Dual-career households: some reflection

Every now and then I’ll write a blog post that is a little on the personal side. Yesterday, or last night rather, I wrote a post on my ‘other’ blog reflecting on a recent article from INALJ (I Need A Library Job) about negotiating dual-career households, but I think it is equally relevant to be posted here too. So here it is….

An interesting blog post popped in my RSS feeds from INALJ (I need a library job) about negotiating dual-career households. In this blog post, Alphild Dick shares her experiences and tips about juggling her library career with her husband’s career in the military.  I recommend reading this post as Alphild covers some considerations around the impact of decision making and compromising when you have a dual-career household.

This blog post had me reflecting on some of my thoughts and discussions my boyfriend and I have had with regards to our careers. We have very different careers – I’m in the library and information sector and he’s an accountant. We’re of similar age and career stage. And we’re both very independent, passionate, career-driven people. Our situation is probably not uncommon, particularly as us girls have been for years now, told at a young age that we can achieve whatever we want. There are some keys I think, to negotiating a dual-career household. However these are yet to be fully tested as we potentially move to the life stage of having a family.

Respect for each other and each other’s professions

We have very different professions and in particular, will have very different pay scales and earning potential. While I am fiercely independent and currently insist on ‘pulling my weight’ by paying half of everything, I need to realise one day that I will likely play a game of snakes and ladders in my profession. This will mean moving sideways, diagonally downwards then up, up, then down again. I will potentially never earn the same as an accountant. Luckily, I don’t participate in my profession necessarily for the money (though of course there are financial commitments). Moving sideways, etc doesn’t bother me. I seek satisfaction in my work, my contribution to the profession and seeing the potentially positive impact on people’s information experiences and learning.

There is also respect by the way of what we’re required to do to get the job done and/or succeed in our professions. My boyfriend was incredibly supportive of my completing the Masters degree and the other professional involvement I participate in, including writing here and my professional blog, Flight Path. He has seen me present at events and can appreciate the passion I have for my work. Vice versa, he has times when he comes home crabby or has to stay back late or work weekends to ensure his outputs are delivered and delivered well. Respect for each other is about some realisations and some give and take.

Knowing there are other outlets than the workplace to make a contribution

I’m coming up to a time when I need to start thinking about (though really, this is years away!) how I will continue to contribute to the profession while raising a family. A few years ago I freaked out with the thought that my career would be over once I have children and I need to jam in as much as possible before this happens. Well, now I just find this thinking a bit silly. Firstly, my work is only one part of me. I have other roles I play in my life, as well as interests and hobbies. Having children won’t be the end of my life as I know it (or will it? :) ) We, as in nowadays, have tools and avenues available to 1) keep in touch with the profession, and 2) continue to make a contribution while away from the workplace. We have Twitter, blogs, conferences to attend, online webinars and chats, etc to keep in touch with industry trends and issues, as well as people in our networks. There are other ways and arrangements available to share and grow knowledge, to contribute, and I guess you never know where these might lead! What I aim to achieve is to keep up some pace, some momentum throughout my career. Whether this means from a laptop at home or at my desk in a workplace, I’ll find an outlet for my passion.

Understanding the need for ‘wriggle room’ when opportunity comes knocking

It is unlikely my boyfriend will be transferred somewhere at a moment’s notice. But we have considered, and have plans for working overseas together….some day. In addition to the places where we’re willing to live and due to our very different professions, there are certain areas of the world where we can both enjoy good job prospects or career incentives. For example, I’d really, really like to gain some experience in the Trinity College Library in Dublin with digitising, preserving, cataloguing and promoting historical items. But there is little to no career incentive for my boyfriend to do this beyond a couple of months or so. Similarly with other parts of the world, there are places I wouldn’t enjoy benefits for my career where my boyfriend could. So if we were to live and work somewhere overseas for something like 12-18 months, we need to compromise, find the ‘wriggle room’  to find a happy medium. What if that isn’t possible? Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. What if something is too good to pass up? We’ll find a way. Neither of us could ask the other to give up on something completely.

