Sunday, January 15, 2012

Receiving the LAS Outstanding Newcomer award

2011 has been an amazing year for me professionally, I got to attend my first overseas conference (ALA annual 2011), spoke overseas, contributed a few articles and a book chapter or two. More amazingly, I was named a LJ Mover & Shaker 2011 in March, voted best speaker at a LAS (Library of Association) Library seminar in April and my luck continued towards 2012, where I was voted one of several "NUS Libraries Shining Stars" by my colleagues and last week I was awarded the LAS award for outstanding newcomer and to top it off I was promoted to the rank of Senior Librarian!

The above sounds really boastful & self congratulatory but I am also humbled by all the accolades which makes me pause and think about what I can do to help the profession. The traditional 5 year period which marks one as a newcomer expires for me in Aug 2012, so very soon I can no longer hide behind the "I'm still a newbie" excuse.

To begin with I was asked to say a few words at the LAS event to encourage future and current librarians. I was somewhat surprised to have to do this, as I was under the impression all I had to do was to go up stage and shake hands. :)

This is what I came up with.

"Thank you all for the award, I am humbled to receive this award. I am sure you all read or heard much talk about the predicted demise of libraries with people talking about libraries becoming extinct. I remember even at my very first LAS conference a few years back, the guest of honour- a non-librarian said that he sensed gloom and doom from us and of course last year at this very event a similar sentiment was expressed.

But while I feel there is much to do and change in libraries, we are far from finished. Recently even Richard Watson, the futurist who placed libraries in the extinction timeline in 2020 recently said that he repents (so I guess he feels like the people in Aljunid now”) and that he got it “Totally wrong”.

The danger lies in us librarians admitting defeat and discouraging other bright new passionate minds from joining the profession and contributing the fresh ideas that we so very need. Believe it or not librarians-to-be look up to us and they want to be us. I experienced this first hand, as a newly minted librarian, where a few students would come up to me and say they wanted to be a librarian. How should one respond?

In my personal and professional life I have seen the difference been positive and believing and fighting for what you believe can do. I have won professional battles simply by believing something is possible and going for it.

But you can’t win all battles, and inevitably you will feel fustrated. But if there is one thing I have learnt is that being frustrated is normal. 

Roy Tennant from OCLC perhaps said it best in An Open Letter to New Librarians

" Deeply committed and visionary people will also tend to be frustrated and impatient. But I’m here to tell you that with dedication and patience you will not only survive, but thrive. Our profession is counting on you to do so. Only the best and the brightest are frustrated. Everyone else is bored, or unengaged, or biding their time for retirement. You are the ones we simply cannot do without.”

Personally I have suffered setbacks that made me consider leaving the industry and it was only with the support of friends, family, peers from the library world, colleagues in particular my direct boss and the senior library leadership of NUS Libraries that did not happen.

I know this is just the beginning of my career and my speech sounds almost like I've won an oscar, but like most of you, libraries is my life and I am looking forward to working with you all to contribute towards the future of libraries

Thank you."

Okay, while that was what I planned to say, in actual fact I was so nervous I forgot what I wanted to say and pretty much messed it up. :) I did manage to get Roy Tennant's quote correctly and it draw applause (thanks Roy!)

While I am still fairly junior and still have a very long way to go myself, I pledge in 2012 to focus less on myself and focus more when I can on helping, encouraging and sharing my experiences with my bright, passionate & inevitably impatient and often frustrated juniors.

After all we need as many talented and passionate librarians working side by side to secure the future of libraries and we all have to play our part to ensure this. 

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