Clare Millar interviews Anne Rowlands, who is an Acquisitions Officer, Legal Deposit at the National Library of Australia.
When did you know you wanted to work in libraries?
Somewhat of a long story so I will keep it short; a library was always a place I felt safe and able to be myself, even before I knew I was transgender they were a place I could discover, learn, and feel secure in doing so.
What did you study?
My bachelors were called Bachelor of Communication (Information) for reasons that are clear to anyone; however, I always had a passion for finding things out, then sharing my findings with others. I loved to research and sorting things, and still do. I also studied a double degree with Bachelor of Information Technology, there was a part of that industry that made me feel icky, and it did not help that a lecturer said something deeply transphobic in my last year. I didn’t know why I felt so unpleasant about it at the time, but I did know I didn’t want anything to do with that man, so I dropped out of the IT part of my double degree. Now the IT area has improved somewhat I feel a bit better doing that sort of work, but it’s not my core skill set. It does come in handy a lot though, and I know more about Excel, HTML, and coding that most librarians and this has helped me adapt quickly as the industry has modernised.
What is the most useful skill you learned in your degrees? And what was the most enjoyable part of your studies?
We had a course called Information Retrieval in my Bachelors, and to this day, it is my most treasured course and skill. It honed my research skills and ability to find things others have no hope of finding. I found the Archival units and Research units enjoyable, but learning about Communication studies helped a lot with understanding how humans communicate and how to find things. I also have a somewhat healthy obsession with ontology and the formation of knowledge as a philosophy.
What does a typical day look like for you at NLA? What skills make you successful in doing that?
In my current role, I have a business as the usual task, and then several other tasks, which I suppose is how most jobs go. My main task involves helping implement the legal deposit scheme. I also help us keep track of literary awards we want to note on our catalogue, which is essential bibliographic information. This task allows our and other libraries to make collection decisions. We keep track of several National awards some are well-known ones like the Aurelias Award or the Prime Ministers Literary Award, others such as the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Award. I also help with collection development, by assisting with dealing with materials that we have copies more than we require, retrospective donations, returning incorrectly delivered materials and so on. I have had the opportunity to do a number of collection development projects, one on transgender-related material, and another on small publishers in Australia.
How has your role changed during the pandemic?
We have had a period of working from home, which meant we had to adapt very quickly to doing what tasks we could from home. Some just are not possible because some things can’t be done at home. Most of my tasks were the same, but as I wasn’t doing many of my usual other functions that are done only at the worksite, I did run out of things to do a few times. We had a workgroup come up with new ways of digitally interacting with the public, especially students who no longer had physical access to their public or school libraries.
Can you tell us a bit about how legal deposit works?
Legal deposit is a requirement under the Copyright Act 1968 that has enabled the National Library of Australia to collect Australian publications for more than 100 years. It ensures that a comprehensive collection of published material relating to Australia and its people is preserved for the community and future generations.
In 2016, the legal deposit provisions were extended to cover the online publishing landscape. This includes all Australian print and electronic books, journals, magazines, newsletters, reports, sheet music, maps, websites and public social media.
Any Australian person, group or organisation that publish are required to deposit print and electronic publications with the National Library of Australia in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968. If both formats are available, electronic is preferred. Electronic publications can be deposited using the National edeposit service (NED) https://ned.gov.au/
NED is an exciting collaboration between Australia’s nine national, state and territory libraries, responding to the significant challenge of capturing and preserving the digital documentary history of Australia for the future. The NED service provides for the deposit, management, storage, preservation, discovery and delivery of published electronic material across Australia.
Tell us about a frustrating experience you’ve had at work or in your career generally. Or perhaps something you’d like to see improved upon in your industry broadly.
One big thing I am always advocating is a better representation of queer and transgender materials. The bias from society flows into libraries, unfortunately, and that means these groups can be represented in a poor way. When I did my collection development project, the biggest way this flowed through into access was via subjects that books are assigned. Encouragingly, libraries and the profession are advocating and leading change in this space. Critical cataloguing is a growing part of the profession, and work is developing in the field to more broadly to decolonise description of materials.
What are most proud of in your career so far?
My transgender collection development project, but also my work with zines and volunteer archiving work.
And what are you hopeful for or excited about?
I am hoping the changes to catalogue description and subject description do actually let us represent queer and transgender people better.
I noticed you’ve worked with zines a lot—what excites you about this format?
Zines are on the fringe of publishing, and they are almost always unquiet, engaging, and quite often small packets of information you can’t find in mainstream publishing.
Libraries are often inclusive, safe queer spaces. How do you work towards this?
I have done a reference awareness talk on our transgender-related materials (and my project) to help our reference staff assist people looking for this material. Of course, this requires people asking about it, which can be nerve-racking, so I have made my list of the material public so that people can find it easily.