Sunday, 16 October 2011

Thing 23 - Reflection - What next?

I've finished!

I'm sorry the 23 Things programme has come to an end: I've really enjoyed completing it. I think the best thing about it was being able to engage with other librarians and information professionals. I hope people carry on blogging, and don't give up now that the programme is over!

I completed a SWOT analysis which I found very useful. I've just found out that my job has been extended to next autumn (it was originally due to end in February) which has given me a bit more breathing space as I figure out where to go from here.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Thing 22 – Volunteering to get experience

Volunteering has always been a controversial topic, but my own experience has been very positive. Before deciding on a career in librarianship I completed the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which requires a voluntary placement, and at university I volunteered in the Marketing department of York Theatre Royal. Therefore I already understood how volunteering can develop your skills and allow you to experience areas of work you wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to.

When I decided to become a librarian, I worked full-time at my local council for a year and decided to try and get some library experience to support my graduate traineeship applications. I wrote to several libraries in the North East, ending up with a two-week work placement in the library of Beamish Museum, County Durham, and I was able to spend a few hours every other Saturday helping out at Chester-le-Street Library, also in Durham. Through these very different placements, I was able to gain experience cataloguing library and archival materials, conducting research for other members of staff in the museum, and assisting library users. Not only did these experiences confirm that librarianship was the right career path for me, I am certain that they assisted greatly when it came to applying for graduate traineeships, and helped me get the position at St John’s.

The High Street, Beamish Museum, County Durham
Beamish Museum - Thanks to Calotype46 on Flickr for the image

I was able to continue working full-time while undertaking these placements, as I used two weeks of annual leave to spend time at Beamish and my full-time job didn’t involve Saturday work. This was perfect as I certainly couldn’t afford not to work full-time. I suspect many people are in the same position. I did undertake further voluntary placements where time allowed: I spent a week at the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers in Newcastle immediately after my graduate traineeship finished, and some time during my MA assisting in the archives of Sheffield Cathedral.

Overall, I think that a certain amount of volunteering is a Good Thing. It proves that you are committed to the profession and gives you a chance to gain experience and develop skills you might not be able to otherwise. However I would hate to see librarianship turn into the preserve of the wealthy or those with the right connections, who can afford to work for months without pay. I agree with Jo that volunteering should be mutually beneficial, and a complement to paid staff rather than a substitute for them. This has been the case in my experience, but with the Government’s calls for volunteers to run libraries, it is likely to become an issue in the future. While volunteering is a great way for potential librarians to develop their experience, if the profession is devalued through the excessive use of volunteers to make up for a lack of paid staff, there won’t be any jobs for these potential librarians to work up to (of course there are many other issues with using volunteers in place of paid staff in libraries, but this is the most relevant to this Thing).

If anyone reading this is thinking about trying to volunteer in libraries to gain experience, I recommend writing to as many libraries as you can. I wrote to lots of libraries in my area; most didn’t reply, and a few replied thanking me for my interest but stating that volunteer opportunities were unfortunately not offered. Only two said yes. Write to the most high-up person you can find: when I was writing to councils I directed my requests to the Head of Libraries where possible. I used both emails and traditional letters depending on the contact details available. I preferred to write a letter, as I feel it creates a good impression when you’ve gone to the effort of typing, printing out and posting a letter. This is just me though – others may prefer email as it shows you are capable of using technology.

Recently I’ve been involved in volunteering of a different kind – I’ve joined the committee of the Career Development Group in London. Hopefully I will be able to develop my skills further and get to know other librarians and information professionals in the process.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Thing 21 – Promoting yourself in job applications and at interview

Part 1: Identifying your strengths; capitalising on your interests
I think identifying your strengths, thinking long and hard about what you like and dislike, and thinking about what skills your interests have developed is a useful exercise and I would like to take some time to do this. I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of posting my thoughts here on a public blog, but I will certainly look into it in my own time.

Part 2: Applying for a job
I’m quite proud that, as a Very Organised Person (or else a person who once had far too much time on her hands), I already have a kind of CV database similar to the one Maria Giovanna describes which list everything I’ve done that could potentially go on a CV or an application form. It’s saved me hours of time over the years, as I can just copy and paste onto an application form. Of course I make changes afterwards, to tailor the form to the job, but this is a lot easier than starting from scratch each time. I also have another document listing contact details for all my referees, which is a lot easier than having to Google your last workplace each time you need to find the telephone number for your old boss.

Part 3: Interviews
I’ve had mixed experiences with interviews. When I was applying for graduate traineeships I was offered the second job I interviewed for, which was a surprise as I’d mentally prepared myself for months of rejection. On the other hand, when I graduated last year it took me six months and seven interviews before I got a job, whereas most of the librarians I know were offered jobs after one or two interviews (even if they found it hard to get those interviews in the first place). I must have been doing something wrong, but I was also confused. During my traineeship I was told that I’d come across as confident and knowledgeable in my interview, and as far as I could work out I was behaving in exactly the same way last year. However, this can’t have been the case: my interview record speaks for itself, and I was actively told by one interviewer in her feedback that I’d come across as very shy.

I was talking about this with a (non-librarian) friend a few weeks ago and she gave me a very useful piece of advice: basically, “It’s not you, it’s them”. She said that she had been interviewed for several jobs and been told by some interviewers that she was too shy and quiet, and by others that she was very confident. It’s all to do with how different people perceive you, and if you don’t fit with what they are looking for, or they don’t ‘get’ you, do you really want to be working for them? It’s probably better to find out earlier rather than later if you and a potential employer aren’t right for each other. This made me feel a bit better about the whole situation.