ALIA board elections 2016: Monika Szunejko

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. Each candidate’s responses will be posted separately. 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. 

Here are responses from Monika Szunejko.

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?

I am confident that the state of the profession is very healthy.  It is healthy because it is in the hands of energetic and enthusiastic new graduates. Joining in the last two #Auslibchats on Twitter confirmed my view that the range of talent, broad experience from a range of disciplines, sense of inquiry, challenging questions, and commitment to the value of libraries is out there.  These are the skills needed to drive the LIS profession into the future.

We can see that the profession is changing and evolving, and these skills are required to deliver relevant and cost effective services.  The social, cultural, generational, and technological knowhow that new graduates bring to understanding our communities and our society is the great advantage you have as navigators of the future.

Practical advice for new job hunters:

  • Participate. Go along to ALIA events and introduce yourself to the organisers there.  Start to connect where you can.
  • Promote yourself.  Prepare your pitch, and tell people that you are actively looking for work.  Ask if they know of any opportunities going in their organisation. Get your resume or CV reviewed by someone outside of your family or peer group.  Mine your educational, work, and life experience to identify your skills and points of difference.  Get creative; find your own voice in your CV.
  • Plan.
  • Partake – of any short-term or contact jobs you can find.  This is your time to build your skills and find your niche – your own individual point of difference.  In hindsight, one of the best opportunities I had early in my career was when I was finding it difficult to find full-time permanent work, so I worked 3 part-time jobs across 3 libraries (2 universities: cataloguing and reference, 1 public library: cataloguing a local history collection).

As a result, I learnt to read and interpret a range of organisational hierarchies and cultures, learnt tools in different contexts, and rapidly built up my adaptability to adjust to new workplaces. Also, my network of colleagues grew.  This stood me in good stead for future jobs where I felt I could always hit the ground running in any new workplace.  

  • Practice your resilience, and
  • Persist

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

Active membership to ALIA is a vital connection for any student and new graduate.  Student membership to ALIA is a great way to connect with people in your chosen career, to develop useful career skills, and to be exposed to the many types of careers available in the LIS profession.  We work in an international profession with a community of practice and colleagues across the globe – as our professional association ALIA is a great platform to advocate, learn, explore, and maintain the principles and values of librarianship such as equal access to information, literacy, and lifelong learning for citizens everywhere.  For me, it is important to me to be connected to my colleagues around the country and around the world – to be able to learn and share experiences, stories and successes.  I wish the same for my student and new graduate colleagues.

Hiring new graduates is a gift for any organisation!  New graduates bring in new skills, fresh ideas, new language, and refresh any organisation from within.  Working with new graduates is also a wonderful way for people across an organisation to share their skills with new colleagues.  Knowledge flows in both directions.  This is vital for knowledge transfer, business continuity, succession planning, and sustainability for any organisation.

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?

Fundamentally, our job is to connect people and information.  So librarians and information professionals need:

  • Communication skills.  We need to become comfortable at talking to people outside of libraries to deliver relevant services – using the language of ‘citizens’ and not ‘library speak’, and to tell a compelling story about the value of library services.
  • A service ethic
  • Data management skills – are becoming the currency of library and information practice.  Make friends with metadata!
  • Business acumen – is also becoming a necessary requirement to read the figures and articulate a business case for library and information service.
  • A sense of perspective, and a sense humour – laughter connects us to each other and to the people we serve.

The LIS profession benefits from the broad range of skills and experience that librarians and information workers bring from their prior learning and careers.  In many senses it is an interdisciplinary profession that supports blended professions – this is particularly obvious in the skills needed in single-person libraries, and in the range of professions employed in larger libraries.  ALIA’s advocacy platform embraces the position that people who work in libraries and information services no longer come from an exclusively LIS background. What links us in libraries and the broader information profession is a core set of values and ethics: equity of access, a commitment to literacy and learning, service, intellectual freedom, and democracy.  

The FAIR campaign brings people together and connects the LIS profession to other sectors and industries – promoting the skills and values of the information profession.

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?

I have benefited enormously from professional development opportunities in my career.  The opportunities did not all take the same shape – some were acting opportunities, some were personal professional risks I have taken (e.g. leaving Australia to study and work overseas – twice), some were traditional professional development options (such as formal courses and training), and some were less obvious – e.g., a chance conversation on a bus at a conference with another librarian that led me to pursue more international study.  And of course, being mentored and being a mentor have been enormously enriching personal and professional experiences for me.  One of the most memorable and incisive professional development experiences for me came in the form of feedback I received for a job I was not successful in obtaining.  I believe that you have to be open to your own development and expect that it may come in different forms.

For me, the benefits have been increased exposure to thinkers outside my institution, personal challenges to take risks, and opportunities to test myself and my professional skills in new contexts.  As a result I have made friends and met colleagues across the globe – and found that what we share is more than the superficial ways in which we differ.

Should a Professional Development Program be compulsory for all ALIA members?  I am not sure about this question. This may depend on a definition of professional development and its purpose.  If the purpose is accreditation for particular skills, responsibilities and accountabilities – then yes, compulsory professional development may be required to meet obligations and ensure consistency and quality of service standards.    There are other professional associations that have made professional registration compulsory for their members – and there are many benefits to do so.  Professional registration can reinforce the value and status of a profession to external bodies and can create a culture and expectation of continuing professional development within a profession.

In a more general sense professional development is a more personal and personalised experience – what is a developmental opportunity for one person may be of no relevance to another.  Nonetheless, membership to ALIA itself is professional development activity in the broadest sense – it opens doors and conversations to connect, learn, and discover.  

My view is that professional development is about connecting yourself to people, ideas, challenges, and being made different because of that exchange.  Professional development works best when it is self-motivated and self-driven.  However, compulsory or self-driven – just do it!

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

The ALIA board has a range of responsibilities that obligate it to serve ALIA members, manage resources, and provide good governance to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the professional association.

Within that framework, I would like to see the ALIA board connect with all ALIA members across the country, grow personal membership to the association, continue to be a voice for the profession, and connect with other LIS associations within Australia and across the globe.


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.

Alisa Howlett, Chair ALIA New Generation Advisory Committee

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