How did I get here? Well that’s a story… 

(When I imagine telling my library origin story I’m in a bar; a disaster of some nature has happened and not only am I a librarian, I’m a hard drinking freedom fighter with scars and leather pants, meeting slightly dangerous men (in that classic romance novel sense), to carry out some covert task that would probably get me shot if I was ever caught. Yeah okay so I’ve probably over dramatized it but it’s my origin story okay?)

It happened a bit like this.

I’m not sure how I ended up as a freedom fighter, I mean it isn’t the job I dreamed of doing when I was younger. In fact, sometimes I’m still amazed that I am a librarian, given the twisty path I took to get here.

I actually wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. When I was eight, I wrote a story called Peter and Jane go off on an adventure or some such, my teacher thought it was great and ever since then I wanted to write and tell stories.

I wanted to go to Deakin and study their professional writing course but there was an interview component and at 17 I thought, who’d want me in their course anyway? How I came to think like that, is well, another story.

I also grew up in an era where you did sensible things – science was sensible, arts was a one-way trip to the unemployment queue. So, I ended up at Monash studying science, travelling daily from the other side of Melbourne for 8am lectures. I had heaps of fun but it obviously never really my thing. I realised halfway through my third year that I was probably on the wrong path.

When you are 20, you think there’s no way back from the terrible mistake of choosing the wrong career. At 40 you know that nothing is ever really wasted… (Well somethings are but this is not the time or place). I wanted to use my very expensive education and combine it with the thing I loved – writing. Apparently, science journalism was the answer.

Given what’s happened to journalism in Australia, it’s probably a good thing that I would have made a terrible journalist (also there were/are very few jobs). I would have been eaten alive in newsrooms and at the age of 25 was way too scared of my own shadow to do the tough work that journos do every day.

There’s an irony in all this for me, in that I’m renowned for asking tough questions; saying the thing that everyone else is thinking but no one wants to say. A great skill for a journalist but 15 or so years too late.

But I needed to work and doing anything was better than the sheer boredom of being unemployed. Seriously, this was the late 90s, there was only so much Oprah and Days of our Lives a girl could cope with. I ended up in admin at RMIT first with engineering and then the journalism department. The work was dull but the people were awesome. Many of my very very best friends come from those years.

It should come as a surprise to no one that administration was not my life’s purpose. And because we live in an era where finding your life’s purpose is a thing, for much of my time in admin I did wonder if life really was just pointless. It was kind of a hollow feeling in my chest and vague disappointment that this was the best I could achieve or hope for.

One day a friend asked me if you could do any job in the world you wanted what would it be… I said books without even thinking about it.

If I have a true love it would be books, a sustaining force in my life which made my sometimes difficult world easier. When reading I could be Danielle, the heroine, Danielle the adventurer, not Danielle who does admin and who was never quite brave enough to go for it.

I’m a classic “I became a librarian because I love books and reading” person. Yeah, I know, right? Worst reason in the world to become a librarian. But there you go…

I’m pretty much convinced that someone invented public libraries to torture all the book loving librarians. I mean the shelves are stocked with books, sitting there with their alluring shiny covers, just waiting to be picked up and read. And then… Someone asks you to help them print.

We often bemoan those book lovers who want to be librarians. Despite our focus on literacy, public libraries are not about books and reading (except they also kind of are). If we were to dig deeper, the love of reading isn’t the issue, it’s the lack of diversity within our industry, it’s the stereotype of who our industry attracts that is the problem. (I might write something on this one day).

As an industry, we can probably do a fair bit to counteract this, we need to be open about the realities of library work. We need to make it clear that shy and retiring isn’t really going to cut it. This is something I learnt with the help of mentors along the way, it’s changed me – probably for the better.

It’s like when I chose this career, a switch turned on in my brain and I kind of grew into myself, if that makes any sense. I’m way more confident than I used to be, I’m bolder. I actually like people (in moderation, let’s not be crazy).

