“If you need to, sell your blood. But never stop your child from attending school”.
I am a Library Officer (Digital Collections) Copyright, Digitisation and Repositories at the RMIT University in Melbourne.
My life was full of struggle since childhood. I was born in Bangladesh. My parents never encouraged me to go to school due to an extreme poverty in family; there was no food to eat every day, no money to buy study materials, pay school fees. I had to help my parents with farming to survive, and often my mother would tell me off for taking the time to study.
But I loved going to school and tried my best to combine it with farm duties. It was hard, especially without full family’s support. Luckily, the headmaster of my school noticed the grades I was getting and found out about my situation. He knew I would do even better if I continued my studies.
Once he met my mother and put it in very simple terms for her: “If you need to, sell your blood. But never stop your child from attending school”.
After that, she let me go regularly after completing other family tasks.
I was determined to be the best in my class till I attended at University. Because of that, I was able to get admission to the top university in the country, the Dhaka University, at a minimal living and study cost.
When choosing the major, my main consideration was being able to find a job at the end of my studies.
Some of my senior friends told me a librarian will always find work, so I chose a Bachelor’s in Information Science and Library Management course.
Even though the course fees were discounted, I still didn’t have enough money to afford them. I cried when I thought I wouldn’t be able to manage. In the end, I was able to scrape together enough working as a private tutor, but even then, I went to sleep many nights without having eaten.
During my bachelor study I was also actively involved in BNCC – Bangladesh National Cadet Corps. It is a volunteer organization based in educational institutions and run by Bangladesh Army. BNCC provides help during natural disasters, assists in organizing cultural, social national and international events.
Through my service I got to one of the highest ranks – Cadet Under Officer, CUO.
Out of all the CUO’s, one gets chosen as a Cadet Adjutant, and all of my achievements were leading up to that. I should have gotten this place, but I missed out. I have a feeling it was due to my minority religion. It felt very unfair and discriminative. Therefore I refused my CUO rank and left the camp.
After that, I started looking for an opportunity to leave Bangladesh.
On the last day of my bachelor study, in 2004, I got a job as a school librarian in a prestigious English medium school. My job was to maintain library resources, research and manage library book purchases.
The conditions in school libraries were very basic; I didn’t get chance to utilize all of my knowledge there.Mainly I was busy helping kids borrow books and return books, sorted shelves and updated catalogue entries. We never accessed the full range of library services.
Even in a top school such as that one, I was managing everything with a handwritten register! There were no computers there – that’s in 2004!
I remember the management were really surprised when I requested a computer in the library to develop library management systems. ‘What for?’, they said. We never got one.
But I wanted to utilize and grow my knowledge on the job, so I went from a school library to the university library.
I got a job in one of the best private universities in the country.
I enjoyed it, because it was an actual library service. I was responsible for providing customer service, teaching the students how to use the library, organizing orientations.
Students would come to the library and search the catalogues for particular texts; so the libraries need to subscribe to databases from all over the world. There are thousands of them, and the choice depends on the library.
Though I liked the job, sometimes I got frustrated. Compared to other fields, like business, engineering or sciences, the salaries of librarians aren’t so good. Also, students and academics tend to not respect librarians enough, thinking that they are less knowledgeable.
Many Library Information graduates find themselves getting gradually frustrated due to these factors, and question their choices.
In 2007 I started researching the requirements for migration.
I managed to get the sponsorship for the skilled migration visa, and after completing all the paperwork and jumping through all the hoops, I arrived to Australia in 2009 with my family.
I thought because the South Australian government was sponsoring me as a skilled librarian, that they needed people of my profession.
What we didn’t realize is that we came during a recession, and people were looking for jobs everywhere. I also didn’t realize that my qualifications and experience would not be immediately recognized here at the same level they were at home.
Upon our arrival, one of my friends in Adelaide asked me if I wanted work as a janitor at a school. I vehemently refused, since I thought of myself as a skilled person, and able to do more skilled work.
Little did I realize how hard it would be to get a job.
I applied to every library in the state, with no luck. Money was running out. We had to survive with a small child.
So in the end, I and my other friend started to look for other jobs, going door to door, dropping CV’s. We were applying for all kinds of job – cleaning, factory jobs.
One night I got an email from a cleaning company manager, saying that she couldn’t reach me on the phone. I disconnected the landline earlier that day, as I wasn’t able to pay for it anymore. By the time I spoke to the manager, it turned out that job was already taken. I was desperate and she agreed to put me in touch with another manager who had an opening.
At the interview, they asked me if I had a car, as it was a long commute – 55 km from my house. I said I did, although in fact I didn’t.
But I needed a job so badly that I had to lie.
So, to get to work, I was taking a 5:30 train, then catching a bus, and then a taxi from there.
I worked cleaning jobs for the next two years. But throughout that time, I never stopped applying in my own field.
The cleaning work was very hard mentally. I was asking myself, “What am I doing? How long do I have to keep doing this?”
