Reading: The role of a 21st century librarian

Great post from Emma Cragg and Katie Birkwood on what it takes to be a 21st century librarian, on the Guardian careers site (published a year ago), that I stumbled across today.

In all library roles customer service and communication skills are important. If anyone ever thought they’d become a librarian because they liked books or reading, they would be sorely disappointed if they did not also like people too.

So true! So much of the role is communicating the information you find to others.


Training: Tweetdeck, 22 November 2011

I’ve been using Twitter for a few years but I’m behind the times with my software! Following a talk about the use of Twitter, I signed up for a Tweetdeck intro session with John Stuttle, one of the Guardian’s systems editors.

Tweetdeck offers much more usability than the basic Twitter feed. Key for me is that it allows you to track more than one account at once (and from more than one social network), to tweet from more than one account simultaneously (say my personal and department ones) and to publish timed tweets (so we could set a tweet to launch the weekend’s From the archive in advance, for example).

John recommended signing up for a account as well, which allows you to analyse the statistics on how many people used your link to click through to a story, versus other links, and use that to improve your tweeting. provides various other stats too – to view statistics and graphs just click the Analyze link at the top once you’re signed in, or click on Info Page next to an individual link.


CPD23 Thing 15: Getting involved in events

Katie’s Thing 15 post


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!


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.


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 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.

CPD23 Thing 4: Current awareness

Annie’s post: Thing 4 – Current awareness – Twitter, RSS feeds and Pushnote

I really struggle with current awareness. I feel a bit like I’m drowning in a sea of information – I just don’t have the time to read every blog, article or Twitterfeed that I think I need to keep up with the industry.

I like to think I’m information literate (I’ve been around computers my whole life) but when it comes to Twitter and RSS feeds I’m totally behind the times – I still use the basic Twitter site, for starters – and I’m feeling swamped. As Nicole says over at Odd Librarian Out, “I don’t have an information overload problem. I have a filter problem.”


I’ve been on Twitter for a couple of years (@katy_bird), and I’m increasingly using it professionally – to follow other librarians, keep up with new developments and track livetweets of events I’m not able to attend. Our department has an account as well (guardianlibrary), so I use it in my daily work life. 

I also use it personally though, and I find it difficult to keep the two separate. I’m always finding new people to follow, but there are so many people tweeting it’s impossible to follow everyone, and I often feel I’m only getting half of the conversation.

RSS feeds

I’ve been meaning to set up RSS feeds for ages. At the moment I track interesting blogs and sites by subscribing for email updates, adding them to my Delicious bookmarks page or listing them on my Blogroll, but I’m guilty of tagging things and never getting round to reading them. I need a one-stop shop for everything I read regularly.


I use Internet Explorer at home, so I’ve not been able to try it out yet, but I’m going to take a look from work on Monday. My initial reaction is that it’s just one more platform to take up my time though!

Challenges this week:

  • Set up Twitter lists to compartmentalise professional and personal followees
  • Get to grips with either Tweetdeck or Hootsuite
  • Weed out feeds I scan over by unfollowing accounts (it’s time I culled a few z-list celebs!)
  • Set up a Google Reader RSS feed to all my usual information sources
  • Take a look at Pushnote


CPD23 Thing 3: Personal branding

Part of my online presence (!)

Ah, branding. I know it makes sense, but I get a bit twitchy when people talk about their ‘personal brand’. The Beckhams, yes; Katie Price, bless her, absolutely; little old me? Um. I’m just not good at blowing my own trumpet.

So I was a bit unsure coming into this week’s Thing. Then I read the post, browsed a few posts by other participants, and now I get it. Branding is less about “look at me! Aren’t I amazing?”, more about presenting the right professional face to the world, and making sure that face is consistent across all your public spaces.

