Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Thing 23: Mind the gap

My goodness the CILIP Professional Knowledge and Skills Base is a scary document isn't it!

Working through the CPD23 programme, I've felt myself building a confidence in my skills and my ability to learn new tools or absorb new information to extend my abilities, and to recognise the appropriateness of doing this - at which points it proves useful for my work and when it's not an efficient use of my time. I have to confess, looking at the CILIP PKSB I can feel that confidence sapping away slightly, as I realise I'm clearly not a real librarian, as I'm lacking in so many skills. To name but a few:
  • Cat & Class (yes, I know, but I've never had to do these things! I'm good at buying stuff though...)
  • Informetrics
  • Information Architecture
  • Database Design
  • Data Analytics
  • Information Assurance and Audit
  • Archiving and Web Continuity
  • Influencing Key Stakeholders
  • Business Planning and Asset Management
  • Strategic Marketing
  • Systems Design
  • Language Skills
Photo by Brett Holman on
Even 'Frameworks and Curricula for Education and Training' threw me a little - I've never studied Education  and while I've been very interested it in, my teaching is inspired by watching others, reading books by other librarians on the subject and watching presentations about teaching methods at conferences like LILAC. Actual 'Teacher Training' of any description has never come my way (although in my previous job I was very keen to undertake the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching & Learning in Higher Education). For my role I do think this is an undeveloped area in my skill set, and that by addressing it I may also open up more possibility for working more closely with the academic community in a teaching capacity.

Perhaps the gaps in my knowledge are far more gaping than I realised?! But what kind of Personal Development Plan could ever rectify this desperate state of affairs??? *deep breath*

Obviously I'm letting insanity take over a little bit here, because I'm employed in one role in the library, so I have a specific subset of skills that suit my role, and I can't do everything! Of the aspects I think are relevant to my role I think I have developed a good level of competency, and there are also clearly areas where I would like to develop my skills as well - such as support for researchers, bibliometrics & library research. One of the best aspects of completing the CDP23 programme has been the elements of reflection on my own practice - yes playing with lots of online tools and (finally!) setting up my own blog has been fun, but considering how to use these tools in an effective manner, and what I would want to achieve by utilising them is just as important.

Perhaps another aspect of this programme is the degree to which online tools are also deeply rooted in media and marketing. While many aspects of web 2.0 tools are social, and to a degree personal (e.g. blogs, Twitter) they are still broadcasting messages about the library - its tone, its relevance, its priorities - and while reaching students in a variety of ways is great, you also need to reach them using appropriate language and regarding issues they are actually interested in! I suspect marketing and outreach are two areas I'd be particularly keen to include in my Personal Development Plan going forwards, not least to build on everything I've learned through CPD23 about web tools and about myself.

So, my plan now is to think about ways of plugging the gaps, keep on blogging - sharing and reflecting on my experiences in the library (and possibly not in the library!) - and see where it takes me. Once more unto the breach, dear friends....

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


I wasn't sure how I was going to approach the issue of volunteering, as it seemed to me I had little experience of volunteering myself, and therefore no right to comment. But then I thought about it a bit, and changed my mind.

When I first left university I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. It was not the most pleasant time I've had. I was back living with my parents, away from all my uni friends, without structure or purpose and working in a temp job. In fairness, the job went on a while and was full time, so I at least had a little money, but I was stuck. What could I do?

Volunteering was the thing that saved me. I decided I wanted to go into stage management, and to do that I would need  a PGDip. I naively applied and went along to the interview full of chat about my resilience, organisational ability and transferable skills, and with absolutely no experience to speak of. They sent me away and basically told me to come back when I'd done my homework! I got involved with my local Amateur Dramatic Society and as it was the run-up to Christmas they were working toward their Christmas Panto. It didn't take too many rehearsals for me to figure out that I could organise these people, and I was soon backstage making lists and telling people where to go. I also met some people through that society who knew a stage manager on the West End, and arranged to go backstage for a performance of Mamma Mia. That was truly fantastic. Finally I joined another Amateur Dramatic Society (which was much bigger and more professionally run than my local one!) and did as much lifting, carrying, set painting, prop making and basic running about for them as I could. I kept my eyes and ears open, I asked lots of questions and I learned tremendous amounts. I went back to the college where I wanted to do my PGDip armed with evidence and experience and I got my place on the course.

