Wednesday 25 April 2012

Recap of Taking the Next Step – Transition and Networking in LIS

If you missed ALIA Sydney’s last event—Taking the Next Step – Transition and Networking in LIS on Thursday 19 April 2012—you missed a great opportunity to listen to how some LIS luminaries transitioned throughout their careers. You also missed a great opportunity to meet other Sydney area info professionals in a fun network activity.

But don’t worry! I took meticulous notes of the event just in case you couldn’t attend—or if you attended and were too busy Tweeting about our event! (You may still be able to catch the conversation on Twitter at!/search/aliasydnextstep)

Who exactly did you miss?
  • Dr Alex Byrne (NSW State Librarian and Chief Executive of the State Library)
  • Dr Suzana Sukovic (St Vincent’s College / University of Sydney)
  • snail (State Library of NSW)
  • Alyson Dalby (UNSW)

What was the format?
ALIA Sydney invited each speaker to tell us a little about themselves and their current position, highlight the hops and leaps they’ve taken in their careers and give us some sage advice on making our own transitions in the field.


Dr Alex Byrne - NSW State Librarian & Chief Executive of the State Library

Dr Alex Byrne began his talk by paying respect to the traditional custodians of the land, not as lip service but as recognition of the people, who like library and information professionals, are custodians of culture. Dr Byrne also highlighted that he studied engineering at university and made his move to libraries based on a suggestion by his wife, because “he liked books” yet no longer wanted to work in engineering.

Dr Byrne highlighted some of the different jobs he’s had in the library and university sector, including positions at the:
  • Soils Library at the University of Sydney
  • University of Canberra (then the Canberra College of Advanced Education)
  • University College of Townsville library
    • Later became the Central Services Librarian
    • Highlights include the amalgamation of the Townsville College of Advanced Education amalgamated with James Cook University
  • Defence Force Academy
  • Northern Territory University
    • Later was the Provost Chancellor
  • University of Technology, Sydney as the University Librarian/Provost Chancellor/VP for Development
    • Highlights include the transfer from print to digital, especially in journals
  • Joined IFLA in 1988
    • Academic and Research Library Section
    • In 1997 worked with the section on Free access to information and freedom of information
      • Defined the Human right to information, fight against censorship
    • President of IFLA
  • Currently is the State Librarian of New South Wales

Dr Byrne’s Advice
Dr Byrne also provided some great advice that perhaps some library professionals are wary to heed: we must seize opportunities. He stressed that librarians and library staff should seize the opportunity to move to a new location or to join a new organisation and that we shouldn’t stress “the scary”—if an opportunity doesn’t pay off, you can always move on. Finally, Dr Byrne wanted to stress that we shouldn’t burn bridges, that the people we step on today could be the people we need to appeal to tomorrow.

My Take
I have to applaud Amy C, Amy B and Crystal for securing such an amazing LIS luminary such as Dr Alex Byrne. I think most LIS professionals in Sydney and NSW have followed his career with a mingled sense of inspiration and aspiration. However, I would have loved to hear more about the difficult aspects of Dr Byrne’s transitions—family strains, the need for additional training/education, the need to constantly move employers and locations in order to climb the “library ladder,” and any failures along the way. It’s a bit difficult and overwhelming to think that there weren’t some bumps—whether large or small—along Dr Byrne’s career! Likewise, it's still pretty amazing to see the amount of hard work and dedication that has gone into his illustrious career.


Suzana Sukovic - Head of Learning Resource Centre, St Vincent’s College & Research Associate, FASS, University of Sydney

Suzana opened by asking our audience: How many different libraries have you worked in? More than three? (Which I thought was a great question. Personally, I’ve worked in public libraries, an academic library and a special library that focused on bilingual materials for American university students and Spanish learners of English). At the end of her talk, Suzana also engaged the audience with thinking about other jobs or careers outside of librarianship we have pursued.

