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Career Strategies for Librarians
Building New Generation Networks in Australia: a Personal Experience
by Kate Sinclair

Network, network, network!

That’s the mantra that new librarians hear when they first graduate.  

Join your professional association.  Attend meetings.  Join a committee.  Get involved.

This is some of the most valuable career advice you will get.  It’s the advice I received as a new graduate
four years ago, and it is the first thing I tell anyone who asks me for professional guidance.

But sometimes, new librarians find themselves in situations where it is difficult to do any of these things
easily.  Maybe your professional association is not that active in your area.  Perhaps you live in a remote
region, physically isolated from other members of the profession.  As a new graduate, you may not feel
you can afford the membership fees of an association.  And occasionally new librarians in their 20’s may
find it difficult to “fit in” with networks of established librarians who have different personal and
professional concerns.  Whatever the reason, there are many library graduates who never enjoy the
wonderful benefits of networking. In recent years, statistics in Australia, the United States and Great
Britain all show a decline in association membership, particularly among new graduates.[1]

As a new librarian, how do you overcome such obstacles?  

When I graduated, I experienced some of these challenges. I studied externally, so didn’t have a real
opportunity to form social or professional networks with my fellow students.  I worked in a library while
studying, but at a library assistant level.  The only professional contacts I had were my colleagues, few of
whom were actively involved in library association work.  In my graduation year, the Australian Library and
Information Association went through an organizational restructure, which meant there was a hiatus on
local association activities during that period.  There was also a perception that some industry events
consisted of social cliques, which was quite daunting to a graduate new to the industry and to the
workforce.   

All of these things combined to limit my initial enthusiasm and confidence for networking.   Now, four
years later, my personal and professional networks stretch across the state, Australia and indeed the
world.  I am very active in both my professional association and in other library groups, and at a recent
conference my friends nicknamed me “a networking queen”!

How did this happen?  Here are some of the steps I took on my journey from isolated new graduate to
confident networker.

Create your own networks
If there are no active library groups in your area, or the available networks don’t meet your professional
and social needs, the solution is simple.  Take the initiative and form a new group with friends or
colleagues.

In 2001 my friends and I formed a social networking group for graduates like ourselves - the “new
generation” of library and information professionals.  Three of us had been meeting regularly for lunch to
discuss our professional hopes and frustrations, drawing support and encouragement from one
another’s experiences. The South Australian Library and Information Network (SALIN) was created in
response to our personal need to take an active role in our own professional development; to combat
the frustration we faced with the stagnant job market; and to connect with other new graduates beyond
our work environment.  We advertised by word-of-mouth and our first event was social drinks at a local
pub, followed later that year with a low-key program of professional development seminars, forums and
social events.  As SALIN developed we established an electronic discussion list, printed marketing
material and invited high profile industry speakers to events.  Membership was free and open to anyone
who wanted to join, rising from 30 in the first year, to over 100 in 2002 and now almost 300 in August
2003.

It is a well known fact that involvement in professional groups will give you valuable skills in areas
outside librarianship – event management, organization, chairing, public speaking, marketing.  I have
gained confidence in these skills and more from my involvement in SALIN.  In addition, SALIN is our own
initiative so we have all learned a lot about project management, responsibility, compromise and self-
motivation. In this sense it has been a steep learning curve fraught with trial and error, but also the
satisfying reward of seeing the group develop and expand beyond our wildest dreams.

Recently, I have perceived a similar sense of satisfaction and pride from the participants on the newly
established NEXGEN list.  It’s exciting and rewarding to initiate something that obviously strikes a chord
with other like-minded people and gains a life of its own.  It also demonstrates initiative and
entrepreneurial skills, should you wish to highlight these qualities to a manager or potential employer.  
My involvement in the founding of SALIN was a turning point in my professional life, giving me the
confidence and experience to network in a wider arena.

Be active in your professional association
Networks such as SALIN and NEXGEN were established without affiliations to any professional
association.  However, there is plenty of scope to develop or join networks within an established
organization.  If there is an active committee in your area, contact the chair or convenor for information
about how to get involved, or apply to form a brand new group under the Association banner.

As SALIN began to develop, I joined the committees of two local ALIA groups. I had gained a job in a one-
person library and recognized that for my own development I needed to proactively seek the professional
networks I once took for granted in a large workplace.  It was easy - I just emailed the convenors of each
group and expressed my interest in becoming involved.  In Australia, grassroots volunteers are
welcomed with open arms and most local ALIA committees would be thrilled to hear from interested
new graduates.  

On those committees, I met librarians and library technicians of all ages, backgrounds and career
paths.  I gained a greater knowledge of the local industry, current awareness of the critical issues in the
area, inside information on jobs that were available, and a hotline to all the current gossip!  I also
demonstrated a willingness to volunteer for anything, which led to further responsibility as I accepted the
role of Group Convenor and represented my group at the state level.

