A network for new and aspiring library professionals
On 17th April 2013 I attended the BIALL (the British & Irish Association of Law Librarians), CLSIG (Commercial, Legal and Scientific Information Group of CILIP) and SLA (Special Libraries Association) Europe Open Day held at CILIP HQ. When I read about this event I was eager to attend as my knowledge of commercial, legal and scientific librarianship was very limited.
The day was made up of nine presentations, a visit to a library of your choosing (the options were: the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, or the Wiener Library) and a chance to network. The presentations came from information professionals from all parts of the workplace sector who discussed their careers, their working day and offered tips on how to go about gaining employment in their area.
The first speaker of the day was Jacky Berry, ‘the’ librarian at the British Medical Association (BMA). Jacky began her talk by emphasising the versatility of the library and information sector and the ability to move around within it; Jacky’s reasons for moving sectors were varied from career progression to voluntary redundancies and involved working in both the public and private sector (in schools, colleges, medical, surveying, architecture, actuary, law, TFPL). Areas of the sector that Jacky had not worked in but would’ve liked to include: the media, police, MI5, charities, voluntary services overseas.
Jacky stated that not only is it a versatile sector but it is also a challenging sector to have a career in as in many cases libraries need to be seen as valuable in terms of cost. Her role at the BMA Library is varied and involves supporting staff and members to research for articles to facilitate evidence-based healthcare, promoting and marketing the library to the membership, focusing on 24/7 aspect rather than closing it; thus making the library part of the organisation’s strategy so it is not closed.
Jacky used a quote from Will Self to emphasise the fact that library and information professionals still have a place: “Google is good but it is not God”. In terms of what is needed for a new professional Jacky purported: communication skills are absolutely critical! Both hard and soft skills are needed in a role which involves making sense of information and the ability to multi task, which can be transferred throughout the sector ((these include leadership skills, management skills, empathy, communication, understanding different needs, interpersonal skills, enthusiasm, belief and positive attitude, influencing and negotiating).
The second presentation was delivered by Sam Wiggins, an Information Officer at Norton Rose. After giving a brief overview of his career thus far (graduate trainee, volunteer, SLA Early Career Conference Award winner, co-founder of #uklibchat, Information Officer, completed Chartership) Sam expanded on the ‘core’ skills mentioned by Jacky for a career in the library and information sector; which are transferable and ‘acquired’ skills (legal knowledge/research, commercial knowledge, product specific knowledge, understanding of cost information, resource understanding). He stated that the core skills expected include: research skills, cataloguing, information management, IT literacy, team skills, current awareness skills, ability to train others enthusiasm, a fresh set of eyes, being up-to-date, digital skills and new ideas. Furthermore, employers look for: people skills, the ability to learn and build rapport with people. Sam encouraged us to be proactive in our hunt for a professional post and CPD, advising that if we think we can do the job then to apply event if you don’t meet all the requirements, volunteering to build experience and to take advantage of the abundance of bursaries available.
Emily Allbon, an Academic Law Librarian from City University Library, was the last speaker of the morning. After describing her background (graduate trainee, MSc, professional post at City University) Emily explained the challenges she faces in her current role (budget, balancing teaching and research, space, resources, engagement and information literacy). The opportunities Emily has gained from her post include writing articles, learning about other areas (law, technology; which she has used to support users through the portal she created: Lawbore.com) and teaching. She mentioned the importance of networks (BIALL, SLA, American and Canadian networks) and how they have helped her in her career and the methods she uses to stay in the loop (LIS links, Twitter).
After Emily’s talk we were assembled into groups for the visits to the libraries. I had chosen the Wiener Library, world’s oldest institution devoted to the study of the Holocaust, as I had undertaken a module on my undergraduate degree entitled ‘Representing the Holocaust’ and as such was interested in this subject. The library contains an exhibition room showcasing material donated to the library, a reading room and contains a unique collection of over one million items includes published and unpublished works, press cuttings, photographs and eyewitness testimony.
After the tours we assembled back at CILIP HQ for a generous lunch and a chance for more networking. This was followed by more presentations; the first was from Sandra Smythe, a legal librarian from Mishcon de Reya. Sandra explained what the work in a legal library involved: predominantly research based, cataloguing/classification work, acquisition/resource management, knowledge management and training (from trainees, inductions & orientation and one-to-one training). Sandra then explained to us what it was like to work in a legal library: demanding, time sensitive and involves deadline negotiation, they are well-resourced, interesting, the work is varied and it is well paid!
Sandra explained that after graduating from an undergraduate degree in Information Management she took a non professional post to gain experience and has progressed in the sector ever since! Sandra told us that legal knowledge is not necessary in order to work in a legal library as you can learn a lot on the job. Sandra advised us to take all of the opportunities that are given to us and in order to successfully gain employment in a legal library you should show that you have a logical mindset and attention to deal; therefore, you are able to carry out tasks such as document automation.