Suzana also highlighted what she calls her “brilliant, no, meandering career” including working in:
  • Linguistics
  • Teaching
  • Journalism
  • A book shop
  • Librarianship
    • Academic Libraries
    • School Libraries
    • Special Libraries

Her library career also meandered:
  • Suzana moved to Australia (during a recession)
    • Fischer Library at the University of Sydney for 13 years
    • Started in Technical Services (as she had foreign library qualifications) but eventually moved to Informational Services
  • Obtained a Master’s degree in librarianship
    • Had a baby
  • Left University of Sydney for a PhD program (including a scholarship)
    • Worked as a tutor
    • Went from a full time librarian position to full time student
  • Currently has a dual role:
    • Head of Learning Resource Centre, St Vincent’s College
    • Research Associate, FASS, University of Sydney

Suzana’s Advice
Suzana really wanted to get one point across: that we should focus on what really matters to us. To Suzana, meandering meant having a meaningful career while having and caring for a child, obtaining a Master’s degree and completing a PhD. Her meandering career also meant having confidence on being employable and not dependent on any one organisation. No matter where we are in our careers—whether we’re starting out as new librarians or if we are seasoned veterans looking to transition to something different—her advice is the same: go out in your career, meet people and learn from them.

If you are trying to transition into a new field, Suzana advises that you have a look at yourself and your past to really see what your strengths are. While doing so, don’t focus so much on your personality (deep down, aren’t we all just introverts?). Instead, focus on attitude: how you can do a specific job, how you can use previous skills and experience in a new setting, or how you will stretch yourself in a new environment. Suzana reminds us that managers expect you to do something new—that’s why they hired you!

My Take
Perhaps because I see my own career path in Suzana’s, I found her talk especially worthwhile. I think her message that LIS professionals should have confidence in their skills and being employable—while not depending on any one organisation for a job or validation of our skills—is extremely important and valid. I think that no matter where we are in our careers or organisations, we should be building those skills that we can transfer to another library type or to another field altogether.


snail – Librarian at the State Library of New South Wales

As snail puts it, he has worked for the “dark side” of the library world—library vendors. Having spent some time in a few different libraries, snail most recently left his position at Gale Australia for a two-year contract at the State Library of New South Wales. He went into librarianship after spending literally a decade in university (something about computer science…), finishing his qualifications in librarianship at the University of New South Wales.

snail provided a brief summary of his LIS career:
  • Cadetship at the New South Wales Parliamentary Library
    • Contracting / law / computer stuff / legislation
  • Public libraries
    • Although not natural in the public library environment, he did build the first website for his public library
  • Registered with Zenith
    • Secured a 3 month contract in database support and training at the State Library of New South Wales
    • Spent 19 months on 3 month contracts
  • Electronic Solutions Consultant at Gale Australia
  • Currently is a Librarian with the State Library of New South Wales
    • Focusing on digital assets

Although he spent 7 years on the “dark side,” snail highlights that working in corporate “librarianship” definitely had its benefits. He says it was one of the best jobs he ever had where he not only got to build a functional library from scratch (and passed accreditation!) and supported the migration of Gale content (and metadata records) to the National Library of Australia’s Trove resource, he also worked with many librarians (did you know Gale employs more librarians than any single library in the world?). snail also wanted to highlight the importance of staying in touch with the “real library world” by being a part of ALIA and other library committees, which Gale supported.

snail’s Advice
Don’t be afraid of challenges! Having worked in both the corporate and library world, snail knows that each sector has its own challenges. However, as his career summary shows, all those challenges build your career. Likewise, don’t automatically exclude the corporate world when searching for your first or next job. The benefits can be great (better pay, tons of travel, more freebies) and you can still work with the library sector.

My Take
While I don’t necessarily see myself in the corporate world (I’ve been there before), snail does make a good case for having a look if you are in the market for a new job.


Alyson Dalby, University of New South Wales

It’s possible that Alyson Dalby has seen more sectors within the library profession than your average librarian: special libraries, library associations, library vendors and academic libraries. Most recently, she transitioned from a library vendor to the University of New South Wales library. In a departure from our first three speakers, Alyson focused on a specific job and the pros and cons of that job and/or sector.

