CAREER PROSPECTS ARE LOOKING GOOD IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
Patricia Layzell Ward, UK Convenor, Library Link
Attending CONSAL XI, held in Singapore in April 2000, provided an enjoyable way to gain an overview of the current state of library and information work in the Asean Region. CONSAL is the Congress of Southeast Asian Librarians and its member countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Over 600 people registered for the Congress, including delegates from the member countries, Australasia, Europe and North America. It was informative, friendly, good-humoured and well-organised. A splendid banquet was followed by a CONSAL tradition - the countries represented performed their party pieces, displaying some rare talent for singing, traditional dancing and humour! Librarians are versatile!
Singapore provided an excellent location. Delegates were able to see the changes that have taken place in the public libraries there. Building on the strong foundations of a service that reached out to the multicultural and multilingual community, encouraged literacy, provided reference services for business and school children as well as the public at large, the National Library Board has added the benefits of ICT to the delivery of services. At the same time service points have been redesigned in terms of their location, use of space and presentation. New service points have been established, including the glitzy library@orchard housed in one of the major shopping centres. It is a library service for the start of the 21st century which demonstrates the value that the Singapore Government places on its library and information services. Many governments have spoken on a similar theme - few have taken it forward into reality.
A review of Singaporean library services was carried out in 1992. This laid the foundations of the service to the community for the next decade. Library 2000 established six strategic thrusts:
- an adaptive public library system
- a network of borderless libraries
- a co-ordinated national collection strategy
- quality service through market orientation
- symbiotic linkages with business and community
- a global knowledge arbitrage.
Three key enablers were identified:
- setting up a new statutory board
- staff development
- exploiting new technology.
The National Library Board’s mission statement is ‘to expand the learning capacity of the nation so as to enhance our national competitiveness and to promote a gracious society’. Clearly one important element of the plan is to recruit staff to provide the level of service expected by the Board. So recruitment information makes it clear that the Board is seeking dynamic and service-oriented team players who share its vision and mission. New age professional librarians are responsible for a range of duties including organising promotional programmes, collection maintenance, handling reference enquiries and cataloguing. They must be competent in information access and retrieval, CD-ROM, Internet and other electronic resources, have excellent communication skills, appreciate information needs, possess a strong customer orientation and the ability to work in a dynamic environment. Para-professional staff have responsibility for customer service, handle reference enquiries, maintenance of the library collection and routine correspondence. To support this work there are administrative officers.
The skills profile asks potential candidates if they have the following qualities:
- customer and service orientation
- team orientation
- growth orientation
- positive work attitude
- flexible and adaptable
- genuine interest in working with people
- love of books and a thirst for knowledge
- passion for learning
- good interpersonal and communications skills
- computer literacy and an aptitude for other forms of electronic resources.
All full-time staff work a 42-hour week, including shift duties and work on Sundays. In return staff benefits include leave, medical and dental coverage, loan schemes (for housing, computers and cars), staff welfare (gifts and tokens for various occasions, and activities for staff and their families), annual bonuses, and uniforms for front-line officers. Other benefits include some that are not often found in employment contracts elsewhere - marriage leave, paternity leave, holiday subsidy and local professional membership. The Board is committed to continually upgrading the skills of its staff, believing that they will perform more efficiently and derive greater satisfaction from their work through training and skills development.
This is an attractive package for people seeking a career in a forward-looking service who want to work in an attractive environment, wear a smart and fashionable uniform, and receive a package of benefits in addition to a basic salary. More details are available at www.lib.gov.sg for library managers in other parts of the world who are considering a re-vamp of their employment package and the ways in which it can be presented in order to attract the right staff.
One other factor was evident about staffing library and information services in Southeast Asia - the number of expatriates working in the region is declining rapidly. A few years ago they would have been at the conference as local librarians. This time they were attending as ex-expatriates. One pointer to this important development is the appointment of Nellie Dato Paduka Haji Sunny as the first Bruneian to hold the post of University Librarian at the University of Brunei.
From discussions with senior delegates from other countries it was clear that governments were taking similar action to that in Singapore, and making an investment to raise the importance of information and library services for social and economic development.
The Congress provided useful information and exchanges of experience for delegates to take home, since papers covered a range current issues including developing technologies, knowledge management, digitisation, consortia, performance measures and copyright. But lest there be complacency Professor Russell Bowden, formerly of the British Library Association and now resident in Sri Lanka, drew attention to the Global Knowledge II Conference held in Kuala Lumpur a few weeks earlier, noting its growing power. For those library services that were not adapting to change, he urged them to do so quickly. They need to be successful ‘in getting on board this new innovative, energetic movement that sees information as the key to sustainable development and to empowering the poor of this globe’. And that is a comment which applies across the globe, and it may be that colleagues in Southeast Asia are leading the way.