Wednesday, 12 December 2018

How my career break helped my career

Last week I published a post on The Imagination Trail, my travel blog, about the ways in which long-term solo travel has helped my career; a contrasting narrative to the idea that people who choose to take some time out to travel will struggle to get back into the workplace upon their return. To summarise the points that I make in my piece:

  • Long-term solo travel helped to build my confidence
  • It also builds resilience
  • My Australian Working Holiday Visa (WHV) helped me to develop my existing transferable skills
  • Travelling long-term changed my perspective on things, and it has also helped me to start shaping a clearer plan for my future
I wanted to write a brief, more LIS-specific spin-off to this post, in case it might be of use to any other librarians considering a career break to travel or pursue other interests. 

I spent two of my years away living in Australia on the temporary Working Holiday Visa which is available to British citizens aged 18-30. This is a fantastic opportunity to experience living and working overseas, whilst also exploring a beautiful country. Unfortunately the restrictive nature of this visa (holders may not hold the same job for any longer than six months) meant that I was unable to secure any library work, so I found myself working a series of random jobs across multiple industries. While I enjoyed some of these a lot more than others (I discovered that working in retail at Christmas can actually be a lot of fun, whilst I certainly never intend to stand at the conveyor belt in an onion factory again!), in all of them I was finding myself using skills that I had used in my role as a librarian; working as a Travel Consultant for an online travel company taking inbound sales queries is fairly similar to handling information enquiries from students at the reference desk; often the enquirer isn't able to express or doesn't know what they're looking for, and they're wanting you to give them the answers, quickly and easily! I performed well in retail due to my excellent customer service skills and ability to promote the products, developed from working on enquiry desks and teaching students about the resources that the library provided. The manky onions benefited from my ability to pay attention to detail, honed from maintaining spreadsheets of journal subscriptions, checking reading lists, and managing stock purchases and budgets. I once even got promoted from hand-wrapping chocolate brownies (don't ask) to admin when the boss discovered I was a librarian - she was a library fan! Similarly, these jobs that I took on allowed me to continue using and developing these skills, meaning that I had plenty of recent examples to share in job applications and interviews upon my return to the UK and librarianship. 

If you're travelling on a WHV, or taking some time out to work elsewhere, I'm certain you'll be able to find parallels in the skills used in your new role and your previous, too. If you're travelling and not working, there are still plenty of opportunities to develop new skills - for example, by taking language classes - which demonstrate your ability to learn quickly and with ease. 

Remember too that you will be developing skills in your everyday activities when travelling, especially if you're alone  - as I point out in my original post, solo travel helps to improve your decision-making and problem-solving abilities. 

I would have loved to stay in Australia, and I made every effort to find an employer willing and able to sponsor me to work as a librarian there. Unfortunately, none were able to - as you can imagine, sponsorship is an expensive and complicated process. However, attending job interviews did give me the chance to learn more about universities and academic libraries in another country and how they differ to the UK - for example, I discovered that there is a very large number of distance learners in Australia due to its geographical vastness - which has helped to develop my understanding of the wider LIS environment (that important criterion number 3 for Revalidation!).

I feel very lucky to have the incredible experiences that I've had exploring Asia, Australia and New Zealand over the past few years, and then to be able to return to librarianship. I hope that my experience shows that it absolutely can be done. If anyone has any questions about travelling or taking a career break, please do get in touch - I'd love to try to help!

Saturday, 3 November 2018

I'm back!

It seems like only yesterday that I was packing my backpack to go for a wander. And yet, nearly three years later, here I am, back in Libraryland! I spent eight months travelling through Asia, followed by two years working a series of random temporary jobs in Australia (have you ever stood at a conveyor belt picking out manky onions for twelve hours? Or hand-wrapped luxury chocolate brownies in gold foil at a rate of eighty brownies per every thirty minutes? I have!). I arrived back in the UK one month ago, via a whistlestop three-week tour of New Zealand, and was lucky enough to quickly end up in a three-month contract working as a Senior Subject Librarian at Leeds Arts University.

I've been welcomed back into the community with open arms, and after my first few days at work I'm happy to discover that everything is coming back to me quickly! My priority over the next few weeks is going to be getting up to speed with my daily duties and making some progress on some projects which need to be done. It's my first experience of working in a small specialist institution so it's a different environment to what I'm used to, but there are definitely parallels with my first professional role where I was working in a small campus library doing a bit of everything, so I am confident in getting settled in to my new role.

I am also keen to Revalidate my Chartership within the next couple of months too. This actually goes nicely hand-in-hand with being in a new role after a career break, as reflecting on the tasks that I am doing and how I am developing professionally will help me to ensure that I am on the right track at work.

It's lovely to be back, and I look forward to seeing you all again when our paths cross!