Stage managers marking-up a stage
A mark-up really shouldn't need this many people...
I know volunteering in libraries has a lot more attached to it in the way of stigma now than the above story of my life indicates, but I still think, having reflected on my past, that volunteering has a vital role to play in the acquisition of skills and experiences you would just never get otherwise. And it also helps you understand more about the role you're trying to take on, about what suits you and what you like and dislike in the job role. In fact, I have done some elements of voluntary library work - I attended several library visits and courses during my traineeship which were not compulsory, but through which I learned. I've visited my friends at their libraries, just to know what their experience is like and how it compares to mine, and I've taken training opportunities that have cost me my own money in order to meet other librarians and network with them.

This is not the same as the idea of volunteer-run libraries, or of giving up your time and effort for no money at all to build a working systems for someone else, or conversely, wanting to do a little bit in a field without wanting to understand the whole and move on to a greater objective. Volunteering in this context is not standing behind a counter checking out books to people for a morning before going home for lunch over Murder She Wrote. But it is working hard on something because you know you are gaining the experience and knowledge you need to further your career, to take you on to the next step, to help you reach your goal. I do not think volunteers can ever replace qualified librarians. However, for a person who has volunteered in a library, worked hard because of a passion for what libraries can do and achieve, and who then wants to work in a paid  professional role in libraries without an MSc? Well - if they've got the skills, then absolutely yes! Learning through doing is just as valuable as the letters on a piece of paper you get through studying. And yes, volunteers of this calibre should not remain volunteers for long. They deserve to be paid.

Work confidence: talk that talk and walk that walk!

I like job interviews. I'm sure most people think I'm pretty weird for saying that, but I've done so many of them that I think my view and attitude toward them has changed from terror and insecurity to...well... understanding that an interview is actually more of a conversation - and it's just as important for the interviewee to engage with the interviewers, ask questions and get to know their ethos as it is for them to get to know the interviewee.

Job applications though...I hate them with a fiery passion. They take so long to write for one thing! For another they make you spend hours thinking about yourself and bigging yourself up, and that can be exhausting and difficult for a lot of people, me included. So I do agree with the idea that knowing your strengths and capitalising on them is a great way to start tackling job applications!

For me, I know that working with people is an extremely important part of my working life. I like to be a part of a team, I like to be able to share and discuss ideas, and I get de-motivated and tired if I work in isolation and silence for any long period of time. I know that I need to work in a role that adds value to the experience of others, so I know that when I'm working with students I can make a real difference to their studies and their experience of university. I find this very motivating and it also helps me isolate the areas of my job I most enjoy, which can really help me get through the other elements I enjoy less (administration for example). I know that I'm good at organisation and management which explains how I manage to pack so much into my weekends!

I dislike sleep deprivation, confrontation and negotiation  This means I have to make sure I work a job with manageable hours, don't exhaust myself in my free time, work in an environment in which I am comfortable and get on with most of the people around me, and remember to ask for help in situations where I feel I need a little reassurance, or a second voice on my side. I also dislike starting anything from scratch if I don't have to, so I always use an old job application, or the notes from my previous job interview to help me prepare and give me a basis to work from. This is my top tip really when it comes to interview preparation - reflect on your last job interview and how you think it went - what did they ask you and what were your answers? How would you answer them now? I always make sure I have the answer to why I want the job, what I think I can bring to the role and where I would like to being 5 years time, because I know they're going to ask me those things. Plus, if you've taken the time to think through those answers, you'll be able to relate those practically to the job opportunity you have in front of you, making your answers to the interview panel more thoughtful and engaging and making the whole experience more useful for you in deciding whether this job actually will take you where you want to be.

