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Finding time for CPD

This article was first published in CILIP Update, November 2013.

Back when I was still a new professional, I wrote and spoke on the topic of “CPD on a shoestring” – how to keep up your continuing professional development without any money for training. In my youthful naivety, what I failed to appreciate at the time was the further problems encountered once you move into more senior roles with more responsibility: namely, how to keep up your CPD when also have no time for training!

This is a problem I think most librarians will sympathise with. There are those who seem to live and breathe librarianship, filling their entire evenings and weekends as well as their work time with constant CPD. There is nothing wrong with this for a period – and I did it for a while myself – but it’s not for everyone, and I think it is unsustainable in the long run. This is particularly the case once you move up in your career and have more demands on your work time. It’s also an unfair burden on those who have children, or other commitments outside of work.

However, I do still believe it is incredibly important to keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date. Part of demonstrating your value is being able to show that you are committed to your career and to enhancing your skillset. Besides, taking time out from the daily grind to develop and reflect can be hugely beneficial to your motivation and enthusiasm for the job.

So how do you do CPD with no time and no money? Well…

Remember it doesn’t need to be complicated

CPD doesn’t have to mean attending conferences and training courses, going on visits to other workplaces, or other costly and time-consuming pursuits. Those things are all great if you can manage them, but “doing CPD” can be as simple as browsing through professional journals or blog posts on your commute, or setting aside ten minutes at the end of a Friday to make some notes on what you achieved and learned that week.

Build a learning network

Finding time for CPD is much easier if you have people you can work on it with! Social media is great for this, particularly if you are geographically remote or the only information professional in your workplace. Twitter chats, where people come together on Twitter at a specified time to discuss a previously agreed topic using a hashtag (such as #uklibchat and #slatalk) allow you to share ideas with other information professionals around the world. If you are lucky enough to have supportive colleagues or fellow information professionals locally, try arranging informal meet-ups to discuss what you’re all working on and share ideas.

Record what you’ve done and learned

I’m still a great advocate of blogging as a CPD tool, even though my own blog has been a bit quiet of late! If you don’t have the time or inclination to set up your own blog, there are some great group blogs and others that accept guest posts, such as the UKLibChat blog and the LIS New Professionals Network. At time of writing, there are also plans afoot for a new online space for information professionals – certainly worth keeping an eye on!

[Note: at the time I wrote this column they were indeed just plans, but the site is of course now live and already well-populated with interesting perspectives on the profession!]

If you don’t fancy blogging, I would still recommend keeping some kind of diary of what you’ve done and what you learned from it – if nothing else, it’s a motivational tool for those times when you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere. Use whatever suits you for this – whether that be online tools like Evernote, or just a good old-fashioned notebook and pen!

Make time for what’s important

Finally, it’s helpful to look at what you are actually spending your time on and make sure you’re making time for CPD. Everyone has days when all you want to do on getting home from work is collapse on the couch and binge-watch your box set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs (or is that just me?), but fitting in just ten minutes a day or an hour every couple of days on some kind of CPD activity can really add up. Generally, if something is important to you, then you’ll find time to do it. CPD certainly should be important, so take a look at how you are spending your time and see what you can fit around it. Ultimately CPD is a personal matter – you get out what you put in, and it’s up to you what that is.

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Librarian or information professional: we are the information experts

This article was first published in CILIP Update, August 2013.

The recent debates around the CILIP rebrand, and the name change in particular, have generated some passionate responses. There are obviously strong feelings around how we identify ourselves, with many members objecting to the omission of the word “library” from the new names proposed in the survey.

I’m not going to go into detail about the pros and cons of a name change here, but it has got me thinking about those of us who have librarian backgrounds but don’t work in libraries. How do we explain our backgrounds to our employers?

I don’t work in a library. Nor do I work in a resource centre, information commons, or any other alternative name for what is, essentially, a library. Yet, I am still using my skills as an information professional. This can cause some confusion with my colleagues when I’m asked what my background is: if I say I’m a librarian, people aren’t sure how that relates to what I do now.

When interviewing for my current job, I was asked about my Masters degree: the people interviewing me hadn’t come across a Masters in library and information studies before, and didn’t see how it could be relevant to the job I was applying for. I had to explain that librarians and information professionals have a wide skills base in managing, analysing, using and disseminating information; and that all of this would be relevant experience for the job.

