Libex, the international job-exchange scheme for library and information staff, acts as a clearing house for those who are interested in arranging job exchanges with library staff in other countries. The scheme is run for its members by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), and is an example of good practice that could be used in the arts industry, says Julie Robinson.
Libex does not arrange the exchanges itself ? that is done by the applicants, who search the online database to find a suitable exchange partner. They then make direct contact with that individual, usually initially by email, and try to match timescales and other details. This is the hard part and it?s not uncommon to spend some months finding an exchange partner whose job and personal circumstances are a good fit. Some participants will also swap accommodation, but other arrangements (normally more expensive) can be made. Salaries, visas and travel all then need to be arranged; some participants continue to receive their salary at home for the sake of convenience.
Those people who have participated in exchanges point to several benefits, including the opportunity to gain professional experiences and knowledge, the chance to work in a new environment and then take new ideas home, and the fact that explaining systems and services to others helps them reflect on why they do things in a certain way back home. Besides the professional benefits, there is also the personal enrichment that comes from contact with another culture, meeting new people and discovering different ways of doing things.
The potential beneficiaries of an exchange are not only the participants but also the employers and line managers. Many participants, having found the experience inspiring, return with a renewed enthusiasm for their job as well as new knowledge and skills that can make useful contributions to the work of the team. They also make wide-ranging contacts and bring sample materials back from their visits. Visiting participants may also bring a different knowledge and skills set, which can be used to complement the local skills base. It can also be stimulating for other staff and team members to have someone new bringing a fresh perspective on the service.
Jonathan Tindale, an Intranet Officer at the Department for Work and Pensions in London, swapped his city job for a rural public library in Paraparaumu in New Zealand. Writing in Update, the CILIP monthly journal, he commented ?I was able, in consultation with the District Libraries Manager, to use my web-design background to give advice and recommendations for a new website, as well as utilise my online search skills to assist library customers. Despite a lack of cataloguing experience, I was able to tackle these new responsibilities efficiently. Until this exchange, I hadn?t appreciated quite how transferable our professional information skills are, how with a little effort they can be moved successfully to a different sector, or even a different country. The opportunity to learn new skills and adapt exiting ones is an eye-opening professional experience, where barriers become benefits and opportunities, not only for the individual, but also for the wider organisation, and, ultimately, the customer.?