A network for new and aspiring library professionals

Interview: Jo Whitcombe – NHS Clinical Librarian

Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you first become involved in the library and information profession?

Jo Whitcombe

Jo Whitcombe

I’ve always had a love of reading and, like so many future librarians, spent many a happy hour at my local library as a child. After A levels, I started an arts degree then changed course, qualifying as a nurse in 2000. Once I settled down and started a family, I felt I needed a change of direction, so got in touch with Sian Lambert at MMU for some information on their librarianship degree. Sian is one hell of a saleswoman as I started on the course within a fortnight!

As I progressed through my time at MMU, I realised that I needed some practical experience. I thought that volunteering would be a great way to do this. I couldn’t decide between working in a local history library or health library. I figured that my nursing background would give a me a head start on the medical jargon, so I got in touch with my local hospital library to see if they wanted me. Four years and two role transitions later, I’m still here – although they do pay me now!

Can you tell us about your position as a Clinical Librarian in the NHS?

I think if you asked this question to a room full of clinical librarians, you’d struggle to find two identical roles. My role is kind of an outreach/clinical librarian mash-up really. No two days are the same – that’s probably why I enjoy my job.

As I started in a new post on the site I work at, I was given quite a lot of freedom to carve out my own path. Whilst I’m not attached to a team like some clinical librarians, I do work closely with paediatrics, hepatobiliary surgery and anaesthesia & critical care. I teach staff and students across the trust how to search more effectively for health information and hold search surgeries where I’ll run a 1-2-1 session with a user who has specific information needs. I also undertake searches for users, and work with a number of committees to produce evidence for trust guidelines and support educators across the trust in a manner similar to an academic librarian.

As we’re a small team (9 of us work across 3 library sites), I still do general front of house duties, catalogue & classify materials and help users to find the resources they need. I’m also responsible for a lot of the promotion and marketing of the library – from designing & producing materials to going to meetings, visiting clinical areas or manning stands to promote resources. I guess that came about as I know my way around clinical areas and have an understanding of what our user needs may be.

You are currently volunteering as a Primary School Librarian, how important do you think it is to gain experience within different LIS sectors?

It has given me a far better appreciation for what goes on in another sector. I think as a new professional, it is very easy to get hung up on what is happening in your own area and neglect the wider LIS arena as you try to settle in.

Many of the skills we have as LIS professionals are transferable, but there are certain things that are particular to each speciality. I think that even a short stint in another sector, whether it is as a volunteer or on a placement, can give you access to opportunities and skills you may not have thought of.

How has your volunteer post helped you in your current role?

Obviously, it has helped me to expand my own professional knowledge and skills as well as giving me a deeper insight into another sector. We don’t use Dewey at my base library, so that was a bit of a steep learning curve for me as I reworked the whole school library. I really enjoyed showing the children how to use the library right from choosing a book to issuing it themselves, which has led me to start a teaching qualification. Generally, I think it has driven me to think about different possible ways of approaching what I do on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet been able to persuade my manager that we need to replicate my school library displays (complete with book-reading bears) in the hospital library yet!

You are currently working towards Chartership, what advice can you give to those in our network who are thinking of undertaking Chartership?

It is good to start thinking about it early in your career as I found it helped me to identify my own development needs. Take your time to think about how you can steer your own future and not just in the role you are in at the present. It pays to take a longer view – how can something you do as part of your Chartership help you to achieve a longer term goal or aspiration?

What advice would you give to new library and information professionals who are currently looking for a job in the library and information sector?

Volunteer if you can. You may only be able to spare a few hours a week or a month, but give it a go. You get invaluable experience, often working on innovative projects, and it shows potential employers that you are serious about developing your skills and experience.

For those who have just started in their first professional post, I’d advise them to keep an open mind about how you want to move forward in your career. Those transferable skills I mentioned before? Use them to your advantage; they mean you’re pretty well set to move around in order to achieve what you want in your career and pick up new skills on the way.

You are involved with CILIP CDG; what do you see as being the benefits of being in a network?

Information and experience sharing has to be the key thing for me. I’m the first to admit that I’m a bit of a failure with technology (despite the fact I am a total gadget geek!), so it’s good to know that I can call on others around me who have better skills and knowledge for advice. I feel that being involved with CILIP CDG has given me the experience and confidence to take on new challenges in my workplace, moving beyond the library and becoming more embedded into education as a whole in my trust. I’m also very fortunate to be part of a very strong and supportive NW health library network (LIHNN) which provides so many training opportunities that I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to CPD.

What would you like to see from the Manchester NLPN in the future?

I haven’t actually managed to get to one the sessions yet, mainly because I have a young family and I feel I should give my weekends to them. So from a purely selfish point of view, maybe a shorter day or something which ran in the evening would be good to see in the future. In addition, maybe something looking at the softer skills, such as communication and negotiation skills, would be useful.


2 comments on “Interview: Jo Whitcombe – NHS Clinical Librarian

  1. Pingback: I visited a health library and didn’t die | Strix in Silva

  2. Really great to hear about your role Jo!

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This entry was posted on May 10, 2013 by in Interview and tagged , , , , , .

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