Karys McEwen

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 January 2018… ten questions with ALIA Member Karys McEwen.

1) Tell us a bit about yourself

I am originally from the sunny shores of Western Australia. I studied a Bachelor of Arts and worked in Perth and then London for several years in galleries and arts administration, before moving to Melbourne in 2013 and starting my Master of Information Management (Librarianship). A few months into that course I got a position at a girls’ school as a library assistant, and I worked there for three years, eventually becoming the librarian when I completed my qualification. In 2017 I started working as the library manager at Glen Eira College. I am also on the CBCA Victoria Branch committee, have presented at the last two SLAV annual conferences, and am a mentor in the current ALIA Mentor Scheme.

As for the non-work side of myself... I am a fanatic reader (of course), make my own zines and am involved in the zine community in Melbourne, play softball, drink plenty of coffee, and unashamedly enjoy bad end-of-the-world movies and trashy reality TV. I also live with my high school sweetheart and our two cats, and love visiting the local markets and beautiful parks in my neighbourhood as often as possible.

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

I have been the librarian at Glen Eira College in south-east Melbourne for over a year now. It is a really diverse co-ed public school that is currently undergoing a whole-school renovation, so it is a challenging and exciting time! The opportunity to manage a library is a huge one for me, and I have enjoyed taking on the responsibility. I work with an amazing library staff, and also have the full support of the school and leadership team. In a difficult time for school libraries, I feel very fortunate.

My role is extremely varying and each day is quite different to the last. I wear a lot of hats! The library technician and I often joke that we need to add Events Co-ordinator, Printer Technician, Handyman, and Social Worker to our job descriptions. As much as possible, however, my focus is on library programs such as book club, wider reading and the Premiers’ Reading Challenge, information literacy sessions with classes, library promotion, creating displays and reading lists, developing the collection (print and digital) and working with students on readers’ advisory. I also collaborate as much as possible with the teaching staff, and enjoy being involved in other aspects of the school community such as the annual production and school camps.

3) What led you to a career in LIS?

After working in the fine art world for a few years, I found myself feeling as if I didn’t quite fit in and although I liked my work, something just wasn’t clicking. When I moved back to Australia from London I thought it was the perfect chance to try something new, and when I realised how much I’ve always loved libraries, I enrolled in the Masters on a bit of a whim. I never thought I would end up in school libraries, but that just happened to be the first job I interviewed for, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else!

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

There is a lot of uncertainty around the future of school libraries at the moment. With budget cuts, closures, and talk that school librarians are 'an endangered species', the doom and gloom can sometimes feel relentless. We need to turn this around and many of us are trying our best. The biggest challenge is making our libraries invaluable to the school community, and I know many of my colleagues around Australia are working to make this happen. School libraries must move with the times, be flexible and accommodating, and always keep our focus on the people we serve.

5) Ebooks or Print?

Ebooks when I’m travelling, and print the rest of the time. I am a fast reader and I usually don’t have the luggage space to carry piles of books when I’m not at home. My kindle serves me well in that case! Apart from that, I am happiest with a library book that has a bit more life to it than a screen. Though I’m not one of those people that will judge those who are ebook devotees — as long as you’re reading, that’s the most important thing!

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

Take the enthusiasm you have when you’re starting out and embrace it. Get involved in anything and everything; push yourself to make new connections, attend events, join committees and be involved in the LIS community however you can. I was quite isolated during my first two years of working in libraries, which is an easy trap to fall into as school librarians often work alone or in very small groups. In the last few years I have turned that around and I feel like I am a better librarian for it.

I have been working as a mentor in the 2017-2018 ALIA Mentor Scheme and have really appreciated the experience of collaborating with my mentee. Professional contacts makes such a difference in our industry, and ideas-sharing can be incredibly enlivening. I would encourage any newbies to get involved in this program as a mentee during the next intake!

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

In school libraries, I think most of what we do is misunderstood! I often get asked what I do all day, or have people assume I have a cushy job where nothing really happens and I spend all my time shushing kids. This has been a big source of frustration for me throughout my career. The school libraries I have worked in have been bustling places that are never quiet (and I rarely shush!) and I don’t think there has ever been a time when I’ve had nothing to do.

The way around this kind of misunderstanding is to patiently and politely explain the reality, but also remember the truth behind that Michael Moore quote; '[Librarians] are subversive. You think they're just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They're like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn't mess with them.'

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

I joined ALIA when I graduated from my Masters in early 2014. To be honest, I joined because I genuinely thought it was what you did when you became a librarian in Australia! Just a given in the industry. And I think in a way it should be; ALIA has provided me with many opportunities that I am truly grateful for, and I am proud to be a member.

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

Working with kids means I get asked some pretty funny questions in the library, and they usually come from deadpan students that have no idea they’re being so hilarious. Recently two boys came to me to settle an argument they’d been having for a few days: is a quiche a pie? I tried to hold a straight face while we did some research and determined that a quiche is actually a type of flan or tart. They left happy that their fight was resolved (though one of them later claimed that a quiche is neither, a quiche is just a quiche... I feel there’s some kind of philosophical message there?)

10) What's your dream job?

I think I might be in it! A lot of people have negative views towards teenagers, but I find them endlessly fascinating and for the most part, a pleasure to work with. They make my job rewarding and so much fun. Also, since starting my school library career I have always wanted to manage my own library, and I am delighted to be doing just that. In the future my mind might change, and I have always had a niggle that perhaps I might like to work in youth services in a public or state library, but for now I am one very happy school librarian.