Alphild asks some really good questions to think about when negotiating dual-career households. My favourite is “What are your long-term plans for your career?” I think it could be easy to get caught up thinking about the short or medium term, that we may lose sight of what we ultimately want to achieve. When something comes up in either person’s career that prompt thinking about ‘your team’, following this question, then next would be, “What else would I be happy doing?” There’s always a need for perspective.

Thanks Alphild for a thought provoking post.


Happy International Archives Day!

Today, 9th June, is International Archives Day. Around the world, archivists and those who appreciate the role of archives to society celebrate archival institutions and their collections. The International Council on Archives is calling for contributions to its celebration by bringing together photos of archival material linked to the local area. You can take a look at how others are celebrating by searching #InternationalArchivesDay on Twitter.

I do have one wish on this International Archives Day. I wish for more co-operation and collaboration between archivists and librarians. From what I’ve seen, there isn’t enough to ensure cultural heritage content is brought together and preserved for generations, and that these collections continue to be relevant and treasured by relating them to today’s user needs, expectations and the possibilities for further content engagement, inspiration and discovery.

Archivists and librarians have a lot to learn from each other. There need not be fear or threat in reaching out to professional knowledge, practices and experience beyond each of these profession’s parameters or self-imposed boundaries. Just because someone works in an archival institution, doesn’t mean they should only consult the professional body of knowledge of archivists or work within what other archival institutions are doing, particularly in relation to providing access to collections, and vice versa. Borrowing from each other’s professional knowledge is imperative to accelerating progress of generating new knowledge and its application to the delivery of services. I strongly encourage and would like to see increased conversation and connections between these two professions.

Being an archivist or librarian are two, distinct kinds of information professions. I personally identify as a librarian or information professional and work within an archival institution. I wouldn’t call myself an archivist just because of my context. I don’t think it is fair to other archivists who have undertaken their training and qualifications in this area. It is because of this that I can sometimes feel like ‘piggy in the middle’ in professional conversations, trying to promote appreciation of, and balance out the different perspectives.

Librarians are skilled at making sense of information and delivering services in line with needs of identified users (and non-users) of information sources and in ways that enrich their information experiences. Librarians look outward. Archivists specialise in the description, arrangement and long term preservation of records and other primary materials. Archivists are more naturally inclined to focus on their processes. There is nothing wrong with either perspective, inward or outward, they’re just different professions, focusing on different aspects of information and information services with a corresponding body of knowledge that allows them to fulfil their roles.

There are archival institutions and libraries which have merged. For example, LINC Tasmania and more recently, the back end functions of the Australian national collecting institutions. As long as there is respect for each other’s professional knowledge, this pooling of resources and knowledge can only be a good thing for maintaining and providing access to collections. Though I must note my concern for the advisory role to the government that assist agencies and their records with making it into the collection in the first place.

I’d like librarians to be better utilised in the land of archives. I’m not saying librarians are saviours, but they may be able contribute to deriving as much value out of the archival collection as possible to further serve the community. And archivists’ knowledge need to be tapped into more in a variety of settings, not just cultural heritage. I’m a librarian, an information professional. I appreciate the role of archives and archivists in the information professions. It is therefore my wish for the two information professions play nicely with each other because after all, we’re on the same team.

Learning code

As part of completing my personal professional development plan, this year I’m seeking opportunities to develop technical skills, particularly in the online environment. The Edge at the State Library of Queensland run a number of short courses throughout the year. So far I have attended three workshops, with more I’m planning to attend in the second half of the year.

My first experiences with HTML and CSS were while completing my LIS Masters course. These skills have proven invaluable in understanding content management systems and tinkering with code for website updates in my work roles.

I’m keen to develop my skills in this area to further understand how things work from the back end and keep up to date with the possibilities for online content engagement and delivery of information services. I’m looking to potentially move my ‘other’ blog to a self-hosting set up so I can add more functionality with what I want this website to become. It also has customised WordPress theme which I would like to make alterations to the CSS. At least now after an intermediate ‘Coding for the web’ workshop, I’ll be able to understand more about what I’m looking at.

