A network for new and aspiring library professionals
In this interview we speak to the current uklibchat team (minus Siobhan McGuinness). The interview includes background info on the team, their proudest achievements and recommendations of other networks/groups/sites/podcasts that might be of interest to new professionals.
Ellie Downes: I really went in what seems to be the classic route into the library and information professions; after completing a BA in English Literature, I didn’t know what to do, and panic-applied to everything under the sun, including a Graduate Traineeship in my university’s Information Services team.
Gaby Koenig: I went to libraries every week as a child and at the end of primary school I was a prefect librarian! At secondary school the school library was my haven from bullying and other sad teen stuff. I didn’t really think about libraries as a career till I’d finished uni, pottered about doing temping in offices and failed at teacher training. Once I got the idea I was all in! Job in a public library, and Masters at UCL!
Annie Gleeson: I did a music degree at Nottingham University and took a job in the department library to earn a bit of money while I was a student. I discovered that I loved helping people find what they needed, so applied for library graduate trainee positions when I left university. I ended up at the University of Cambridge where I’ve worked at a variety of libraries over the last 7 years.
David Bennett: After volunteering and working at Hereford Sixth Form College, I found myself regularly helping my fellow students find information access resources at University, where the Science Library became my second home. After graduating, I worked briefly at Hereford Sixth Form College before completing a graduate traineeship at the hybrid HE/NHS Oxford University Health Care Libraries, completing a Masters degree at Loughborough University, returning home to temp again, this time at Worcester College of Technology, before finally settling in at the University of Portsmouth.
GK: #uklibchat is for anyone who works in libraries or information services, and people are also welcome to participate if they are just interested in libraries too. People can participate at any point in their career from students through to experienced workers post retirement if they wish! Our aim is to create a platform where LIS people can interact with each other, share ideas and learn from each other.
DB: #uklibchat brings together library, information and knowledge management experts from around the world to share insights, contacts, knowledge, experience and resources. Participants and observers also benefit from the wisdom of crowds, as possible future directions for library leadership and problem solving are mulled over in a shared egalitarian platform.
AG: #uklibchat was created in 2011 as a result of Ka-Ming Pang and Jo Norwood’s talk at the CILIP Careers Development Group’s New Professional’s Conference, suggesting using Twitter to connect UK LIS students and professionals. Our first ever #uklibchat was on the theme of LIS and Library School Activism, but now our audience includes anyone working in the LIS field in the UK (and we have regular participants from elsewhere in the world too!)
GK: I joined in with my first #uklibchat because of an article in CILIPs magazine I think, and, after a while I just kind of thought it would be good to get involved in the group!
DB: I was looking for an opportunity to broaden my professional portfolio and identified chairing #uklibchat and drawing together sometimes passionate and wide-ranging debates over a remote, text based medium as being very far from anything I had ever done before, while still offering me an opportunity to apply my design skills and marketing mindset in a new environment.
ED: I’m the latest member of the team, and I had taken part in a few chats before the call went out for new members. I find Twitter a really easy way to communicate, and thought it would be a good CPD activity for me to go into, especially as I’m fairly new to the profession.
GK: We did a joint chat with CILIP (and have collaborated on other occasions with several CILIP special interest groups)
DB: My most satisfying moment was during the joint chat with CILIP. I proposed CILIP might certify or even commission open access MOOCs from library schools to offer a structured online pathway to academic training and assessment, one that could work alongside workplace apprenticeships as an alternative to existing CILIP qualifications. The idea was embraced by CILIP and taken away for further consideration.
ED: Probably hosting the chat on Salaries across Libraries. It’s a really tricky topic, that a lot of people find very awkward to talk about, especially so publicly on social media, but the response I got was very encouraging. A lot of participants in the chat said that it was a really useful talk, and were glad that someone had approached the topic
AG: I still can hardly believe that we’ve been running for 7 years! A highlight for me was the #uklibchat session about LIS qualifications that we hosted at Library Camp London in 2013. This was a combined offline & online discussion – we were live-tweeting from the session so that people could participate from all over the UK, and we had our Twitter feed up on a big screen so that people at the event could see the discussion that was simultaneously taking place online. It was a lot of fun.