In this career, I’ve found something that I love doing. Early on, I remember saying to someone that I felt that being a librarian was my calling. Yeah that’s totally romanticised but there’s something special in getting to be of service to others. We get a unique insight; a lot of the time it’s run of the mill, sometimes it’s memorable, and sometimes it makes for great laughs over a wine at the end of the day.

I can still honestly say I don’t exactly know how I ended up here, I just kind of did. And I’m very happy I did.

After all what other career would let me combine things I’m good at and are mentally stimulating, with doing  something useful for the world? And what other career would give you opportunities to paint yourself as a freedom fighting heroine in your own boring origin story…

So as I sit here downing my shot of vodka with my now enamoured slightly dangerous contact and finish my story.

“It’s kind of a natural progression from librarian to freedom fighter, I mean our profession is all about equality and making information accessible to all and when people try to take that away, well, we fight back because we are a lot of things but we are not neutral.”

He passes me the documents, which I tuck into my Keep Calm I’m a librarian satchel and I walk out into the cold starless night.

The End.

 

What’s in a name?

My name is Danielle. It’s the feminine form of the name Daniel. Daniel, for those interested in such things, is a Hebrew name meaning God is my judge. Anyone familiar with Dan’s story knows that back in the day he said a few things that people didn’t like and for his troubles hung out with some lions for a while, where he was, somewhat surprisingly, not eaten by them.

But lions or no – my name is Danielle, it looks similar to Daniel and yet is not the same. It’s also not Daniella, the far more exotic European version, just plain boring Danielle. Three Syllables Dan-e-elle.

For the last year or so I’ve had to repeatedly tell people  “actually it’s Danielle not Daniel”. Everyone has been doing it from the middle age white guy who’s building my house, to the technicians who come to do repairs on the library IT equipment, to, and somewhat unbelievably the woman who served me at the chemist.

In some of these circumstances it’s just laziness or carelessness. In people who speak English as a second language they probably haven’t seen the name before and are making their best approximation. Given the way I mangle non-English names I can entirely forgive the latter, but find it a lot harder to forgive the former.

What is more interesting is the look on people’s faces when they realise that no my name isn’t Daniel and I am in fact a woman doing IT in the library. It’s a look of surprise, often hastily smothered when they hear the words IT expert and then see me, unmistakably female, often in a fabulous dress. And yes it is as 25 kinds of awesome as it sounds being the IT expert and wearing a pretty dress.

But why all the fuss about my name – a rose by any other name would smell as sweet (finally working in some Shakespeare – bonus points). So I’m still essentially the same person regardless of what I get called.

Personally, I don’t think Mr Shakespeare got it quite right when he wrote Juliet’s famous soliloquy about what’s in a name. Although Juliet says that Romeo would still be her fella if he was called some other name, Romeo might feel differently. Romeo might essentially not be Romeo if he wasn’t called Romeo and was instead John. And if you can follow that congratulations, it’s my rather convoluted way of saying the name someone uses is important – it’s their first and perhaps most essential identifier.

There are countless instances throughout history where names or the removal of names have been used to deliberately dehumanise or stigmatise people. In another Shakespeare play – Merchant of Venice – Shylock is hardly ever referred to by his name rather he is called Jew. That is, he un-named and made other by the designation given to him rather than humanised by using his real name.

While I’m certainly not saying  being called name of the wrong gender is anything other than a bit annoying, the point is that names have power. And the name you call yourself (or rather your parents called you) has meaning.

Among my family I’m know as Dan or Auntie Dan to my nephews. These names come from a shared history, affection and understanding. From some people who I can’t be bothered correcting I get Dani (or Danny, Danni, Dannii) although this isn’t something I encourage, I’m not nor ever have been a Dani.

But in a professional context being called by the right name is important because of all the assumptions that come along with being called the wrong one. It’s an acknowledgment that it is possible for a woman to being working with technology and for the most part, being quite good at it. Yes, I have short hair but it is possible to have short hair and be female. (Honestly I could totally write a whole post on the ridiculousness of the whole women and short hair thing).

This  experience has been useful in understanding how important names are. And how my identity as a female, sister, daughter, auntie, friend, colleague and librarian is intrinsically linked to my name.