My first workshop at The Edge was an Intro to Javascript. I met up with a fellow LIS grad which made the experience a little less daunting. (Javascript is cool!) My second and third workshops have been related to coding for the web, mainly focusing on HTML and CSS. I’ll admit four hours on a Sunday arvo wasn’t the ideal time to be coding. By the end I was all ‘coded out’ and only managed to space out for the rest of the evening. But I learnt a lot.

I believe it is incredibly important for information professionals to learn the ‘lingo’ of the systems we use to manage and provide access to content, no matter the context we may find ourselves. We need not be afraid to dive in and get our hands dirty with this sort of back end stuff and keep up to date with how and what makes systems tick. It is likely librarians and other information professionals will see a possibility not seen by others. When this happens, at least we’ll have some understanding and ways of communicating what we need to make things happen for our clients.

I’d like to learn more about Javascript and SQL, as well as some other techy things related to my new found hobby, photography. The Edge will be releasing their short course calendar for the rest of the year next month. Go have a look at the list now and see what interests you. Take a friend or colleague with you to book in and get your geek on!

Time to pass the baton

About a month ago I resigned from my position of Co-ordinator for the ALIA New Graduates Group. This was a big step for me. It was time to pass the baton on to new co-ordinators and allow them the chance to benefit from being in this role. I knew it was time for a while, but I couldn’t step away without some comfort the group would continue the momentum we’ve got going here in Brisbane. From my conversations at the January social get-together, there is an enthusiastic bunch coming through the LIS courses at the moment. I hope the new co-ordinators will identify their professional development and networking needs and endeavour to meet them. Students and new graduates alike, if a chance comes your way, I encourage you to get involved as an ALIA New Graduates co-ordinator. Here I’ll tell my story…

I had barely completed two semesters of my LIS Masters course when I saw the role of EEI column co-ordinator advertised. I attended a networking event at QUT where someone advised against applying for the EEI role and told me that newbies looking to get involved usually start out as group co-ordinators. I was then immediately introduced to the only NewGrads Co-ordinator for Queensland. I signed up straight away. I joined because I was eager to contribute and become a part of the profession. I wanted to hit the ground running with my new career direction. Yes, I was only a first-year student when I started out as a NewGrads Co-ordinator in October 2010.

I had a rocky start. Early on in the new year, the other co-ordinator resigned. I was on my own. I had barely gained enough experience with organising events. I knew next to no one. This didn’t stop me. I was determined to make this NewGrads group an active one and with a planned calendar of events. A few months later, I ran the first Resume Reviews event in ALIA NewGrads. It was a hit. Thank you to Claudia Davies for her support for this event. She checked in on the day to ensure all was okay. Resume Reviews has remained on the NewGrads calendar since.

It wasn’t long until I had another NewGrads co-ordinator on board – Kelly Johnson. In November 2011, we put on a successful NLS5 Encore event. From here, our partnership went from strength to strength as we continued to organise regular PD and social events. We’ve made an awesome team. Our co-ordinator catch ups were usually over a beer in West End. That’s how we roll. I’ve really enjoyed working with Kelly in this role and I continue to do so.  :)

During my time as NewGrads Co-ordinator, I’ve had a hand in at least 10 events, possibly more. Not bad, if I do say so myself. Being a NewGrads Co-ordinator has provided me with opportunities to keep up to date with what’s happening in the profession, connect with people I wouldn’t have otherwise, organise learning and networking events for my newbie peers and has consequently, accelerated my finding a place in this profession. Being a NewGrads Co-ordinator places you in the thick of it. You become pivotal to the success of a local professional community. A thriving, supportive students and new graduates community cannot happen without co-ordinators.

