Complicated feelings

I’ve had gastro for a few days, I’m now at the end of it and am feeling much better but it’s been a rough. It’s been a hard few months with too much stress and uncertainty. My tummy and appetite made their objections known to this state of affairs for weeks, so it’s not surprising I’ve been sick.

What is it about being sick that scrapes you not just physically but emotionally raw too? It’s like your body is telling your mind to stop acting like you’re ok and sort it out, which is quite unkind of it really, I mean you already have a lot going on.

In the restructure at work, my position has been made redundant. Fortunately, I’ve been directly matched to a similar position. I really happy with the position I’ve been given, it’s probably my dream job, as much as any job is a dream job. As excited as I am for what’s to come, there’s also realising that I’m losing the job I’ve got now, a job I’ve loved.

When I started at my place of work three years ago, I wasn’t certain where it would all end. I just knew that I’d been given a fresh start and wanted to grasp it with both hands. Who knew I would find my feet among systems and data, and in research output assessment, collection and storage, it’s not exactly where I thought my career would go but there is just something about this work that suited me.

This job has challenged me and allowed me to extend my knowledge of systems and metadata. I’ve learnt how to read xml, use an api and constantly look at the way we do things to make more efficient. In the two years, I’ve tried to learn everything I can about the system, driven by a need to help make this work manageable for the team.

The Scholarly Publications team are some of the best people I’ve worked with. We are agile in our thinking and adaptive to change. We meet every deadline, and make sure our work is of the highest quality. While I can’t say we all love what we do, we seem to share a unique quality of being invested in being really good at it and curious about how to make it better.

With this change, I feel there is a risk that the outstanding work the team has done in the research assessment space will just forgotten about. To the university it’s just a process but to me (and us) it’s years of work: thinking, planning, testing, implementing, training and the hard hard slog of processing 5000+ publications every year.

Can you both be devastated to lose something you love and be excited that the future holds good things? That’s where I am right now. I’m sad that my job that I probably cared way too much about is ending. But I’m also looking forward getting stuck into my new role in the new year.

Managing the stress and uncertainty for the next few months will be a challenge.

Life in between – 4

Lockdown 6. And I’m at a loss for words, we only got out of lockdown 5 a week or so ago. We celebrated a donut day and by 5pm we were back in lockdown. There’s no resilience for this lockdown, it’s just a slog.

Cases are going up in New South Wales, parts of Queensland are in lockdown, South Australia is out of lockdown but everything feels on a knife edge. It’s a giant mess. The vaccination rollout is an unmitigated disaster, and while I’m now fully vaccinated thanks to the Victorian government, there just isn’t enough supplies to go round.

In previous lockdowns there’s been a routine – numbers at 9am, the presser, work, a walk in the afternoon and a spirit of being all in this together. Now the numbers are a reminder of being in lockdown, and that if not extended, it’s still unlikely to be the last. And that’s way to depressing to cope with.

The transformation program at work is taking up a fair bit of my brain power. There’s a lot to understand and think about, the opportunity to give feedback is important but the uncertainty around what’s going to happen isn’t helping anything. And to watch friends and colleagues go through this when we have already been through so much just hurts.

Rejoining the union has made me think about what resistance looks like when there are almost no effective tools to really fight back against these cuts. Does participating in the process mean I am agreeing to it? Would it be considered a win if we saved one job? If so, who’s do we save?

In the strongest terms possible I want to say that I oppose these job cuts. No one deserves this, I’m furious about the injustice of it all. It’s always the worker who pays, never the executives and it’s just bloody unfair. I’m heartsick watching people go through this.

I’ve always imagined there is some universal tally of good and bad in the world. The needle moves back and forth constantly; we are nowhere near wholly good, and frequently it seems like we might slide right down into wholly bad. The bad stuff is kept in check by people standing against injustice, even when there’s no chance of winning. Opposing the job cuts at my work is like this – there isn’t a hope of saving anyone’s job but it evens up the score on the good/bad tally in the universe nonetheless.

The reality is though, and it hurts to write this, I need to accept the inevitability of changes even though I believe them to be wrong. This is a painful realisation that feels like giving up; abandoning friends and colleagues to a fate they did not ask for.

I don’t want to give up. I want to save their jobs but I have no power to do anything to stop this from happening. It’s like trying to hold back the tide, it’s going to happen whether I push against it or not. So, with regret, I accept the changes will happen and understand that by doing so friends and colleagues will lose their jobs. And that hurts even though I know there is nothing I can do.