ED: We’re experimenting with timings of chats, some of our feedback has been that people would like chats during the day, as well as evening chats so that people with commitments in the evening, or would prefer to keep their CPD activities in working hours, can participate.
GK: We would like to grow our team – we’re quite small in number, and to do a few more lunch time chats since our first one went so well!
DB: As Gaby says, we want to expand the team and collaborate more often and more widely with any groups and organisations crazy enough to jump into the Twitter stream and splash around with us!
DB: Chairing meetings taught me to combine diplomacy and assertiveness. I can also now reliably proofread content at near speed reading speeds, reply to comments appropriately from different Twitter accounts, and keep an online chat on topic as Chair. Some chats also gave me eye-opening insights into topics I knew little about, and I have discovered a few role models to whose terrifying capacity and productivity levels I now aspire!
GK: I tend to switch off from work after my hours are over for the day and #uklibchat got me involved with other LIS types, I learn a lot from any chat I participate in and increase my understanding of what people are doing.
ED: It’s been really great, I’m a bit awkward when first meeting people but I’ve now met a few people in person after having spoken on Twitter, and it’s made it a lot easier for me to network. It’s also helped me gain a wider perspective of the profession, once you work in one sector it’s quite easy to get tunnel vision, but we get people chatting across the sectors, Public Libraries, HE, FE, Health Libraries, etc, so that’s been really valuable.
GK: It can be a tough market out there, look at what interests you and think wider than the traditional places like Higher Ed and Public Libraries. You can find libraries in Law Firms, Charities and large businesses. There can be libraries connected to museums, sometimes the army and more. Plus there’s a wide range of Info Pro work that could be anywhere.
DB: Do what you are good at and enjoy. Every job in librarianship is pretty much what you make of it, so you might as well make it your own and make something good happen that gives you satisfaction.
The information profession is diverse and has no clear career structure. It rewards those who create opportunities for themselves and keep their ongoing development plans in mind, who are prepared to embark on projects that extend their role and gain new competencies or change role to experience something new. Your role should not define you: you should redefine your role and extend your skill set and knowledge base to achieve whatever you believe is needed. Changing job, sector and even career trajectory when opportunity knocks is not to be feared.
AG: Apply for bursaries and small grants funds! There are often far fewer applicants for these than you might think.
ED: I think I just about still count as a new professional, so it feels odd to give advice, but I would say don’t be afraid to reach out and ask advice. I’ve never come across a librarian who was unwilling to share their experiences and give advice when asked. Also, be wary of using the phrase ‘I just love books’ in interviews or as a reason to get into librarianship, we all love books, but that is not the be all and end all of the profession, and can actually make things more difficult for you – imagine weeding a collection of thousands of books because your institution no longer teaches it
ED: Personally I really enjoy the Librarians with Lives podcast by Jo Wood, it’s quite easy listening but still makes you think and shares a wide range of experience, and can inform you on sectors of librarianship.
GK: There are some great Special Interest Groups available from CILIP. It’s worth keeping an eye on what your local groups are up to. I still love www.teenlibrarian.co.uk even though I don’t work as much with Teens. It’s a great resource and it has a monthly newsletter!
DB: For new professionals, the CILIP Career Development Group, New Professionals Group, and Library and Information Research Group are the most directly relevant. Each sector has specialist groups that you might consider joining depending on what interests you. If you are interested in anything even vaguely intranet or web related, you should seriously consider joining the CILIP UKeiG and ILIG special interest groups. Both offer a variety of affordable courses covering topics relevant to just about everyone in the profession. For anyone interested in the organisation and management of information, ISKO, the UDC Consortium, and the CILIP Cataloguing and Indexing Group (famed for their fantastic conferences) offer invaluable resources and professional networks spanning all levels of the profession. If teaching is your passion, the LILAC Conference is second to none.