My resignation from the NewGrads Co-ordinator role closes a chapter for me. I am an early career information professional. Looking to the future, I may not identify as new graduate (though I have only graduated last year) but I am still passionate about student and new graduate issues. Many thanks to my fellow co-ordinators, both here and interstate, for your support and kind words of appreciation. I look forward to making a contribution again soon.

A note on presenting

Last week I presented at a forum – regular events which my workplace organises, on the significant project I’m currently working on. The audience was over 130 people and included some of my work colleagues, the State Archivist, as well as other records and information practitioners and managers. This presentation wasn’t so much a big deal as it is expected of me in my role to do presentations, participate and coordinate meetings, etc, but I couldn’t help but notice a few things had evolved in my presenting skills over the years. So I wish to take a moment to reflect on the road so far.

The audience I presented to last week was probably the biggest since my very first conference presentation in September 2011 – the 5th New Librarians’ Symposium where I presented my findings of an independent research project about new information professionals creating a personal learning network (PLN). I had a roving microphone attached to me and a podium with somewhere to place my notes. I remember supporters being in the audience, including my boyfriend who managed to sneak in the back (sorry, organisers!). I also remember David Lee King and how nervous I was to be presenting to such awesome people in the profession. I had rehearsed a number of times with a mentor and the presentation went reasonably well. The support I received in the safe environment was humbling and put a smile on my face.

Presenting at NLS5

Presenting at NLS5

The set up last week wasn’t much different, but it was recorded. I have been fortunate in taking up opportunities to practice presenting through my studies, research, work and professional involvement, such as speaking to newbies in the QUT LIS course. Developing presenting skills has certainly been a journey of finding out what works and what doesn’t with my unique presenting style.

Between then and now, some things have improved or have tweaked while others haven’t changed. I’ll start on the improvements.

  • I’m okay with pausing if I’ve lost my spot in the notes. I don’t panic so much. Or at least I didn’t at the forum last week. Presenting is not a race and I’ve learnt the audience won’t know I’ve lost my place if I take regular pauses and speak at an even tone and pace.
  • I almost have preparing my notes down to a fine art. I’ve been fortunate so far to not have a situation where I have nowhere to place my notes. Perhaps that’s my next challenge. I prefer to use index cards for my notes, one for each slide or point. If I fill an index card with notes and need more space, I’m talking too much and I can estimate I’ll go over time. (Going over time by the way is something I consider unprofessional.)
  • I’m okay with being recorded. It doesn’t fill me with extra dread when I’m told the presentation will be recorded and made available elsewhere.

And now the things that haven’t changed…

  • I still move and wave my hands around. It actually helps me to keep a level of clarity on what I’m trying to say. I prefer a roving microphone for this purpose.
  • I still say ‘G’day’ to the audience. Yep, even in front of the State Archivist. I like to think it puts both myself and the audience at ease. (I hope it says) I’m approachable and not a stiff. I like a conversational style while also being professional. Almost as soon as I left the podium last week (we broke for morning tea), I had a lady come up to me to ask a question. I was happy to help.
  • I still get incredibly nervous, though I’m usually okay after the first few slides. If someone tells you presenting gets easier over time, in some ways this is true. Presenting gets easier when you hone your style and prep. But the nerves will likely stay.
  • I’m still more nervous presenting in front of colleagues and peers than strangers. The size of the audience doesn’t bother me. It’s who I know is there watching me.

The changes I have seen over time has also been due to coming into my own as a professional. I’ve experienced a shift over the last 12 months. I’ve slowly learnt that ‘yes, I am a professional, knowledgeable and my opinions are valid and worthy of consideration’. Basically this means putting on the ‘big girl shoes’, standing on my own two feet and owning what I have to say. By doing and feeling this, I’ve felt more confidence going into a presentation.

Presenting isn’t something many people tend to enjoy. I’m one of those people. As a kid, I was more than happy to make a fool of myself in front of people (and I still do this sometimes, but to save face and hide my nerves). But something changed in me during my mid-teens and I’ve found presenting to be daunting ever since. These days I think of presenting as sharing ideas. And I’m certainly passionate about that. I’d suggest trying that perspective and see if it changes your outlook on presenting.

