Andrew Finegan

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 June 2017… ten questions with Andrew Finegan AALIA (CP)

1) Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m a Reference Librarian at the National Library of Australia. I’ve been working in libraries since 2000, having worked across academic, public, school and government libraries in that time. I also spent about 3–4 years overseas, working in the international development sector applying my skills in related information/knowledge management roles and cultural development projects.

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

I currently work in the Reference Team within the Pictures and Manuscripts Branch of the National Library of Australia. We support internal and external clients who have reference queries — often research questions — related to contents of picture and manuscript collections at the library. This might mean directing clients to the right finding aid and showing them how to search for content and request materials to view in the Reading Room. Or, for off-site clients, we would provide some support in identifying collection materials for them. We also have a close relationship with the Document Supply Service, as many reference queries lead to becoming a copy order, and so we are also quite involved in addressing copyright and preservation considerations materials that are to be copied.

3) What led you to a career in LIS?

It feels like an eternity ago now, but after graduating with an Arts degree but also having strong skills in IT support, it seemed like a natural progression. I’ve always been interested in the ways that technology can not only support access to cultural collections, but enhance the ways that we experience them.

That said, I’m not always sure that I’ve had 'a career in LIS'. I think many professionals in this field develop a strong set of versatile skills that can take them to other sectors, whether it’s communications, community development, international development, education, publishing, politics… there are many opportunities out there, and there are certainly times when librarians can feel a little limited in their career path within the LIS field.

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

One major challenge that I’ve come to appreciate recently, working with unpublished materials, is the increasing expectation that collections should be readily available in a digital format. And yes, digitisation technology is progressing in leaps and bounds, but there are still vast amounts of materials that have not been digitised and possibly won’t be within my lifetime. There are also substantial barriers to being allowed to supply copies of materials to clients, such as copyright and rights agreements with donors. The recent copyright reforms will certainly help.

5) Ebooks or Print?

For my personal reading experience, I enjoy either. As somebody who has been travelling frequently in recent years, I enjoy the ease of access to ebooks… until the battery runs out! At the same time, I also appreciate the social aspects of having and reading print books. When you have a print book at your desk, or read one in public, it becomes a talking point with friends and colleagues, and you can easily lend the book to another person. That doesn’t happen so much when you’re reading on a mobile device — which I guess is great if you just want to be left alone. But for me, part of the joy of reading is about sharing that experience with others.

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

Most of us entered this profession for a reason. Don’t lose sight of that. It’s a difficult sector to break into, let alone forge a career in, and so often you may feel that you have to make do with the work that’s in front of you, even if it’s not ideally what you had in mind when you graduated. But try to remember what got you into this professional, seek out the opportunities to keep that spark alive, and it will eventually lead you to where you want to be.

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

I think that, for most people, their experience of a librarian is the one that they had when they were in school. And for many of my non-library peers, that’s based on the state of the profession from 15-25 years ago. And so, I often get to surprise them with various aspects of my work, whether it’s applying my knowledge of copyright, or teaching information literacy for eresources, or developing online content.

That said, I still feel like the misconception I experience the most is, 'Oh, everything’s going to be available online soon, so we won’t need librarians anymore'. And then I have to explain that quite a lot of it is still about taking print books and physical collections on and off shelves, and it’s still going to be like that for quite some time.

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

I initially joined ALIA because I’d just started working as a librarian in Darwin, and being in a relatively isolated location, it was a good way of building my professional networks. I was heavily involved for about five years, and then took a bit of time out, moving overseas, and my membership lapsed.

I recently re-joined, partially because I promised the then-regional coordinator that I would once I got a permanent job, but also because I’m interested in maintaining a connection with the wider professional community, particularly when it comes to advocacy on professional issues. Furthermore, having been working in the International Development sector, I’m very interested in the recent global strategies that have been emerging in the ways that the LIS sector is making connections with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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

Not really 'hilarious' so much as memorable — I once had a call from a client who was quite anxious to be able to determine what was a fact, after finding contradictory statements on the internet about a historical event. What ensued was a very long conversation about the nature of history, politics, journalism, and evaluating sources of information… which kept coming back to his question, 'but how do I really know if something I read is a fact?'

I’m not sure that he found my answer overly reassuring, but it’s a conversation that’s stuck with me, and reminded me of the importance that libraries have in documenting and providing access to information from all sources where possible.

10) What's your dream job?

I categorise 'dream jobs' up there with meeting your idols — if you put anything up on a pedestal, you’re bound to be disappointed. However, there’s not a week that goes by when I don’t feel incredibly privileged to be at the National Library of Australia. Working with its unique collections, I’m constantly amazed when I discover pieces of history that I didn’t know the library held. That’s good enough for me.