Sunday, 24 January 2010

My Life as a Librarian Part II - The London Years

Part I - in case you missed it

So, there I am, innocent newly qualified librarian all alone in the big smoke. (OK, maybe not quite innocent, but still a bit of a country hick. To illustrate the point, I thought Luton was a good place to commute to London from. Well, it's looks quite close on a map)...

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) was very clued up about the skills that a qualified librarian could bring to a range of posts - including 'non traditional' roles like records management and web management - and carried out a general librarian recruitment exercise every year. Successful applicants were then allocated to the most relevant role dependant on their particular skills/experience.

I was lucky enough to be allocated to the web team at UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) - an agency of the DTI and the Foreign Office. I probably didn't see a book in my entire time there, but got to put my librarian super powers to use helping to manage and develop UKTI's website - which was pretty groundbreaking at the time for combining external website/extranet/intranet in the one site with more or less completely devolved content management.

Over the next two years I worked with a great bunch of people, gained experience in a range of web management activities (user testing, stakeholder management, user support, etc) and even managed to (reluctantly!) pick up some coding skills. The highlight of the job for me though was the training activity. Being involved in a massive programme to train colleagues all over the world in the use of our Content Management System and to 'write for the web', meant developing my trainer skills, but also visits to lots of exotic places, specifically for me: Cairo, Muscat, Madrid, Oslo, Johannasburg, Beijing, Shanghai and...Leeds.

But all good things must come to an end...the endless international travel was becoming a bit tiresome anyway, honest! So after two years I prepared to go back to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in Newcastle - unsure of the job I'd be doing, as my old post had long since gone!

But with the fortuitous timing that seems to have been a feature of my career, I spotted a job in the Scottish Government (SG) library and I went for it. I really liked living in Newcastle and hadn't intended a move back north of the border at this stage, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. So I got the job and spent the next two and bit years as an assistant librarian with the SG in Edinburgh.

A rather more 'traditional' role this one - literature searching, information enquiries, current awareness, I even stamped a book or two. The opportunity to develop and deliver training - this time in information literacy skills - was again the best bit of the job for me.

(There's a whole other blog post to be written about the current state of government library services and their future, but I may not be the best person to write it!)

I really enjoyed this job, wasn't looking for anything else and hardly ever bothered to look at the vacancy page on our intranet. But one day I did and spotted a job for a Knowledge Management Officer - at a grade up from the job I had.

So here I am. Back in a non-traditional role doing knowledge management, digital communications and community management to name but three aspects of my job. But I draw on experiences from all my previous jobs in this role. I mostly think of myself as a librarian. Some days I have something of a split personality. I was a civil servant before I was a librarian - and the two mindsets can be contradictory (something I've blogged about recently).

As for how I got here, well it's obvious that I've had no career plan to speak of - I think it's mostly been a case of taking opportunities when they have presented themselves. I'm quite happy with how things have turned out. If I could do things differently, I'd be more focussed about CILIP chartership and I'd have found some way of completing my Masters dissertation...but I may still do that...

Saturday, 23 January 2010

How I got to where I am today! Part 1

Bit late, but herewith follows the first of two posts which together constitute my contribution to the Library Routes Project. The project was set up in October last year to bring together the thoughts and experiences of Information Professionals on how they got where they are today, and why they chose to work in libraries at all...

Does one 'chose' to become a librarian? Are we not born? I think it just takes some of us longer to realise that that's what we are...

Anyway...librarianship wasn't a career I considered at school...and it wasn't ever suggested to me by my careers advisor. In those days it wasn't quite as important to have a specific career in mind when choosing a degree (generally any old degree guaranteed you a decent job). So my decision to study History at Aberdeen University was really down to it having been my favourite subject at school. During my time at uni I had vague notions of having a go at teaching and archaeology appealed at one point, but librarianship didn't register with me at all. When it came to my final year I applied - with little enthusiasm - for a range of graduate recruitment programmes. Unsurprisingly I didn't get past the first interview with any of them.

So I left university with a pretty good MA(Hons) in History and Economic History and no job to go to. I remember considering an Information and Library Studies (ILS) post grad at this point (but I don't remember why!), and also thought getting into IT might be good move, but I was fed up being skint and didn't think I could face any more studying. So I did some short courses in word processing, desk top publishing and the like (including a typing course, which turned out to be one of the most useful courses I've ever done! No one fingered typing for me!) and applied for any job I thought I might have a hope of getting. To boost my CV, I also did some volunteering at the Citizens Advice Bureau - where, incidentally, I developed skills that I've used in every job I've had since.

Four months after leaving university I got a short term contract with what was then the Scottish Office Agricultural and Fisheries Department as an administrative assistant. It was pretty mind numbing stuff but from there I got a permanent position at the Department of Social Security (now the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)) in Aberdeen. Over the next couple of years I had various roles from filing to interviewing benefit claimants.

At first it was great having money...I bought a flat, did some travelling and generally had fun...and I worked with a really great bunch of people. But after three years I felt increasingly in need of something more challenging and thought it was time I worked out what I actually wanted to do with my life.

I can't remember what made me consider librarianship again at this point, but I found myself applying for the first intake of the Robert Gordon University's (RGU) new distance learning post grad diploma in Information and Library Studies. (Bit bizarre doing a distance learning course at a uni located 20 minutes up the road, but I wouldn't have been able to fulfil the weekly attendance required to do the course part-time.)