On a final note, no one can read a heap of blog posts, books, etc on presenting tips and then magically turn into a fabulous presenter. It doesn’t work that way. Being a fabulous presenter means having taken the time to practice and tweaking the tips you’ve read about until you find a rhythm you’re comfortable dancing to.

Research skills: a must have for info pros

Reflecting on the progress of a significant work project, research skills are what I’ve drawn upon the most in ensuring the success of project outcomes. Research skills are probably the most important for any information professional. If you haven’t yet developed an understanding of how do undertake a research project or evidence-based practice, I urge you to get on it. Stat.

By ‘research skills’, I mean beyond (Google) searching, retrieving and analysing information from various sources. Research skills include the ability to define the problem and formulate the right questions, to be answered by the right target population, and then using corresponding research methods to gather data and information in order to inform an outcome or deliverable. Basically, to gather the necessary information, you need the right questions and you need to know who the stakeholders are around a particular issue or problem. Asking the right questions funnels and applies the answers directly to the problem.

I’m a Policy Officer in an archival institution. Part of my role is to undertake consultation with relevant stakeholders. The success so far of my work project I can attribute to my research skills I gained from completing the LIS Masters. If it wasn’t for my research skills, I wouldn’t have been able to draft key outputs so well grounded in the evidence I had gathered during the research and consultation phase of the project.

In the research and consultation phase of the project, I aimed to gain an understanding of the needs of relevant stakeholders in order to inform project outputs. What I needed to understand about stakeholder needs was closely aligned with the goals and objectives of the project. This provided the basis for my research approach – the questions I need to ask at this point, who I needed to ask, how I needed to ask them to gather the best possible data to work with. I wanted to ensure the project outputs were evidence-based and appropriately addressed stakeholder needs.

I decided on a two-stage approach. I undertook an online questionnaire and then followed it up with a focus group to help clarify findings. I knew I needed honest and accurate information. So I made the online questionnaire anonymous and tried to ensure that the target population was well-described in the invitation to participate. I designed the online questionnaire with questions targeted at the different aspects of understanding I needed. The focus group was very useful to me in clarifying some unclear findings from the questionnaire and steered me in a direction of better understanding. I achieved my goals for consultation through:

  • defining what I needed to understand, breaking it down then designing questions about the topic to obtain necessary data,
  • identifying the stakeholders, and
  • selecting suitable research methods and tools for the answers I needed from relevant stakeholders.

My research skills were developed over my LIS Masters course. In my first year, so intrigued I was with evidence-based practice that I completed an ALIA Folioz course in addition to my studies. In my second year, I undertook an independent research project. Though I opted for it not to be counted towards my Masters course credit points, I was fortunate to be guided by a lecturer in ensuring my research was grounded in the literature and that my findings would ‘stack up’. In my third year, I completed a research methods subject as an elective to lay the foundations for my research projects I was planning to undertake in my final year. I then completed two research projects to practice my application of different research methods.

Research skills are incredibly handy. I’ve even found them creeping into ideas about how my work team can better address stakeholder needs. Research skills can be applied to any number of scenarios in library and information practice. Students, research skills are not just for the academic arena. Research skills are a fixture of the information professional make up. I encourage you to not disregard an opportunity to learn about how to conduct research and you may be surprised like I am to find you will apply them more often than you think.

Research skills can be found in core competencies for the library and information professional.

  • ALIA Core skills, knowledge and attributes – you find research skills underlying seeking to understand how people look and experience information and identify needs of stakeholders (Information Seeking); design and deliver information services (Information Services, Sources and Products); you will use information to make decisions about resource management to library and information services (Information Management), and probably more.
  • Meredith Farkas identified high level competencies for the 21st century librarian such the ability to evaluate library services and understand the needs of stakeholders (Farkas, 2006)
  • Evidence-based practice is a theme identified by Partridge et al (2010) in a discussion about “librarian 2.0″.

