Thursday, 23 June 2011

Thing 1: Blogs and blogging and Thing 2: Investigate some other blogs

I thought I'd kick start my own CPD23 experience by combining Things 1 and 2 into one blog post - purely so that I could reference Dr Seuss, of course. I'm not the only one who was so inspired: check missrachelsmith. I'll start, sensibly enough, with Thing 1 and talk about why I wanted to complete the programme.

Thing 1, Thing 2 and ....Gus!
"These things are good Things" - photo from las on Flickr

This time last year I was coming to the end of my MA Librarianship course at the University of Sheffield. There were parts that I loved about my MA and parts I wasn't so keen on, but one of the things I really liked was simply the fact that I had something to work towards and some goals to achieve. I work well with fixed projects and deadlines, because I feel like I am achieving something concrete. I also get a real kick out of completing lists, so I know I'll get a lot of satisfaction out of discovering each Thing.

I also want to learn more about the specific Things being covered, particularly Endnote (which I've tried before but never really got into), Google Docs which I've never quite got the hang of for some reason, and wikis which I'm slightly scared of.

As well as this I want to get into the habit of regular blogging, develop my own voice and start reflecting on what I've done, starting with the CPD23 programme of course. I've had this blog for over a year but I don't think it's been particularly successful - I'm a little bit scared of putting my thoughts out there on the Internet! I've had some lovely responses to my New Professionals Conference 2011 post and I hope this programme can help me keep up the momentum. I eventually want to charter and I hope this blog will be a helpful reflective record that I can look back on.

Finally, I want to engage with other programme participants, which will include commenting on the blogs of complete strangers as well as people I already know. Bad as I am at writing regular and thoughtful blog posts, I'm even worse at commenting intelligently and meaningfully on those of other people.

Which brings me to Thing 2: Investigating other blogs. I did start off by checking out the blogs of some people I already knew, just to familiarise myself with the process and get myself started. I also came across a number of posts via Twitter. After that I looked through the Delicious list of cpd23 blogs and picked out some at random. I found some really interesting posts - some from regular bloggers who were excited about the programme, others from those new to the idea of having a blog who were willing to give it a go. I found some blogs from people who weren't librarians but who felt the programme might have something to offer them. I must admit I was also drawn to the blogs with interesting names, such as Squirrel Library and The Trumpet Major  (Thomas Hardy reference ftw). After that, I got more serious and checked out blogs relating to the areas in which I currently work, law and education, as well as areas of interest, like museum libraries. Thinking of comments was much more difficult, and to be honest most of the comments I made were along the lines of "Love your blog name!".

I would love to read everyone's blogs but with over 500 participants this just isn't practical, so Thing 2 was a great way to track down some new people, though I hope to make more discoveries as the programme continues.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

New Professionals Conference 2011 - Professionalism and Activism in a Time of Downturn

I got back late last night from the New Professionals Conference 2011, after a great day in Manchester.
 I attended the 2010 conference while I was still a student at the University of Sheffield. I didn't automatically assume that I would be attending this year's conference, but since beginning my first professional post I've realised that it's so easy to feel isolated in your role, particularly after the collaborative work of library school, and I hoped that NPC 2011 would help to provide the inspiration and enthusiasm that I felt was missing since my graduation.

I also wanted to attend the conference for personal reasons. Several of the presenters are or were personal friends of mine, and I really wanted to see them again!

I'm incredibly bad at talking to new people, in fact I even find it difficult to talk to people I already know when there are loads of people around me. So I decided to follow some advice tweeted by Bethan Ruddock, who quoted a suggestion from Stephen Abram that wearing a statement piece was a useful thing to do as it means people will approach you. So I took the teapot handbag that I'd recently managed to win on eBay:

It seems the reputation of my bag preceded me, as several people did actually comment on it!

I'd gone up the day before with friend and fellow London-based librarian Becky Broadley in order to avoid an insanely early start. I really liked Manchester and thought it was a shame that I didn't get more of a chance to look around. I really enjoyed catching up with the people I knew over coffee in the morning - for some reason I hadn't slept much the night before so was running on adrenalin for most of the day!

The conference was opened by Franko Kowalczuk who introduced the first round of presenters. First up was Helen Murphy who in Supercharging Your CPD: 23 Things for Professional Development spoke about cpd23, a programme of professional development run by a bunch of librarians in Cambridge inspired by the success of another Cambridge-based programme last year. Helen asked who was taking part and it was interesting to see that a lot of people had already signed up, and many more seemed as though they were planning to judging by the comments I heard after the session. Helen stated that professional development opportunities are even more important now that they are scarcer and more difficult to establish. She discussed the many benefits of the CPD23 programme including the fact that it is completely free, flexible, informal and a way to connect with loads of different people and share everyone's expertise. Helen also gets bonus points for  including a picture of Benedict Cumberbatch! I'd already signed up to the programme and I'm really looking forward to it, but I think I need to get cracking as some incredibly organised people have already completed Thing 1!