I was the only one in the cohort who didn't already have a library job, so to get some practical experience I took on a part-time job in RGU's library.

By this time I'd moved into an IT support role at work - which proved to be another opportunity to acquire knowledge and learn skills that would stand me in good stead in later roles. I also ended up having to do a lot of overtime, and looking back now I'm not sure how I managed to fit everything in - full time job with long hours, part time job and part time degree. I certainly wouldn't have the energy to do it now!

I was about two thirds of the way through the post grad course when I applied for, and got, a promotion. A promotion which entailed a move south of the border. I took a break from the studying while all the moving stuff was going on, but because it was delivered by distance learning I was ultimately able to complete the course - and only two years after I should have done!

At this point, I fully intended going for the Masters and put together a really good research proposal looking at information literacy in the workplace. But then I saw an advert for assistant librarian posts at what was then the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI). So on to my first professional post and a move even further south (to London).

So, the scene is set. Tune in next week to find out how I got on as a new librarian in the big smoke!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

CPDo or CPDon't

2010 is the year for me to finally get serious about my continuing professional development (CPD). In particular, get some extra letters* to put after my name by becoming a chartered member of my professional organisation, the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals (CILIP).

I'm a very good example of how not to 'do' chartership.

I took the first step of registering way back in 2005, full of enthusiasm in my first job as a qualified librarian. Five years later, I have still to submit my portfolio. It's not an immensely difficult task and I was almost there last April. I took some study leave and after a solid week's slog (see my blog posts from that week for slog confirmation) I'd selected the evidence I needed for my portfolio and just had the evaluative statement to write. Then I ran out of study leave. I've not done anything since.

I had a resurgence of enthusiasm towards the end of last year when CILIP announced its eportfolio pilot...with the added incentive of waiving the submission fee if you could submit before the end of December. The thought of getting hard copies of my evidence (a lot of it is in electronic format only) and getting it bound was filling me with terror. The opportunity to put the portfolio together electronically was not one to be missed. So I signed up. And did nothing.

I've been reflecting on the reason for all this doing nothing ness. And the conclusion I've come to is a pretty simple one. It's nothing more than a lack of motivation. I've written recently about how busy I am. And I am very busy. And I feel like I've been very busy for the past 5 years. But, I could have made the time. If I'd been motivated enough.

Those letters would be nice to have (I know my gran would be very pleased), but I don't need them to do my job. I won't get any more money if I charter. I'm unlikely to be looking for another job in the near future. And as I'm now in a non-traditional librarian role, it's not always easy to justify CPD activities of a librarian flavour to my management.

But that's what's now providing my motivation. The very fact that I'm no longer doing 'traditional' librarian works makes my CPD all the more important. The 'traditional' librarian skills are very relevant to my current role. And my future as an information professional rests on my ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Which is where the CPD comes in. It's not about the letters, it's about the process involved in getting those letters.

So, yesterday, I attended a CILIP portfolio building seminar and got myself back on track :-)


Friday, 8 January 2010

To stream or not to stream

You'll have noticed the little experiment with the auto feeding of my tweets to this blog. It was really a spot of laziness on my part as I've not had much time for blogging recently and thought it was better to have something appearing here regularly...just to keep the interest of my reader :-)

I've noticed a few bloggers recently shifting to 'life streaming' It appeals from a personal perspective - would be good to have all my online activity recorded in one place. But...I don't particularly want to read other folks streams...but....I have said before that this blog is all about me! What to do? I have a feeling that if I did shift to a life streaming approach it would make me even lazier than I am now...and I wouldn't do enough of the deeper thinking that writing a proper blog post requires.

And on that subject - just to prove that I have done some thinking recently - I recently contributed to an interesting discussion on Dave Brigg's blog on 'the state of the UK gov blogosphere'. The whole discussion is well worth a read as there are perspectives offered from several gov bloggers, but here are my own thoughts on why civil servants don't blog as much as maybe they should:

Blogging is a good thing, yes, no argument there. And I think we're actually getting to stage where we're getting a good community of government bloggers.

As to reasons why civil servants don't blog…From a personal perpective my own blogging is limited by:

- Yep, a lack of time. My blogging is done in my own time and I'm struggling to do any at the moment because I'm having to do so much of the 'day' job at home as well.

- And yes, also, a lack of things to write about. Not a lack of things I'd LIKE to write about – but a lack of things I CAN write about.

More generally, most civil servants I know are yet to be convinced by Web 2.0 in any shape or form (many still don't see the relevance of the web at all!). Digital engagement more generally requires a dramatic shift in the way civil servants conduct their working lives and change can be difficult for us!

It's also a personal thing though. The reflective nature of blogging doesn't come naturally to everyone. And for civil servants, it's not how we're taught to write! I'm a professionally qualified librarian and for my CPD am expected to be a reflective practitioner. I started blogging as a way of of facilitating that – but I have found it difficult. And reflection isn't always something that is valued by managers.

I'm sure confidence is also an issue. I'm under no illusions that anyone actually reads my blog (other than a couple of my colleagues and my boyfriend :-) ), but as I blog for primarily selfish reasons, my miserable Google Analytics stats don't upset me (too) much. The blogosphere can be harsh. Anyone starting up a new blog would need a very thick skin or they could get disheartened pretty quickly.