Career Spotlight: What I Do as the Ada Booth Librarian
August 20, 2017
With the IFLA World Library and Information Congress taking place August 19-25 in Wrocław, Poland, Librarianship.ca is profiling members of the librarianship community from outside North America.
Ada Booth Librarian (Subject Librarian for Slavic, German and International Studies), Monash University, Melbourne, Australia /
Co-convenor for the ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association) Students and New Graduates Group
First of all, tell us a bit about your current work and how long you’ve been at it.
For the last two and a half years I have been in the position of the Ada Booth Librarian, the official title of the Slavic Studies Subject Librarian at Monash University Library in Melbourne, Australia. The role is named after the late Ada Phyllis Booth who left a generous benefaction to the Library which allowed us to establish the Ada Booth Slavic Collection in 2011. Apart from having traditional subject librarian responsibilities for Slavic, German and International Studies, my main task is to develop, manage and promote our special collections in Slavic Studies and support research related to Eastern Europe.
What drove you to choose your career path and how did you go about getting your job? What kind of education and experience did you need?
My first degree was in German and English literature. I always wanted a job that has to do with books, but after finishing my degree I worked in several jobs that had nothing remotely to do with that goal! For a while I was even selling used cars to backpackers, and also did a stint as property manager and personal assistant. I finally set down and reminded myself what my original goal was, and while I might have been drawn originally to librarianship because of the traditional (and romanticised) idea of a building full of books, what I love most about the career I chose is the variety of the role that revolves around the interaction with students, academics and researchers, and the amazing team of librarians and learning skills advisers here in the Library.
What kinds of things do you do beyond what most people see? What do you actually spend the majority of your time doing?
People see Slavic and think Russian – but in fact we do have 16 Slavic languages in the collection (and a few extra Eastern European languages) and I am responsible to develop the collection not only in most of these languages, but also in various subject areas that range from literature to history, music, theatre and film studies, design, culture studies, to business and law. As this is still a very traditional field of librarianship, most of my time is actually spent developing the collection. We have very few eBooks in Slavic languages, and while we have some standing orders and subscriptions, we do not rely on approval plans and most of the decisions are made by me as the subject expert.
What misconceptions do people often have about your job?
As soon as people hear that I’m a librarian they expect me to either spend all my time reading or to be a walking encyclopaedia. I wish! I’m just good at knowing where to find things.
What are your average work hours? Typical 9-5 thing or not?
Most of the time, but I am teaching a couple of classes each semester outside of normal office hours, and I often attend community and other networking events outside of my average work hours.
What personal tips and shortcuts made your job easier?
I was born in Germany after my family emigrated from Poland and in fact learned Polish before I learned German. In Europe it is very common to learn several languages in school, and I expanded my knowledge of various European and even some Asian languages at university. Down here in Australia, such a knowledge of various languages is quite uncommon, so that helped getting this position straight after finishing my Masters in Information Management.
What do you do differently from your peers in the same profession?
My role is sitting right in between a typical subject librarian and a special collections/rare books librarian, so I combine both of these areas in my role. Together with the variety of languages I am covering, I need a very particular skill set to be able to do my role well that includes first and foremost a lot of flexibility and ability to work extremely well in a team, as the collection stretches across so many different subject areas that requires me to work with different subject librarians in different faculty teams and departments.
What’s the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?
Ordering! While selecting the items is fun, the actual ordering process is not. It is very repetitive and time-consuming, and I can easily fall behind during the busy times of the semester if I am not extremely good with my time management. It was really hard when I started and we didn’t have any procedures or policies in place, but I have gotten really well in setting limits and asking for help when needed and not to try and do everything myself.
What’s the most enjoyable part of the job?
The variety of different aspects of the job. One day I will be out teaching a German Research and Essay Writing Workshop, the next I will be assessing a donation, acquiring some rare Soviet posters for the collection, develop an eLearning resource, analyse and review some stats about the collection or one of our eResources, collaborate with academics on their teaching or research, chase up a difficult search query, or run a peer learning session. No day is the same, and right now I am in the middle of setting up a library fellowship for our Slavic collection.
Is there a way to “move up” in your field?
Working in a major academic library, the opportunities are always there. Currently there is a lot of development in Research & Learning roles as well as engagement, and with the way the profession is evolving I am sure there will be many more opportunities in the future that right now we can’t even think of.
What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?
Always remember what you are passionate about and stay true to who you are. You will not always be able to follow your passions, but they are what will keep you going when things are tough. Also, start building your network! I only got the position because a friend who was working at Monash told me about it, and without here I would not be where I am today. This was the main reason why I started volunteering for the ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association) Students and New Graduates Group, because I wanted to help others find their way just as I have.