23 June 2014

Key skills for new roles: Katrina McAlpine, Uni of Wollongong (guest post)

Because there is no obvious pathway into eResearch and data management for librarians, I am always interested in hearing about the jobs that people have done before and the skills that they find most important. I often find some points of similarity with others that have moved into these new areas: a variety of work experiences particularly on projects, work with cultural collections, an interest in information professions outside of librarianship such as recordkeeping and archives and some university teaching experience are all things that I have discovered I share with Katrina McAlpine (you can find her on Twitter as @katreeeena). Another thing we have in common is having moved to new places; I wonder if the experiences that voluntary migrants gain from building a life in a new environment help us be more flexible and resilient when it comes to taking on new work opportunities too.

Katrina  recently moved into a new role at the University of Wollongong and she kindly provided me with some reflections on her transition - thanks for sharing your story, Katrina!

Katrina began her library career in 2006 and has worked in a range of roles related to records management and library functions, most recently at the State Library of New South Wales where she worked with cultural collections, social media, and curating online content as part of the eRecords and Innovation Projects and the Discover Collections teams. Katrina joined the University of Wollongong Library in 2014 where she is currently the Team Leader, Scholarly Content, leading publication management, research data management, and digitisation operations.

2014 has been a year of big change. I packed up and moved from Sydney to Wollongong to take on the role of Team Leader, Scholarly Content at the University of Wollongong Library. Right now I’m working in a new city, in a new role, and in a new area of librarianship for me. I’ve jumped across to academic libraries where my team is involved across scholarly communication, digitisation, and research data. 
Without going into my entire career in great detail (if anyone is particularly curious they can stalk me on LinkedIn), I’ve worked as a librarian in a public library, in records and document management, as a librarian in a 2-person library, then worked across a variety of librarian roles at SLNSW but primarily working on cataloguing original materials, and a brief stint in a federal government library as the technical services librarian. I’ve also had the fun experience of tutoring around metadata / resource description / classification / digital libraries in an undergraduate subject at UTS and marking a similar subject at QUT. 
Looking at these positions, I’m not sure that you could predict that I’d have ended up here working with scholarly content and research data in an academic library. Still, there are common elements and interests that I've built upon in each position that I think are invaluable in my new role, particularly when it comes to working with research data management and publications management:
The NSA might have made metadata a dirty word, but at uni I discovered I was good with metadata and it seems to have become one of those things that I really enjoy working with. Different roles have had different schemas and standards but it’s the same way of thinking. I always dreaded being labelled a ‘cataloguer’, but it’s really just the same thing, right? 
Open access to information
It wasn’t until I was studying that the importance of access to information struck me. In becoming a librarian I’ve always been concerned with people having unrestricted access to information. Even if I can’t be there putting it into their hands, I can work with the systems to make this information open, available, and findable. I think it’s important that research publications and data are made open and available whenever possible. 
Time management
I’ve done the balancing study with work, balancing tutoring on top of my full-time work, balanced committees and projects on top of other responsibilities, and at one stage I think I was juggling 3 different roles at the State Library. I won’t lie and pretend that it’s easy, but it’s definitely a skill I've worked up to and working as a team leader it feels like an essential skill. 
Professional development
At work I’ve had the good fortune of having some wonderful supervisors and managers who have supported my curiosity and desire to find out about so many aspects of the worlds of information, libraries, and cultural institutions. I’ve taken every chance to attend presentations, conferences, and networking events on work time or my own time, and I’ve never limited this to ‘just libraries’. I have a bad habit of putting my hand up for projects, groups and committees, and I spend a lot of time keeping up to date through Twitter, my personal networks, and a lot of different journals and blogs. Exhausting, sometimes hard to switch off, but it’s been really valuable in knowing what is happening outside of my own library sphere. 
While all of these things help, there are still challenges coming to any new role. In terms of research data management, while I was already interested in this area and followed discussions online and at conferences, working in this space has made me more aware of so many more opportunities and challenges. It’s been really great to look at work being done at institutions and universities in Australia and overseas, and I appreciate how much information they make available online and contacts who have been happy to share their thoughts with me, and as always Twitter has been super helpful for following current discussions and identifying who is doing what with research data, as well as having the good luck to meet people such as Sam working in this space. I think it’s an exciting time to be working in this area.