Michelle has had a non-traditional entry to the library world and works at Penrith City Library as the Library Children’s Inclusion Officer.
You had a non-traditional entry into libraries, can you tell us about your background and how you began working in libraries?
My professional background is in Early Childhood Education; I have a Bachelor of Education in Early Childhood, and worked as an Early Childhood Teacher & Assistant Director for 10 years, then worked for SDN Children’s Services under the Inclusion and Professional Support Program for 5 and a half years prior to commencing this position in 2011.
8 years ago in 2011, this role of Library Children’s Inclusion Officer (previously known as Toy Library Coordinator) was advertised with Penrith City Library and as I was looking for a job closer to home, and the role listed the qualifications and skillset I had obtained over the previous 15 years as essential, I thought I would give it a shot and apply! It also enabled me the opportunity to work closer to home as we were looking to buy and raise our family in the Penrith area.
What skills and abilities did you bring with you from your previous work, that have been an asset when working in libraries?
Having a teaching background, and working with children and families across a variety of early education and out of school hours settings, I had built up a strong skillset and knowledge of available supports for children and youths with disabilities and high support needs.
In the Inclusion and Professional Support Program, my role as an Inclusion Support Facilitator, my role was supporting educators in both early childhood and school age care services with supporting the inclusion of children with disabilities/ and ongoing high support needs.
We prepared and submitted applications for government funding for additional staff to support the inclusion of these children due to their significant differing needs, as well as practical strategies and applications for sourcing additional appropriate resources and/ or equipment as well as professional development opportunities to build their capacity, skillset and knowledge required to support the inclusion of these child/ren day to day within their care.
I had experience with developing networking partnerships with both internal and external stakeholders within the area and had to effectively manage outputs in a fast paced environment.
This experience enabled me to obtain the necessary skills required for the operations of managing the operations of both the Toy Library service for both our stay and play sessions open to the public cross the week, as well as the Outreach service component which we operate, which is specialised and unique to Public Libraries.
Day to day in public libraries is busy and fast paced and ever changing. The community grows and develops, as do people’s needs and we need to be able to move with these needs and remain flexible to work with them; and continue providing programs and services which are reflective of these growing needs, trends and changes.
What has been challenging about working as a librarian, without librarianship qualifications?
As with every new role there are always different operational tasks, management systems and skills to learn, and obviously there were several new tasks and responsibilities which I had to learn, some of which are particularly relevant to libraries, but we have a really good training system and I was very actively supported by management and my colleagues, so I was able to pick them up quite quickly (such as cataloguing, which is also an integral part of my role in the operations of maintenance and upkeep of the toy library resources and stock). We have many staff here who as part of their role don’t have any cataloguing duties for example, as part of their role requirements, so apart from course subjects or modules completed at Uni or TAFE, they have never had to actually catalogue items in their entire careers!
But in all honesty, the most challenging aspect for me personally, is most likely the customer service aspect of my role when I am rostered onto a desk shift. I hadn’t had to deal with serving the general public since I was in high school working in retail.
There are many various professional development opportunities both internally and externally available with dealing with challenging customers and people which I have attended over the years.
We have all faced a significant change and shift in the role of libraries and how we can support and service the changing needs of the community.
Many people require ongoing assistance with computer and technology services, so we have incorporated new programs and initiatives as a result of this. The resources available within my collections have certainly evolved and changed over the past 8 years, and it is important to stay on top of the current needs to ensure the clients and community needs are met.
What advice would you give to students and new graduates looking for a career in libraries?
Libraries are an integral community hub these days, so don’t hem yourself into what one thinks a traditional library should be.
The world is a big place and is ever evolving and changing, as community needs grow and change explore all opportunities to grow with and provide for them.
We are diverse, and everyone is a part of the community and has a right in this place, including young, noisy children!