Can I then both accept and resist? And if so, what does resistance even look like. For me, resistance is fighting for a fair process and for the most vulnerable in our community. It’s supporting colleagues who stay and colleagues who may not. Resistance is considering my feedback, pointing out flaws, making suggestions for improvements and trying to make things as good as it can be.

During times like this, it becomes very easy to demonise people making these decisions. I think it is an act of resistance in refusing to do this, which does not mean they are not accountable or that I can’t be angry or disappointed. Just that it helps no one to make out they are bad people when they are people trying to do their best with the crappy hand Covid-19 has dealt.

This may all seem counterintuitive and more like capitulation. Purists in the union movement may consider it so. Accepting an outcome that you can’t control is hard but finding ways too resist within the process is still possible and there’s always hope that it may make a difference.

Doing what I can, with what I have to make this process better is this the only act of resistance left to me. So, I’ll do it and do it well because it matters. It always matters, even if we don’t win.


Life in between – 3

Sigh. Lockdown 5.0. How did we get here, again so soon after lockdown 4, which we all thought was The Very. Last. Time.

I’ve been getting texts from friends and family to see how I’m feeling about another lockdown. I’m fine – resigned to the point of numbness. I mean who even makes plans anymore.

The lockdown this week has been overshadowed by the impending loss of 200 jobs at my workplace. Two hundred hardworking people with lives and families, who have done nothing to deserve what is happening to them. So while coronavirus continues to make a mockery of our lives, at the moment, its existential threat is secondary to the horror of watching things unfold at my workplace.

Anyone working in the university sector knows the restructuring drill all too well. Every 3-5 years an area in the university gets targeted. If you’re lucky it’s a re-alignment of positions and a name change, if not its redundancies, spill and fill, with those impacted carrying on working for months while it’s sorted out.

Restructuring is a feature of modern work, with varying degrees of success. Every organisation I’ve worked for has restructured at least once if not multiple times while I was working there.

When I worked as a receptionist, I was restructured out of my job – a sweet relief – I was terrible. At a shire council, the library was merged with customer service and then nine months later we restructured again to remove positions. At my current workplace we seem to have been in a constant state of restructuring since 2018.

Restructures are done primarily for cost cutting – people are expensive, so having less of them is an obvious saving. And because the Federal Government refuses to support universities during the pandemic, universities have been cutting positions and restructuring like their lives depend on it – so far 17,000 jobs have been lost.

Making people redundant needs to be made palatable, so its aligned to the strategic directions of the organisation. Exciting words are used like transformation, new ways of working and bright new future. The news is delivered with the right amount pathos and regret that there is just no other way. There’s dedicated counselling services and talk about self-care.

Restructures are usually accompanied by change management workshops for leaders, where change will be painted as both inevitable and an exciting opportunity. I have attended many of these workshops and have always found them uncomfortable and far too wrapped in HR speak for my liking.

As people we deal with change everyday – life is change, both in small ways and big. Sometimes in life you are lucky enough to be able to choose the changes like getting married or moving interstate. Other times the change chooses you, getting sick or a  sudden death in the family.

The former is of course preferable, who wouldn’t want to be in complete control of their destiny. But life isn’t like that. What makes life so hard – and wonderful is that some times change chooses you and you have to deal with it the best way you can.

Change management theories try to quantify people’s experience of dealing with change. They explain things using models like Kubler-Ross and they talk about how people’s reaction to change is linked to their feelings of security. I’ve always found these models to be deeply flawed and dehumanising.

The change management models lack deep compassion for the people who are impacted by change, which is to say, everyone. Feelings are reduced to something on a spectrum that supervisors need to manage. Raging against the universe because of the unfairness of the situation isn’t allowed, feelings are quantified into an acceptable range.

I recently went to a change management workshop but left before the end. I just couldn’t sit through another session where we talked about how to manage change, as though the whole last year where work pivoted, the world became smaller, and illness and death stalked us, didn’t happen.

HR departments mean well but often come across as cold and theoretical. Saying things like “people seeing having a job as a conduit for paying their mortgage” is both blindingly obvious and totally lacking in compassion. And yes, this was an actual thing that was said at the session I went too.