In my seven months in the job, I have had numerous conversations with my colleagues and external contacts about my background as an information professional, and how this informs my current role. Some “elevator pitch”-style answers I have used successfully include:

  • I’m an expert in finding and evaluating information, so we have the most accurate, robust evidence on which to base our work.
  • I’m a knowledge manager: I know how to connect the people who know things with the people who need to know them.
  • I’m a subject specialist: I’m immersed in road safety information so I can know in advance what information and developments we will need to act on.

Although I don’t work as a librarian, my experience from previous library jobs and the knowledge gained from my library qualification have been hugely beneficial to the work I do. Some examples of ways I’ve used my information skills have included:

  • Abstracting and summarising: a large part of my role is working with experts and researchers in road safety and producing plain-English, actionable summaries of their work.
  • Finding information from various sources and selecting the most appropriate: there is a lot of misinformation out there about road safety, so having the skills to evaluate information sources is incredibly important.
  • Knowledge of the academic publishing process: my past experience as an e-journals library assistant has been invaluable in knowing how to track down research papers we want to use – as a charity, we don’t have the budget for journal subscriptions, so are reliant on open access or obtaining papers directly from researchers.
  • Reference interviewing: I need to know how to ask the right questions and find out what it is that people actually need to know, to enable me to get them the right information.
  • Web content management: I have responsibility for keeping our website up-to-date, as well as editing and formatting information for publishing online.

Finally, the most important skill I use in my day-to-day work is networking. Some may not see this as a key skill for librarians and information professionals, but I believe it should be central to all we do. Running the best-stocked library in the world is pointless if no one knows you are there or why they should come to you. I spend a huge amount of my time building strong relationships with the experts whose work we use, and also promoting the charity’s information outputs as valuable resources for anyone interested in improving road safety. These aren’t skills I learnt from my library qualification, but they are skills I’ve developed and honed from working in libraries, attending professional development events and volunteering with professional bodies.

While many CILIP members (and potential members) have employers who don’t think they’ve hired librarians, our skills are valuable in many different jobs and sectors. It is up to us as librarians and information professionals to sell our skills, and ensure that “librarian” is synonymous with “information expert”.

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Getting up to speed on new subjects

This article was first published in CILIP Update, June 2013.

It is often said that a librarian is someone who doesn’t necessarily know the answer, but does know where to find it. That’s true up to a point, but for many librarians in subject specialist roles, part of the job is having a pretty good idea what the answer might be too.

When dealing with the information flow of our workplaces, it is possible to gain a pretty good grounding in any given subject. Librarians are therefore ideally placed as the first port of call for anyone wanting to get an overview of a subject, or find out about the latest research or developments in their area.

There are times when it is necessary to get up to speed more quickly on a new topic, rather than picking up specialist knowledge on the job: maybe your library has introduced support for a new subject, or you have recently started a new job in a different sector. Facing a new sector can be daunting, but there are quick ways to get the basics covered.

Start by getting to know the practitioners (academics, lawyers, etc) in your new department, and ask what their interests are. Make sure you’re reading the same journals or blogs they read. Ask what keeps them awake at night: finding out their main concerns and priorities allows you to supply the information they need before they’ve realised they need it.

The other route is, of course, other librarians! Hopefully you’ll have been developing your professional networks all along and will have a bevy of helpful, knowledgeable librarians to call on. Check your LinkedIn contacts, twitter followers, or any other online network you use to see who is talking about your new field. See if you know anyone at related organisations – and if you don’t, get in touch. You could also find out if there are any mailing lists that cover your topic.

Your professional body will be of great help here: CILIP and the Special Libraries Association (SLA) both have sector-specific interest groups. Never be afraid to ask a fellow librarian for help: that’s what we do, after all!

Surface knowledge from dealing with information in a certain domain is of course no substitute for the in-depth knowledge of subject practitioners, but exploring a new field, utilising professional connections and staying up to date will allow any librarian to hold their own as a subject expert.

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Demonstrating your value: non-traditional jobs for information professionals

This article was first published in CILIP Update, March 2013.

We live in the information age, which means that the skills of the information professional should be more in demand than ever. And they are: if you know where and how to look. The scarcity of traditional library jobs means that most of us will need to be flexible in the roles we look for and the roles we take, and ready to demonstrate the value of our skills to employers who may not realise that they need information professionals. This doesn’t only apply to job-seekers: those already in work should be prepared to be flexible within their own organisations, to cope with restructuring or changing priorities for their role and/or team.