Next up was Rachel Bickley who spoke on Establishing a dialogue between new and experienced professionals. She ran a survey of experienced professionals to try and find out what they thought of new LIS professionals in general. Rachel displayed her responses in a word cloud (as did many of the presenters throughout the day) and some of the positive points that stood out were that new professionals are thought of as being enthusiastic, professional, self-motivated, dedicated and knowledgeable particularly in their use of social media. However she also stated that some experienced professionals thought that new professionals were not particularly good at practical skills such as cataloguing, managing their time and were restricted by the limitations of the library school curriculum (mentioning one library school in particular which always seems to postpone their cataloguing classes!). She did point out that several respondents stated that new professionals seemed to be willing to learn, even if they were lacking in skills to begin with.

Rachel also asked her respondents why they would consider employing a new professional. Among the responses were enthusiasm, experience, a willingness to learn and leadership potential. I found this really encouraging. Rachel also discussed ways in which new professionals could get involved and establish a dialogue with older professionals, such as via Twitter, LinkedIn, or even informally via a coffee in the staffroom. I think out of all the presentations, Rachel's was the most directly relevant to me. I felt it gave me a lot to think about and more confidence when applying for jobs in the future, so long as I can demonstrate my enthusiasm and willingness to learn.

The final presentation of the morning came from Samuel Wiggins and Laura Williams, current students at the University of Sheffield's newly renamed iSchool, who spoke on What makes an information 'professional'?. I must admit I was rather in awe of them, as when I was in their position as an MA student last year there's no way I would have considered presenting at a conference! I thought their presentation was very timely, as in the current climate it's likely that many library school graduates won't be able to find a professional post straight away. Initially they discussed their previous perceptions of what makes an information professional. Laura said that she originally thought that an information professional was anyone who works in a library. Sam by contrast thought that experience and qualifications were important.

Their survey asked respondents whether they considered themselves to be information professionals. 90% said yes. 45% of those surveyed had worked in libraries for ten years or more, while only 4% had worked in libraries for less than a year. Four fifths had a CILIP accredited qualification. Laura and Sam displayed a Wordle cloud indicating the different ways in which respondents defined information professionals: some of the words that stood out included working, qualification, managing and knowledge. A professional level job was variously seen as one involving management, a qualification, responsibility and, interestingly, cataloguing skills. It was notable that no mention of Chartership was mentioned by respondents.

One part of Sam and Laura’s presentation really stood out for me. They discovered that LIS professionals who did not work in libraries and who did not have ‘library’ or ‘information’ in their job title had trouble feeling connected to the profession and tried to make up for this by getting involved outside work. This describes me exactly and is one of the reasons I really enjoyed the conference and am trying to look for opportunities outside work.

Sam and Laura displayed some interesting quotes from respondents. One stated that LIS professionals should be distinguished by their ethos and conduct. Another felt “There is too much emphasis on being a graduate based profession and not enough on practical experience”. A number of themes came out of the survey, suggesting that LIS professionals are defined by their qualifications, skills, experience and attitude. Sam and Laura came up with their own definition of a professional based on their findings: “Possession of qualifications, experience or skills, alongside an underlying professional attitude”. I really like this as I feel the attitude is so important, and is what distinguishes someone who comes home and switches off completely every day from someone who thinks about librarianship beyond their job.

After the morning presentations, I was able to attend my first workshop. I was pleased to have been given my first choice which was Getting involved: activism for new professionals run by Alice Halsey and Simon Barron from Voices for the Library. I think the work Voices for the Library do is fantastic and I’ve considered getting involved in library activism in some way, but I’ve been put off by the fact that a lot of the work involves giving presentations and speaking to the media – public speaking isn’t something I’m particularly good at, and while I understand that activism can be a good way of developing skills, I would probably do more harm than good to the cause if I tried to do something that I’m not particularly strong in. I was reassured there are lots of other opportunities to get involved in activism in some way: research, web design, organising petitions. I was also happy to realise that even small actions, like talking about libraries to your friends and family, count too: so by talking to friends about libraries in the pub and trying to convince my mam to join Newcastle Libraries in order to access I’ve seemingly been doing it all along.

After lunch and more chatting came the second workshop I attended, #marketingyourselfonline run by Suzanne Wheatley from Sue Hill Recruitment. Suzanne talked about various networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and discussed how we present ourselves on these. She discussed the importance of using a relatively normal profile picture on LinkedIn (avoiding the three Cs – children, cleavage and pictures of you catching snowflakes!). A really good tip, I thought, was to change the generic LinkedIn message if you’re trying to connect with someone as it’s more personal and makes it more likely that they will agree to connect.

