A network for new and aspiring library professionals

Interview : Jo Wood, founder of Librarians with Lives

We have contacted (and will contact more) people who have set up/run groups/networks/podcasts to ask them some interview questions. The aim of this is to find out more about these people and the advice they have for new professionals. As such, please find the first in the series from Jo Wood …

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

I did a history degree and a masters in modern history, but didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do career-wise. I worked part-time in a bookshop whilst studying and one of my colleagues applied for, and subsequently did, a graduate traineeship in Oxford. I didn’t think of librarianship as a career until I found out about traineeships, so I applied the following year and became the graduate trainee at the Oxford Union. Jo WoodFrom there I moved to the National Maritime Museum in London, starting as a library assistant before becoming senior library assistant. During my time at the NMM I did the ILS qualification via distance learning with Aberystwyth University. My first post-qualifying post was at the children’s charity Barnardo’s, where I worked as a library and information service officer. From there I moved to my current employer, and I’m now the Library and Information Service Manager for the largest employer of social workers in England. I set the LIS up from scratch and we now deal with c.5,000 requests a year. The LIS was mentioned favourably in the recent Outstanding report from Ofsted. I Chartered in 2008 and have Revalidated three times. It’s best not to ask me how Fellowship is going right now…

  1. Tell us about your podcast, who is it aimed at and what is its purpose?

The Librarians with Lives podcast interviews a different person or people each episode about their background, career path, CPD, frustrations, achievements, dream library job and colleague(s), and what they would do if I could put them in charge of the information profession for a day. LwL aims to highlight the work of library and information workers (and those in associated careers) regardless of location, sector, and stage of career. I try to ensure the interviewees include a good mixture of unsung heroes and the Librariati.

  1. What prompted you to create the podcast?

I’ve always being fascinated by other people’s career stories. You tend to hear bits of them at conferences at the start of presentations before the speaker launches into telling everyone about their amazing project. I’d much rather hear how the speaker got to where they are. The public version of the career story can sound very seamless when in reality life is full of twists and turns. I wanted to give people a platform to reflect on their career stories in depth. I went through a period of ill-health in 2016 and one of the by-products of that was an inability to read anything longer than a page and becoming unable to write anything more significant than a brief email for a time. I find chatting with people, and listening to other people chat extremely therapeutic. Also, I started Fellowship in 2017 and needed a massive distraction.

  1. What are your proudest achievements connected to the podcast?

I’m still utterly amazed that anyone listens to it! I honestly thought LwL would be a little CPD side project where I would interview a person from each sector and put the results into my Fellowship portfolio. LwL now has thousands of listeners across the world. It’s all a bit bonkers really. I knew nothing about the mechanics of podcasting before I started LwL so I’ve learnt everything by trial and error. LwL has evolved hugely since it started.

I did Librarians with Lives LIVE! At this year’s CILIP conference and managed to grab interviews with 40 delegates, organisers and vendors across the two days, which I turned into a special episode of the podcast. It was a big feat to pull all of the snippets of recordings together and turn them into a podcast in a relatively short timeframe. I did the same at ILI in October and recorded 50 mini interviews. They gave me my own stand with a sign and everything!

As a result of doing LwL I have been asked to speak at a number of professional events and conferences. I’m incredibly proud of the work that Mike Jones and I have done around networking at professional events. It was hugely gratifying to see some of our suggestions put into practice at the CILIP conference this year.

After being so unwell a couple of years ago it was a big step for me to speak at the CILIP Cymru Wales conference earlier in the year on mental health, professional resilience and podcasting. I was nervous beforehand, not because I hate public speaking (I love it) but because I knew how honest and challenging my presentation was. Luckily it was very well-received and it was a watershed moment for me. I delivered an updated version of this talk at CILIPS Autumn Gathering in October.

I feel incredibly lucky that I get to ‘meet’ (either in person or virtually) so many brilliant people and I’m very proud of my rapidly growing LwL Alumni cohort. I love it when interviewees and listeners start interacting and sharing ideas independently of the podcast.