The thing is, the hard work of getting people on board with change mostly doesn’t need to be done anymore. From my experience, people are pretty jaded and are aware that their “permanent” jobs are only secure until the next restructure. So if they survive this round of restructuring, they see accepting the changes as the price of keeping their jobs.

The system is incredibly broken.

On being a tech librarian

Last week wasn’t great. There were a lot of tech issues that required diagnosing and fixing. Sometimes the solution was to put in a ticket with the vendor, other times I read a bunch of documentation about how google scholar indexes to solve an issue with our old repository that should just be thrown into the sun.

In the middle of all this, there’s the other work I do – managing data and metadata that’s collected about research outputs. This is complex work with multiple people and systems involved. There’s also hard deadlines and time constraints, as this work forms a core of the university’s internal and external reporting functions.

Often these parts of my role sit together uneasily. One requires time, deep thinking, and relationship management and the other quick responses and problem solving skills.

I was talking to a friend about how techie librarians need their own special sort of therapy because we have a lot going on. It requires a level of agility to switch from one task to the other quickly and you always have to be “on” because tech problems don’t happen when it’s convenient. It can be draining.

There is apparently a term for this called context switching. All jobs suffer from context switching – you’re focussed on a task and then you get a ping from a chat message and you lose focus on the task and then find hard to get back to it. Being the systems support person means context switching is an everyday occurrence that can’t be avoided but it also means you’re exhausted and feel like you never get anything done.

An added complexity for me is that I’m not an IT professional or as Lissertations wrote in this piece, “[I’m] too library for the tech staff, too techy for the library”. While coming at things from a different perspective is sometimes a big plus, it also means I don’t have the background knowledge on how a system works. This means I need ask a lot of questions, read documentation, make wrong assumptions before I understand or can fix it.

This can be quite daunting in a world of tech bros who can sometimes be, well, rude. I’m fortunate that the people I work closely with are not but in dealings with the wider IT community sometimes their responses clearly scream “female who doesn’t know what she’s doing”. In such an environment it’s hard to not feel intimidated or embarrassed.

My role wasn’t always as tech focussed as it is now. Last year someone who’s role was front and backend systems administration took a VR and as the person who knows more than others I’ve had to pick up a lot of their work. And while it’s been largely rewarding – I mean I learnt how to use an api – it’s also highlighted how little libraries understand the complexities of technology and how much of this work is under resourced and undervalued.

The recent repository replacement project I was involved with had a core team of three. There was only one person with specialised tech skills, who left before the end of the project. It was also sold to us as connect system A to system B. Never mind that crosswalking took four months with multiple rounds of testing and that the test plans were just made up as we went because only when we got into it did we actually understand all the complexities.

Compare this to another tech project I was involved with on a much smaller scale but run outside the library. This project included scrum masters, business analysts, project coordinators, specialised developers and people’s who’s job it was to create and undertake the testing. I mean it was probably way too many people but that was what was considered necessary.

In my 10 years in libraries there’s been a definite move toward vendor supplied solutions for most library systems. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s given libraries the false belief that systems just run themselves. It’s hidden the complexities of technology and the work of keeping them running.

Systems work is the back of house, under the radar, it leads to good user experiences but it’s not glamorous. No funder is going to open their wallet (or not cut a budget) because I fixed a problem or because someone worked out how to use preferred names in the catalogue. User experience is all well and good but it’s not exactly making headlines (unless you are a systems person and honestly what I’d give for a good user experience in a library catalogue).

Under the circumstances, it’s no wonder libraries are addicted to the bright and shiny things that get them good publicity and make them popular with funders. But what is often forgotten is that for libraries to do the showy things they need good systems and librarians who can make that happen.

More often than not, tech focussed librarians are not invited to have input until the decision is already made. This leaves out important voices that have knowledge and experience, and who understand the long term implications of these decisions.

Libraries need to do better than this. Systems drive libraries and they need to be a focus rather than an afterthought. And systems librarians need to be at the heart of the library knowing their contribution is valued and their voices are heard.

400 days later

The first thing I notice is just how piercingly bright the lighting is. Then the bareness. Plants that used to dot our workspace were taken elsewhere before we started working from home and now the space feels cold and austere.

Across the two floors, most of the desks are empty. Once the workspace was full, now the empty desks remind me of all that has changed over the last year.