The first step is to stop thinking of yourself as a librarian or information professional, and focus instead on your valuable skills. CILIP’s Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (PKSB) is an excellent start for this. As an exercise, write down all the things you do in your job and any voluntary roles you have (such as committee membership), and what skills they give you. Here’s a brief example, based on my last job as a law librarian:

Job role Skills/knowledge PKSB area
Responding to legal and business research queries Customer serviceWritten and verbal communication

Locating information from a variety of sources

Evaluating sources of information

Summarising complex information

Using and exploiting knowledge and informationKnowledge and information management

Research skills

Producing current awareness bulletins Written communicationSummarising complex information

Time management

Attention to detail

Evaluating sources of information

Using and exploiting knowledge and informationKnowledge and information management
Working with practice groups to encourage knowledge sharing Written and verbal communicationBuilding relationships Knowledge and information management
Managing sections of the intranet Web editingWritten communication

Organising structured information

Attention to detail

Organising knowledge and information
Managing copyright licences Information lawAttention to detail

Personal organisation

Information governance and complianceIT and communication
Supporting the firm’s social media strategy Written communicationKnowledge of social media

Media and PR skills

IT and communication

In January 2013 I left my old job as a law librarian, and went to work for a road safety charity. My new role involves researching and liaising with expert speakers for CPD events for road safety professionals, and producing guidance reports on road safety topics based on academic research and best practice case studies. On the surface, it may not look much like a librarian’s job: in fact, it was actually advertised as a marketing and events management position. The above exercise convinced me that I could go for this job; and helped me convince the charity that I could do the work they needed. My librarian skills, including abstracting and summarising, knowledge management, and finding and evaluating diverse sources of information even on unfamiliar topics, have all proved invaluable in this role.

Because the jobs requiring a librarian’s skills are so diverse, it may be easier to search for the type of organisation you want to work for, rather than the type of job you want to do. I wanted to work for a charity, so I set up very broad job alerts on sector-specific sites like charityjob.co.uk, plus the websites of a few particular charities I was interested in, then scanned jobs that came up to see if they were looking for the types of skills that I had. This led me to a number of jobs that were never advertised on any library-specific site, but that required the kinds of skills and experience that information professionals have in spades.

If you’re applying for a non-traditional role, you’ll need to be prepared to explain in clear terms what it is that you can do and why your skills prepare you for the role. These things won’t be immediately obvious to your interviewer if they weren’t recruiting for a librarian! Make sure to use language appropriate to the role and organisation: as with all interviews, you should familiarise yourself with the organisation’s goals and mission, and the language they use to describe this, so you can reflect it back to them.

There are employers out there just desperate for librarians to come and organise their information and knowledge, but just don’t know that’s what they need – so it’s up to us to really sell our skills and convince the world of how awesome librarians are! If you are flexible in the types of jobs you are willing to consider, and prepared to shape your skills to fit non-traditional roles, then there is a whole world of information jobs to consider outside of the library.

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I ate’nt dead: resurrecting my blog for 2014

(With apologies to Sir Terry Pratchett for the title)

So, it’s been more than nine months since I last updated this blog. I managed a grand total of two blog posts in 2013. Whoops…

There are probably several reasons for the precipitous decline in my blogging. My professional writing has taken other outlets in the past year, with my semi-regular column for CILIP Update (incidentally, I will be adding all my columns from last year to the blog shortly, so keep an eye out!). The job I started last January has been fairly time-consuming and stressful, which hasn’t left me with much energy left for blogging. My CPD has taken a nosedive too, for the same reason (and also partly due to less support from my employer for external CPD).

I think the main reason though, is that I’m feeling less connected to the librarianship and information profession as a whole, so I’ve struggled to come up with things I could meaningfully blog about. I suppose this was an inevitable consequence of taking a non-librarian job in an organisation with no other information professionals, but I honestly didn’t see it coming. Lesson learned, I guess!

If this sounds a bit like I’m moaning about my job, it isn’t meant that way. I really enjoy the work I do, and I don’t regret leaving the corporate librarian sector for it. I think I just need to put more effort into connecting with the wider information profession – I’d really taken for granted how much easier that was when I was working in a library job, surrounded by librarians every day!

Fortunately, I have an Exciting Announcement which will both give me the drive to reconnect with the library world, and opportunities to do so. I’ve been asked to write a book for Facet, as part of their “Tips for Information Professionals” series! My book is provisionally titled “Practical Tips for Demonstrating your Value”, and will take my CILIP columns from this year as a starting point.

I’m both excited and terrified about this! I’m pretty sure I can do it, but I’m also pretty certain that it will eat up all my spare time this year and drive me slightly loopy in the process. I will be blogging further about my plans for the book, as well as looking for potential contributors, in the coming weeks (promise!).

