Graduate Open Day: Post 3

My final post on the graduate open day from what was now a couple of weeks ago – I’m getting there slowly but surely! Here’s what the last 3 speakers shared with us (apologies if these posts are less informative than the others, my notes got visibly shorter the later on in the day it got – listening to people talk for large chunks of time really takes it out of me and I actually fared a lot better than I was expecting!)

Simon Barron – British Library – Digital Librarianship

Simon works at the British Library, and his talk focused around the digital age and how libraries and information are changing as technology develops. He talked a lot about bytes, which I didn’t really understand (my notes say: “lots of figures that confused me/blew my mind”), but I think basically he was saying that the human race produces far, far more information than it ever has before. He was very enthusiastic about now being an exciting time to be coming into an information profession because so much is changing. Books are being replaced with ‘information’ – articles, Internet, tweets. The future is digital.
Simon stressed how much libraries are changing currently, saying that  the ‘network library’ is becoming a reality – bringing libraries together in collaborative projects. The British Library has plans to archive the whole UK web space (if that means what I think it means, that’s one hell of a task!). So it’s easy to see how librarians with digital skills are becoming increasingly more relevant. He said that 72% of job ads from the ALA’s online job list over the duration of five months contained at least one IT skill, because there is significant intersection between the skill sets of librarians and the skill sets of IT professionals.
Simon finally went on to talk about this intersection between library skills and digital skills. Librarianship skills include technical library services, cataloging, metadata and licensing – skills that IT professionals don’t have but are required in a library. Equally important are IT-specific skills such as hardware troubleshooting, systems development, web design and coding. Digital librarians need all of these as the two become increasingly relevant and intertwined. Equally important is communication and teamwork  because of the need to liaise with both the library and the IT department, and relationship management because of this scenario of working for two matters at once. Jargon translation is also useful – tech speak/library speak – a digital librarian is likely to understand the two, whilst other departments will only understand one or the other.
These skills will be ever more relevant. Whatever your role, you will inevitably be working with computers and information. Simon did point out that he is very bias because he is a digital librarian and his career relies on it. (I also particularly enjoyed one of his slides, which had a graphic on it saying “keep calm and turn it off and on again” – my approach to technology!)
Tracey Dennis – Librarian at Inner Temple
An Inn of Court library is for people wanting to practice as a barrister – they must join, and there are four of them. They support barristers through all parts of their career, and provide money through scholarships for BAR courses. I’m not going to lie here, the thought of working in one of these libraries is a complete turn-off for me. Whilst the buildings are very grand and rather spectacular to look at, they’re also extremely traditional and very conservative. Tracey seemed rather proud that Maggie Thatcher had been a member, and that summed the whole place up for me, really.
Regardless, it was interesting to hear about the work that Tracey and her colleagues do as librarians at the Inn – a lot of the work is providing information about cases and legislation for barristers who need details urgently for their case work. The library has a mixture of hard copy resources and electronic, just like academic libraries that I am used to. There are only 10 members of staff, and around 100 people come through the doors on an average day – this sounds very little to me, but they also receive a lot of telephone enquiries from people needing information. They also provide help on searching legal databases, and operate a daily current awareness service to keep lawyers up to date with legal developments.
The research element of the job sounded extremely challenging, as lawyers apparently love abbreviations – for example: (1856) 8 De G.M. & G. 62 would mean absolutely nothing to me, but the librarians are expected to decode things like this quickly. Incomplete references and spelling errors also make the work more difficult, as well as people coming in asking for ‘The Red Book’ – which I’m fairly sure is a different red book to the one our students ask for!
Tracey argued that despite being very conservative, Inner Temple is moving with the times saying that it has a high profile in promoting equality and social mobility by reaching out to schools to show them what life is like a barrister, inviting groups and tours etc. Call me a cynic, but I’m not convinced about this – the entirety of Inner Temple seemed extremely inaccessible for those from less well-off backgrounds and it seemed to me from this first impression that pushing for social mobility would be about as successful there as it would be at Eaton.
Fiona Fogden – Linex
Fiona started her talk by reminding us that there’s nothing like starting at the very bottom – she herself kickstarted her career by getting a job shelving. She said that you can find opportunities in every job to shine, and her shelving job led to summer jobs whilst she was a student, and ultimately more experience. She also stressed that working on a team is very valuable at the beginning of your professional life as opposed to being sole librarian because there’s so much to learn from colleagues.
After completing her studies, Fiona started out working providing information for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and learnt a lot, e.g. how to deal with awkward enquiries (she told us a story about a man asking how much it costs to build “a hole”. After a lot of questions and brainstorming she finally figured out that he meant a golf course!!) But there was no opportunity for progression in this post, so she left to join a law firm. Her next job after that was as a library and information centre manager at Baker & Mckenzie, which she said was very rewarding – again, Fiona reminded us to take opportunities! In commercial services, you need to sell yourself – remind your boss what you did/enjoyed/would like to be involved in other things in order to gain more experience and be able to shine in areas you’re good at.
Fiona’s top tips:
  • Spend time on your CV
  • Start off in a larger organisation where possible
  • You are always on show whether that be in person, at work, or socially or electronically on twitter, LIS boards etc.
  • Get as many formal complimentary qualifications as practical eg. Prince2, CIPS
  • Write articles for professional journals, blog or tweet
  • Volunteer for professional bodies such as CILIP, CLSIG, SLA
  • Do your core job well and then you will be given more opportunity to play to other strengths and interests
  • As your career matures, you can start to specialise and consider more niche roles and opportunities
  • Money is important but not more important than your health, family or sanity
  • Find the new gap in the market and move into it eg. information architecture, outsources service co-ordinator


Again, a very big thank you to all of the speakers and all the folks who organised and ran the event – I definitely got a lot out of the day and it was well worth the trip across the country!

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2 thoughts on “Graduate Open Day: Post 3

  1. Pingback: BIALL, CLSIG and SLA Europe Open Day 2013 | E.B.L.G.T.

  2. Pingback: BIALL, CLSIG & SLA Europe Graduate Open Day – Part Three | ManchesterNLPN

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