Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Elusive Figure of General Knowledge

I've always been attracted by the elusive figure of general knowledge. By the promise of well-roundedness, by the mirage of a better understanding of our world. And, because of the French wording of this particular concept ("Culture Générale"), by all of the meanings enclosed in the word "Culture". But, more importantly, I wanted to find meaning and order in all of this knowledge, all of this culture.
In high school already, I was avidly searching through encyclopaedias for neat time lines, pouring over the great trends of music through history, taking notes about the succession of ideas through the course of the world. When I began the game of competitive exams, general knowledge mutated into a requirement, and my original attraction became a real obsession. I needed to jump through the hoop of general knowledge dissertation to enter the top ranks of public service and its libraries.

I took the tests for years, always hopeful and enthusiast: the exercise was quite amusing and I was flirting with results almost good enough to pass. Meanwhile, I also worked my way through library school, a first job in an academic library and eventually passed a mid-level competitive exam to become a civil servant. What I've discovered through this process, is that my love for organising general knowledge in my head is what makes me an honourable librarian (or so I hope). It makes me thrive for coherent collections, for well-thought development policies and rigorous classification. But it doesn't make me any better at general knowledge dissertation, and, on that level, I'm certainly not able to compete against youngsters just out of literature or history preparatory classes.

So, I decided to stop fretting about exams for a while, and just rejoice in practising a job I love while enjoying my day-to-day stroll through cultural regions. I didn't give away general knowledge, I just keep the overall point of view for my library work, and dip timidly through its deep waters in my down time, not searching to get everything into my head, just enjoying the ride.
It materialised through different ways. In my intensified readings, in my discovery of MOOCs, in the curation feature I instituted on my original blog. I hope to tell you about all of this in the near future.
It also showed through a broader desire for more adventures, for exploring unknown territories. Since the beginning of this year 2013, I began running, I visited Japan, I tasted tons of new dishes and pushed myself to meet knew people. And now I want to push the adventure further and live somewhere else, discover a new way to work and to live. Taking the German definition of the word and burning to experience another culture, another country, another civilisation. And keeping to pick up bits of general knowledge along the way.

Licence Creative CommonsThe above photo was taken by me in Kyoto, Japan, in April 2013.
This photo and text are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Working in libraries: the job announcements

The deal I made with myself being that I wouldn't leave without a formal employment proposition, I've begun investigating library jobs all over Great-Britain. And, at first, I was shocked by a simple fact: there are actual job announcements for academic permanent positions (well, for all kinds of positions really). And quite a lot actually.

So why was it so shocking to me? Because academic libraries in France don't work like that at all. To have a permanent position in a library, you have to be a civil servant. And to become a civil servant, you have to pass a competitive exam. There are three main branches in French public service: state, territorial and hospitals, and, even though you can move from one to the other afterwards, the initial competitive tests you need to pass to integrate one branch or the other are different.

Territorial communities (and the ministry for culture) manage public libraries. The territorial competitive tests allow you to submit your application to these libraries and you're in charge of finding yourself a job within two years after passing the test (which isn't always easy... but that's another story).

The State (in particular the ministry for research and higher education) is in charge for academic libraries. I personally am an academic librarian, so their working is more familiar to me. After passing the competitive test of your choice, you are assigned to a position. You get to emit vows based on a list of vacancies, but you are not the one making the final decision. After three years of service in a library, you can ask for a transfer: once a year (twice for head librarians), a list of vacancies is issued and you can apply for positions. A commission decides, based on a variety of criteria, from marital status to length of service, who gets to go where.

This intricate system is the price we pay for our outstanding job security. But I personally resent it a bit. It was not my choice to come working in Paris. But 80% of the jobs in academic libraries are in or around the capital, so it's really hard to avoid coming there at one point or the other. I actually got very lucky and, even though I didn't get to stay in my region of origin, I integrated a very interesting position within an amazing team. But now, part of my motivation for leaving is to be able to actually make a choice: choosing where and what kind of position I want to apply for. Choosing of having a new experience in a nearby country. This new horizon of possibilities is a great motivation.

So, is the French libraries market really closed to foreign librarians who would like to get an experience here? Not really. Actually, French libraries employ quite a number of people on temporary contracts, and you can find announcements for this kind of jobs quite easily.
Here are two of our main resources:
  • Emploi Enssib will tip you off on vacancies in academic libraries;
  • While on Biblioemplois you're more likely to find job announcements for public libraries.
And of course, if you are a European Union citizen, you can take the competitive exams to become a civil servant, but that's another subject entirely...

Licence Creative CommonsThe above photo was taken by me at Seyssel, France, in December 2012.
This photo and text are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Hello, World! Hello, Britain!

It took me by surprise on 15 April. I was just coming back from a long awaited, carefully planned and tightly budgeted trip to Japan. During the whole holiday, I daydreamed about what it would be like to live there. And then I just blurted out... "Bah, anyway, I'd rather live in Great-Britain!".

Well, that made me think. I've been wanting to live abroad for a very long time. I mean, it's been on my bucket-list since middle school. But last year, almost exactly one year ago actually, I visited London for the first time. And it distinctly felt like falling in love... I spent all summer riveted to my tv, watching the Olympics (well, I would have anyway, but the London setting felt all the more special). In September, I was lurking on-line typing frantically "French librarians in the UK" on Google. In November, I was back there for a concert and a show. By January, I was budgeting for Japan and wondering if I would be able to save enough to plan another British trip in the summer.

So, I was hooked. But, in my head, I was still stuck on the thought that I had missed my chance during college. Then, I was too busy trying to figure out what I wanted to do to also sort out where I wanted to live. And I'm still trying to make peace with my younger self for not even thinking of applying for an Erasmus. But... Is it really too late? Is going far away on a whim only for young students who got enough of their wits together to get a scholarship and a plane ticket? Well, it took me all that time and that post-Japan realisation to come to that conclusion, but now I'm sure: I refuse to believe that it's too late. So I'm leaving.

Well... At least, that's what I told everyone. I announced it right away to my managers so that I couldn't back off when the realisation of the enormity of what I had just decided finally and inevitably exploded in my brain. And they were nothing but supportive. So I told it too to my friends and family. "I'm leaving. I want to live in Great-Britain." And they were thrilled beyond measure that I had such a daring project. Yes, I'm so very lucky.

But the thing is... In that exulting moment of decision, I didn't know how I would pull that trick. It's great to want to go away, but how do people actually do that? And I still don't know how I'm going to do it. Or if it will ever work. But I'm going to try anyway. With all my hopes and strength and heart. And we'll see what happens.
So, do you want to walk along this terrifying path with me?