Research skills are not only about retrieving and analysing information from a database, but also asking the right questions in a quest to better understand stakeholders relevant to the information service. The use of research skills in my work role is a living example of why they are important to being an information professional.

What is the LIS profession?

This week I participated in a workshop as part of the “Professional Practice” unit in Queensland University of Technology’s LIS course. The workshop centred on the question: What is the LIS profession? This, I believe is a very good question for anyone new to the profession so they may navigate the many possibilities and find their niche.

My task was to present for 10 minutes on how I define the LIS profession, introduce my current role and explain how it fits into the LIS sector. I’ll admit I didn’t know the answer to this straight away. This question prompted reflection. I found the task to be an opportunity to gain some clarity on what the LIS profession is to me and ended up being as much for myself as it was for the students. What you’ll find below is my answer to the questions put to me for my presentation to LIS students.

Simply put, we are in the business of information. That’s really what the LIS profession comes down to – but to what end? What is the goal for using information? For community development? Business performance and profit? For cultural engagement and enrichment? Inspiring innovation?

The goals for using information is determined by context. And this means there are a multitude of opportunities for information  professionals. The key to knowing what context a new information professional may participate in is understanding motivations, values, personal and contextual aspirations for the use of information, the industries that intrigue and align with all the above. Then the pursuit of success is about developing an understanding of the ‘laws of the land’, so to speak. Understanding the rules, customs, the ‘why’ of a context’s landscape. Some things that define a context include:

  • systems and technology
  • processes and uses
  • people
  • sources of information
  • needs for the use of information

This has been particularly true of the roles I have held over the last five or so years. In aviation, I needed to understand ATA chapters (aviation’s equivalent to Dewey), information needs of engineers, why they use the information and the systems they use to access, use and input information as part of their work processes. In the archives sector, I’ve come to understand basic archival theory, rules and goals. I’ve had to pick up the rules and theory in order to navigate the contextual landscape along the way. I’ve developed an appreciation and respect for the archives sector (within the wider cultural heritage sector) and I believe its professional goals align with mine. That is, the provision of access to government records as part of enriching cultural heritage engagement. Archives are a pillar of a democratic society.

Now, I’m not sure how much I have shared about my current role within an archival authority. But here’s an overview.

The archival authority I work in administers legislation relating to the management of public records. There are also standards which outline compliance requirements for government agencies and authorities. I am a Policy officer of a unit that aims to raise best practice record keeping capabilities across government. My role involves:

  • providing record keeping advice to government agencies and authorities
  • providing input to government-wide information management initiates where appropriate
  • keeping up to date with the latest trends and issues relating to the management of public records, as well as the advice needs of records and information practitioners, among other audiences such as CEOs
  • (currently) undertaking a project to review the Recordkeeping Policy Framework.

In brief, the Recordkeeping Policy Framework governs and promotes a consistent approach to record keeping and records management across government and is made up of policies, guidelines and other published advice. This project has called upon skills I have gained both in previous roles and the LIS course, such as conducting research (including defining research questions and coming up with appropriate methods), information architecture and user experience, analytical, communication and project management skills.

So how does my role fit within the LIS profession?

Well, in some small way, myself and my colleagues are involved in the management of information assets to ensure the memory of government is captured, retained and (eventually) made available to the community. By assisting government agencies and authorities with raising their best practice record keeping capabilities, public records can be in the best shape possible to be retained for as long as they are required, whether this be temporarily or permanently by the State. From my understanding, the ‘records continuum’ would have it that archival collections begin with the capture of records, or even the understanding of what needs to be captured. Therefore the unit I work in needs to intercept at this point, not only to assist government to capture, retain and use records for business purposes but to also determine the records of archival and cultural significance so they can be properly managed.

I very much appreciated the opportunity to share my thoughts and I hope my presentation inspired the ‘to-be’ information professionals.

What are your thoughts on what defines the LIS profession?