My team are there before I arrive. No hugs just a huge relief in seeing them again. They are already busy, and I’m spared the embarrassment of crying all over them.

My desk is exactly as I left it, the farewell card I got for a colleague in February 2020 is still there. The screens are at the same perfect height as when I left all those months ago. Notes on our white board stand as a reminder of the time before. The chair needs some adjusting.

Messages about a tech issue start coming in. This is the part of my job I love – problem solving. For a moment I feel at ease.

It’s nearly 11.00 and we go for coffee. Work seems to be the least important thing today. My team and I catch up, it’s so much better than doing this online.

For weeks I’ve been dreaming of the eggplant and potato curry from the Indian place on campus. It’s everything I hoped for and better that I can eat it with a friend.

Throughout the day there are friends and colleagues to meet again. Seeing them is like finding the thing you didn’t know you needed. Zoom has been a lifesaver but it doesn’t quite match bumping into a colleague in the hallway and seeing their smile.

By 2.30 I feel out of sorts, my head is aching and I want to go home. I’m not sure how to be in this space anymore. It is deeply unsettling how everything is both familiar and new.

To get to the office, I had to find things I had not thought about for more than a year – my pass, a mug, cutlery. I packed snacks, as though I’m a child off to their first day at school. Putting on work clothing feels like I’ve dressed up for a special occasion.

I’m out of practice driving on busy roads and have forgotten the level of concentration needed. On the ring road, I have to remind myself that I can’t daydream, as cars move in and out of lanes and onto exits.

How normal the twice daily commute used to be – being stuck in traffic was just a part of life. How much better is it that these are now a rarity. Although as fate would have it, not on Friday.

Listening to the news while driving reminds me that we are still in a global pandemic. We are safe here. For now. But life is different. The kind of normal we now have is not the same as before.

At home, I check on the cats. Of course they have been fine without me. I’m not as sure that I’ve been fine without them.

I get changed into my trackies – were my work clothes always this uncomfortable  and turn on my computer. There are messages from support sites, and other things to be deal with.

It’s getting late, I’ve eaten a toasted sandwich and had a cup of tea. I’m almost too wired to sleep. It’s been an emotional day.

Eventually, I’m tired enough to go to bed. Hemingway sleeps next to me.

I don’t sleep well, my brain is still catching up. I feel disorientated about the world around me. And a sense of slipping, like we haven’t hit the bottom yet.

But the sun rose in the morning, and there are cats to feed and life to get on with. And maybe for now these small things are enough.



So you lost your library job? What next – part 2

This is the second part of a post about looking for library work. Read part 1 here.

Looking for jobs

The first and most important thing to know about searching for a job when you don’t have one in the field you want, is that it’s the perfect time to try something else. You really have nothing to lose at this point, jobs are not forever, nor do they define you, so be bold and consider taking your librarian skills into the wild.

The second thing; short term contracts and casual work can be a lifeline at these times. They can keep money coming in, while giving you the time to find something permanent or work out what next.

Top job seeking tips

  • Carve out time everyday to look for and apply for jobs but don’t do it all day unless absolutely necessary. Doing things for yourself that are not related to finding a job is important to stay well during this time.
  • Keep weekends for weekends
  • Work out your parameters e.g. I want full time or part time, I can travel this far everyday etc. There’s no point at looking at jobs that are too far away or won’t fit into your lifestyle
  • Setting up alerts for all the major job seeking sites is useful but you need to manually search them as well. Broad keywords and generalised searches outside the normal parameters will help you find jobs that would fit your skills that you may not find otherwise. Think records and information management or even administration.
  • Filters matter – if you want the broadest possible search think about the filters you do and don’t want at anytime
  • Register with recruitment agencies for both library/GLAM and adjacent fields. Have a look at different recruitment agencies and see what kind of work they offer and if it’s something you are interested in, register with them
  • If you are an ALIA member they send out a weekly jobs newsletter. If not it’s available on the website.
  • The federal government has a temporary job register in lots of different areas, you can register with them for short term contracts
  • Don’t be proud, you may have worked at a higher level but consider applying for jobs at a lower level especially if you are changing sectors. At this time it’s about new experiences and having money coming in
  • Give yourself plenty of time for applications – key selection criteria are the devils own invention and take time to do properly. Also proofread, like your life depends on it
  • Linkedin – get one or jazz it up if you haven’t already. You can set it up so you are open to recruiters, and sometimes they do contact you about jobs

Some job sites

Here’s a bunch of sites I checked almost daily while looking for work

  • Seek
  • Ethical jobs – often has community development, research jobs for NGOs
  • Individual council and university websites
  • Federal and state government jobs sites
  • Career one and Indeed
  • Recruitment agency job sites

Why search broadly?

