ALIA Board Nominees in the Spotlight

I know I haven’t blogged here in ages. I’ve been posting to my pregnancy blog and generally busy with being pregnant and working full time.

But my attention was caught by this great blog post from @aliangac where they ask nominees for the ALIA board a series of questions and post the answers. I thought a reflective post on in would be a worthwhile thing to do.

If you don’t work in a library, you may wish to stop here. The rest of this post is likely not to be of interest to you.

I really liked the questions. They’re not hugely hard hitting, but they benefitted a lot from thought and reflection (which some candidates did notably better at than others). They also gave enough room to help distinguish the candidates. I especially appreciated the questions from Kyla. Practical questions are great for this purpose.

The first thing that caught my attention was that only four of the nine nominees answered the questions put to them by the New Grads group. I’m genuinely curious as to why this is? It’s a great opportunity to put your thoughts out there and let voters see why they should vote for you. Not just for new grads but for all of the other ALIA members who are following on Twitter or via the blog. I have no idea why the others didn’t respond but I’m certainly a lot more likely to vote for those that did.

I really appreciated hearing what the candidates had to say. It was possible to get some idea of what their specific interests were and where their talents lie. For me, this helps select people to vote for who are more likely to take ALIA in directions that match my preferences.

I found it interesting that quite a few of the candidates appeared to take an ‘Ask not what ALIA can do for you…’ approach. I’ve noticed this before from people in the profession and don’t necessarily disagree with it. However in this setting with new grads as an audience, this can be as much about selling ALIA as selling themselves as representatives to ALIA. Questions 2 and 4 address this directly and it would have been nice to see some more original responses to these.

It’s of particular interest to me because I did need to be sold ALIA. As a poor student I was unconvinced and even when looking for reasons to join, didn’t find much that spoke to me. The argument that eventually tipped me over was that ALIA accredits library schools and that this is an important and not simple process (thanks to my lecturer Paul Genoni for this and other reasons). Even more convincing would have been strong evidence of ALIA embracing and pushing new technology and helping members get their heads around it. I still think this is an area that other library organisations do better at and ALIA should address more seriously.  I don’t believe that the current PD scheme does this effectively and I have some pretty serious reservations about a mandatory PD scheme overseen by ALIA.

The next thing that stood out was that quite a few answers seemed to take the straight ALIA line with little to no personal additions or interpretation. This would be ok if I wanted to maintain the status quo, but it’s not exactly a compelling argument for adding someone to the board. At least, not to me. I’m more interested to know what you’d do differently, not that you’d keep doing the same things that are currently being done.

So those are my thoughts on the responses so far by nominees. I’m hanging out to read @HughRundle‘s blog post with his questions to nominees and their answers (due March 11). If it’s anything like last time, Hugh will be asking some extremely relevant, up to date and hard hitting questions and it’s always very enlightening to see how nominees handle them. I’m sure it will further help me refine my vote. I’ll blog my resposes to it if I have the time and energy with my advancing pregnancy.

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In defense of Shambrarians

A week ago, the ALIA National Advisory Conference came to Perth. The topic was ‘Future of the Profession’. You can get some idea of what was said from the Storify, but the guest speaker was my good friend and mentor Kathryn.

Kathryn made a number of excellent points and at one stage she asked the room to embrace shambrarians. Now this is an easy thing for me for reasons I’ll get to, but apparently not everyone in the room was so supportive. Indeed, in the last week, Hoi and Peter have both written excellent blog posts on the matter, which I’d encourage you to read.

So just what is a shambrarian? I would count them at minimum as qualified professionals who work in a library doing librarian-y tasks but have non-librarian qualifications. I’m talking teachers, historians, people with degrees in communication, IT, etc.

In my job I’m fortunate enough to work closely with a number of shambrarians. My opinion on this topic was formed early in my time as a librarian when I was accepted into the graduate program at the State Library of WA. The year I started, the program included me and one other graduate, Theresa. She and I quickly became close friends and I gained a great deal of respect for her intelligence and capabilities. She had a degree in teaching and had just finished Honours in history. This meant that from the outset she was far more knowledgeable about the State Library collections than I was, as she had used them in her research.

Theresa (R) and I (L) at NLS5
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Matthias Liffers: http://flickr.com/photos/mpfl/6191934024/

Unfortunately it didn’t stop some people from treating her differently because she didn’t have a library degree. This irked me because it was apparent that she was a fast learner and was no less capable than I. Indeed, I could see that her skills and knowledge were really useful because they were different to those of the other staff (in the same way, skills I’d gained before becoming a librarian were also particularly useful).

It seems that some people believe that their library degree automatically makes them better at everything to do with libraries than people without one. This sentiment was somewhat apparent at the NAC when mention was made of non-librarians getting jobs in libraries (with the implied subtext of ‘stealing our jobs’). I believe that no degree is a meal ticket. If you want to get a job, you need to ensure that you’re the best candidate. If you’re not, then it’s wise to look in the mirror before casting elsewhere for blame. I know that it’s a tough time to get a library job, but I have a lot more sympathy for the librarians in this discussion who are looking for ways to improve their technical skills rather than those who would shut the door to a more diverse range of skills.

Now I work in a team with, among others, Theresa and Carina (another ex-grad shambrarian) as well as Jocelyne who has a teaching background. My manager is also an ex-teacher and my director is a historian. Shambrarians to the max and I love it! I also really enjoy working with library officers who often show as much or more initiative and willingness to learn than some librarians.

I believe that a certain amount of diversity is going to be vital for libraries if we are to survive and prosper. Hiring people from different work and study backgrounds really helps to avoid myopia and brings a broader wealth of experience and ideas to the table. I can see many ways that this is of benefit to my workplace and to the profession. I don’t feel threatened by shambrarians and I love working with them. I’d love to see them become more welcome in and involved with our professional organisations and conversations.

Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear from people who have alternative viewpoints and can give me (preferably objective ) reasons that they are not in favour of shambrarians.