CPD23 Thing 16: Getting your voice heard

Thing 16 post: Advocacy, speaking up for the profession and getting published

Advocacy is so important in the current economic climate, when public libraries are facing closure or severe cuts and other libraries are under threat too. Support roles are often the first to go when a company is looking to make cuts; we’re a prime example, having dropped from six, to three and a half, and now three full time research positions over the past couple of years.

Johanna Bo Anderson’s blogpost Activism, Advocacy and Professional Identity was really interesting. I agree that advocacy and activism are closely linked but separate; that advocating for libraries is something that should be done continually, regardless of your sector – advertising your service, attracting new users, making sure existing users are happy with the service you provide. As Johanna says:

Advocacy is gentle coaxing and stroking (please do not take that literally, I do not want anyone to get arrested!) whereas activism is “vigorous”, sometimes loud, and sometimes controversial. If you are talking about activism now is not the time for coaxing and stroking. It is time for rolling your sleeves up, getting stuck in and taking action.

We don’t engage in anything we would label advocacy at work, but we do try to promote our services as much as possible. We’re revamping the intranet at the moment so launching that will be one way to bring new users in. Marketing the library is one of the goals of my chartership, so I’ll be looking at our strategy more closely in the coming months.

I went to my first advocacy event last week, at the British Library – three of the shortlisted Booker authors talking to book groups and showing their support for libraries. I tried to write it up for the Books blog but no joy! I wrote it up for this blog but I don’t suppose that counts as being published.

It was great to hear what they had to say, and soundbites help keep the story of library cuts in the press, but words can only go so far. What I’ve found more inspiring this week are the reports from the Library Campaign Conference (tweeted by @tomroper and others) about direct action against closures (like the vigil at Kensal Rise). That’s when the line between advocacy and activism blurs.

It made me question my own inaction (though my local library thankfully isn’t under threat). First step – check out Voices for the Library and see how I can get involved. I think I need to become more of an advocate and an activist.

CPD23 Thing 15: Getting involved in events

Katie’s Thing 15 post

Attending

This is the part of professional eventing (that sounds a bit horsey!) that I am particularly good at; in fact my only involvement in events so far! Conferences and other similar events are a great way to find out what’s new in your sector, and to expose yourself to lots of different things at once (as opposed to, say, a training day, which is much more focused).

I’ve struggled in the past with getting funding from my employers to attend conferences (the only AUKML conference I was able to attend was the one in London, when I didn’t need to stay over). In the current financial climate that’s understandable (although perversely it’s a little easier to get funding now that there are fewer staff members). But you can pick up all sorts of new info even if you’re just attending the free exhibition side of things (for example at Online, which hosts some very good free seminars).

Every time I attend an event I gain a little more confidence in talking to people I’ve not met before. Part of it is having more confidence in myself, and part of it is recognising people from Twitter!

Whereas a few years ago I would have loitered by the tea and biscuits or hung out with my colleagues at a conference, now I’ll approach exhibitors and start conversations at snack time. In the past year I’ve even, shock horror, attended a couple of things (like the CILIP Umbrella conference and LIKE events) on my own. I know, I’m so brave!

Speaking

I’m hoping this new-found confidence is going to help me get over my next big hurdle: speaking at an event. I’ve always hated public speaking, I avoided most presentations at uni and the thought of addressing a room full of knowledgeable delegates at a conference fills me with dread. So I’m going to start slowly, by talking about my working day at a Graduate Open Day for trainee info pros later in the month.

I attended the open day when I was a trainee many moons ago, and I’m hoping they’ll be nice! I just pray nobody livetweets my nervous pen clicking and fierce blushing.

Organising

In a strange way, helping to organise an event seems less terrifying to me than speaking at one! With two small kids and Chartership underway, now is not the time to add events organiser to my CV, but certainly I’d consider getting involved in future.

CPD23 Thing 14: Zotero, Mendeley and citeulike

Isla’s Thing 14 post

As usual I’m hampered by my inability to download software at work (the problem of working for a big company that thinks it can meet all your IT needs, without asking you what they are, grumble grumble*). So I’m skipping Zotero and Mendeley, and focusing on citeulike.

It’s hard to try the site out thoroughly because there isn’t an obvious application at work, but it was quick to get started and seems easy to use. It could also come in handy as a new resource for finding articles, as well as recording ones I’ve found elsewhere.

Reflections

At the moment, I don’t need a citation tool, but I’m really impressed with the ones on offer so if I need one in future (Chartership portfolio?) I’ll definitely take a closer look. Like Isla, I really wish they’d been around when I was at uni!

*I’m being unfair, but it is frustrating when you don’t have control over the tools you use!

CPD23 Thing 13: Google Docs, Wikis and Dropbox

Thing 13 post

Google Docs

I’ve been using Google Docs at work for nearly three years and it’s really revolutionised the way I do my job. That sounds a bit dramatic but the role has changed so much since we adopted it!

Partly that’s down to the Guardian becoming a more digital, interactive product. Partly it’s because I’ve become involved in the Datablog, which is powered by Google spreadsheets of data. But it’s also made existing jobs easier.