When I was unemployed, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to stay in libraries. So, broad searching with only basically parameters was about trying to find jobs that interested me in whatever field. But a phenomenon I have noticed is that sometimes library jobs are not categorised correctly so your library job search might miss these. Think about the filtering and add or remove as necessary.

A special note for women

When you read a job add that might be sideways or higher than where you are now, your first reaction is to assume you are not qualified. The single best piece of advice I ever got is, if you can do about 50-60% of the job, you should consider putting in an application. No really, you should.

So that’s it, all my knowledge about looking for work. Hope it helps you navigate the world of job searching in this industry. If you’d like me to review your CV or if you have questions please get in contact.





So, you lost your library job? What next… Part 1

As many readers of my blog know, I’ve had a mixed experience with library jobs. For most of the eleven years in the industry, I worked casually and had stints of being unemployed. The most devastating was in 2017 when after working 18 months at an organisation they gave the permanent job to someone else. My contract ran out at Christmas.

In this Covid world we now live in, it’s going to be harder to get jobs in libraries, not easier. So many people already lost positions and employers can afford to be fussier than ever. Also libraries are super easy to cut budget and positions.

So, if you find yourself unemployed, yet to get your first library gig or wanting to do something else…. here’s some tips from my experience.

It’s not personal but it also is

For the organisation you worked for, it’s a business decision. But for you it’s going to feel like you have been stabbed in the heart by a blunt spoon. Having said that – you need to know that you did nothing wrong, you didn’t deserve to lose your job (not get the job) and you aren’t a bad person. Take some time to grieve and process, do nice things for yourself. 

You’re going to feel super anxious

There are multiple ways in which suddenly finding yourself unemployed sucks – the worries about money; the loss of relationships, a career and purpose. Frankly it’s terrifying especially when you have no idea what to do next or where you next job will come from. First and most importantly please seek medical help if you need it. To be able to get through this, you need to be able to think clearly in the midst of one of the shittiest times of your life, if your anxiety is preventing you from doing this then you should see a doctor. You will also need the support from family and friends – never underestimate the power of a text message saying “how are you doing today?”, these can be a lifeline. Utilise these people, for career chats, perspectives and time outside your own head. 

It’s a good opportunity to try something new

I’m not going to pretend for a moment being unemployed is anything other than crap but it’s also an opportunity to try something else. You really have nothing to lose at this point, jobs are not forever, nor do they define you, so be bold and consider taking your librarian skills out into a different sector or into the wild.

De-library-ify your skills

This is one of the hardest bits to do but it’s time to think of yourself not as a librarian or GLAM worker but as a person with skills, experience and knowledge. You need to take the library out of your CV and selection criteria responses. Yes, even if you are looking for a library role. 

There’s a couple of important reasons for this: firstly, you might or want to look at work in a different sector like information management, or outside GLAM all together. You are not going to be appealing to potential employers if you’re using lots of library jargon that they won’t understand to describe your skills.

The second, being unemployed is awful, but if you breakdown your roles into skills you will have a long list of things you know you can do and you can be way more confident in yourself  – you can’t sell yourself if you don’t know your value. Even when looking for work in the GLAM sector, reflecting in your CV that you have thought about your skills shows someone who understands libraries, is mature and likely to be an asset to the team. 

Here’s how to go about it…. 

Look at your roles in and out of libraries and break down the roles into skills. This requires analytical and reflective thinking, it’s also really useful to do some research to see how people in similar industries might describe their skills. 

I’d suggest a piece of paper or post it notes is good for this. If you have copies, it’s useful to pull out any position descriptions you have for your roles, as they often list skills required. 

Here’s an example of what I mean. Many librarians would list preparing and delivering story time on their CV. It’s perfectly fine to do this but you’re assuming that the person reading it knows what that involves – maybe they don’t. So, thinking about what knowledge and skills are being drawn on to create story time is important. 

Here’s a list of some of the skills that are involved in delivering story time – agile thinking, creating engaging content, managing interactions, public speaking and teaching literacy through stories and songs. The even broader skills here are around communication, time management and people skills e.g. clear communication and ability to engage a diverse group of people. 