It turns out I’m not that great at branding, which may be why I was nervous this week! I started this blog a year ago, as a record of my Chartership journey. It wasn’t a public thing, more like an online diary that I could access easily, so I didn’t think too much about presentation. I thought of a URL that represented my approach to work, but that was as far as it went. Now people are reading it I think it needs a revamp! Nothing about the formatting says Librarian. A task for the weekend, I think.

The photo here is the same one I use on my Twitter account (@katy_bird), but it’s not a particularly great one (though I do like the hat!). The byline photo I had taken for work is much better, but I’m wary of using it on all my sites – I think of that as my Work Head, whereas this blog, and Twitter, represent my professional self outside of work.

My Twitter feed is a personal account, too, though I use it for non-work library-related issues (I tweet about work separately from our department account (@guardianlibrary), but we use a generic Guardian image – key to company branding!). So the hat pic is my Profersonal Head. I also have a personal blog, and Facebook, with a Personal Head that is different again. I definitely compartmentalise different bits of my online life (insert Worzel Gummidge/Return to Oz joke here).

I have a split personality when it comes to names, too. On Twitter and Flickr, both of which started as personal sites, I use katy_bird, which is an old nickname. On sites like Delicious and Library Thing that I’ve joined more recently, and which I use professionally, I use KatyStoddard. I can see the benefit of this – it’s my name, duh – and I’ve been puzzling for a while whether I should change to that on Twitter. But people who follow me on Twitter know me as katy_bird, so is it too late to change? Tell me, please!

The activity for this week’s Thing was reassuring: all of the first page of results were about me (although I don’t have a very common name!). Top two were my work profile page, followed by Twitter (despite the nickname). LinkedIn came fifth, Facebook sixth, Just Giving was at eight and this blog was tenth.

The other results were sites that referenced articles I’ve written (Mephedrone Today and Why Church, anyone?). It helps that I work for, and sometimes write for, a national newspaper, but I’m pleased my blog made the top ten!

There’s nothing there that I’d be worried about revealing to a potential employer or colleague. Just to make sure, I ran a Google image search (I’m sure I’m tagged in some embarrassing drunk dancing photos on Facebook). Of the photos on the first page that are mine, two were my work photo, two my hat pic and two my Facebook profile picture du jour.

One was the photo I use on Library Thing (I love it, but it’s hard to tell it’s me!). One was a rather sweaty me at the end of a run – personal yes, but not embarrassing. Several linked to stories I’d written – hello, Patrick Swayze and Bristol Palin. And there were a couple of the snap I donated to the Ghost Signs Archive; a bit more embarrassing, as it’s an advert for Bile Beans!

So what does that say about my online brand, bile beans aside? While I’m struggling to coordinate my online personas, it seems my professional profile is strong enough to make me easily findable. I need to work on consistency across all platforms. I definitely need to improve the style of this blog (and maybe Twitter too). And I might want to scrap at least one of the Heads, so my personality isn’t so split!

CPD23: Thing 2 – investigating other blogs

As I may have mentioned elsewhere, I’m usually good at writing up notes and lists, but when it comes to reflective writing and learning my good intentions often fall by the wayside. Hence it’s only week two of CDP23 and I’m already playing catch-up!

But catch up I will. I found the participants list a little daunting, so the first bloggers I picked to read were participants I already knew or had followed for a while – step forward nataliafay and @woodsiegirl at Organising Chaos – and ones who had commented on my own blog – Annie at The Hobbit Hole, oliverpig, Variegated Stacks and Ahava Cohen at Love in the library.

I followed through some of the comments too, quite a neat way of discovering other bloggers with similar points of view (or opposing, if the comments are negative!). And I clicked through to blogs that these bloggers had written about (is there another word for blog, btw? My spell check is going crazy!).

So now I’ve added London Library Girl, Theatregrad, Sarah Said Library, The Neon Librarian and Odd Librarian Out to my CPD23 network as well. I like this way of discovering blogs by recommendation, rather than picking someone from a list arbitrarily. You weed out some of the less interesting posts, and I’ve joined some really interesting conversations.

So that’s eleven blogs down, only 603 to go!