Before, when the department was working on a project together, we would compile info in an Excel spreadsheet or Word file. It would sit in someone’s public folder, but we’d enable it for multiple users and as long as you were in the office you could amend it.

Quite often though, the spreadsheet wouldn’t like being updated by two people at once and would crash, or create multiples, and someone would have to go in and fix it.

When the work was complete, we’d have to email the spreadsheet to the editor or journalist who’d requested the work, or move it to their folder, so that they could work on it. If they decided they needed to change the format or needed a different dataset, they’d send it back and we’d start again.

Now, project spreadsheets sit in Google Docs. They’re shared with everyone in the department, who can actually really genuinely update them at the same time without causing problems. We can share them with any writers or editors who need them, too, and everyone can access them from anywhere, even (though we don’t want to encourage working after hours!) from outside the office.

If the end product is a graphic or interactive, it can feed directly off the spreadsheet in Google Docs, so any updating can be done in real time and seen immediately on the page (like this Afghan casualties interactive, or one we did for 9/11 a few weeks ago). The Datablog feeds off Google spreadsheets for most of its content (this Man Booker Prize 2011 one is my latest baby).

The future is spreadsheets. No, really.

Dropbox

Because I already use Google Docs, and because I can’t download software at work, I’m going to skip Dropbox for now (sorry Dropbox).

Wikis

When I attended CILIP’s Umbrella conference a few months ago the most practical nugget I came away with was to adopt a wiki at work, as a way of sharing knowledge between colleagues (thanks Alan Brine and the wiki the67things).

We’ve tried a few ways of sharing department ‘how to…’s, but never hit on a formula that everyone likes and, more importantly, that everyone uses and contributes to. At the moment we use Google Docs, which works fine as document storage, but is clogged up with all our other docs. I think a wiki is the answer, so this is a great opportunity to try it out.

Unfortunately, to use MediaWiki you have to download the software, which I can’t do, so I had a go with PB Works instead. I set up an account – researchandinformation - and had a wander round to figure out the navigation. It’s not as intuitive as some software these days, but it’s easy to create pages, and hopefully I’ll be able to add it to the arsenal of tools we use in the office.

Reflections

Google Docs is always going to win out over Dropbox for me, because it is already central to my working life and because you don’t need to download any software to use it.

I’m determined to set up a wiki for use at work but I’ll need to speak to the rest of the department before I go off all gung ho. There’s no point adopting a new resource only for others to ignore it (which has happened previously with Delicious). I’m pretty sure there’s software already available within the company which doesn’t require download (can you tell that annoys me?), but if not PBWorks will suit what we need.

I’ll continue to use existing wikis for career development – I take part in Library Day in the Life and I’m going to add myself to the Library Routes project. For now, this blog serves me well for recording my Chartership path, but I’m using a Google Docs spreadsheet to list CPD activities, and when I come to compiling my portfolio I’m sure I’ll use it more!

Like I said, spreadsheets are the future.

CPD23 Thing 12: Where did the time go?!

I’ve been horribly lax and somehow I’ve got far far behind with CPD23. Back on track now though, I’m not sure if I’ll manage to finish on time but hopefully not too far behind everyone else!

So, Thing 12: Putting the social into social media

I’ve said elsewhere that I’m lucky in that the media sector, and the Guardian in particular, is very active online and encourages the use of social media for work. I’ve been tweeting from our work account @guardianlibrary and blogging for the Datablog and From the archive for a couple of years. Engaging with readers who comment ‘below the line’ is part of writing on the web – starting a conversation, in the latest jargon - even if the comments aren’t always favourable!

I’ve only recently started using social media for professional purposes outside work, partly because of CPD23 but also because I’m chartering. My main source is Twitter, although I’ve been trying to get involved by commenting on other CPD23 blogs too.

I can’t count the number of contacts I’ve made through Twitter who I wouldn’t have encountered in everyday professional life (well I probably could but it would be a bit tedious and, well, you get my point). I’ve started attending conferences and events in the real world too, but the best contacts I’ve made there have been with people I had already encountered online. Even if you first meet someone face to face, social media offer an easy way of keeping in touch.

I don’t think social media can entirely replace face-to-face networking – for me, anyway, there’s something more tangible in actually meeting someone.

The social media world moves at an ever faster pace, too – a break of a few hours from Twitter and you can completely miss a new revelation; take a break of a few weeks (did I mention I slacked off over the summer?) and it’s a daunting task to catch up again. It might be easier to make contacts online but I think it’s harder to maintain your place in that network than in a ‘real world’ one.

There’s also a risk that you don’t break out of the echo chamber of the library world if you keep your online contacts within your professional sphere. We all know libraries are worth saving, for example, but there’s no use just preaching to the converted! But if what you’re after is a community, rather than getting a message to a wider audience, social media can be very useful.

One of the main reasons I started CPD23 was to expand my network of fellow professionals, as my physical network has been shrinking of late. When jobs are being shed and budgets cut, social media offers a nice alternative to brainstorming on your own!

