Mel Phillips is a librarian at Immanuel College in South Australia as well as being Regional Coordinator for the SNGG.
Can you tell us how you made your way to the library world?
For me, I started out wanting to work in a library – we lived in the country and we homeschooled (my year 2 to half way through year 8) and I could only get to the local library in the neighbouring town, Clare, once a week, but I got to spend the whole afternoon there once I turned 11. A staff member noticed my regular presence as well as my tendency to find missing resources in the library (I would often overhear queries about books that couldn’t be found, and would go looking myself!), and the staff member asked me if I’d like to volunteer. As a pre-teen volunteering in the library, it was amazing. I even got to work on the circulation desk!! I got other youth in the town interested in volunteering, and soon there was a group of us.
Then, half way through Year 8, we moved to Adelaide and I started going to an actual high school, and I still visited libraries but I couldn’t get a foot in for volunteering. So, over the years, the dream was locked away and I focused on other possibilities.
The dream came back to me when I was working in a school (as I enjoy working with children), and I met the School Librarian. Not having ever had a school library when I was in primary school, I had never considered this as a potential job, but now that I was introduced to it, it became my driving passion. I was doing an event management degree (Bachelor of Tourism and Event Management through UniSA) and knew I had to finish it before moving on to my Post Graduate degree in Information Management. Cut to several years later and I am doing my final unit in the Graduate Diploma in Information Management AND this year I began my new job as a High School Librarian. I cannot even begin to describe my delight and even a bit of shock at my appointment to the role, as I still haven’t finished my degree, but the school liked something about my uncontrollable enthusiasm for school libraries and my passion for reading and accessing resources.
What made you want to volunteer with ALIA Students and New Graduates Group?
I was actually approached by the ALIA SA State Manager at the time, Emily Wilson, who I had met in late 2017. I hadn’t commenced my post graduate study yet, but I was attending ALIA events and as a UniSA student, I was able to attend RAILS which was held at UniSA in 2017, where I met Emily and several ALIA SA members. Early 2018, Emily contacted me via Twitter to let me know about the opening with ALIA SNGG in SA for a Regional Coordinator. I was thrilled to have been thought of for the role, and I asked a lot of questions of the Regional Coordinator at the time, and determined that it would be right up my alley, so I applied to join the team. This is my third year as Regional Coordinator for SA – I am currently the only person on the team, which has happened before (life changes so much for everyone!), but I still really enjoy the role and can’t wait for the chance to plan and run events again. We are recruiting for the SA SNGG team, we need more Regional Coordinators, so please check out the website for more information!
What have you gained or learned by volunteering with ALIA SNGG?
Oh my gosh, it has been just so fantastic – I’ve improved my skills in terms of event planning and networking, I’ve had access to more opportunities than I thought would be possible for someone so new to the industry, and an overall feeling of engagement. I’ve built a great network of people working in a variety of libraries and supporting businesses, which is really cool as I learn more all the time.
What do you love about working in school libraries?
Pretty much everything! The students are one of the best aspects of the role – I have now worked at several school libraries (through volunteering or contract roles) and I cannot explain how fun it is to interact with students, getting to know them, having them come in and ask for my recommendations for books (or Manga!!), or having them come in and loudly (or in a whisper) tell me that I’m their favourite librarian. Or that they like my Harry Potter earrings =). I’m all about getting to know them, and helping them find their next great read, and I love when they knock on the window when I’m in the work room, just to wave and say hi, or they stop for a chat when I’m on the circulation desk.
I love recommending books and my reading over the last few years has been focused on YA and Manga, so my knowledge in these areas is quite extensive. I love cataloguing, which in schools we use SCIS to simplify the process, but I also have to be able to catalogue manually from scratch, and I really enjoy it. I love being able to contribute to the collection with recommendations for purchases, and weeding where necessary. I’m still new in this role, just one term under my belt at this school, so there’s still more to learn and get my head around, but I feel comfortable with the great team I work with and I feel like I’m settled in the role.
I also enjoy the chance to introduce new concepts, and I’m looking at a range of different ideas that might be beneficial to the library. One of the best things is introducing manga and graphic novels that the library didn’t have in the collection, and seeing them being borrowed and enjoyed by students. I have run a Manga club at my previous school, and am looking at doing something similar at my new school. I have already had numerous conversations with students who would be interested.
What advice do you have for students?
Get out there, start volunteering, in a variety of places if possible! Take every opportunity that you can. I started out volunteering at a primary school library, then with ALIA SNGG, then with the School Library Association of South Australia (SLASA) and I honestly believe these volunteering roles are high up there for reasons why I’m now working in the field I was aiming for, as well as having wonderful referees for my work in libraries even before gaining employment in the field. I also credit my volunteering with ALIA at both APLIC and ALIA Info Online conferences for increasing my understanding of industry partners and getting to know interstate ALIA Managers and fellow SNGG members! It’s a great group to be involved with!