A network for new and aspiring library professionals
In this interview we speak to Sarah Arkle, co-founder of Future Library and Information Professionals (FLIP), about setting up a network, plans for the future and her advice for people interested in joining the sector.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you first become involved in the library and information profession?
I discovered librarianship as a profession by accident. I had ordered a postgraduate prospectus during my third year doing English at Sheffield, as I still harboured some very meagre hopes of pursuing academia, when I noticed they did an MA course in librarianship. It caught my eye because I thought needing a Master’s degree to be a librarian seemed weird, and that led me to researching the sector and learning about routes into the career and it sounded like something I would enjoy. After working in an FE college library for a year after I graduated, I then did a graduate traineeship at the English Faculty Library in Oxford, before receiving a scholarship to study the MA full time back in Sheffield.
Tell us about your network, who is it aimed at and what is its purpose?
It is aimed at aspiring professionals, ideally those who have not started their career or have not qualified yet, although we have helped people out from all stages of their careers! Including a number of people well established in other fields wanting a career change!!! The idea is to offer comprehensive information about starting an LIS career from people who understand how difficult it can be these days. When I was researching the qualification, for example, I could not find any comprehensive information where I could compare the courses and see options for study. I lamented this to my partner in crime, Suzannah, and she created the tables on our site, which give all the useful information about each course that a UK based aspiring librarian may want to consider.
What prompted you to create/join the network?
When I was working as a graduate trainee, and even prior to that, I’d definitely gotten a feel for the fact that pursuing a career in the sector can be difficult for a variety of reasons, but the cost of the qualification seems to be one of the main barriers. It was quite a difficult year for me, my trainee year, as before I found out I’d secured funding I was overworking myself doing extra part time work on top of my full time library job to try and make ends meet in oxford whilst also saving up for my tuition fees. My fellow graduate trainees were experiencing similar stresses, and having the huge question mark of ‘what next?’ When the traineeship was finished hanging over us definitely made us all feel quite stressed, but we were very much in it together. Having that community of other aspiring LIS professionals around me made such an enormous difference and I came up with the idea of flip to try and extend that sense of community outward toward other aspiring information professionals who may not have the same sort of support network as those participating in a training scheme.
What are your proudest achievements as a network?
For the last two years running we have been given the opportunity to give out sponsored conference places at ILI. Engaging with CPD is really useful for boosting your career, but can often be expensive or inaccessible when you’re new to it all, so it’s been great to be able to offer these opportunities out to people starting out in the profession who may not have been able to take part otherwise.
What do you hope to achieve in the future/what are your plans for the future?
Well, we have an interesting plan in the works with you guys – NLPN – which, if it works out, could be a really fantastic initiative and really exciting way to help new professionals, so let’s see!!! I’d also love to start putting on low cost/free events, one of the initial dreams which came alongside the founding of FLIP was to be able to put on some kind of LIS careers fair type event with representatives from LIS institutions, current students etc and comprehensive information and careers advice. On a much smaller scale, I would like to get back into the habit of posting regular content on our site. It has been difficult to maintain the initial momentum we had when we first launched, especially as I have gotten older and have other responsibilities.
How has being part of the network helped with your professional development?
It has allowed me to meet and interact with new and aspiring professionals from many places, and therefore expand my own professional network. I am bad at ‘networking’ in real life, and tend to cringe a bit at the concept, but I guess this counts as networking of sorts? It has also given me opportunities to speak and present to people, which I wouldn’t have had otherwise, which has made me much more confident at speaking in public and piping up in meetings at work.
What advice would you give to new professionals?
Get out while you still can!!! I am kidding… I think firstly, my advice would be do not exhaust yourself feeling like you have to do all of the things all of the time. There’s a lot of emphasis on CPD and qualifying and all this extra stuff you can do and conferences to go on, but a lot of that stuff is really difficult to make time for when you’re also working full time and probably not making a great deal of money yet! I think secondly, I would also want to say that if you decide to go ahead and do the qualification, you are probably going to feel a bit cynical about it afterward no matter where you go. I did have a great year doing my MA in Sheffield, and I wouldn’t have my current job if I couldn’t tick the ‘postgraduate qualification in LIS’ box, so I’m speaking from a position of privilege here, but I do feel like I learned far more just from working in the field! I would like to see this change, especially whilst qualifying remains so prohibitively expensive, but I am not sure whether that will happen during my career. I could probably go on and on but I will leave it there. Oh, actually – join a union!!
Lastly, can you recommend any other networks/groups/sites that might be of interest to new professionals?
I mean, NLPN of course! DILON – whether you are a POC or not. The pervasive whiteness of the profession is hardly news to anyone, so for us many white librarians, it is worth listening to what they have to say. We are lucky they are using their time to educate us on how to be better allies, and the hard work Jen has put in to get it off the ground is admirable. It is also great that librarians from black and minority ethnic backgrounds have a network that is in their corner; especially when it feels like the rest of the profession might not be. I also really like reading stuff on In the Library with the Lead Pipe; an online journal that looks at various topics affecting the sector, including social justice issues and diversity/inclusion. I found a lot of useful material on there for my MA dissertation. It also helped introduce me to critical issues in the sector when I was very new to libraries, so I would recommend it to people as a good source for professional literature.