CPD23 Thing 11: Mentoring

Meg’s post on CPD23 Thing 11: Mentoring

A quick one after the mammoth Thing 10 post! Chartership is my first official experience with a mentor, but I’ve had unofficial guidance from several colleagues over the years. Having someone who has experience of my working environment to advise me on my development has been really important at various stages.

My mentor now is a former colleague, and also a good friend, so she understands where I’m coming from both professionally and personally. I’m sure she’ll continue to mentor me unofficially even after I’ve chartered!

CPD23 Thing 10: How I fell down the library rabbit hole

Book with text and drawings from Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Charlotte’s post on CPD23 Thing 10

It’s been really fascinating reading about the different experiences that led people into a career in libraries. Mine is a somewhat predictable path by comparison! It just goes to show the varied routes that can lead to librarianship, whether officially qualified or not; I’m definitely with Bethan when she says that “The profession is defined by what we do, not the letters after our names.”

I went straight from school to an American Studies degree at Hull (plus a year at NAU in Arizona), which I absolutely loved and which gave me some vital skills but wasn’t particularly career-oriented. When I graduated I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I applied for anything and everything that appealed to me. I wasn’t really looking for a vocation or an office job, but I had a vague notion of a ‘career in publishing’, so I fired off CVs to a list of publishers, all of which were met with a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’.

I was getting desperate (I’d been rejected by the local Iceland for being too qualified!) when I received a letter inviting me to interview for a library trainee post at the Guardian. I’d been rejected in the first round of CVs but one of the trainees had dropped out at the last minute. I don’t know who she was but I will be forever grateful to her for not turning up to work because I got the job instead, and it set me on the route to a career that I love.

When I was a trainee at the Guardian some eleven (!) years ago, the post was quite different. There were five of us, for a start (oh the heady days of economic certainty!), and our main roles were to archive the Guardian and Observer online and to file away newspaper cuttings from the day’s papers. We weren’t trusted to classify articles and cut them out (the librarians did that); after lunch, once the paper was archived, we were presented with a pile of newspaper clippings and sent off into the stacks to pop them in the right files.

There were a few visits to other libraries and the occasional opportunity to get involved in research, but otherwise the job was dull, and when we stopped adding to the cuttings halfway through the year, I was able to spend most of my time doing very little!

Despite this, working in the library was enough to convince me this was what I wanted to do, and I followed the traineeship with the MSc Information Science course at City University. At the time, Dave Nicholas was head of the department (this is before his team decamped to UCL); he’d done some research with the Guardian library and it was the natural path for trainees to take.

I didn’t really look into courses elsewhere, but I think it matched my interests anyway, because a lot of the course was about online information, databases, search techniques… I didn’t study a lot of traditional classification and cataloguing, but looked at it in the context of thesauruses and online taxonomy. Maybe if I’d ended up in a more traditional library role I’d have struggled without that basic grounding, but as it is the course gave me a great background for the job that I do (and the digital path the profession is taking now).

While I was sitting my final exams an assistant librarian post came up back at the Guardian, and I grabbed it with both hands! It meant switching to part time to finish my dissertation (which I finally handed in two years later) but it was an offer of a proper, professional job. In July 2002 I became a Guardian researcher and, nine years on, I’m still here.

Things have changed over the years. We’re down to three researchers from seven, and one trainee (with that post up for debate every year in a climate of cuts); we’ve moved to a shiny new building in King’s Cross, with some of our cuttings, bound volumes and microfilm stored off site; we have a digital archive, and subscribe to most reference resources online; we work increasingly with Google docs and data; and we’ve raised our web profile, with a blog and a Twitter account.

From time to time I’ve thought about moving on – with such a small team there isn’t a career ladder to speak of, and I’ve watched other colleagues go on to bigger and better things. But this role has changed, and continues to change, so I’m constantly learning new skills. More than anything it just seems to ‘fit’, and while I’m still passionate about working in the media and passionate about the job I’m happy to stay.

What I’m focusing on instead is developing my career by chartering with CILIP. I started last year and stalled quite quickly (baby number two got in the way!), but I’ve registered again and this time I’m determined to make it to the Chartership finish line! My working world may be small but that’s no reason to hold back on my career development.

Looking back over my career so far it’s clear that chance played a big part in how I became a librarian. If the original trainee hadn’t pulled out; if the Guardian hadn’t had a link with City; if a researcher hadn’t left just when I was finishing my course… I’m a big believer in serendipity, and it seems I’m also a bit lazy when it comes to making career decisions!

What is also clear though is that I’ve always had a passion for working with information, for libraries and, yes, for books (not, as Nicole Brock points out in her post on why she became a librarian, that books are all libraries do!).

I’ve always devoured books; I was off the reading scale at primary school and read everything they had. When we had to arrange work experience during GCSEs, some kids worked in local shops, handy for summer jobs; I organised a week working in the local county archives (yes, ladies and gentlemen, I once toyed with becoming an archivist). I even spent a summer when I was 12 or 13 cataloguing my parents’ book collection. Wow, that sounds tragic out loud.

Although I didn’t grow up wanting to be a librarian, and fell into it as a profession, I always had the tools for it, I just didn’t realise it at the time. I like to think that even if I’d taken a different job after uni, serendipity would have led me to the library one way or another.