Different libraries around the world: working across sectors

For the final post in our discussion topic around different types of libraries, we’ve invited ILN supporter Anne Hocking to write about her experiences working in different sectors. Anne has worked in university, public and state libraries (closely related to national libraries), and has worked in libraries big and small. We asked Anne to tell us a bit about her experiences to illustrate the similarities and differences between sectors in our profession.

My career began with short stints in a large university library and then briefly a public library. Motivated to find work in a library where the subject matter was of real interest to me, I was thrilled to get the position of librarian at a small (Greek Orthodox) theological college library.  With six years learning the ropes of small academic library management and the world of theological libraries, I was then set to take on the role of library manager at one of the largest theological libraries in the country, the Catholic Institute of Sydney.  The Veech Library at CIS supports the tertiary studies of both undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as being a research library for all aspects of Catholic life and culture in Australia.

This role saw me managing a small staff, as well as coordinating an ecumenical consortium of other small theological libraries and leading the library part of the various college re-accreditation processes.  I was managing staff and casuals, project planning for cataloguing special collections, streamlining workflows, researching new library management systems and serials management software, attending and reporting at faculty and other meetings, book selection, donation sorting, giving presentations to visitors…it was a varied and busy role.

I didn’t get to deal with the small student cohort very much as I left that to my ‘front of house’ staff – my head was always on the ‘bigger picture’.  However I did get to see a lot of The Books – the new ones coming in all the time, and the old ones, sitting on the shelves or in the stack collection where they had come from purchases and donations over the years and generations.  Here I never tired of the thrill of being part of the extraordinary history of a collection that had grown from its core in 1836 – a ‘traditional’ library that valued The Books, but was also trying to walk into the future of digital and online resources. 

For 14 years I worked to build and maintain this collection, implement new technologies, build professional standards and procedures at CIS as well as mentoring librarians in the smaller theological colleges.  While at times missing the stimulation of a wider library world, I did enjoy the small, tight-knit community – and particularly the conferences of like-minded theological librarians, all working passionately towards offering the best services they could in their small libraries.

Wanting to test myself in the wider world before I got too comfortable, I applied for a role in a large university library (UNSW Australia) where I spent three years liaising with the Faculty of Business.  Wow!  What a new world!  I got to work alongside peers and be part of a team, and get my head around a whole new set of resources and databases and language and subjects.  While my role was mostly about supporting academics, I got to speak to and help students!  From addressing small groups of visitors or academic board meetings, I was now in front of hundreds or thousands of students at their orientation presentations!

I went from a library that was proud of its hundreds of print journal title runs and three databases, to one that worked to promote its hundreds of databases and was striving to deal with research metrics and data management.  Visits to The Books were few and far between as computers replaced the shelves in providing access to knowledge, and my role became helping faculty explore and troubleshoot these powerful resources.

Anne Hocking at Willoughby Public Library - photo courtesy of the author

Anne Hocking at Willoughby Public Library – photo courtesy of the author

Moving on then to a local council library (to be closer to home) I stepped again into a very different library world…still lots and lots of people, but this time in all age groups from the oldies to the kids.

Here was the joy of helping with very basic needs (finding books, helping with printing, learning how to use ebooks) and of this being appreciated!  Funding seemed to be rather limited again – and there was the (surprising) ongoing quest to talk Council into social media – and school kids into databases.

My days (and evenings and weekends) were punctuated with shifts on the Welcome and Information Desks.  Discussions on altmetrics and digital rights management were replaced with talk of the best Readers Advisory resources, or Seniors Week activities or Local History tours.

And I was back amongst The Books!  I got to walk past them every day and flick through the new ones. Even during the daily staff chore of shelf check and tidy, I would always come across a book that asked to be looked at in more detail. I enjoyed again the thrill of browsing the shelves and dipping into random travel, or art, or photography, or cooking books.  I even got to borrow music CDs along with my ZINIO e-magazines! 

The urge to be part of a bigger enterprise again saw me move into yet another new position, and this time in the queen of libraries here in Sydney, the State Library of New South Wales.  Here I find myself back in acquisitions – sorting donations and making recommendations for purchase – as well as participating in the process of learning how to deal with ‘born digital’ resources and collections.

State Library of NSW - photo courtesy of the author

State Library of NSW – photo courtesy of the author

I’m with The Books again for sure, but they’re a little more at arm’s length this time in the kilometres of stack shelves below ground.  Here I need to tap into questions of ‘value’ and ‘significance’.  There are glimpses of the issues of heritage collections I had at CIS, the research and data and copyright questions of the university library – all alongside the overarching aim of being relevant and useful to the public of NSW.

Crossing library sectors has not been as difficult as I might have once anticipated.  Remaining constantly open to learning (from my colleagues, as well as The Books and The Databases!), asking questions, being willing to be ‘the newbie’ time and again, but remaining confident in my past experiences and successes – all mean that I have been able to slot into new roles and find inspiration and satisfaction in them all.

We’d like to thank Anne for her contribution, and we hope you’ve enjoyed exploring different libraries around the world with us. Don’t forget that you can continue the conversation on our Twitter and Facebook pages, or in the comments section below.

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