This 'thing' is intended as an opportunity to refresh my existing 'CV database', add-in any activities or interests I've not previously included or thought to use in a job-seeking context, and generally keep my bank of 'things I've done and can use again' up-to-date, so when I come to writing my next job application I'm not scratching around in my memory trying to dig up examples that demonstrate my ability. I did this in July when I applied for (and got) my new job, and interestingly, even though I know I've achieved a lot that is CV worthy, I am struggling to write them down here to share with the CPD23 community because it feels like boasting. Isn't that odd? Clearly being enthusiastic about my achievements is difficult to do at all times, not just when I'm staring at a job application asking myself if it's all really worth it. What this tells me is that, even if you're not comfortable talking about yourself in everyday life and struggle to believe in your achievements, putting it all together for a job interview is not the same thing - and you can learn to turn on that confidence, look at a job description and tell yourself you can do it, and then walk into the interview just as yourself, and tell the truth: you can do this job. It might be a version of yourself most people will never see, but it's the version of yourself that will make the panel sit up and take notice. Trust me.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Thing 20: My Library Route

Thing 20 asks us to contemplate why we entered the profession, how that compares to the route taken by other librarians, and blog about it for the Library Routes project. I blogged about my route into librarianship for Thing 10, but with a focus on undertaking my MSc in Information and Library Management and my view on the qualification. So here's my history with a focus on why I chose librarianship:

Growing up my entire focus was on getting through school and going to university. I didn't doubt my decision to study English Literature as it was by far the subject I most enjoyed, and I departed home for Cardiff University an enthusiastic and optimistic teenager. Three years later I was completely lost and in despair as to what I wanted to do, and I moved home and got a temp job. My decision to be a stage manager was made when leafing through a theatre programme one day, and seeing the words 'stage manager' under the list of people involved in the production. I'm not sure it's the best way of choosing what you want to do with your life, not least because I had to do a large amount of volunteer work, and take out a hefty loan just to qualify to get on the training course.

My decision to leave theatre and become a librarian was much easier, because (as so many other librarians have noted!) it felt like a light-bulb moment - a moment of clarity when I couldn't for the life of me understand how I hadn't thought of it before. Of course I wanted to be a librarian - it just fit! I could work with people, books, computers and organise and manage to my hearts content. I did a lot of research into the profession before I applied for graduate traineeships - by emailing other graduate trainees to find out about their experiences, reading the Oxford University Graduate Traineeship pages (the ones I read don't exist now, but their new pages are just as good) and looking into Masters programmes so I knew how the whole process would lead me into being a professional librarian.

Yes I know, I can be known to overdo it on the whole research and preparedness thing - but then again that might be one of the elements that makes me a librarian!

The route into being a librarian hasn't been all smooth sailing. Part of my decision to train as a librarian came from a strong desire to work in public libraries - they were a huge part of my childhood, and I felt like I wanted to contribute to that experience for others, works with the community and provide a useful and fulfilling service. In order to pursue this goal I worked part time as a library assistant while studying for my MSc, but earning very little money and having to drive a lot in order to work there - and all for a fixed term contract, which ended around the same time the coalition government came into power and careers in public libraries suddenly disappeared as the conservatives immediately lined them up for the chop.

So I had to re-evaluate my goal, and as jobs were scare I had to work as an administrative assistant for a while because I couldn't find a library job, but perseverance and hope meant that when a job finally came up I was ready to go for it, and I got it! I haven't looked back since.

I suspect my story correlates closely with the general theme experienced by the other librarians contributing to the library routes project, and outlined by Emma in her post: I didn't consider librarianship as a career until after I trained and started work in something else entirely, when I finally came to the idea of being a librarian it was because of a love of books, not because I had any understanding of the profession, and I'm so glad I finally realised that being a librarian is what suits me best!