I also plan to blog much more regularly this year. I’m sad about neglecting my blog so badly, and I do miss the engagement I get from blogging. I know a lot of people think blogging has lost its value over the past few years, mostly replaced by Twitter and other instant communication, but I guess I’m old fashioned. I always enjoyed writing my blog, and I still love reading the blogs of other information professionals.

So, with all of the above in mind, these are my professional resolutions for 2014:

  1. Write book, try not to let it drive me crazy
  2. Blog at least once per month (this seems a realistic goal!)
  3. Attend at least two librarianship professional development events

Those all seem like achievable goals. Writing the book may make it a busy and difficult year, but as 2013 really felt like a dead year in terms of how much I accomplished professionally, I think I’m ready to shift back into a higher gear. My mascot for the year will be this Determined Owl (who may be a familiar sight already to my Twitter followers!) – like the Owl, I shall stride determinedly past any obstacles in my path!

Ok 2014. Let’s do this.

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CILIP article: demonstrating your value

Way back in August 2012, I wrote a letter to CILIP Update in response to what I felt was a very one-sided article they’d published about outsourcing in corporate libraries. They published my letter, and invited me to write my own piece in response.

I’m republishing my article here now, as enough time has passed that I’m not robbing CILIP of any magazine subscriptions! Since writing this I’ve also started an occasional column for CILIP Update, on the topic of demonstrating your value as a librarian/information professional. I will also be republishing these columns here, once CILIP’s one-month embargo period has passed for each.

Pirate's Gold

Librarians: worth our weight in gold!

Librarians in all sectors know that demonstrating the value you provide is vital. This is especially true for librarians in the corporate sector. As part of a larger firm, our role and value isn’t always obvious to those holding the purse strings. Some may not see the point of hiring librarians at all when, obviously, everything the staff might need to research will be available on the internet!

The prevalence of this view has become sadly apparent since the credit crunch, as many corporations have downsized, outsourced, or even axed their library staff altogether. Those of us that are left have had to find creative techniques for demonstrating our value. Techniques like…

Have a strong brand

The first battle in demonstrating value is making sure people know you’re there. Have consistent messages, logos and document templates that you use for everything the library sends to anyone in the firm. If someone has used a piece of research that’s helped them win some new business, or contributed to a big case, they should know exactly who to credit for it. Information is one of those things that too many people assume “just happens”. Make sure your customers don’t make this assumption.

Make yourself indispensible

When most of your marketing is word of mouth, the best kind of advertising is to be really, really good at your job. You should know everything that is important to the firm, so you will know what’s likely to be of interest to your customers before they’ve asked you for it. This will likely mean getting out of your comfort zone: you’ll need to find a way into conversations with the key decision-makers in your firm. If you’ve never done this before, some might wonder why a librarian is interested – isn’t your role just to wait for people to ask you things and then send it to them? – but persevere! It can help if you find someone high up who is impressed by your work and is willing to act as a champion for your service.

Embedding within teams

Librarians are easy to axe if we’re seen as a function that sits on the periphery. We’re much harder to get rid of if the work we do is entangled with all the business of the firm. At Addleshaw Goddard we have eight team members each assigned to key market areas and legal practice groups, which allows us to provide in-depth research and insight tailored to the strategic priorities of each area. If you’re a solo librarian then obviously this will be harder, but it’s still worth seeing if anything you do overlaps with any other department. If it can, why not spend time with them to see how you could add value to their team?

Embedding also involves leaving the library! If you still have a hard copy collection then you may need someone to sit with it (see the excellent Dumpling in a Hanky blog for a recent post discussing this), but you certainly don’t need all the librarians there all the time. Try hot-desking to see more of the business and make your presence known.

Outsource and automate routine work

To demonstrate your value, first you need to make sure that all your work is valuable. Routine administrative jobs are the obvious candidate for outsourcing, so make sure they’re not the bulk of your job! See what you can “outsource” yourself: would a subscription agent take over the journal processing and circulation? Could anyone else in the firm do looseleaf filing?

Automating routine work frees up time for more skilled and valuable tasks.  At AG, we were spending significant amounts of time sending out daily current awareness alerts. To reduce the manual work involved, we now use a combination of subscription sources and external services to have these alerts sent directly to requesters, without manual intervention from the team beyond initial setups. We are also looking at software to allow us to use custom RSS feeds to deliver more detailed, bespoke current awareness within the firm and to send to external clients.

