A network for new and aspiring library professionals
Jess Haigh is a subject librarian at The University of Huddersfield and a co-founder of LISDIS. Jess kindly agreed to answer our questions about her career path and how she got involved in the profession.
How did you first get into the library and information profession?
Like many, many people, completely by accident. I’d finished my first degree and was looking for work, and happened to apply for a library assistant post in my local FE College. I had an interview for that post and one in a museum on the same day, and got the library job. It could have all been so different…
I loved working with the students and my boss was so supportive – I would never have gone into professional librarianship were it not for her so THANK YOU Lynne! She helped me find a place on a Masters course and get my first professional post.
Tell us about your current role and the specific skills needed.
I work as a Subject Librarian at the University of Huddersfield. Most of my role revolves around helping the students with their information needs-either through providing one-to-one support or information literacy sessions. I also am the liaison between the library and my School, which involves forming and maintaining positive relationships with the students and academic and support staff of that school. So the skills required are to be good at forming relationships with people! You also need to be good at thinking on your feet when it comes to finding information, and supporting others to find information in library-provided resources but also using wider Open Access resources. You need to have a passion for getting people to be information literate and I believe a large part of that is to be interested in pedagogy and why and how people learn and work the way they do. I believe that librarians who facilitate learning should know how to do that in a way that means people come away fundamentally changed in how they view information creation, maintenance and consumption.
Your current role involves teaching aspects of information literacy. What approaches or theories have been most helpful to you as a practitioner when developing your expertise in this area?
I’m currently completing my PGCHE so I’m learning a LOT as I go, but I’d say I come at teaching from a constructivist approach, which means people build on knowledge already known. So when I’m showing our discovery service for example I won’t stand there are click on all the buttons and explain what they do, instead I might say to the class, have you ever bought anything on Amazon, or ASOS, or whatever? Yes? Then you’ve used a catalogue. And then get one of them up and showing the class. Peer learning I think is incredibly important, it gets people motivated to learn and also makes the lesson a bit more interesting.
I also am trying to use a more critical pedagogy in my teaching, having students empower themselves with knowledge of how information systems can be used as tools of oppression, and how to be consciously resistant of that. There is loads of reading I could recommend but I love the work of Eamon Tewell, for example, his 2016 article in portal: Librarians and the Academy is a must-read.
I’m also reading about pedagogies of discomfort at the moment which is making my brain twitch. And I have been really influenced by the ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy, as using threshold concepts as learning outcomes makes the most sense for me in terms of my learning journey towards my current state of information literacy.
I just like reading stuff really!
You’ve recently joined the LILAC committee and are one of the founders of LISDIS, why is CPD so important to you and what do you think are the benefits?
Oooo that’s a tough one and quite hard to answer because I am so very very lucky in that I CAN do the CPD that I do. I come from a position of enormous privilege in that I have the time available to do stuff like be on committees, and I work in a sector that is very encouraging of that.
CPD is important to me because I find being part of things exciting. When I got started in librarianship I found that there were loads of people doing stuff outside of the day job that was having such a positive impact on them professionally (or so it appeared to me), like they got to travel and to speak about their experiences, and yes a part of me thought “I want to be part of THAT gang”. Now my feelings have changed a bit, in that it isn’t about being part of a gang as such but being able to be part of a community of practice that is really, really supportive at a grassroots level. Things like NLPN and LISDIS as far as I’m concerned don’t exist to make money, or to give people like me kudos, they exist because there was a gap in the market that should have been filled, and a group of us collectively went “well, I could actually fill that…”and so did.
The benefits are obvious in that your CV starts looking rather tasty and your name gets bandied about a bit. I did LISDIS and that gave me loads of experiences I could put into my application for LILAC, which I’m really excited about because I get to be part of creating something that I’ve found so beneficial as a delegate in the past. But CPD doesn’t have to be the big fancy things. Do you keep up to date with your professional reading? Can you do a webinar? Have you ever gone to a local meet up? ARE there local meet ups? If there aren’t, would that be useful? Can you start one? The only people who really understand what I do are other librarians and I therefore like hanging out with them, remotely through reading stuff by them, or in real life through being part of my professional community.
But it annoys me that doing loads of stuff outside of your day job – which is working for free, let’s be honest – is often the only way librarians get anywhere. There are working librarians doing excellent stuff in their day jobs that go home and don’t publicise it or get involved in extra-curricula stuff because they cannot for whatever reason, and these librarians are just as good at helping their users and as valuable to their stakeholders, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.
What tips would you give to aspiring librarians?
Get a job in a library. Although I am a big reader and I’ve always “played” at librarians, it wasn’t until I started working an issue desk that I really understood the value of the services and how I could find my way in them. I don’t mean volunteering in a library; don’t use libraries run by volunteers because you are consenting to the disintegration of a profession through the acceptance of amateurism. Demand a professional library service and fight for the ones that remain.
And if you’re lucky enough to get a graduate traineeship then make the most of it! You’re getting access to the contacts and networks that it takes others years to build up.
What would you like to see from NLPN in the future?
You guys know I’m your biggest fan and I have loved the events you’ve put on; I’d say keep doing what you do! I think I’m slowly accepting the fact I’m no longer a New Professional (although, having only graduated two and a bit years ago, I can still apply for alllll the grants….) so it would be nice to see a similarly useful and grassroots based network for people in The Next Bit-but I guess that’s all the CPD stuff that I’m doing now!
What I’d really love is for a big LIS festival that was a chance to get together informally, but with formal bits as well. It is so nice being with people whose “oh I bet you love reading!” jokes I don’t have to laugh at when I tell them what I do. So that’s my challenge to you! #LISFest!