Clare O'Hanlon

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 November 2017… nine questions with ALIA Member Clare O'Hanlon.

1) Tell us a bit about yourself

By day, I am a librarian at La Trobe University in Bundoora (or, as I like to say, Fundoora) and by night I am an LGBTIQA+ rights activist and archivist. I am on the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives committee and on my local council’s LGBTIQA+ working group. I have also been involved in campaigns for marriage equality, safe schools, and the rights of First Nations peoples and refugees (to name a few). In between work, committee meetings, rallies and metadata parties, I can usually be found recharging with cats, close friends, and books or visiting libraries and other GLAMorous institutions around Victoria.

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

I am a Senior Learning Advisor in the library’s College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce team. This means I have teaching and learning liaison responsibility for a variety of disciplines in this college, including but not limited to history, archaeology, gender, sexuality and diversity studies, English and creative arts, and sports, tourism and hospitality management. I work closely with academics and other teaching and learning colleagues in the university to help undergraduate and postgraduate course work students develop research skills and digital literacies in these disciplines by embedding learning activities and objects into the curriculum. I also spend a lot of time helping people navigate copyright requirements and licensing arrangements to prepare reading lists, and I provide one-on-one support for students as required. I am very proud to be part of the La Trobe University community as it is a diverse and inclusive university environment and the academics I work with — from history to sports management — do impressive community engagement with their research and teaching.

3) What led you to a career in LIS?

Like Harry Potter, my story starts at aged 11. I didn’t receive my letter to Hogwarts, discover the magical world of witchcraft and wizardry and start a quest to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort. Instead, my dad came out as gay, and I discovered the wonderful LGBTIQA+ community and started a quest to promote social justice (and I eventually realised I was also queer). Encountering stories of homophobia, exclusion and isolation that members of the LGBTIQA+ community have faced sickened me and inspired me to work to enhance social justice. It led me to study sociology and psychology at university, take subjects related to sexuality, gender, family, and politics and gain a strong foundation in social sciences research. I think I always knew I wanted to help people and communities and change systems, but didn’t quite know how to do so until I discovered librarianship. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I provided casual research assistance in the field of education, which combined and fostered my research interests in sociology and psychology, and involved many hours browsing microfilm in the library. Following completion of my studies, I gained a fixed-term position in this field and eventually shaped the role to provide teaching and learning support (including customer service, online content management, and technology troubleshooting), as well as research and administrative support for academics and postgraduate students. After connecting with the education liaison librarians, I discovered that the aspects of this position I enjoyed most were highly relevant to librarianship and commenced the Master of Information Management program at RMIT University in 2013, which I completed in 2015. Looking back at my time as a student, I realised that I loved learning and helping my friends learn and I clearly remember curating resources from pop culture to help illustrate key psychology concepts in an engaging way for them. However, I would get anxious when it came to doing the assignments, so I love that I am now able to help others enjoy learning and relieve their anxiety (and that I no longer have to do assignments!).

Harry Potter and university also led me to discover the world of politics and activism, which has given me experiences in information management, community engagement and advocacy, managing and training volunteers, social media marketing, and facilitating inclusive meetings to bring people together around common goals and help ensure everyone has a voice. They helped me further discover and hone the power of storytelling and food for community engagement. I have been able to practice using my voice to speak up, advocate for social justice, and connect communities in my workplace and beyond it, which sounds quite a lot like Lankes’ New Librarianship.

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

I think my colleagues would probably expect me to say 'copyright law', and this is definitely a challenge I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about, and I am proud of ALIA’s work on the Cooking for Copyright campaign for reform in this area. However, the challenge I have been thinking about and struggling with most is the idea or myth in our profession that librarians and our spaces are somehow neutral. I think we all seek to empower our community members to improve their lives in one way or another by providing spaces and resources for them to connect with information and each other to learn, debate, listen and engage, which is political. Many of our classification systems have a history of racism, sexism and homophobia, and we should celebrate the many librarians throughout history who have challenged and started to reform them — like Melbourne Library Service’s Challenging Dewey: Classification and Equality exhibition did! We have never been neutral and should never be because neutrality helps perpetuate oppression and discrimination in our society. I think this idea that we should be neutral is preventing us from being as proactively inclusive as we need to be in order to challenge discrimination and advocate for justice and equity.

5) Ebooks or Print?

As a history librarian, I definitely think there will always be a place for print in libraries. Ebooks are great and more widely accessible and convenient in theory, but I have spent too much time navigating current copyright law and licensing arrangements to think that they will replace print books entirely. I know many people who have difficulty reading online for various reasons, including poor internet connections. I also believe that print books are much better for visual art and design studies and for browsing, understanding collection items in context, and making serendipitous discoveries. Personally, I prefer print for recreational reading, as well as for deep, close reading of academic texts. I can see the appeal of ereaders for travel, but I have so far resisted and tend to find myself bringing way too many heavy print books with me on holidays.

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

I am still quite a new library and information professional, but the best advice I can give is to think about and use the transferrable skills you bring to the profession from beyond your degree. You are much more than your qualification. If you have worked in hospitality or retail, think about the invaluable customer service experience and skills you gained from it. If you are an artist, musician, filmmaker, writer or other kind of creative professional, I imagine you may have experience and skills relevant to events management, marketing, graphic design and beyond, and/or you can bring creativity into your workplace. If you studied linguistics, my colleague says that helping students use databases because it is like a linguistics game, which is why they love academic librarianship. If you are an activist and/or were involved in student politics during your undergraduate studies, you may have gained some experience and skills related to group facilitation, negotiation and conflict management, volunteer recruitment, management, support and training, data and information management, and community advocacy and engagement. I also recommend going to as many industry events and/or following along on Twitter. Networking is hard, especially for introverts, but just start to immerse yourself in the profession by listening and reading articles and blog posts you come across this way, and gradually build up confidence to start joining conversations and giving back to the profession. Finally, if you are in a position to volunteer, I encourage you to volunteer to make a difference for an organisation, people and/or cause you care about — not just to get experience.  

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

Many people do still seem to think libraries are quiet places that just store books, and that librarians must all love books and get to read on the job. However, we are more about helping people and providing them with spaces and resources to connect with information and each other to learn than anything else. Sometimes we even get shushed!

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

I joined ALIA as a student member after my first semester of the Masters of Information Management as I was so excited to discover a community of like-minded people and professionals. It was particularly great when I was working in a unique role that was library adjacent but not in a library, as it helped me find my professional identity and know that there were people out there who were doing similar work and I was eager to connect with them as much as possible. I was not able to volunteer in the profession whilst studying (due to work and existing volunteering commitments) so I found ALIA events and news to be an invaluable way to learn about and connect with the profession beyond ‘library school’ and Twitter. I am also a proud member of the National Union of Tertiary Education. I think it is important to be part of organisations that represent our profession and workplaces to help ensure they are as representative as possible and help them advocate for issues we care about and strive to enact change that will ultimately help the communities we work with too. ALIA's New Generation Advisory Committee have also been incredible since the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey was announced.

9) What's your dream job?

I once thought I wanted to work in public libraries and perhaps I still do, but I love my current job and love being part of the La Trobe University community so much. Lately, I have been thinking about eventually doing a PhD to explore community engagement and knowledge dissemination in higher education, and the role of libraries in facilitating this, and bringing this back into my workplace, so perhaps this is what the future holds.