Delivering Differently

A core strand of Addleshaw Goddard’s strategy is “delivering differently”. In the legal market this means offering something beyond the typical law firm fare to make ourselves stand out, but it is also something that everyone in the firm is expected to embody. In Research Services, we have taken this to mean ensuring that everything we do contributes to the firm’s strategy and growth, by challenging old ways of working and revising outdated practices, and demonstrating the value that we bring to the firm with every piece of work we send out.

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Looking back and looking ahead

Sunsetting in Rearview Mirror, South DakotaInspired by Suzanne Wheatley’s post on Information Today, I thought I’d use my traditional* end-of-year post to not just set goals for 2013, but to look back on some of my achievements in 2012. This has been an incredibly difficult year for a number of reasons, some public and some not, so it seems like a good idea to remind myself of some of the good things this year, before I start looking ahead to next year.

So, here are some of the things I’m proudest of having achieved in 2012:

1. Speaking at two professional events

This year I spoke at a seminar for SLA Europe, and a panel session at the Ark Group law libraries conference. Sadly for personal reasons I was unable to attend the BIALL conference in June, where I was also supposed to be speaking, but I was glad to have these two other opportunities in the year to speak. Public speaking still absolutely terrifies me, but I’m glad to report that it’s getting easier each time I do it – I’ve even started to enjoy it! I don’t think I’ll ever get to the stage where I’m completely unfazed by public speaking, but then I always think that a bit of nervousness is a good thing: it shows you care.

2. Writing for CILIP Update

In the autumn I wrote a letter to CILIP Update in response to a piece they published about outsourcing, and was invited to write my own article as a response. I’m happy to say it was quite well received, and I will be writing a semi-regular column for CILIP in 2013, on the topic of proving your value in the workplace. I’m delighted at the opportunity, and looking forward to doing more professional writing!

3. Learning to swim

Ok, I sort of already could swim – at least, I could keep myself afloat and doggy-paddle – but I never really learnt to do it properly. Like many people I’m sure, I was inspired by watching the Olympics this summer: I’m not really a big sports fan, but having watched some of the swimming and seeing how beautiful it looked, I was suddenly really sad that I’d given up swimming lessons as soon as my parents let me! So I signed up to an adult swimming class at my local leisure centre, and discovered that I really enjoyed it! I’m now getting quite good at backstroke, and am almost there with my front crawl :)

BinocularsWell, that all looks quite good written down like that! So, now I’m all abuzz with positivity having reviewed my achievements, what are my goals** for 2013? Well, how about…

1. Decide what to do about Chartership

Last year I put “complete CILIP chartership” as a goal. That didn’t happen, largely for personal reasons. I’m still not sure it will happen this year, because I’m far from sure that chartering is something I still want to do. That’s a complicated post for another time, so I’ll just leave it at this: this year, I will either complete my chartership in a burst of activity, or I will decide to let it go.

2. Pick up more CPD activities

This year, I have mostly stepped back from all my CPD stuff (committee memberships, LIKE North, blogging…), for personal reasons. I needed that time away from it all, but I am starting to miss it – and starting to feel like I could take more on again. I don’t want to immediately load my plate with too much and burn out again, so I will be starting slowly, but I do plan to be more active in the profession this year.

3. Keep learning

I’m starting a new job next week, which is in a totally new field and sector for me. It’s going to involve quite a steep learning curve – and I am incredibly excited about that prospect. I love learning new things, and I’m looking forward to having a solid reason to develop new skills. I don’t plan to leave it all at just work, either – learning for me should encompass all aspects of my life.

There: 3 achievements, and 3 goals. That feels like a nice round number to leave it at!

So, onwards to 2013. Last year, I said something about how I was sure 2012 was going to be better than 2011, because it bloody well had to be. Given how 2012 actually turned out, I’m not going to say the same this year – would rather feel like tempting fate! Besides which, if this year has taught me anything, it’s that it is pointless worrying about the events in your life. Life will always throw things at you that you’re not ready for, so why worry about what you can’t control? Far better to focus on what you can control: your own attitude. At Christmas, I described my new philosophy to my sisters as “relentless positivity”. Whatever happens this year, good or bad, I will meet it with optimism.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Champagne* This is the fourth time I’ve done it – I think that counts as a tradition!

** Yes, that’s “goals”, not “resolutions”. Resolutions don’t work for me: you’re bound to miss some, and then feel awful for failing. With a goal, it doesn’t matter if you don’t meet it, or if the goal itself changes over the year – it’s about trying.

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