I had thoughts of coming back to Bangladesh. But it already took so much effort and money to come to Australia; I couldn’t go back with empty hands.
I started doing some volunteering in the City Council Library in Adelaide. Just basic tasks, like re-organizing bookshelves and tidying, but it allowed me to start networking and to get more hands-on experience in this country.
When I finally got my permanent residency after having a full-time cleaning job for 2 years, I immediately started my Master’s degree. I did a course in Information Sciences and Library Management.
While studying, I did some volunteering at the Department of Correctional Services, 4-8 hours a week.
I realized that if you want to start a career and you don’t have enough experience, you can start by volunteering.
You get connected to people, you can get good references from them.
I finished my Masters in 1 year instead of 1.5, as they allowed me credit from my previous studies in the field. I also encouraged my wife to get enrolled in a course to renew her qualifications in her own field.
During that time I got really involved in the local community, working as a cultural secretary, president of a community language school, organizing social and cultural events.
My Saturdays and Sundays were always busy with these community activities.
Finally, the library at the University of South Australia offered me a job, initially as a returns assistant, and later on as a library assistant. It was a start I needed, and I grabbed my chance.
I helped students, staff and academics with reference management tools, copyright, creative commons, open access, scholarly publishing, impact factors of journals, access to e-books and database, research repository and catalogue searching techniques.
It was a good job, but the drawback was that every December the contract would expire and you wouldn’t know whether it would be renewed for the next year.
After a couple of years, my contract didn’t get renewed.
So we decided to move, and I started applying everywhere – Melbourne, Sydney. I had more experience now, so not long afterwards, I got a call from Department of Treasury and Finance in Melbourne. It was a one-year contract, to help organize their resources and catalogues.
In the meantime, I looked for an opportunity to improve my qualifications. I always dreamt of getting a doctorate, so I applied to the RMIT University to do my PhD, and was accepted.
It was an incredible opportunity.
I enrolled in 2015 as a full-time student. I finished the job at the DTF, and my wife started full time work, so I could study. At the same time, I got a call from an old contact who offered me a part time job at the Wyndham City Council to help with my costs.
My PhD thesis focuses on Discovery Layers, which is a pre-harvested central index coupled with a richly featured discovery layer providing a single search across a library’s local, open access, and subscription collections.
Basically, it’s where the user search is happening, like google for library records. The user interfaces and search system for discovering, displaying, and interacting with the content in library systems. There is one unified layer of searching that gets results from all journal databases indexed. It searches the central index including your own library items, and then many more from other libraries’ indexes.
Even if you use Google Scholar, you won’t get all the results that you get with Discovery Layer.
I have narrowed down my research to focus on the analytical tools of Discovery Layer. They allow analysis of the library collection, user experience, statistics, and performance – to provide better service to the users. It can optimize the subscription to databases, by measuring the usage of all the different ones in the system.
My idea is to assess the impact of the analytical tools on the access to information for end users.
Then last year, as I was in the first milestone of my PhD, the university offered me a full time job in their library. I was torn.
On the one hand, I wanted to finish my thesis, and get my PhD. Then again, the whole reason for further studies was to better my work prospects, and this great opportunity to start working in my field and developing on the job was presented to me.
Finally, I decided to do my PhD to part time, and started working full time for RMIT.
My job is to transfer metadata from the old system to a new, cloud-based, one.
I create, extract, and manipulate metadata based on MARCXML and Dublin Core and transfer digital contents from an existing system to a new generation, cloud-based one. We are migrating to the next-generation library management system. There are many reasons to transfer content and metadata – better service, easier access, and better management for a long run.
Unlike my previous roles, where I had to do a lot of customer service, this job is more specialized; I work in the back of the library.
I like that a lot: working with the metadata, assessing problems and solving them. It can be very hard to pinpoint the mistake within volumes and volumes of metadata. A simple dot out of place somewhere can make the whole thing wrong, unreadable.
It’s challenging, but when you can figure it out, there is a lot of satisfaction.
When you are extracting 5000 titles with contents, illustrations, references – you test it on the system and it comes though, it’s very enjoyable. Then other times, you work for a whole day uploading some of the contents to the end system and you get zero results – that’s very frustrating!
As I am now studying part-time, I get 8 years to finish my PhD. My intention is to do it in five.
Modern library science is all IT-based, so your idea and research can be already outdated if you take too long to develop it. So I’d like to finish by 2021.
My intention after that is to work in a decision-making position in the library, but not as an academic – perhaps in management, or projects.
I try to balance my daily life – working full-time, studying part-time, taking care of the family, maintaining commitments – with other activities.
I am an editor of a weekly bulletin called “the Librarian Times”. It’s my personal initiative, and the idea is to share knowledge and exchange ideas with fellow librarians around the world. I collect national and international news, publish them as a weekly bulletin.
I guess I want to take the knowledge and experience I’ve been lucky enough to accumulate, and share it with people, especially those back home, to help them, and to spread the knowledge.