Obviously the point of this isn’t to list a whole bunch of skills on your CV, it’s to be able to market the skills you have in a way that makes you appealing to employers in different library, GLAM or outside sectors. Library skills can be a bit niche, so being able to make them relevant in a broader context is really important. 

Which leads me onto…

Putting your CV together 

You have now gathered and understand your skills. Great! Hope this has makes you feel empowered.  

I still have no idea how to set out the perfect CV. There’s a million different ways and everyone will tell you something different, so, take your pick. My advice is to be concise, use bullet points if you can – a lot of dense text will be hard to read and the selection panel might miss the gems in your experience. 

In mine, I have a career summary and list my achievements under each role but that might not work for you so just find something that’s going to show off your skills and experience. I’m personally not a fan of career goals because I feel they often unfortunately highlight the lack of experience rather than what the candidate could bring to the role. 

It’s really useful once you have done your CV to see if someone who’s been involved in recruitment outside of libraries (and inside too) takes a look at it. It’s a hard time to get feedback but it’s also necessary to make sure your CV is the best it can be. Also CVs are never done, it will always be a matter of updating and refining it. 

(In part two I’ll talk about job searching strategies) 

Life interrupted – the last post…maybe.

It’s the end of the year, and I’ve gotten through it.  As I write this, there have been three cases in Victoria after 61 days of no locally acquired cases, it’s concerning, and we are all on tenterhooks, hoping this doesn’t lead to another resurgence of the virus in the community.

When the year started most of Australia was on fire. So much burnt, millions of hectares; so much death and devastation. I still can’t look at most of the news coverage of the fires without feeling sick. If you believe in such things, it was an ominous start for the year to come.

On the 12 March, the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic, a week or so later, Australia closed its international borders and by equinox we were under stay at home orders. The pace of change in those first few days of the pandemic were dizzying, emotions were all over the place as you suddenly faced a whole different world to the one you knew.

The rest we know – lockdown one, a short reprieve, a second harsher lockdown in Victoria; mask wearing, hand sanitiser, being restricted to an hour a day outside, having to stay within five kilometres from your home, Dan’s daily presser and through it all a sick feeling in your stomach that maybe, just maybe this was going to lead to something worse.

All in all for us to survive this year has been nothing short of a miracle.

It’s always good to do a bit of a reflection at the end of the year. What happened, what are you proud of, what did you learn and so on. But this year, there’s almost too much to process, my thoughts lack clarity about how to even begin to understand 2020.

And maybe that’s ok. This year has been something of a roller-coaster so lack of clear insight into what you learnt or felt isn’t that surprising. There have been a few thoughts swirling around mostly about work, which I’ve tried to articulate below.

-I don’t like working from home but don’t want to go back to one-and-a-half hour travel twice a day either.

-Replacing a repository during a global pandemic is like one of the Labours of Hercules. It was so difficult, and I have very complicated feelings about the value of it and my role in it. We lost key staff during the project and there was a huge emotional cost involved in just getting it done.

-Libraries are not good at tech projects. I’ve been involved in multiple tech projects in different library sectors and libraries really aren’t good at them. The issue is lack of adequate resourcing – often libraries are trying to do them on the cheap, meaning that no extra budget and trying to do complex projects as part of everyday work. There’s also a top down approach to project management ie senior leaders deciding the project means they are not adequately scoped or the complexities understood before go ahead is given.

-Expecting business as usual in a year where nothing was usual was weird.

-I don’t think I did a very good job as a leader. Leadership requires emotionally energy to give to other people, I didn’t have any spare this year. My team, some of whom were new, had a sink or swim a bit, I feel pretty bad about it but just couldn’t summon the energy most of the time. This year leadership came into sharp focus, Daniel Andrews showed what good leadership is, lots of other people didn’t but regardless it just hard work.

-Friends from MPOW, across the library sector and everywhere else were a godsend. Friends from twitter who I’ve never met and some who I have, called me, sent me things in the mail to keep my spirits up. Particularly friends who were single, understood the double edged sword that this year was, and together we circled the wagons to look after each other.

–After some passive-aggressive wellbeing nonsense from a newsletter at MPOW a friend dispensed this pearl of wisdom to get through the pandemic: don’t worry about how much you weigh, just buy stretchier pants. And honestly it’s the best advice for 2020. See also: is it ok to eat your own bodyweight in cheese?

