Michael Barry

Each month, an ALIA member is profiled and we learn a little about their professional life and a bit about their not-so-serious side. Using just a few questions, we try to keep the profiles fun while highlighting the variety of members in our Association. So, without further ado, welcome to our Member of the Month for April 2018… ten questions with ALIA Member Michael Barry.

1) Tell us a bit about yourself

I am a 29 year old library technician from the leafy outer-eastern suburb of Boronia. My hobbies include kung fu, conlanging (language construction), daydreaming, and reading. Although I consider myself a newbie in the library industry, I’ve tried to throw myself into the deep end, attending conferences and ALIA group events, volunteering on the ALIAVic committee, participating in the Mentoring Scheme and committing to the PD Scheme, among other things. I’ve started a blog too, which is something I never imagined myself doing a few years ago.

2) What is your current role and some of the responsibilities?

I have very recently started as the library technician at Fitzroy North Primary School this year, so it’s been an interesting few weeks as I take over from the previous library technician, and learn all about the library’s role in the school community and what I can do to support the students and teachers. I have a lot to learn still, but I’m enjoying every challenge and opportunity that comes up.

3) What led you to a career in LIS?

I’ve been involved in libraries in some way for most of my life, as a visitor to my local library, as a library monitor in primary school and high school, or studying at university. At Ferntree Gully Secondary, the library technician, Annette, and the librarian, Carolyn, took me under their wings and taught me a lot about how libraries operate, how to shelve books using Dewey, how to process loans and returns in the computer system, and even things like weeding and stocktake. In hindsight it seems almost inevitable, but I took a wide detour through a number of different careers first, including as a freelance copy editor, an apprentice chef, factory labourer, and several different roles in office administration. In 2015 after leaving my latest office administration role at a manufacturing factory, I told myself if I didn’t take a risk and chase my dream job, I would spend the rest of my life dreaming about it, so I signed up for the Diploma of Library and Information Services at Box Hill Institute.

4) What are some of the challenges faced by libraries today?

I don’t have nearly the wealth of experience as many members, but from what I’ve heard and seen I think one of the bigger challenges facing libraries – and one that many libraries are doing a fantastic job of addressing – is remaining relevant in the ‘information age’ when information can be Googled, and books and ebooks are just an Amazon delivery away. The conversation around the evolving role of libraries in society fascinates me, and I love learning about the different ways libraries have addressed this issue with the introduction of new types of spaces and the broad range and variety of programs and events being run. Despite all this, there still seems to be an undercurrent of uncertainty about the long-term place of libraries in society, and I think communicating the value of libraries to the public is more important than ever.

5) Ebooks or Print?

Can I say both? I think there is a place for each format. I read on my phone in situations where a physical book would be awkward, such as on a crowded peak-hour train, and I also enjoy having quiet time with a good book in my hands. I think ebooks are a wonderful, amazing technology, that provide access to books that people might not be able to read in physical format, such as rare, classic, or out-of-print texts like the ones that can be found at Project Gutenberg, and even provide access to books to communities that might not have access to a physical library for various reasons. But no digital facsimile could have replaced or equalled the awe and wonder I felt as a child, flipping over the pages of Enid Blyton’s gorgeous full-colour illustrated version of The Enchanted Wood; or all the non-visual sensations that come with physical media, such as the feel of the pages and the weight of a book in your hands, or the unique smell of yellowing paper and fading ink of a much-loved classic.

6) What words of advice would you have for newbie library and information professionals?

I am still a newbie in the industry (has it been over a year already since I finished my diploma?), but the things I’ve found most helpful are all about participation: in social media, networking, volunteering, and so on. Joining a committee, joining the conversation on Twitter, attending events and conferences and get-togethers put on by ALIA groups, joining the ALIA Mentoring Scheme, committing to the Professional Development Scheme, and basically throwing myself head-first into being an active participant in the industry. Oh, and I definitely recommend joining the ALIA Mentoring Scheme if you have the opportunity. My mentor, Anne, has taught me so much, she is an amazing source of wisdom and experience who asks difficult questions and gets me to really think about my career development and my priorities and values.

7) What is most misunderstood about library and information professionals?

From what I heard when I told friends and colleagues that I was studying to work in libraries, and later that I have started working as a library technician, it seems to be the idea that libraries are only about the books. Especially among people who don’t visit their local public library very often, the old stereotype of libraries as musty old halls full of dusty old books, and as – as one recent opinion piece I read put it – 'citadels of silence' – still lingers long after libraries left that whole aesthetic behind in the proverbial dust. Some of my friends have been surprised to learn that libraries today are more often than not vibrant, busy, creative and social spaces where engagement and conversation are encouraged.

8) Why did you join ALIA and how long have you been a member?

I have always been a big believer in the value of professional associations. When I was at university aspiring toward a career in editing, I joined the Society of Editors (now called the Institute of Professional Editors as a non-professional member and attended many of their monthly dinner meetings and social get-togethers. The value that I got from that, and from the support of my fledgling network at the time was indescribable, so I joined ALIA as a student member almost as soon as I learned that ALIA existed.

9) What is the most hilarious question you have ever been asked?

I haven’t heard many yet, but just last week a student asked me, after I’d found a book he was looking for, 'Are you a wizard?' To which I replied with a wink, 'I’m a library wizard.'

10) What's your dream job?

The one I have now, but with more hours. Being in charge of a decent-sized school library space, with freedom to decorate and innovate and design the best and most engaging space I can, with an office that is set up the way I like it, and my name over the door, is such an amazing experience.