Brace yourselves for a super, super, SUPER long post! *actually, after having written a lot of it out I’ve decided I’m going to break this into 3 different posts, because it really was very text heavy. I’ll post about 3 speakers at a time instead of all at once!*
Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending an event in London aimed at graduate trainees/people in library school/new lis professionals, held at the CILIP HQ and run by BIALL, CLSIG and SLA Europe. I’d say there were probably around 50 attendees, but I’m awful at guessing numbers, so I’m probably way off. Also in attendance were the GTs from Leeds, so I was pretty glad when I found them as I didn’t know anyone else at the event (although it was also a great opportunity to network). We noticed that most of the other attendees were London-based, and also considerably better dressed than ourselves, so we experienced some Northern solidarity (yes, I’m an honorary Northerner!). Anyway, I’m not going to do too much more describing as I made a lot of notes from the speakers – there were 9 in total, who each spoke for 30 minutes – so here’s a summary of what I took away with me (I apologise if this reads rather disjointedly, I’m awful at making notes):
Jacky Berry – Librarian at British Medical Association
Jacky started by confronting the stereotypical image of a librarian, and gave us a brief outline of her career path so far – she mentioned that she had actually been given a job once because she was “the only one that didn’t look like a librarian!” She’s now settled at the BMA, who needs to provide information super fast because doctors need a lot of information very quickly – their motto is ‘better knowledge, better care’. Jacky was initially employed for an 11 month library project, where she was faced with completely changing the library system as it was because it wasn’t being run/used effectively. She needed to make it more modern, and promote and market it to the membership – getting rid of the library was not an option, as she pointed out to the other staff, as it would be too big a risk for the organisation. She said that she wasn’t just a librarian in this role – she had to deal with external designers, finance, estates, archives, security, the web team, HR, and marketing.
Jacky gave us a list of other skills needed as an information professional – leadership skills, management skills, empathy, communication, understanding of different needs, interpersonal skills, enthusiasm, belief and positive attitude, influencing and negotiating. Lots more. She finished her presentation with a quote: “There’s too much of everything. In the end, abundance of information can paralyse, just like the excess of food, sleep or love” Umberto Eco. A librarian’s role is to make sense of information for other people. We are people search engines.
Sam Wiggins – works at Norton Rose (he was also completely adorable!)
Sam is slightly newer to the profession than several of the speakers – he graduated from library school four years ago, having initially done a GT year with Norton Rose, and later coming back to work for them again. He is one of the founders of #uklibchat (a monthly twitter discussion). He used his time with us to talk about finding employment after library school and making the most of the skills you already have.
Sam perceives 2 skill sets: the ‘core’ traditional skill set picked up from graduate traineeship, library school, etc., and the ‘acquired, tailored’ skillset – every job will have core requirements, but will then have certain others on top, e.g. knowledge of a certain database or particular subject.
- Core – research skills, cataloging, information management, it literacy, team skills, current awareness skills, ability to train others.
- Acquired – legal knowledge/research, commercial knowledge, product specific knowledge, understanding of cost information, resource understanding.
He told us about applying for jobs when you don’t quite meet the criteria, but explained that you should aim to meet it as close as you can, through transferable skills and smaller-scale examples, alongside the ability to adapt and learn – because even if your job requires a particular skill or knowledge, you’ll be bombarded with training sessions at the beginning anyway. It was all pretty common sense in my opinion, but was good to hear reassurance coming from someone who’s been through the process. Sam told us that he’d asked colleagues for some ideas of what traits a fresh graduate should have, and found: 1. drive to achieve and progress 2. a natural curiosity 3. open to new ways of thinking and doing things 4. enthusiasm, a fresh set of eyes 5. cheaper labour (which may work in your favour).
He highly recommended raising your profile through blogging, tweeting, apply for things – conferences, awards, talks, bursaries etc, and highlighted that you should be the active agent rather than waiting to be asked to do things.
Emily Allbon – Law Librarian at City University (another completely lovely and adorable librarian)
Emily spoke to us about what she does in her job in an academic library – a lot of the things she mentioned to me were very familiar from working in a University library myself. Her role includes helping students negotiate sources, academic liaison, some research, budgets, vendor negotiations, learning and teaching, web stuff, collection and space management, membership of library and law school committees. She said that the difference between being academic law librarian and working at a law firm is that you are helping people to do their own research instead of doing it for them – teaching takes up a lot of time, particularly in term one. Liaising with other parties also plays a key role, e.g. academics trying to push through new courses whilst you try to work out how you’re going to pay for those materials. Different types of people who want to use the collection also present problems, as they favour different types of material. Emily also mentioned that she has to attend a lot of meetings – it all sounded very familiar to the subject librarians here at Bradford. Emily was also recently faced with the challenge of moving/refurbishing her library, and she said that the process of moving the library made her question how good a librarian she was – where the books were going to go, layout of new library etc.
– Emily set this up in 2002 built as a directory to point to key areas in subject challenges e.g. students very focused on databases and not aware of free/other resources. The site is now used internationally, with around 2000 unique hits a day, and she has been asked to speak in the states about it multiple times. It now contains topic guides, city hub – community site for students, learnmore – how-to wiki, learning legal skills, career blog with participation from current students and alumni.
“one big warm fuzzy feeling of librarian love” – I’m not really sure the context of this, but it’s written in my notes and I like it very much so I’m sticking it right here.
Emily listed some challenges for the sector:
- doing more for less. Budgets are shrinking but more value and visibility in everything is expected. Smaller publishers are going their own way and creating their own databases which leads to more budgetary issues.
- balancing needs of teaching and research
- balance of hard copy and electronic
- legal information literacy – improving standards
- engagement with students/readers
And finished with some positive points:
- Lots of scope for developing wider interests – she has written things for the guardian, non library things etc.
- Larger teams means opportunity to learn about other subjects and bounce ideas off each other
- Teaching can be very rewarding