Sarah's Top Eight
Reflections from a National Library Intern
24 April 2018
I recently had the great pleasure of being an intern in the Newspapers and Family History section of the National Library for 3 weeks. This has provided me with invaluable insight into the work that is undertaken in one of our country’s greatest and most beloved institutions.
Me, on a recent trip to Fiji.
Through this experience, I have witnessed some core skills and values in operation. Here are my top eight “take home messages” that I will keep front of mind as I continue my fledgling journey into librarianship.
1. Facilitate the distribution of knowledge.
I have noticed that the team not only supports clients by providing them with answers but also, importantly, supports them to understand how to independently locate that information. These actions embody the universal core “librarian’s mission” to make information accessible to all.
2. Support and share
In the time that I have been interning, half the team have conducted presentations at various times. Firstly, I respect the continued desire to grow, share and learn and secondly, I admire the way in which other team members support the presenter by attending ‘rehearsals’ and, where possible, attending the presentation itself. I recognise that these types of actions, this display of collegiality reflects really positively on the team and the workplace.
3. Be tech savvy
I am astounded (and somewhat intimidated) by the sheer depth and breadth of knowledge the information specialists in the Newspapers and Family History section possess! The entire team, individually and collectively, have masterful command of paper and digital resources. Not just the resources themselves but the resources that make the resources work! (Loading a microfilm reel onto a microfilm reader in 5 seconds or less is a much underrated superpower!)
4. Ask questions, seek clarification
Many of the enquiries that came through the “Ask a Librarian” facility on the NLA website are statements, rather than questions. This means it is not always clear what clients want to know. From this experience I note that expertly-asked questions are crucial to ensure that: 1. All the information the client has (that is relevant to the query) is known, and 2. Both the librarian and the client are clear and on the same page about what is being asked.
Seeking clarification allows librarians to refine and home in on the area of information being requested, which supports us to determine what resources will be required to fulfil this request. Skilfully asking questions as early as possible within a reference enquiry helps to support efficiency and timeliness in the short term, and manages and clarifies expectations of the outcomes for the clients in the long term.
5. Work with care and compassion
Visitors to the Library are of all ages, from all over the world, and are here for a variety of reasons. I notice that dealing with the public is not always easy. Although library staff are always on their best behaviour, not all with whom they interact are! Nonetheless, Library staff are always courteous and professional and, invariably, this keeps (most) interactions on the right path.
6. Make time for fun and for your team
Morning teas and lunches around the lunchroom table provide a relaxed opportunity to get to know your colleagues, to de-brief, to share and to have a laugh! The respect and regard that team members have for each other was one of the most immediate impressions I had when I arrived on my first day. From my observations, it seems to me that making regular time for each other in this manner significantly contributes to good team spirit and work culture.
7. Keep good records
Note to self: Librarian 101: Good recording keeping at all times is a must!!!
8. Spread the word!
Not only are librarians the biggest advocates for libraries, they are also their best assets. The librarians and library staff who answer phones, fill requests, advise, discuss, select resources, distribute information and so on, make the Library the wonderful institution it is today. The Library represents the importance and necessity of free knowledge and thinking, and stands on the foundations of the people who work in it, run it, visit it, value it, use it, promote it and love it! As Library staff members we can be and are all of these things, and being able to sing the virtues of the Library loud and proud ensures that the Library and every facet of its proud façade, mirrored by the strength of its inner workings, is visible and recognised.
My time here has been shaped by an overall experience of support, collegiality and enthusiasm. I have enjoyed observing the professional diligence of my mentors in the team, and it has been a real pleasure to note the careful and exacting way in which they do their jobs. It is clear that they all have a real interest in, and appreciation for, the readers and their research and they strive to make information accessible and available to all.
Public Library of Victoria, Librarianship as a career, Melbourne, c.1958
National Library of Australia, Librarian in the Australian Public Service, Canberra, c.1968