Welcome to our eighth Academic Library Q&A blog post! Ash Barber (she/her), Academic Librarian from University of South Australia, joined us for a chat via Zoom. What is your role at University of South Australia? I’m an Academic Librarian. So, in my library, what that means is I support teaching and learning as well as research. I support our academics in developing courses and finding suitable textbooks. At UniSA, we are really trying to push for openly licensed or broadly licensed textbooks. If there is a textbook assigned that only has a three-user licence available for purchase (that means only three students can access the book at once), I will work with them to find alternative options. We are looking for broadly licensed textbooks, where an unlimited number of people can look at the book at once. Or, openly licensed, so it’s an open educational resource (OER), a free textbook essentially. Academic Librarians would also do things like running training sessions for courses to teach students information literacy skills. We will create bespoke training for different courses. For example, in our MBA courses, we do a lot of training on how to find company industry information. We run training for our researchers as well. Things like how to search for systematic reviews or how to manage their research data and information around copyright. We need to have a high level of copyright knowledge. We do a lot of work with research metrics. When it comes to grant season or academic promotion season, we help researchers find their best metrics. What does the Academic Library criteria selection process look like? Core values are very important at UniSA. Technical expertise is important, but they are really looking at the person and how they’re going to fit into the culture and core values. When applying for roles at the UniSA library, if these attributes are worded throughout the application that can be very helpful and show your understanding. UniSA core values are:
  • Provides solutions
  • Takes initiative and delivers results
  • Is trusted, authentic, and self-aware
  • Communicates with impact
  • Leads and works well with others
Academic Librarian is not an entry-level position. However, a student or a new graduate could go into a Reference Librarian role or Graduate Library Officer. We love our GLO’s! They may be doing the degree and get to rotate around to different teams. Having a tertiary qualification in information management is key or at least working towards it.  With the caveat of ‘or equivalent skills and knowledge’. A key criteria for an Academic Librarian position is a sound understanding of developments in academic publishing, scholarly communication, and digital literacy. There is always a question about emerging technologies. At UniSA we use H5P, the eBook system called eReserve, and Alma LMS. Having experience with these digital technologies is helpful. Would you recommend having experience with other types of learning or library management systems? Yeah, having experience with any is helpful because you understand how the systems work. But naturally having direct experience with Alma is very helpful. Are there any soft skills that are highly recommended by a selection panel? Customer service experience is very very useful, especially for Reference Librarian roles. Often feedback for unsuccessful applicants for graduate positions is to improve their customer service skills and then reapply. Also having a passion for what you’re doing is obviously very good. Because you will be driven and able to work semi-autonomously. The ability to take initiative is in core value and is something that we look for. Our staff will be able to identify and anticipate a problem or a need and will bring solutions to management. Finally, communication skills. You need to be able to tailor your communication style to different cohorts. For example, with students, avoid library jargon and don’t speak overly formally. But you’ll need to be able to switch to higher-level communication skills when speaking with academics. Are there other types of technical skills that students and new graduates should be aware of? ChatGPT and AI are on our radar. We have created a guide for these. Knowledge of AI could be very helpful when it comes to answering a question about emerging technologies. As a technical skill it is not essential… yet! Important technical skills include good proficiency in technology used at UniSA Library, including the Microsoft suite, Sharepoint, Alma LMS, and LibCal which we use for our event calendar. We also use CRM for customer service and WebX for phones. What kind of library guides do you create at UniSA? We have 80 guides available on our website. There are all kinds of guides covering topics such as open educational resources, research skills, and subject-specific guides. For example, we have a tab dedicated to the MBA. We include a lot of interactive H5P resources to help students practise the skills to really embed the learning. We have a huge guide that is full of the various company and industry information databases. We use this a lot in our MBA sessions to teach students how to drill down into which database they should be using and how they use it because they’re all quite different. Do academic libraries provide professional placement opportunities for outside students? Our library doesn’t have the option for non-students to do placement. We have a very small physical collection, so the type of work isn’t available. We do have casuals from time to time to help with specific projects. This happens in the Archives also. Usually, casuals will be working towards a degree. You’ll find that most academic libraries will be like that unless they have a large physical collection. What is the recruitment and interview process like? The process from applying to getting the job can be several weeks or more. The job is advertised, and you need to apply through the portal. You will be required to write responses to select essential criteria. Use the STAR approach to demonstrate how you have met those criteria. The interview will ask about those same criteria, so it is always good to have a second example up your sleeve. The cover letter is a nice way to shoehorn the other essential criteria into your application. For some positions, they will also ask you to do a five-minute presentation on a topic. You will find out about the interview at the point you are informed of the interview. The prompt would be something like, “looking at the future of the higher education landscape, what do you think are the three key things that UniSA library should be focusing on?” It is important to keep to time. The interview panel are looking to get your understanding and strategy. After the interview, you may be shortlisted. There may be a second round of interviews, which are usually less formal. After that, they will do reference checks, and then you will be offered the job, hopefully! Is there a recommended length for resumes? UniSA doesn’t have a recommended length. But generally, the more succinct you can be the better. I tend to keep the cover letter to one page as a rule. And the CV I’d keep to between one and three pages. Mine is four pages at the moment. Certainly, no more than four pages. That would be too long. Particularly for a reference librarian role, I don’t think there would be enough relevant information to go over four pages. Should you include references on the resume or supply them later? You need to provide them at the start through the portal. Always have two or three on your resume. Thanks Ash! Do you have any further advice for students and new graduates? One thing I will say is that the library degree is often very public library-angled or archives-angled. There wasn’t much at all about academic library work. So, I learned through the job. I feel like many graduates aren’t prepared for academic library life. If they can gain experience doing research, maybe through a Master’s degree, that could help them when they’re supporting researchers in an academic library. If you can, get familiar with using metrics and impacts. This includes altmetrics, which track impact in things like social media and policy, as well as traditional publishing metrics. We use SCimago and InCite Journal Citation Reports (JCR), among others. You don’t need to know everything about using metrics, but some awareness will be helpful.  Knowledge of copyright and creative commons is also very useful. Especially in relation to eBooks. I say the worst thing you can do in an interview is talk about how much you love reading physical books because we don’t really have them anymore. We are actively moving away from them because they’re just not suitable for our academic community based on our user statistics. In my home I have so many physical books, I love print books! But I wouldn’t be talking about it in an interview.  How can students and new graduates build a broad knowledge of the academic library sector? Do you recommend journals?  Yes, that would be great! Any way to get into the information community and to be absorbed in information. You could also follow individual librarians on social media to get an idea of what’s going on. You can follow me for content on open education (@AshTheLibrarian).  What about international trends? Should students and new grads be aware of those?  Yes, that can be helpful. But try looking at the strategic plan for the library you are interested in first. That way you’ll know what international content to pay attention to. For example, at UniSA, we are focused on digital technology and industry-related practices. We are about creating degrees that are aligned with industry. Other institutions may have a different strategic focus.  Thank you Ash Barber for sharing your time with ALIA SNGG! This interview has been edited for clarity.


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