Senior librarian Bill Beach has seen many changes in his 44 years in the Library, not least of which has been the change in men’s hairstyles!
You began work at UQ in 1975. Why UQ?
I was a bonded four-year teacher when I joined UQ as a library assistant on 30 April 1975, but I failed the compulsory language subject in my arts degree and needed a job while I addressed this issue (UQ eventually dropped the BA language requirement). This was my first full-time position.
Was this your long-term career goal?
No, I was going to go out west (I grew up near Goondiwindi) to teach geography and history. I started a Dip Ed in 1977 while working full-time but only completed the first semester.
Any memories of those early days in the Library?
Many University staff (and students) were actively involved in politics – remember, this was the time of Joh Bjelke-Petersen in the post-Vietnam War era – and environmental issues were important. I started work in Lending Services, Central Library (yes, we have just renamed it Central Library again!) with team leaders Cath Marshall (whose daughter Fiona just retired after 39 years at UQ), Mandy Fisher (still on staff) and Jim Henderson. Jim was campaign manager for the Communist Party’s first elected member of Queensland Parliament, Fred Paterson; and the University Librarian at the time, Derek Fielding, was president of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, a group that focused on free speech and environmental politics. One of my early tasks was to collect political ephemera of this period to build a collection for the Fryer Library (which incidentally now holds six boxes of Jim Henderson’s papers from 1912–1998). On a personal note, I did a lot of bushwalking and was very interested in the environment.
What is your current role?
I am Associate Director, Client Services, within the Learning and Research Services section of the Library, and until recently was also Manager of the Centre for Digital Scholarship, a purpose-built teaching, research and presentation space that people can book for group interactions with most types of digital content. My team supported the Centre through training, equipment maintenance, and assistance with text and data analysis, data visualisation, media creation and editing, geographical information systems (GIS) and 3D modelling software. We are keen to push the digital agenda to best support our students.
What other positions have you held?
After being a general library assistant, I moved to Fryer Library in 1976 as a graduate library assistant, where I helped build the collections of political material. In 1977, I moved to Central Reference, working in the Document Delivery team and looking after the microform machines. 1978/79 found me in the Cataloguing Department as a junior serial (journal) cataloguer, followed by five more years as a mono (book) cataloguer for the Health and Biological Sciences Library. I was encouraged to and moved to the Undergraduate Library in 1985 as a Reader's Adviser (liaison librarian). After some long service leave in late 1989/90, I returned to a position in the Fryer Library under Margaret O’Hagan for four years, followed by five years in Acquisitions as the Orders Librarian. I was appointed as a manager in the Social Sciences and Humanities Library from 2000 to 2015. I’ve enjoyed the people management aspect of each role, but I’m not so keen on report writing.
What inspired you to become a librarian?
My manager in 1977, Wendy Cooper, said that if I wanted a career in the Library I should work in cataloguing and get my library papers. I took her advice and became a cataloguer and studied librarianship by correspondence for three years. Back in those days, managers were keen to mentor their staff and try to match their skills with specific jobs: some people were more suited to behind-the-scenes work, while others needed to be in the public eye. I found that the Library’s supportive environment suited my personality and also allowed me to liaise with passionate academics in subject areas I too was interested in.
Was it helpful being a male in a female-dominated profession?
No, I don’t think so – although some would disagree. The main advantage I had was being able to stay in the workforce without extended breaks, and so be able to move around and try different roles within the profession.
You were also in the Reserve Army for 10 years – what was that like?
It was great, the perfect balance for working in the Library: driving trucks, teaching and testing people how to drive, leading people. I paraded one night a week and got special leave to attend several training camps each year. It kept me fit and also gave me a set of strategies to deal with people: if you had to order them about, you’d lost them. I learnt how to communicate so that people were happy to follow me.
What have been your biggest challenges during your time at UQ?
Moving from print to electronic in core content to support undergraduates has been the biggest challenge, but a very beneficial one. It all started with scanning reading-list articles in the Undergraduate Library in 1999, saving us from keeping around 166,000 photocopied articles that had to be lent out constantly.
What have been the highlights – besides meeting your beautiful wife Ann, with whom you now have two lovely children, Joe (25) and Maud (21)?
You forgot to say smart too – but all from their mother’s side! The highlights have been the friendships I have made. The Library is really like a family: we may have the occasional niggle but we all aim to make a difference and do things better. It’s been a great pleasure to work here – safe, but challenging at the same time – and I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve been fortunate to have had some excellent managers who’ve mentored me and I hope I’ve done the same for others. I’ve also enjoyed dealing with academics who are passionate about their subject, particularly environmental issues.
Do you think that libraries have a future?
Definitely, but they must maintain relevance in the environment and link people to what they need in terms of content, services and support. We need to share knowledge, keep up with technology, and introduce our students to information via open-source access and purchased content.
How have students changed since you first started here?
The biggest difference I’ve noticed is men’s hair – they just don’t know how to grow a good mullet these days! But seriously, we have a lot more students now, and because so many come from outside Brisbane, they spend a lot more time on campus. When I first started, the Library was open from 8am–10pm and that was it; now we have 24x7 access and people are there all the time. As fee-paying students with one or two part-time jobs, they have to hit the ground running, and they’ve become a lot more focused on their careers. They have less freedom to get involved in student politics or experience other aspects of life, which is a shame.
And what does the future hold for you?
I retire on 30 April 2019. While I will miss the Library, I’m looking forward to helping my old mate, Dr John Harrison, with some research work. I also plan to do more volunteer work with the Queensland University Regiment Association, where I am currently on the committee; read more military history; and stay healthy – I do Pilates three times a week at present and would like to increase this. I also hope to walk the Kokoda Trail with my son in 2026. I have walked the trail before in 1986 and 2006 with some Army Reserve mates – our way to honour and understand what our fathers and others went through in WWII.