ALIA Member of the Month
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 first member of the month for 2017… ten questions with ALIA Member Elizabeth Smith AALIA.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m the Assistant Librarian at the Rodney Seaborn Library at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney. I graduated with a Master of Information Studies from Charles Sturt University in 2014, majoring in records and archives. I also hold a Diploma of Library/Information Services from Sydney Institute TAFE and a BA from UNSW.
I’ve been working at NIDA since 2012, starting out as a Library Assistant. Outside of LIS, I’ve worked in box offices, cinemas, hotels, and call centres. It’s worth noting that although I’ve always loved the theatre, and work in a theatre box office on the side, I’m not a performing arts practitioner or academic. What I bring to my role instead is extensive experience in customer service, and an unbridled enthusiasm for all things performance. Some people would call this “being a huge theatre nerd”. I’d call it “extensive specialist subject knowledge.”
I joined ALIA two years ago and jumped right in, getting involved in a number of ALIA groups. You’ll find me on the New Generation Advisory Committee, ALIA Sydney group, and the organising committee for the 2017 New Librarians’ Symposium.
2) What is your current role and some of the responsibilities?
Our library is quite small, with only two full-time staff, so I do a bit of everything. I supervise circulation and technical services; provide specialist reference and research services, and manage student outreach.
NIDA is a small institute, so we’re able to get to know our students really well. Our student outreach is very similar to a “personal librarian” model, as we’re able to develop deeper connections with students than a larger university library might be able to achieve. This is important as NIDA is primarily a community of practitioners. Our users have a wide range of literacies and proficiencies when using academic resources, so we’re always mindful of making library services as accessible and inclusive as possible for emerging creative practitioners.
3) What led you to a career in LIS?
I originally trained to be a teacher, but realised it wasn’t for me in my final year of study. I thought working in libraries might suit my personality better, while still providing the opportunity to work with learners and knowledge. (Spoiler: I was right).
4) What are some of the challenges faced by libraries today?
One of the specialist issues in the performing arts is that archival theatre collections are split up across many different archives and libraries. Even when digitised, collections remain siloed from related materials at other institutions. So you still need high level research skills to find and access these specialist collections.
In Australia, we’re seeing arts schools merged with bigger universities or fighting to exist with precarious finances. It’s a particularly hot issue in NSW at the moment. As part of NIDA, we’re one of the largest independent performing arts libraries in the country. We’re aware that we’re in a privileged position in our sector, and recognise the impact that mergers and funding cuts have on the independence of specialist arts libraries.
5) Ebooks or Print?
Depends on what you’re after and how it’s delivered. I’ve found that digital products designed for performing arts users – such as Drama Online – see more use than our traditional e-book interface. Better system design by vendors, along with better user training from us, has made a huge difference.
Books are still so important for our community though. A lot of our users prefer print for the same reasons any other library user would – to rest their eyes, to get away from screens. There are also creative reasons why books are preferred: actors using a script in rehearsal will prefer it on paper so they can move around, designers browsing for inspiration will find higher quality reproductions in print, and handbooks for costume and prop makers are often only available in print.
6) What words of advice would you have for newbie library and information professionals?
Get involved with anything you can. Be prepared to work hard. Read open access library journals. Remember to take care of yourself.
Oh, and come to NLS8 in Canberra! It’s a symposium just for newbies, and it’s one of the best ways to be introduced to the industry. Head to nls8.com for details.
7) What is most misunderstood about library and information professionals?
Probably how much of the job is about customer service and user experience. I suppose people think we just work with books and computers all day, but I work with people more than anything else.
8) Why did you join ALIA?
Working in a small library can be isolating. So, on a personal level, I joined ALIA to meet people and keep up with what was happening in the wider LIS industry. It’s been an invaluable experience so far.
I’m also a member of the MEAA through my work in the arts sector, and I think it’s really important to be involved with organisations that claim to represent your profession or workplace. These organisations make decisions that directly affect you and the people you work with. If your profession is important to you, take every opportunity and privilege you have to fight for it and enact change for the better.
9) What is the most hilarious question you have ever been asked?
It’s actually not a question but an excuse… one of our members came in and said she needed to pay for a lost book. Not because she’d lost it herself – but because a very famous Australian actor had borrowed it from her in rehearsal, hadn’t returned it, and now everyone was too scared to ask for it back.
In any other library this excuse might not work, but we knew enough about the notoriously intimidating actor to believe it, and quietly ordered a replacement book.
10) What's your dream job?
There are some amazing performing arts collections in the world so it’s hard to pick just one… but working for the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts would be very special.