Ms Sara Elagha believes she has the ‘best job in the world’. She is a professional librarian, and works as a Children’s and Youth Services Librarian at a large public library in Victoria.
Sara would like to change the perception of librarians from people that ‘sit and read and shush everybody’ and is keen to promote libraries as ‘pretty radical places – we are free, open, public spaces and we don’t sell anything to anyone’.
Sara is an active volunteer with Olive Kids. Olive Kids is an Australian registered foundation that seeks to facilitate financial support, education and medical assistance to Palestinian children.
- I don’t know many professionals librarians – can you tell us a little about your role?
I completed a Masters of Information Management at RMIT because you need the relevant qualification in order to become a librarian and to be able to work in different types of libraries – such as public, academic, law or medical libraries. I’m a Children’s and Youth Services Librarian (although currently acting in a Branch Manager role) at a public library. As a Youth Services Librarian I run a range of programs and events for children, young people and their families. They vary from literacy-based programs for pre-schoolers to gaming events for young adults. I also work with parents and carers, modelling how to read and interact with their children to promote early literacy and a love of reading. I am also in charge of managing the junior and teenage collections at my branch which involves ordering books, graphic novels, CD’s and DVD’s and ensuring that we have a diverse and inclusive collection that is representative of the local community and meets their needs.
- What attracted you most about becoming a librarian?
I worked in a customer service role at a library as an undergraduate student and realised that it was a really fun and interesting environment. My colleagues really encouraged me to explore the possibility of becoming a librarian. I had completed a Bachelor of Arts and felt very aimless and I didn’t have a particular interest in anything, so I looked into what becoming a librarian entailed and found that it really fit me well – it was almost dumb luck! Most people don’t realise that libraries are pretty radical spaces – we are free, open, public spaces and we don’t sell anything to anyone. Our role is to support our community and help people find what they are looking for. It’s the best job in the world.
- What’s the most challenging aspect of your role?
I’ve found that there can be a fair bit of stagnation in certain pockets of this industry because libraries have traditionally been a pretty stable environment to work in and there is a great detail of job security –librarians have a tendency to stay in same role and the same organisation for 20 or so years. This sometimes means that people get very set in their ways and closed off to new ideas. I found that very challenging when I started out but I have a great management team who push very strongly for change and innovation. The other thing is that people outside of libraries also don’t understand what I do – they think of libraries as stodgy old places where everyone is quiet and librarians sit and read and shush everybody, which couldn’t be further from reality. We have a PR problem and are misunderstood on a wider scale. A lot of people don’t realise you can borrow online resources (books, magazines, music, movies), join a coding club, learn to build a drone and do hundreds of other things in public libraries for free!
- What’s the best career of advice you were given?
Value your work. It is great to volunteer but if you’re volunteering in a library role and other people are getting paid for the exact thing you are doing, then it’s not worth your time. Find something else!
- If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?
I wish I could tell the 16 or 17 year old me about this career path because I could have been where I am now 5 years ago. When you’re an ethnic kid in Australia you’re told the only career options are doctor or lawyer, but there are so many other intellectual and rewarding things that you can do to give back to your community.
- What advice can you give to those who are interested in becoming a librarian?
Do your research about what course to study because there are many different paths you can take. All librarians have a similar starting skill set but are vastly different in their specialties. I personally think public libraries are the best, but you should looking into all the options. Talk to librarians and volunteer at different types of libraries (academic libraries, school libraries, special libraries, etc) to get an idea of what you like and a sense of what happens there. For example, Museums Victoria, PROV and State Library Victoria all have great volunteer programs.