So what’s in a name? Well quite a bit really.

 

 

 

 

 

Tradition and technology – a librarian’s education.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that librarians love dissing their formal library education.

I have at times joined that chorus because studying librarianship was mostly really boring  and I really did learn more about being a librarian through the practical doing than through my degree. (Side note: having the qualification does allow us to call ourselves a profession, which means we have standards and ethics we adhere too and this is a good thing.)

I studied online for my library degree and I wonder whether this affected the experience and development of practical skills – I certainly knew the theory of how to conduct a reference interview but hadn’t ever done one, at a face-to-face course this might have been different.

Some of the reasons my library degree seems irrelevant is because I just don’t use those skills. By choice, I studied archiving and preservation. I was never likely to work in an archive but I thought it might be useful to have a broader range of skills just in case. It was (at least thus far) pointless and I would have been better studying event and program development. But the same could be said of learning Dublin Core or half a dozen more things that are not relevant to what I do everyday. Bur with a different career path those skills could be hugely relevant, so context is everything.

What do I wish I’d been taught at library school? Part of me thinks that question is irrelevant. Librarians need to know many things to be able to do their roles effectively and some of those things are still traditionally “librarian” – collections, MaRC, databases and keyword searching etc.

But…

I became a librarian because I love books and reading (cue eye-rolling) and that’s not really what I do. I’m not sure my degree did enough to really paint the picture of the industry in its current state besides the odd reference here and there to how the internet has changed librarianship. I feel that there was way to much focus on the traditional and it was way too easy for the tech stuff to be bypassed by book loving wannabe librarians (I did take web design, which was probably the most valuable skill I got from my degree but it wasn’t compulsory).

It should have been compulsory for me to learn and understand systems and programming because it would break down a lot of barriers that exist between tech and librarians. I have a great general knowledge of technology, I’m really good at troubleshooting issues with equipment or systems and assisting customers. But there’s a whole other level of knowledge about library systems that is integral to functioning in a modern public library and understanding that would be hugely beneficial.

When I was studying all that other level tech stuff wasn’t really of much interest to me and the friends I made during the course felt the same way. The unfortunate consequence of this is that tech and systems were not seen as integral to every librarian, or seen as massive barrier to access for our communities. Now I’m in a tech librarian role, I live and breathe the critical importance of this every day but librarians outside those employed in tech roles need to join the conversation.

Why? I think it’s fair to say that men do a lot of the tech roles in libraries. And while I’m not looking at opening that can of worms (one day I might be brave enough to write a blog post about all of that) I did once read an article that said while women don’t make up 50% of the tech roles only 50% of the problems in tech would be solved. (I don’t have a reference to that article other than to say it was hugely influential in my journey from book loving to tech nerd librarian).

It’s undoubtedly redundant for me to say technology inhabits every aspect of our lives. But the consequence of that fact is that technology skills and knowledge are the most important things you need to work in libraries. It’s more important than collections or program development or even reference interview. But while it’s considered the realm of tech librarians then only a limited amount of thinking can even go into solving some of the barriers technology and systems cause for our communities.

This is not a criticism of tech librarians but rather a comment on the number of people doing the thinking. If four people are focused on an area then you’ll get four people’s ideas – they may be good ideas but it’s still only four people’s ideas. But if you have 30 people interested and focused on an area then  you’ll got 30 completely different ways of thinking about something, which in the long run can only be of benefit especially if those people come with a diversity of interests and perspectives.

For example, take the library catalogue. The OPAC in and of itself is a massive barrier to accessing the library collection. In the age of google it doesn’t really feel that logical to have to search for and index information the way you’re forced to in a catalogue (hello MaRC haters). We also know that developing a catalogue that’s more like Google is still years away. But what if everyone who worked in the library was able to be part of that conversation. What if it wasn’t tech librarians, boffins and vendors but all librarians, would that speed up the development? If we all said this is of critical importance and here’s how we think it could work, would that help?

