort of roles and I’d love to hear more about them. Actually I would have loved to know about themLet’s be honest, many of us have very broad skillsets which have come from varied roles, multiple degrees and careers, so why not take all those skills and try them somewhere else. Plus you get the added bonus of telling people you’re a librarian and seeing them trying to figure out what the hell you are doing in *insert any non-library job*. I kinda like that.

(I really enjoyed Sally Cumming’s post about trying a different path, take a look).

Definitely not the end of the story

Late last year I made the move from library to medical research to develop an information management and communication role in a rapidly growing research governance department. The role lets me stay connected with the library, develop more networks with other parts of the district and universities and stretch myself a lot more than I could in the library technician role.

I have embraced being a library and information advocate outside of the world of GLAMR. Our profession needs people like me as much as it needs people on the inside. Sometimes I wish there was an I in GLAMR and I’d want more discussion and engagement with outsiders. (We probably need a better name than outsider or non-traditional – any suggestions?).

I’m still on my library adventure, and don’t know if a return to libraries is in future chapters. What I do know is that staying open to working outside has meant opportunities to grow, advocate, disrupt and be challenged. Maybe that’s what my true adventure is.

Choose Your Own Information Adventure Part 1

My post about the “why not?” people included mentioned of why I am more information than library with a promise to write about it. Well here it is.

Reasons I didn’t become a librarian

I love libraries. My childhood involved spending a lot of time in libraries – Woden Library, Moruya Library, Akrotiri army base library in Cyprus where we spent a few months, my primary school library, various libraries at the ANU (sometimes having a parent who is a mature aged student is a good thing!).

I love reading. Reading has been the one constant in my life and I love it. (But I don’t love the smell of books, new or old so please don’t send me cute memes about stinky books or perfume that smells like old books).

These reasons are not why I chose to study the Bachelor of Information Studies.

After completing a course at TAFE in community services, I figured out I’m not stupid and can actually study and finish a course. So, why not try a degree? I promptly enrolled in a Bachelor of Health Science majoring in Recreational Therapy and spent an engaging semester studying Sociology 101 and Leisure Studies 101 which I thoroughly enjoyed and surprised myself by writing essays that received really good marks (which as a terrible school student was the best feeling).

Information mining

Sometime during that first semester, we were given an assignment which involved navigating our way through the library databases to locate journal articles and books. I loved that assignment. Digging deeper into the databases to find information, I found myself trying to understand how the system worked, what happened if I looked for the article from this ‘direction’, what about that one? And a lightbulb moment occurred in my head that went something like “this would be a great job and imagine showing people how to use these systems, this is a part of libraries I’d never realised existed, maybe this is a better fit for me?”.

Honestly, that is what drove me to enquire about switching courses. At the time, I was learning that changing your mind is ok and I was aware that if the library degree didn’t work out, I could go back to health science or try something else. It really didn’t seem like that big a deal, there were plenty of choices and hey! I was going to try some of them out. I can’t emphasise enough what realising that study was achievable and wouldn’t end in humiliating disaster was for me at that time.

A side note about mature aged students

Mature aged students experience study very differently to those who are fresh out of school. Often on a second, third, fourth career, some of these students undergo a deep transformation during their study. I have experienced this myself and seen fellow students and friends go through it too. Many people don’t pursue tertiary study straight out of school for so many reasons – financial, fear of failure, terrible school experiences, timing, lack of opportunity. So if they do get that opportunity, OMG do they throw themselves into it! And if it means conquering demons, finally facing deeply held fears and beliefs about themselves, well let’s do that too.

My uni friends and I often joked that we should be receiving a Bachelor of Life degree as well as a Bachelor of Information Studies – the four of us conquered so much during those four years, much more than assignments and group projects.

Back to the story . . .

So I contacted the School of Information Studies and asked to switch courses. A very nice email advised me I could, so I did.

And just like that I had chosen my own information adventure.

Let’s leave this here. Part 2 tomorrow.

Different but the same

Yesterday involved delicious lunch with a friend. She is an artist with a day job and as we talked away I was reminded that even though we work in very different jobs and have different creative endeavours, our struggles are the same.

  • Missing a day of writing isn’t failing. It’s just . . . missing a day.
  • And blog posts don’t have to be shiny, amazingly thought out pieces of writing. This tweet was a timely reminder of that.
  • That action comes first. Sitting and waiting for inspiration to strike just leaves you sitting and waiting. Nothing actually happens. For my friend, she draws and draws and gradually it takes shape. For me, I write, usually in bullet points which teases out what I actually want to say (not what I think people want to hear).

And we also talked about things that are easy for her and not for me and vice versa. When we give each other advice or look for solutions together, there’s a focus on:

  • If you’ve got a big task, break it down into really small doable chunks. No-one said you have to organise all the files on your computer in one sitting. (And make them really small, like “make a new folder and move five files into it”). Then tick off list. Make tea.
  • Remember that not everyone is like you. What is easy and quick for me, is hard and complicated for someone else. So if you’re asked for advice, make it really simple.

Share your useful advice for creating or writing for #blogjune in the comments, I’d love to know what helps other people get stuff done.