Market yourself
Be prepared to market your skills, strengths and successes in a networking situation.  If you have
achieved something you are proud of, tell people!  Better yet, tell people who have an acknowledged
interest, expertise or stake in that particular area.  You never know what might happen.

Marketing can encompass a range of activities.  Publish a paper or make a presentation about your
successful idea, or get publicity or promotional material printed.  The SALIN committee made up flyers
and business cards for the group in eye-catching colors when we attended a recent conference.

You can also talk to people! At the inaugural ALIA New Librarians’ Symposium 2002, I identified the
members of the ALIA New Generation Policy and Advisory Group , a national committee newly
established to advise the ALIA Board on services for new graduates.  I felt that we could share our
experiences for the mutual benefit of both groups.  Much to the amusement of my colleagues, I
specifically searched for these committee members by walking around looking at delegates’ name
badges.  When I found them, I introduced myself and talked about our group’s success in South
Australia and how it might correlate with their initiatives.  The week after the conference, I received a
phone call inviting me to join the NGPAG committee.  So don’t be shy about introducing yourself to a
committee member, speaker or industry leader you admire – it may be the first step you take towards a
new professional opportunity.

Think virtual
The web, email and discussion lists offer a variety of ways to network in a virtual environment.  This is
especially useful if you live in a rural or remote area, are a stay-at-home parent or are otherwise
physically isolated from other professionals.  Discussion lists are also a great way to dip your foot into
library association waters without getting financially wet.  If you don’t feel you can afford association
membership fees, there are several lists you can join without paying any fees, but still enjoy the
discussion and information sharing.  Lists can act as virtual networking tools, duplicating face-to-face
discussion. The “new generation” lists such as ALIANewGrad, NewLib, NEXGEN, NMRT and SALIN are
commonly used as forums for graduates to air questions or concerns and receive advice about
workplace, career and employment issues.

Email is also a wonderfully informal way to make contact with people whom you have only met briefly or
not at all.  After a conference or workshop, I always try to make email contact with some of the new
people I met.  It is a friendly way to keep in touch with interstate and overseas librarians whom you may
meet again later in your career.  I also feel comfortable using email to ask questions or make proposals
to authors or speakers, via contact details listed on websites, papers and articles.  Don’t be too formal –
aim for a polite but relaxed tone that suits your personality.

Recognize the power of peer support
I owe much of my professional growth over the last three years to the support and inspiration of my
peers. The new generation networks I’m involved with are all overwhelmingly nurturing, positive and fun
environments.  My peers encourage and motivate me with their achievements, so that instead of thinking
“She’s so much older/experienced/qualified than me, I could never do that” the success of a peer can
make you think “If she can do it, well, so can I!”  My graduate friends in the library world have challenged
me to do things that a traditional mentor may not have advised.   Most established librarians I know
began their careers in the 1970s and 1980s, when library jobs were comparatively abundant and
budgets were healthy. While they are wonderful mentors, their development was shaped by a very
different work environment and it is sometimes difficult to apply their experience to my own career
planning.  In comparison, I have watched my new generation peers develop professionally, take risks
and achieve promotion in a difficult and hostile employment market.  The new graduates I know are
creative, brave, innovative and ambitious. Together we have swapped resume advice, shared interview
experiences, helped one another with tricky selection criteria and talked each other through work crises
and career decisions.  Most importantly, we have forged some strong friendships through new
generation librarian networks.

The next couple of years will be a very exciting time for Australian new graduate librarians.  The ALIA New
Graduates Group has recently been formed, creating an Australia-wide network for recent graduates.
The New Librarians’ Symposium will be held biannually as a focal point for new librarians to meet, have
fun and plan for the future. The ALIA New Generation Policy and Advisory Group will continue to work on
recommendations for new graduate services. With all these initiatives, new librarians in Australia will
have the opportunity to build strong networks that will last throughout our professional lives.


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NOTES

[1] Wakely, T. Report on the age profile of ALIA membership [Online] 1998, Available: http://archive.alia.
org.au/gc/online/9807/9.4.html

About the Author:

Kate Sinclair is Liaison Librarian for Law and Legal Studies at Flinders University Library, South
Australia.  She is a co-founder of SALIN, the South Australian Library and Information Network, Co-
Convenor of ALIA SA and Convenor of the ALIA Special Libraries Group (SA).  She is also a member of
the ALIA New Generation Policy and Advisory Group, a committee that advises the ALIA Board on
services for new graduate members.   Most recently, she has taken on the role of Convenor for the 2nd
ALIA New Librarians’ Symposium which will be held in Adelaide, South Australia in December 2004.  

Article published August 2003

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