So yeah I kind of wish I’d studied programming, data management, information architecture and not archiving and I wish we all had to do the same.

Disclaimer 1: I finished my library degree in 2011, a lot could of changed by now. Also my experience is based on my choice of university I know there are some courses with a stronger focus on technology. 

2016 a year of contrasts

So taking up the @AusGLAMBlogs challenge gives me a chance to reflect on 2016… What did I learn?

I learned a lot in 2016 but the first half of the year was hugely difficult and I can’t yet fully reflect on this with any objectivity. So suffice to say, I learned the difference between endurance and resilience. And that standing up for what you believe in, regardless of the opposition, is right and worth it even if that comes at a personal cost, although I wouldn’t recommend this path for everyone.

On a brighter note 2016 also brought some amazing opportunities and opened my eyes to new possibilities.

VALA
I went to all three days and it was probably the single best thing I’ve ever done in my career so far, and that was before sampling all the icecream flavours available on the last afternoon. I know conferences are expensive and sometimes out of reach for organisations but even if you have to pay for yourself to go, I’d highly recommend that you DO IT! You’ll meet other GLAM professionals and hear about stuff you would never have thought of like GlamMapping trove. It will expand your mind as a professional beyond I’m a public or academic librarian and see librarianship in a wider context. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand all the content either – some of the tech stuff was just way beyond me but you can always ask or tweet and someone will explain. There were way too many papers of interest for me to list them all but I absolutely loved these three.

Take a risk
Sometimes you just have to take a career risk. I left a full time permanent job at a small library for an amazing maternity leave position at a larger library. I did it for lots of reasons: I needed a change, I always wanted to see if I was any good at tech, more opportunities for career advancement.  So far it’s paid off, I work with people I like, in an organisation that is trying to make a real difference in their community. But as much as I’m loving it, what do I do when my contract expires? Library jobs are hard to come by, and with much adulting happening in my life, it’s hard not to be a little bit worried about the next step.

Everyone should get a turn being the tech librarian
I love being the IT librarian at my branch and have found problem solving, applying knowledge and trial and error solutions to fix stuff kind of works for me. It’s super satisfying when you make the thing that wasn’t working, work again. It’s also six levels of frustrating when things mysteriously revert to previous settings after you have changed them or in fixing something you break something else. But that’s tech for you.
I think everyone should have a go at this sort of role, your knowledge of technology and systems increases, you also become really great at problem solving, negotiating and working with people who have a different skill set. It also changes how you look at tech and makes you think about what changes in systems, processes or new initiatives you could introduce to make our life and our patrons lives so much easier.

I need to work and hang with people who get me
When things are tough professionally you need a support network, friends, peers, mentors who will give you advice, listen to you whinge and have your back. If your really lucky you’ll get to work with some of your people, which is as awesome as it sounds. Particularly if these people are open minded, supportive and don’t mind if you say what you think. Getting to work with people who get you makes everything easier.
But your support network are not just there for the tough times, they are also a great resource when you need new ideas, to help challenge your thinking, extend your practice or just throw ideas around with. Cultivate friendships with a range of people, at your level, at your workplace, people in management, people who have lived it and are prepared to tell you, even sometimes what you don’t want to hear. You also need to be a mentor, and be all those things to people too.

Change is slow
You become a librarian, you’re full of enthusiasm, you want to change stuff… It doesn’t take long to realise change is painstakingly slow. There are millions of reasons for this. Sometimes people just don’t get it, often it’s a lot more complicated. Pick your battles, I can say from experience trying to change everything and all at once has consequences. Be strategic, work out what your situation is, think through your argument, and be prepared to play the long game. It won’t happen over night but it will happen. Maybe.

So that’s me, that’s my 2016… It was exhausting and remarkable. It was full of change and angst and I learned heaps, even if some of those lessons made me slightly less shiny than when I started it.

If there is one final takeaway from 2016 is that you have to be determined, you have to believe in the ideals of what we do and to pursue that, doggedly if needs be, because what we do is important, and can transform lives and communities. We make a difference and that makes the world just a slightly better place.