Our second instalment takes a look at Katrina’s journey from a degree in Ancient History to Children’s librarianship and the changes and challenges breaking into the field being a new graduate.
What made you want to become a children’s librarian?
After I finished my first degree, a Bachelor of Ancient History, I was faced with a choice between undertaking my PhD in ancient history or finding a job. Unable to face another thesis, I decided to apply for work in a library, figuring that my undergraduate degree had, at least, provided me with good research skills which could be applied in a library setting. I got a job as a library technician in the Children’s and Youth Services team in a public library, where I remained for the next three years. I really enjoyed my time in this role, particularly appreciating the variety of work, which included storytime, teen programs, running book clubs, and more traditional library work such as answering reference enquiries. In fact, I enjoyed this role so much I decided to attain my Masters in Information and Knowledge Management to become a Children and Youth Services Librarian.
I began as a library technician in the children’s and youth services team at a city public library. I worked in this position for three years. During this time, I also did a six month stint as acting children’s librarian. After I graduated from my Masters in Information and Knowledge Management from UTS, I worked for a very short time in the knowledge management team for the tax department of a large corporate body, before becoming the Children and Youth Service Librarian for another large, city public library.
While I only have a very brief experience in the corporate sector, there were a few differences I noticed. Primarily, the business focus of the corporate world means that librarians there must always be justifying their existence, either through showing how they reduce expenses or generate revenue. While I appreciate the need for this focus on tangible deliverables, one thing I really appreciate about my current job is that many of the benefits to patrons cannot be quantified, but are valued nonetheless.
Challenges and highlights of being a new graduate
Breaking into the field as a new grad is the greatest challenge I think anyone faces. I was lucky because I had some previous experience which helped greatly with finding a job, but I think a lot of people struggle to get in the door. Particularly in the corporate sector, there is real pressure for knowledge management roles to justify their value to the business, and so there are fewer jobs available.
The highlights I found was the excitement of the possibilities open to me. In the course of my studies I was exposed to lots of different ways information and knowledge management skills could be applied in the workplace, and as a new grad, the possibilities are really exciting. There are lots of different places we can take our degrees and apply our skills, beyond the traditional librarian role.
Professional development and keeping abreast of changes:
One of the things I love about working in the public library sector, particularly compared to working in a corporate setting, is how collegiate and collaborative others in the sector are. One of the tools I make the most use of is the children’s librarians’ e-list, run through the State Library of NSW. This tool lets me connect with other librarians, collaborate on projects, share knowledge, tips and ideas, and explore and evaluate the changing library world.
There seems to be many changes on the horizon for the library and information management sector, but mostly I think these changes provide opportunities for libraries to become increasingly relevant and useful for patrons, not less. There are some exciting new ways of delivering books to customers, chiefly the rise of ebooks and remote access to library services. I read a statistic that suggested more young people read online than print, and in particular, boys read more online than in print, so embracing this changing medium gives us an opportunity to reach patrons which have typically been more difficult to encourage to read.
Meeting young people where they are – at present on social media, and understanding how to harness this medium is a key change. While some libraries have really embraced this, in particular the State Library of NSW, others have been a bit slower to catch on. I also think it is really important to ensure that any social media tools used by the library have to be employed strategically, and with a real understanding of how young people will want to make use of the information available. There’s no point having a library Facebook page, if it isn’t carefully maintained, and the information on there doesn’t appeal and interest the young people it is aiming to attract.
I think libraries and information management professionals have a real role to play in providing people with the skills to make use of all the information available and in particular to help people to manage that fear of missing out which is so prevalent at the moment.
My key advice for new grads…
I found that signing up with a recruitment agency was a really useful way to have access to jobs which weren’t advertised externally, and gave me an advantage in finding a position.
I’d also suggest that new grads do anything possible can to get some work experience to back up your degree, such as volunteering. If possible, I’d suggest trying to make it something that will stand out, such as a project which showcases your skills and demonstrates their value to prospective employers.
If you could like to ask Katrina a question or comment do so below or tweet @ALIANGG