Book a career change: Turning libraries into readers’ lounges – Sydney Morning Herald

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Talking to Vicki Edmunds it quickly becomes apparent that many of us hold some rather outdated beliefs about libraries. The first is that they are quiet:
“That used to be the case, but certainly not while I’ve been working in libraries,” says Edmunds, president of the Australian Library and Information Association. “Wherever I’ve gone, I’ve usually shaken the library up and turned it into a community lounge room.”
The second misconception is that they are always called libraries. Technology has changed the shape of libraries, and some have become information services or specialised services for particular groups of stakeholders, she explains.
A love of books is essential for working in a library. A good dose of patience comes in handy, too.Credit:Jennifer Soo
While a law library for solicitors in a law firm may have been called a library 20 years ago, it’s now “an information service because they’re checking for previous information on particular cases and do media monitoring as well,” she says. “So that’s [going] beyond providing books and information [and] actually helping shape a case for the lawyers.”
Through her role as manager of community libraries and customer services at the Blue Mountains Council, Edmunds oversees three full-time libraries and another three part-time facilities.
“I love the fact that every day is different. You can’t plan your day,” she says. “As soon as the door opens, people come streaming through that front door. What they ask of you can be so quirky, so interesting, and you will change people’s lives along the way.”
’Almost daily we have someone come in saying, ‘My grandchildren have bought me this new smartphone. I don’t even know how to switch it on.’ To us, that’s just a reference question.′
Even in a public library, today’s librarians need to be comfortable with technology. Customers come in to use the computers to complete online job applications or print Centrelink forms, or simply get help on modern dilemmas.
“Almost daily we have someone come in saying, ‘My grandchildren have bought me this new smartphone. I don’t even know how to switch it on.’ To us, that’s just a reference question,” says Edmunds.
Librarian Vicki Edmunds
The answer may involve a book, but it could also include links to YouTube videos, fact sheets or other resources.
“We find out the way people will learn best and target that,” she says.
While the profession isn’t highly paid, council libraries are incredibly flexible. Higher salaries exist in university libraries and specialised services like the ones where Edmunds began her career.
“I worked in an architecture library, a Fine Arts library and then a natural history library. Having a specialisation gives you a really interesting ‘in’,” she says.
The traditional pathway into a career in libraries involves a specialised undergraduate degree, but a graduate diploma can be a good way for mid-career changers to make the transition.
Andrew Spencer, manager of library and information services at non-profit organisation NextSense (formerly the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children), began his librarian career following a science degree and five years working in a lab. Seeking a change, he worked in a university library and a hospital library before joining NextSense.
Spencer now oversees 20 sites across Australia which provide resources for professionals and teachers working with blind, low vision, deaf or hearing-impaired Australians, assist students completing Macquarie University’s Master of Disability Studies, and support teaching and research of the organisation’s own staff.
Like Edmunds, Spencer appreciates the breadth of roles on offer in library and information services. While a love of books is essential and a good dose of patience is helpful, he sees customer service at the heart of most of these jobs.
“It’s about being willing to go the extra mile,” Spencer says.
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