Special Libraries: Medical History Library & Institute of Chartered Accountants
  • Able to develop strong subject expertise
  • Able to develop deeper client relationships
  • Freedom—if you’re a solo librarian, you just do it
  • Small staff numbers—you get to do more things
  • Subject specialisation—no generalisation in terms of subject
  • Small, limited and defined user base
  • Not necessarily the best place to develop a long-term career—limited career path (reason for leaving the Medical History Library)
  • If you’re a solo librarian, it can get lonely
  • Lack of professional contact—no one to ask how to do things
  • First year in a subject specialist you have no idea what people are talking about
  • Limiting in terms of moving up the “library ladder”—there’s no where to move up
  • Money is tight because it’s so small—constant fears of the library shutting down
  • Lack of job security
Library Association: ALIA NSW Local Liaison officer & ALIA NSW State Manager
Started an MBA program
  • Treated differently (better?) and different obligations
  • ALIA’s name opens a lot of doors
  • Excellent opportunities to network
  • Perks to conferences and events
  • Feel like you are contributing to the entire profession
  • Understanding of the profession improved
  • ALIA’s name can close doors—not everyone is a fan
  • Difficult to explain ALIA policies
  • Held accountable for actions over which you have no control
  • ALIA has to raise money—and everyone has an idea on how to make it
  • Everyone has an idea how ALIA should spend money
Library Vendor: InSync Surveys, Part-time & Full-time
Finished MBA degree and went full-time
  • Had a project manager role running client and staff satisfaction surveys working exclusively with libraries
  • Great networking opportunities throughout libraries
  • Opportunities to work with a variety of people
  • Flexibility in job—could work from home
  • Good pay
  • Good perks—ability to travel, conference opportunities
  • Work is hard and long
  • Work needs to be done, no matter what—no time in lieu or flexibility time
  • Even though you get to go to conferences, that doesn’t mean you get to participate
  • Market forces affect your job—your department has to make money
  • You have to work at being a librarian—ALIA and committee work a necessity
  • Librarians tend to fear talking to vendors—they don’t want an accidental sales pitch
Academic Library: University of New South Wales
Since Alyson just started this position this past week, all she could express was the relief of people knowing what she did and who she did it before without explanation. Her first real benefit of this library sector are the potential career development opportunities. 

It’s important to mention that Alyson completed an MBA while working part-time for both ALIA and InSync Surveys. She went full-time at InSync Surveys upon completion of her degree.

Alyson’s Advice
With all her experience in cross-sectoral transitions, Alyson had some great advice for LIS professionals looking to move between sectors. Her biggest piece of advice is that some sectors are harder to get into and some sectors are harder to transfer into. Her example are academic libraries—which can be hard to get into at first—but once you’ve worked for a large academic library, it’s much easier to move to a smaller library, such as a public library. However, if you start out at a small public or special library, it’s harder to move into a large academic library. If you are looking to transition into a private company, it’s a must to register with a recruitment company (such as Zenith or Umbrella One), as they can provide guidance (in terms of updating your CV or interview advice) as well as job leads and short-term contracts.
Most importantly, if you’re trying to transition between library sectors, you must be able to demonstrate that your skills and your experiences are transferable—i.e., change your language from clients to customers.
My Take
I think Alyson did a great job of breaking down her transitions and what she had to do to transition. I’m also grateful for a good run of the pros and cons of all the different sectors she’s worked in.


Network Time
We ended the night with a short (too short! I wish we had more time to network!) structured networking activity. I have to admit that I do love structured networking. Even though I push myself out of my introverted safety zone, a networking activity does make it much easier for me to go up and meet people I may not have spoken to if left to my own devices.

I got to speak to two library technicians who were either thinking about doing a library qualification or in the middle of finishing it. They had inspirational passion for what they were doing, however, they also had some doubts as to going into librarianship amidst change within the profession and institutional funding. Since I am such a champion of libraries, I hope I motivated them into not automatically labelling themselves with the title of "librarian" or "library" but instead think of what they want to do--one woman wanted to focus on helping the community, the gentleman wanted to continue teaching tech skills and building tech awareness. I think defining our career first by what we actually want to do is a better starting point than defining ourselves by a type of library or librarian. If my passion is helping the community in terms of programs as well as helping individuals find information, that can be anything from a public librarian, to a programs administrator to an academic outreach librarian. Teaching technical skills can lead to a school librarian or a user education librarian in a public library or a instructional services librarian in an academic library.

I also got the opportunity to speak to two faculty liaison librarians from UNSW. I finally had a chance to ask what that kind of librarian does! I learned that the traditional subject librarian has been split in two--the  duties that revolve with outreach to specific departments, faculty and graduate students lies with faculty liaison librarians. 

I also got a chance to add 4 new business cards to my collection--but it really means that I've added four new nodes to my LIS network.

A special thanks to Amy Croft, Amy Barker and Crystal Choi for organising this event!

- Jeff
Jeff Cruz is a User Education Librarian and an Events Officer for the ALIA Sydney Committee. Follow me on Twitter at @jncruzAll of the information and views expressed are solely my own, and do not reflect those of my employer or any other organisation.

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