ALIA board elections 2016: Alan Smith

NGAC is delighted to have been able to ask questions of the candidates for this year’s ALIA board elections. Our questions were focused on issues specifically related to students and new graduates.

There are a number of candidates this year and we’ve received a fabulous response so far. Many thanks to all candidates for taking the time to answer our questions. Each candidate’s response will be posted here separately.

Today’s responses come from Alan Smith.

1. What do you think of the state of the profession for new graduates? If they are finding it difficult to find their first job what advice would you give them?

There is no sugar coating the fact that the state of the profession for new graduates is the worst that it has been for years.  Significant budget cuts across swathes of the sector, particularly in special, government and school libraries, means that staff numbers are being cut and any recruitment is being closely considered.  However, within this constrained landscape, there will be considerable opportunities over the next decade as the Baby Boomer generation (like me) who first entered the profession in the 1960s and the 1970s will begin retiring in large numbers.  This is just starting but will quickly accelerate.  If you are having trouble finding your first job you have to do all you can to become part of the library world so that you become a known factor.  Volunteer in a library, get involved in ALIA groups, go to workshops and conferences.  Even more importantly – look at jobs in other areas that will give you skills and experience that you can bring back into the library sector and improve your employability there.

2. How can ALIA help students and new graduates? For those in hiring positions what are the benefits of hiring new graduate LIS professionals?

ALIA can help students and new graduates enormously by being your entrée into the wider network of library land well beyond what your own campus or your own library can ever do.  As someone who does hire new staff I can say that it is simplistic to just run off a standard list of the benefits of hiring new graduate LIS professionals.  It depends on the qualities of the graduate themselves, the requirements of the position, their fit with the team they will be working with.  I deliberately say fit and not match with the team as it is sometimes very important to recruit someone who is very different to the existing team to help change the internal dynamics and the skills mix.  While of course there are many middle management and senior positions for which new graduates are not appropriate  there are some for which they are vital.  One thing that could help is not having a separate conference.  By all means have different streams for next gen at the ALIA conference but be at the ALIA conference.  You want potential employers and colleagues to get to know you.

3. What are the essential skills librarians and information professionals need in order to be relevant both today and going into the future? What could ALIA do to promote librarians as information professionals and service providers with skills relevant to a wider range of industries?

I cannot stress strongly enough that most employers are looking for resilience, adaptability, creativity, problem solving skills, communication skills –  and above all – a proven ability to continue to learn.  The set list of core library skills – even with the word digital in front of them, is no longer enough.  What we do as libraries and how we do it is changing so constantly that the ability to learn new knowledge and skills is now valued far more highly than knowledge already acquired.  Of course we want and need both but the relative values have shifted.  This mix of aptitudes and skills that are vital in libraries are fortuitously also highly attractive to a wide range of other industries.  The professional development aspects of ALIA can harness this beginning with deeper collaboration across the GLAM sector.

4. What have been the benefits of undertaking professional development in your career? Why should the Professional Development program be compulsory for all ALIA members?

Without considerable professional development I would never have achieved the various curatorial, management and director positions that I have held  over the years.  I take the broadest possible view of professional development.  Over the course of a career, or a series of careers, you will find that only a little of it is structured, course based learning.  Peer networks, project management, committee work, fellowships, mentoring, being mentored, staff exchanges, volunteering, collaborative ventures, going off and working in different professions for a time and more all play an important part in professional development.  All of these have helped me learn from other people, other organizations, other industries and other cultures.  I am a great believer in the models provided by many of the other professions such as architects, accountants, surgeons and lawyers.  To call oneself a professional, professional development needs to occur throughout ones professional life.  It is not just an entry requirement.  It needs to be linked to accreditation as an ALIA member.  My only caveat on this is that there needs to be an agreed inclusive rather than an exclusive definition of what constitutes professional development.

5. What would you like to see the ALIA board achieve?

I would like to help the ALIA Board achieve a strengthening of the Association through broader cross-sectoral collaboration, allowing us to provide a greater range and depth of services to members and a stronger voice in advocacy.


We encourage all eligible members to consider these responses as they make their decisions to vote in the election. Voting is underway in the 2016 ALIA Board of Directors election and will close on Friday 8 April 2016.

More information about the process and this year’s candidates can be found at the ALIA website.

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