Learning from Libraries, Libraries, Universities

Learning from Libraries – an interview with Roxanne Missingham

Roxanne Missingham, University Librarian and the Australian National University (ANU) describes what it means to her to be a librarian

Tell us a bit about your career.  Did you always want to be a librarian?  Where was your first job?  Where did you get your library qualification?

My mother says that I wanted to be a librarian when I was in primary school! My first degree at university was a Bachelor of Science.  I studied at ANU: lots of Maths and Psychology, with a minor in English.

There weren’t many jobs for women in science and so I did a postgraduate qualification in librarianship at what is now the University of Canberra. I was inspired by such amazingly dedicated lecturers as Maxine Rochester and John Balnaves and was extremely fortunately to be recruited to what was essentially a graduate trainee program at the National Library of Australia.

I loved my colleagues, helping to build the library collection and the ethos of making a national difference through libraries. The diversity of work is fabulous – as are the regular challenges and opportunities.

Tell us about your present job.  What do you like most about it?  And least?

I have been at the Australian National Library as University Librarian for almost 9 years. It is my first job in the higher education sector. When I was interviewed (there were 9 on the panel!) my key points, as I recall, were a passion for inspiring excellence through student experience and an ability to deal with complex clients. I had been Parliamentary Librarian for 7 years.  The interviewing panel thought there might be some similarities between serving members of parliament and serving academics.

At the university my portfolio includes libraries, archives, digital scholarship, the ANU Press and digital literacy. The team is amazing: we work with everyone in the university in some way. My passion is connecting people to knowledge and pretty much all aspects of this are included in the work of the Division.

I love working with my colleagues on new ways to open up access to knowledge and ideas.

Now for the confession, I would love to do less paperwork and use more of that time to work with the team!

Tell us a bit more about ANU Press, why it was set up, your own role.

ANU Press was established in 2003 and officially launched in 2004, with the aim of exploring and enabling new modes of scholarly publishing. It was Australia’s first fully open access scholarly press. We have worked through various strategic changes to foster innovation in scholarly publishing, find new ways to engage with authors and students and move beyond the concept of knowledge trapped behind paywalls.  We were initially focused on communicating the research of ANU scholars and have now increased the eligibility authors who may publish and steadily added other new dimensions.

I am very fortunate to be head of the division in which the ANU Press sits and to work on the Advisory Committee.

What has the pandemic meant for you? What have been its highs and lows?

Life in 2020 has been an endless parade of calamities. We have had bushfires, campus closures owing to smoke, hailstorms which destroyed library and other roofs and very many cars and then COVID-19.

I think a big high is the fantastic support within our teams for colleagues, assisting and caring for each other in times of stress.  The strong team approach across the whole university has been very inspiring.

As we reach the end of the year, perhaps the two lows are having to say farewell to many staff owing to the university’s downsizing; and the fact that having to endure so many disasters in such a short space of time has been wearing on the heart and soul of the community. We have not been able to engage as deeply or personally because of the time we’ve had to spend off campus and the move to digital communication, even though under the circumstances that was, of course, very appropriate.

What is the most challenging thing you’ve had to deal with in your career; and the thing that makes you most proud?

I think the most challenging matter this year has been the separation of so many staff from our team, people whose contribution to the university and division has been terrific over a sustained period. They remain part of our family but have found that financially it was the right time for them to go.

I am extremely proud of the achievements of the team in working together and keeping the heart and soul of the university alive through all the work of the division. We have created new relationships with students and academics to make the university a success in 2020.

If you look into your crystal ball, what do you think will happen to librarianship in Australia (or everywhere if you prefer) in the next 3 – 5 years?

Given the changes taking place in teaching, I think that academic librarianship will focus on contributions to education with a greater sense of partnership, driven partly by the need to foster the digital education of staff and the academic community as a whole. This also brings to the fore the imperative for greater experimentation in digital delivery, discovery and scholarship. The spirit of partnership needs to extend to our work with publishers. I think OA will mature and that new models must be supported that will have disciplinary nuances and deep library involvement.

Library education is up for major debate. The evolution of micro-credentials and new forms of skilling must focus on “snack packs” to upgrade our knowledge and build stronger partnerships with employers.

Finally linking up the GLAM sector to tackle fundamental policy issues – such as copyright – is essential

Would you mind saying a little more about your personal life – children, hobbies, etc.?

Life provides many challenges and the joy of my husband’s and my life are our two grandchildren, who are aged 2 and 7 – princesses with a lot of energy. Not to forget our three grown up children!  I am a keen quilter – every time I complete a quilt I swear not to buy more fabric as the stash is overtaking the spare room. My current project is a quilt for the youngest grandchild, which has an image from Totoro of May: Saski, Totoro and the two small animals are appliquéd in the middle.  And the garden and chickens are calling too!

[This interview was conducted by Linda Bennett, Gold Leaf]

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