-I like my own company and find god in quiet places. I haven’t missed going to church nearly as much as I should have. Instead it’s been in those moments where I’ve seen flowers bloom, or laughed at the cats, listened to Luka Bloom, received a care package from my parents or with the small group of women who met together every week to pray. I don’t know if I’ll ever want to go back to attending every week. I have, as it turns out, complicated feelings about organised religion, I will probably always feel a bit like an outsider and not be entirely comfortable. I’m ok with that.

-Never underestimate the life giving power of growing things, making things and doing jigsaws.

In this year of chaos and loss there’s been too many low points and not enough high points. We will hopefully never live through such extraordinary times again and while the pandemic isn’t done with us, at least there’s hope in the form of a vaccine. Because there’s always hope, always.

Life interrupted – 7

It’s not been a great week. Dominic Cummings was not sacked for breaking lockdown in the UK, another unarmed black man was killed in the US and lest you think Australia is so much better, Rio Tinto blew up 46000 years of history. And that’s just a few things, not counting the thousands of people who are still getting sick and dying from a deadly virus.

I am unequal to the task of commenting on world events other than to say my heartaches at the news. I also feel a bit disheartened because I was desperately hoping for something better, which seems a bit silly when it’s clearly more broken than ever.

In my city of Melbourne, restrictions have begun to ease. While this is great for businesses, it’ll make very little difference to me. I’m still working from home and remain circumspect about going out. People are doing their best, but boy have we already forgotten about our physical distancing practices.

Working from home remains hard – the flexibility is great but the mechanics of doing the work I do is better suited to an office. My team is working on a major project and I’m worried that we are going to miss something vital because of the difficulties working from home creates.

The sector I work in is in for a rough few years. The government actively cut us out of Jobkeeper, though there are some deep seated issues that even payments of this kind would not have addressed.

I have been attending a lot of union meetings lately, both official and not so much. The National Tertiary Education Union negotiated the National Jobs Protection Framework with Vice Chancellors and let’s just say it’s been an unmitigated disaster. Universities have refused to sign up and members of unions across the country have voted against the framework.

As a newish union member a lot of what happens at meetings goes right over my head. I have absolutely no idea what standing orders are and the first meeting I ever went to was just a lot of people (virtually) shouting at each other about conducting the meeting properly. I left early because it did not feel like it was my world.

I’ve persisted in going along because friends have been heavily involved in a grass roots campaign against the NJPF and I wanted to support them. While meetings have been fractious and I still mostly have no idea what’s going on, they have also been fascinating. From an objective standpoint watching the political machinations from both sides has been riveting.

At a meeting last week, a quorum of members overwhelmingly rejected the NJPF. Under union rules this should have been a binding decision. Despite this, the national executive is pressing ahead with another vote anyway, because you should totally keep asking the question if you don’t like the answer you got first time.

It’s quite alarming that they would take this path given their stated aims is to be a voice for members. Indeed it feels that they are just like all the other organisations that do whatever they want when it’s convenient to them, which is bitterly disappointing and not what I expected when I paid my (rather expensive) membership fees. For this reason, I am already considering resigning my membership.

I’ve been intending to write about libraries, but I find myself with almost nothing to say that has not already been said by others. Except that I have decided to not renew my membership to ALIA this year, for the exact same reasons I am reconsidering my union membership.

ALIA is a member based organisation that advocates and lobbies for libraries but not library workers, which seems a bit weird to me even though they are not a union. I have long been critical of them but it’s become even more apparent during the pandemic that they are an organisation that does not fit with what I want for my profession. 

Many libraries are reopening now and ALIA have put out a stack of guidelines about how to do this “safely”. Almost none of it mentions staff, outside considering shorter shifts and providing hand sanitiser.

This is simply not good enough.

Re-opening the library puts the emotional and physical health of library workers at risk, they essentially become frontline staff in a global pandemic. Under the circumstances, their safety and needs should be the first priority, not services or promoting the “library brand” – whatever the hell that is anyway.

I’m tired of the system winning and super rich people riding off into the sunset, while workers bear the costs. I don’t have the energy or will to continue support institutions that prop up the very broken status quo anymore and don’t stand up for their values.

