ALIASNGG WednesdayWanders:QanA Throwback Thursday with Gemma Steele!

Gemma Steele, the Librarian at Museums Victoria, Melbourne Museum Library is smiling and pointing at Phar Lap in the Melbourne Gallery.
Image of Gemma Steele from @museumbooks Twitter (2020).

This month take a look back or read for the first time Gemma’s 2020 #WednesdayWanders: QandA interview and discover places for professional development reading and advice for students and new graduates.

Answer 1: Gemma Wednesday Wanders: QandA

I’m Gemma Steele, and I’ve been a librarian at Museums Victoria for over six years now. I’m originally from Scotland and my background is in journalism and marketing. I came to Australia 10 years ago and I studied Information Management and Commerce at RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) in 2012 – 13.

Answer 2: Gemma Wednesday Wanders: QandA

I never intended to be a librarian: I studied information management intent on becoming a researcher, but I did a work placement in the Museums Victoria library and fell in love with the job. I was lucky the librarian role came up the year after I graduated – just meant to be!

Answer 3: Gemma Wednesday Wanders QandA

The most obvious thing is being disconnected from the patrons and adapting to new ways of being in contact and assisting people online, which has taken a lot of creativity. Our library is predominantly print based, so being separated from much of the collection is a challenge too.

Answer 4: Gemma Wednesday Wanders: QandA

Many of my regular duties can be done from home, such as cataloguing and requesting loans and documents from patrons, so most of the adaption for me was getting set up and getting used to Zoom meetings. The silver lining is being forced to be adaptable and think outside the box.

Answer 5: Gemma Wednesday Wanders: QandA

Working with a rare book collection is really a special thing: I’ve learned so much and had lots of ‘wow’ moments helping people to access and research rare books.

I love sharing all the wonderful things I find in and about rare books with the public and on my Twitter @museumbooks.

Answer 6: Gemma Wednesday Wanders: QandA

I’m not sure anyone plans to be a special librarian exactly as the roles are few and far between, but as most special librarians have to do a bit of everything it is helpful to have at least a base level of experience in acquisitions, circulation, reference service, information technology, and customer service.

Answer 7: Gemma Wednesday Wanders: QandA

There is definitely crossover in the types of work: we all have roughly the same skills, they’re just administered in different ways. I would recommend visiting a special library and talking to staff if you can and checking the Position Description of past job ads to see what your skill gaps are.

Answer 8: Gemma Wednesday Wanders: QandA

I think it is important to be client-focused in everything you do, and you will need to have a deep understanding of the organisation and the needs of the library users. Marketing and communication skills are vital in maximising value and access, and you will need to be proactive.

Answer 9: Gemma Wednesday Wanders: QandA

I’ve enjoyed learning about bibliography and book history: the people of the book have very specific jargon and methods!

If you want to learn more, Leah Price’s ‘What we talk about when we talk about books’ and John Carter’s ‘ABC for book collectors’ will provide a good intro.


Answer 10: Gemma Wednesday Wanders: QandA

One of the big differences is that most of the library users are employees of the museum – such as curators, researchers and scientists – so I have gotten to know a lot of the users and their specialisations and research interests very well, which makes for a more bespoke service.

Answer 11: Gemma Wednesday Wanders: QandA

  • Australian Library and Information Association via Twitter @ALIANational
  • NewCardigan via Twitter @newcardigan
  • Australian Museum and Galleries Association @AMaGAnational via Twitter for all things GLAM.
  • Bibliographical Society of Australian and New Zealand @BibSocANZ via Twitter.
  • SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing) @SHARPorg via Twitter
  • CERL (Consortium of European Research Libraries) @CERL_org for rare books

Twitter has been a great tool for learning from others in the profession – I follow anyone with similar interests or roles to me and learn from them.

Answer 12: Gemma Wednesday Wanders: QandA

I think social media is a great way to learn about librarianship – I have a hive mind on hand that I can learn and get ideas from Twitter users.

The Facebook groupTroublesome Catalogers and Magical Metadata Fairies‘ is a great community to put any curly cataloguing questions to.

Contacts and References:

Australian Library and Information Association. (2022).

Australian Museums and Galleries Association (2022). Who We Are.

Bibliographical Society of Australian and New Zealand. (n.d). About BSANZ.

Consortium of European Research Libraries. (2022) About CERL.

newCardigan (n.d.) About – newCardigan.

Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing. (2022). History.

Museums Victoria.(2022). Library

Take a look at volunteering at Museums Victoria as a Collections and Administration volunteer, to learn your cataloguing, administration, data entry, transcribing, digitisation, restoration, object re-housing and research skills in the GLAMR sector.

Museums Victoria. Become a volunteer.

Thank you, Gemma, for joining our Wednesday Wanders: QandA Twitter chat. Follow Gemma on her Twitter @museumbooks to see new posts of rare book collection finds from the Museum Victoria collection.

Keep your eye on ALIASNGG Twitter and WordPress Blog in 2023 for more #WednesdayWanders: QandA’s.


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