The workshop participants discussed Twitter and the difficulties of striking the right balance between personal and professional. A few admitted they’d been put off Twitter because of this. This kind of difficulty seems exclusive to Twitter – for many people, including me, Facebook is entirely personal and LinkedIn completely professional, while Twitter serves both functions.

Some participants said that they disliked people who posted personal stuff to excess on Twitter. Personally, I quite like reading personal tweets – partly because I’m nosy, but I do like the informality of Twitter and like to know that the people I follow are human. However I’m now aware that not everyone does like this and I do need to be careful of finding the right balance, although I’m afraid it’s not going to stop me from excessive tweeting during Eurovision! Suzanne stated that you shouldn’t talk about turning up late for work again on Twitter or how much you hate your job or your boss – this sounds like common sense to me, but obviously not to everybody as she said she had seen this behaviour from people she follows!

After a cup of tea we moved on to the afternoon session, starting with a presentation by University of Brighton students Ka-Ming Pang and Joseph Norwood on Can we play? Building opportunities for LIS student activism and why it matters. I found it really interesting to gain a perspective from a different library school. Ka-Ming and Joseph discussed advocacy and engagement among students and the ways in which they do this, including writing to their MPs, tweeting and petitions. They explored the need for an effective communication strategy and used a phrase I really liked – ‘be like an octopus’ and use a variety of different strategies. Ka-Ming and Joseph also discussed the pros and cons of joining CILIP as students and looked at the possibility of establishing a ‘hack library school’ forum or blog similar to the US version.

Next up was Megan Wiley’s presentation entitled For your eyes only? The need to develop professionalism in a careers information team. Megan talked about her role as a Careers Information Specialist, which I found really interesting. She emphasised the importance of making your colleagues aware of the work you do, particularly if they don’t share your job role or qualification. In these difficult times it’s important that everyone realises how valuable you are in case they decide to get rid of you. In other words, your work should not be for your eyes only – it’s important to make others aware of it. I thought Megan's presentation was really useful and it gave me lots to think about.

The final presentation of the day came from Katie Birkwood and Naomi Herbert on Teaching old books new tricks: how special collections outreach can help you, your career, and your library. Katie and Naomi work in University of Cambridge libraries and spoke about projects they were involved in while they were working at St John's College. Naomi spoke about the Hocus Pocus Junior project, based on a book from 1638, and talked about how she worked with local schools to provide learning opportunities for the pupils. It was lovely to see the thank you letters written by some of the children, who obviously thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Katie talked about the Hoyle Project, which involved cataloguing the personal papers of astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, and a particular event which enabled participants to build their own astrolabe. They also spoke more generally about the benefits of outreach for participants, librarians and the organisations involved. Outreach creates learning opportunities for those taking part as well as being great fun. Organising outreach helps to develop skills including project management, handling a budget, staff supervision, teaching and creativity. I loved this presentation and hope to attempt to make an astrolabe myself in the near future!
The day’s closing remarks from Biddy Fisher, CILIP Past President, who seemed really impressed with the day’s presentations and workshops and referenced them in her speech, as well as reiterating how important libraries are to society (not the ‘Big’ Society!). As we did last year, we then had to vote on the best paper which is something I found incredibly difficult. Congratulations to Katie and Naomi who carried off the prize! After the conference a number of us went off to the pub where I got to catch up with people I hadn’t seen for ages, and meet new people too.

Final thoughts:
  1. Last year I believe there was some sort of poll on LISNPN asking if people thought the New Professionals Conference should be over one day or two. I think that keeping it over one day was a really good idea as I imagine a lot of new professionals would really struggle meeting the costs of a two-day conference and also getting the time off work.
  2. Last year the workshops ran at the same time as the presentations so you had to make a choice about what you were going to attend and what you were going to miss. I was really pleased that this year the workshops ran separately so it was possible to attend two workshops AND all of the presentations.
  3. I wish the venue had had more than two female toilets - although this did create more opportunities for chatting to people while standing in the queue!
  4. A number of venues and cities have been suggested for next year's conference. I hope to attend wherever it is, but I'd really like to see it take place in Newcastle or Durham as some people have suggested on Twitter. Well, we're not getting the RSC this year thanks to the cuts - it would be nice to have something to look forward to!

    The conference was full of optimistic, original and exciting ideas and I had a brilliant time. To be honest I tend to be a rather pessimistic person and I really need things like this to keep me engaged and enthused. I came away feeling inspired and as though I was part of a community which is something I haven’t felt since I was studying for my MA. Thank you to all the organisers, presenters and attendees for making it so worthwhile!