I was at the CILIP New Professionals Day recently (co-delivering the networking workshop) and one of the delegates (the very fab Francesca) came to find me during the lunch break to thank me for doing the podcast. She Googled ‘How to become a librarian’, LwL popped up in the search results, she started listening and she now works in a school library. Honestly, CILIP should put me on commission!

  1. What do you hope to achieve in the future/what are your plans for the future?

I have ideas for developments but the main barrier is the cost (time, financial and emotional) of sustaining a podcast. I’m a one-person podcaster, entirely independent, producing LwL alone. I have a full-time job, a family and hobbies, so I’m always balancing LwL with the rest of my life. I’ve bounced around the idea of doing a series called ‘Librarians with Lives learns about…’ where I get a subject expert in, for example in AI in libraries or GDPR to come on and do a 30 minute idiots guide to that subject. Personally I don’t want to read reams of information about those subjects but I’d love to hear people talking about them. So if anyone likes the idea of this and would like to help me out financially, do get in touch…

I’d also like to do more side-specials. I’ve done one on librarians who run (Libraruns if you want to join the Strava group) and there’s the infamous Christmas special from last year (Siobhan from NLPN was one of the participants) but I’d like to do more on information professionals who: love musicals, watch Strictly, librarian fashion, Love Island, Bake-Off…more silly stuff really. We are Librarians with Lives after all!

That, or I have a complete crisis and set up a Midsomer Murders podcast instead…

  1. How has the podcast helped with your professional development?

Well, it’s certainly been a massive distraction from Fellowship! In all seriousness, it’s the best CPD activity I have ever done, and will ever do. Despite all of my joking about Fellowship, LwL is a big part of my portfolio. I work in a fairly niche area of the profession and it’s a great way to get to know info pros from other sectors. I’m now the person that knows everyone, which can be tremendously useful. Doing LwL has also given me more confidence at work. I have also learnt to be more diplomatic as a result of contacting interviewees, setting up interviews, steering people through the recording/editing/release process, although this is very much a work in progress.

  1. What advice would you give to a new professionals?
  • Don’t feel intimidated by what everyone else is doing. I remember being utterly terrified of the Librariati earlier in my career as they seemed to know everything and everyone and I felt I couldn’t possibly compete. I’ve found my niche now. Find yours and don’t try to be something you’re not. Don’t try and impress the people that you think are cool and amazing. If you’re having to work *that* hard, ask yourself why. It probably isn’t worth it.
  • Don’t decide that you want to work in a particular sector, at the exclusion of all others, at the start of your career. I haven’t really worked in any traditional settings and I don’t feel that I am worth less than someone that has worked in public or academic libraries throughout their career. Related: don’t be a snob about your sector.
  • Learn to advocate for yourself and don’t be afraid to push for a job re-grade, ask to attend a conference, get a flexible working arrangement or tell your manager if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Balancing that, prove your worth to your organisation first. Don’t be afraid to constantly remind your employer that you’re worth having via all the amazing work that you’re doing, and be evidence-based about it.
  • Be kind, both to yourself and others. Don’t become a 24/7 info pro. It isn’t healthy. The profession can feel all-consuming at times but you’ll be a better advocate for it if you allow yourself time away periodically. Don’t troll. Don’t enable unkindness. Don’t be a drama llama.
  • Listen to Librarians with Lives! It is packed full of tips and advice for new professionals from people going through the same things as you, and those that have been there and done it all before.
  1. Lastly, can you recommend any other networks/groups/sites that might be of interest to new professionals?

NLPN of course! It’s an obvious one but join Twitter. Library Twitter can be utterly terrifying and often does my head in, but it’s where conversations happen and connections are made. LwL would be nothing without Twitter. I’m not going to tell people to join CILIP if they don’t really don’t want to (my personal view is that you’re better off trying to make change from inside the tent and making allies rather than standing outside lobbing stuff in and making enemies), but if you’re keen on structured CPD and want to Charter, you need to be a member.

One comment on “Interview : Jo Wood, founder of Librarians with Lives

  1. Claudia Crawley
    November 14, 2018

    Well done Jo. What a great initiative for librarians. So good to see you going from strength to strength.

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