A network for new and aspiring library professionals

Interview: Sean McNamara – Policy and Digital Officer, CILIP Scotland

Sean, from CILIPS, has answered some of our questions about his library career and the skills he uses in his current role. Since this interview Sean has become the Acting Director after Catherine Kearney left her role as Director of CILIP Scotland.


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

I originally joined the profession in 2007. After completing an undergraduate degree in media production, I spent a few years writing for some local magazines but not getting very far before getting a part time job at Glasgow Libraries. Around this time, I became aware of the option to do the Post-grad course in Library and Information Science at Strathclyde University. I really enjoyed working in the Glasgow Libraries as I was a sessional member of staff and this allowed me to visit many of the diverse and wonderful libraries that Glasgow has and it gave me a real love of the service the dedicated staff provided for their users. I continued to take on regular shifts while I completed my very enjoyable course before beginning the big job hunt exactly 10 years ago (I only just realised this, eek!).

After a quickly aborted decision to relocate to Oxford for a bibliography job and a few interview attempts I managed to find my first role which was at Inverclyde Libraries. Looking back, I am so glad that I managed to get that as my first role.

Currently you work as a Policy and Digital Officer for CILIP Scotland (CILIPS). Can you describe your current role and the specific skills you use?

My current role involves working as part of a team of two (myself and the CILIPS Director) and running and planning all of CILIPS’ activities along with our Trustee Board. As we are an organisation in our own right and also an affiliate of CILIP the role involves running the organisation up here, whilst also working in close partnership with our colleagues at CILIP.

My role can be quite diverse in both tasks and skillset required. Throughout the year we run campaigns, organise our Annual Conference, run a number of one day events, respond to consultations, attend meetings, provide support and communications for members, run our social media channels and more. As there are only two of us we also attend to a lot of the day to day admin of the job such as invoicing for events and other meeting related facilitation.

Often the job doesn’t include a traditional set of library related skills on a day to day basis (apart from perhaps managing member and event information) but as we are supporting and liaising with people from all sectors or responding to a wide range of issues it requires being kept up to date with everything that is going on in public, school, HE, FE, prison, national and more specialist libraries. I do this by doing a lot of reading and being in regular contact with key partners such as the Scottish Library and Information Council, the UK wide CILIP, Scottish Book Trust, Literature Alliance Scotland and many more.

The job requires a lot of political understanding as we respond to a lot of consultations throughout the year and it is key to be able to make clear arguments for libraries and professional skills in a way that may convince decision makers. When you manage to play your part in convincing politicians to make changes (it doesn’t happen as often as I would like) such as the introduction of the national strategy for school libraries, launching later this year, it can be very rewarding.

Our events also demand a huge amount of time in terms of planning and creating an engaging programme but this is immensely satisfying when you manage to deliver a successful one!

The job involves working closely with the Director, Catherine Kearney. When you are a team of two people it is important that you work well together and get on and Cathy has been brilliant with me and taught me so much over the past few years. Particularly coming from a particular sector it can be a steep learning curve to learn the specifics of all the other parts of the library world!

You previously worked as a Learning Services Librarian, what skills have you transferred from your experience working in libraries to working for CILIPS?

My first full time job in libraries was as Learning Services Librarian in Inverclyde and this job involved planning all the learning provision within the libraries including IT classes working in partnership with the local colleges and universities. I also developed learning packages and collections, delivered classes and events and managed budgets for the department. I was also part of a close knit senior staff team planning all areas of the library services provision.

This stood me in really good stead for my current job as there were a number of parallels. Developing training opportunities and events is also something I do now and supporting digital inclusion is something we do indirectly. I also learned a huge amount in the job about developing and maintaining partnerships with organisations. This can often be something that takes time and patience and understanding of each organisation’s requirements and that gave me a number of skills I apply in my current role.

Also, many of our members work in public libraries so to be able to get a five-year experience of how they work and being part of the senior staff in an excellent service gave me a good understanding that I can still apply today.

Do you have any advice for new professionals who are starting out?

I would recommend making contacts with people as much as possible and getting as much experience that you can. A good way of doing this is using local networks such as CILIPS branches and groups or other networks that are out there. Join committees, submit articles, apply for funding and if there are any placements available anywhere try and get involved. It is a challenging job market and must be quite frustrating for new professionals who haven’t found a job but keep saying yes to as much as possible and something will come along. There is no shortage of support out there via the likes of CILIP and fantastic networks like the NLPN.

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

Just to keep doing what they are doing! The people who run the network are a great group who do really well to dedicate so much time to it alongside full-time jobs. I think there are real opportunities for CILIP and CILIPS to work closely with the network as much as possible. The NLPN’s job shadowing, events and online content are all really useful and I think new professionals must really benefit from it. We have loved having NLPN along at our past events and it has really added valuable information and insight to the events.

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This entry was posted on September 5, 2018 by in Interview, Professional experience and tagged , , , , .

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