Chris Buckingham first came to Australia from the UK in 1976 when he was just 10 years old and lived with his grandparents until the rest of his family arrived in 1980.
By his own admission, he lived a fairly ordinary childhood with his family but his life started to take on an extraordinary flavour when he started his tertiary education.
“I went to school and then university at Monash where I studied an arts degree with a major in English literature and a minor in women’s studies,” he said.
“I was the first man to get a minor in women’s studies at Monash.”
Already showing a depth of compassion, Mr Buckingham graduated university in 1992 and fell into a social work job in the eastern suburbs.
“I did a lot of youth work out of university in the eastern suburbs like Ringwood, Croydon, and Mooroolbark,” he said.
“Mainly residential work with young boys in community housing.”
While Mr Buckingham said he never planned to end up in social work, he found a passion in helping people and never struggled to find a job he enjoyed doing.
“I had lots of different jobs; I’m quite an opportunist in the way I approach things.”
The opportunist in him came to the fore after working in a role supporting adults with disabilities. Mr Buckingham moved into working in business with start-up companies.
Also a keen rugby union player, Mr Buckingham has travelled internationally representing Australia in countries such as the UK, Japan and the USA.
It was through his years playing rugby that he found he was drawn to the Gippsland area and found the Morwell rugby team to be particularly open and welcoming.
“I played against Morwell at uni, and while they weren’t too skilful, they were a very friendly and welcoming mob,” he said.
“I was getting a bit older by 31 years old, and I thought I’m slowing down and wanted to join a rugby team in the country.”
In 1997, Mr Buckingham and his wife moved to Tangil South in Gippsland and started their family now comprising two kids; Thomas, 17, and Mietta, 13.
“It was all about moving to the country and getting out of the rat race,” Mr Buckingham said.
“We got really involved in the local community, and I sold radio spots for a station called 3GG and got to know the community in Morwell and Moe really well.”
It wasn’t long before the Gippsland area was struck by tragedy, and Mr Buckingham found himself helping to restore a grieving community.
“In the months that I started working there, Jaidyn Leskie disappeared.”
The disappearance and murder of Jaidyn Leskie in 1997 made headlines around the nation and smashed the business confidence of towns in Gippsland.
“So there I was; working in a community for the first time where they were impacted by the restructure of the SEC and all the social upheaval that brought the shock of the toddler that went missing and a lot of trauma for the community,” he said.
“The town got convicted for the crime in a way, and from there I recognised the value of building partnerships between business and community, in particular, to bring strength back to a community.”
Mr Buckingham said while it was a difficult time for employment and morale in the area, he learned a lot about what it meant to have strong community connections.
“For me, we had moved to the country to get away from it all and bang, we were in a community crisis,” he said.
“There was no government engagement in getting the area back on its feet, it was all about business and community working together for the town.”
The sense of welcome and importance of welcome, fairness and justice are the cornerstones of a strong community, according to Mr Buckingham.
“One of the reasons I got so involved in the community was because I saw an injustice in the way they had been treated as a town, and it wasn’t fair.”
Through creating employment opportunities in tourism and working as a conduit between community and local business, along with many others Mr Buckingham helped get the Gippsland area back to the fully functioning machine it always was.
It is this sense of strong community partnerships and the importance of community connectedness that Mr Buckingham brings to the Casey Cardinia Library Corporation.
“I don’t have a library background exactly but I love books, I love community, and I think with CCL the thing that really appealed to me was that of helping a service that provides for the community,” he said.
“I’m, helping them communicate what they do but also engaging the community in a discussion about what we do because the needs of the community are changing so rapidly.”
It was in October 2016 that Mr Buckingham took on the role of CEO of the libraries in Casey and Cardinia and has already started making changes that bring libraries and community closer together.
“One of the things with public libraries is we have to change, and we have known it for a long time,” he said.
“The question was always what to change and how to do it.”
“On the one hand we are in a growing community, so therefore there is a demand for our services by and large, and that’s good, but we have to get more efficient about what we are providing and a good example is the self-check-out kiosks people use – it frees up the staff to do other things.”
A strong believer in librarians as guardians and guides of knowledge, Mr Buckingham said it was important CCL librarians were free to deliver the best services to the community.
“Librarians, by and large, are all very intelligent people, and I want them moving from non-cognitive routine work to cognitive non-routine work and having to use their brains at work,” he said.
“Why take intelligent well educated people and have those processing books when you don’t need to?”
“The role of a librarian now is more helping people find their way through an overload of information rather than being arbiters or controllers of limited amount and that is a massive change.”
It is through his love of connecting communities and discovering knowledge that Mr Buckingham has a clear vision for Casey Cardinia Libraries into the future.
“We have absolute responsibility to have a quality of engagement in what we do and the way that we connect,” he said.
“CCL is the fourth largest library service in the state, and we have the capacity to not only create community and provide community services, we have the opportunity to provide creative spaces.”
“For us, our vision is inspiring places where everyone is free to discover new possibilities and our job is not just about curation of content any more, it is about wayfinding and making sure we have the content people want.”