I’m angry enough right now that I want to set the world on fire. And out of the ashes be part of making something new.
















Speak up. Even if your voice shakes.

I received a compliment the other day someone said they liked me because I say what I think. It made me smile. Both because who it came from and well, forthrightness is not often seen as a virtue, particularly not in women and and especially not in Christian women.

Speaking up has been on my mind a lot lately. Ever since Cecily Walker’s closing keynote at VALA2020. If you haven’t seen it here’s a link to the video and the essay on her website. I urge you to watch it and then watch it again.

It was an earth shattering keynote and I’m still grappling with it. Firstly, all the ways I’m privileged as an able-bodied cis-gendered white woman. Secondly, all the ways I might  not have supported my BIPOC colleagues in the past because I don’t understand my privilege. Thirdly, how I can – to put it in Cecily’s words – be the goose – in the future.

A few discussions afterwards focused on the safety of speaking up. Everyone feels it’s not safe, our BIPOC colleagues in particular. This is something I’ve grappled with too, and why I freak out every time I publish a blog post that might be controversial. I’ve talked this over with a friend who says that we probably overplay the danger of speaking up, he’s right but he’s also a white man.

I don’t know how I’ve become a person who says what they think. I mean it wasn’t a deliberate life choice. But when faced with staying silent and speaking up, I always think there’s no point in not saying it, I’m certainly not going to die wondering. And it comes from a place of sincerity, from a deeply held belief that maybe by speaking up I can make a difference.

Momentarily as well, it helps ease the burning sensation inside my chest. Which sits somewhere between my heart and my stomach and hurts like hell: it’s anger, despair, helplessness. A constant awareness of injustice, caused by seeing how bloody unfair the world is for most people, and how little I can do to change it.

It started in earnest the moment I realised the libraries weren’t the dream promised. It started when I sat in the pews week after week and saw men preaching and leading while women’s voices were mostly in the background. It’s everywhere and all the time, sometimes a dull pain, other times it roars like an all consuming blaze.

I can of course not fuel the fire – look away, not engage. Sometimes out of necessity I must but I’m drawn back in because this feels like the fight I must have. And maybe,  against all evidence to the contrary, I can maybe make things better.

If “I” was “we” though, if more of us who can speak up were willing to speak up (hello men in libraries), there’d be less risk. We know from activist campaigns that collective groups have more chances of success. And we know that we have in the past successfully forced change when we speak up together.

During the same sex marriage plebiscite campaign in 2017, many of us came together in response to our professional association’s appalling statements on the issue – if you can’t remember what happened, Lissertations has all the details on her blog. Collectively, we forced the board to issue a second statement – it still fell short of what was needed but it was the best we could get from them.

The point is, lone voices can be seen as outliers but if we all speak together it’s harder not to listen. We can only really enforce change if we gather, organise and work together. One voice crying in the wilderness when joined with others becomes a chorus and a louder voice for positive change.

Being the only one speaking up is hard, I know this from personal experience. Last year I raised the issue of saying an Acknowledgment of Country at church services. Everyone voted yes to be polite but then reneged – when it came to it, I was alone – even the vicars after initially agreeing bailed. It was devastating.

Speaking up has probably cost me a job – I mean if you ask difficult questions, in the interests of doing better things, you are often not popular. Once I was told I was terrifying and difficult to work with because I refused to compromise on what we were trying to achieve. Last year, a man I liked decided he wanted nothing more to do with me after I published a blog post about how patriarchal libraries are.

These things hurt. But, to be clear, they are nothing compared to the racism and silencing our BIPOC colleagues face every single damned day. They are nothing compared to working in an industry, which paints itself as inclusive but is really built on colonial, patriarchal and overwhelmingly white ideals.

Everyone needs to decide for themselves whether they are prepared to wear the costs of speaking up. In reflecting on Cecily’s talk, I realised that I don’t want a career in an industry where our BIPOC colleagues feel like they don’t belong. Where patriarchal systems and library nice (image from Walker’s Keynote address) are the status quo.

We must do and be better than this.

So I’m going to keep speaking up, and calling things out and trying to make a difference. And sure, I might get a reputation as a troublemaker and difficult but I can live with that.  Because I have too. Because it matters too much.

I urge everyone to add their voices for real and positive change, and to amplify and support the voices of our BIPOC colleagues

Be brave. Speak up. Even if your voice shakes.