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CILIP New Professionals Conference: Part Three

The final session of the day was around the theme of “Career Profiles”. The first speaker was Hazel James, with “From Old School to New Profession”. Hazel gave an interesting overview of working life in a school library. She discussed the varying roles of a school librarian, which can involve advising on policy, teaching information literacy skills, promoting reading and literacy, managing the study environment, supporting the engagement of parents/carers, and getting involved in staff development. She quoted an Ofsted report which acknowledged that the involvement of a qualified school librarian has a positive impact on teaching and learning. She went on to discuss what new professionals can bring to school libraries, including youth and diversity; familiarity with digital information; global, borderless experience and expectations; and adaptiveness to change.

Hazel pointed out some of the problems in recruiting new professionals to school libraries: school library careers are often under-promoted by library schools and careers services; pay and status are comparatively low; and there is a perception of limited opportunities for progression. She argued that many of these assumptions are unfounded, and offered her own perspective on what made the career worthwhile. She described school librarianship as an opportunity to get involved in a genuinely critical situation at a key moment, and a real opportunity to develop and use your skills as a professional.

The next presentation was Nicolas Robinson on “New Technologies, New Professionals”. Nicolas argued that new technologies allow us to reach users outside of libraries, and that as librarians we don’t necessarily need to adopt a new role – we still do essentially the same job as librarians did 50 years ago, we just have access to tools that allow us to work in different ways and expand our service to users. He emphasised we are just dealing with new tools, not a new profession. He also argued that it is important not to start using new tools without thinking about what they are actually for. New services can quickly fail if they are just a “look what we can do” showcase, or a pet project for one member of staff (what happens when they leave?).

Nicolas looked at user expectations – users want information now, for free; they want the latest and best, and they want to search for themselves. He looked at how libraries can use Web 2.0 and open source products, and why – as well as getting around budget restrictions, we can also collaborate with other institutions without having to navigate a management approval process. He presented a few case studies of innovative library projects in Spain, although I didn’t actually write down any of the details so I can’t provide names or links! Apparently all the papers from the conference are going to be posted online at some point, so I’ll put in a link when it’s available.

The final speaker of the day was Anne Sherman, with a talk entitled “Wanted: New Professionals for Public Library Service”. Anne started off with a warning about the difficulties in finding a job post-qualification: a library school diploma or MA/MSc is no guarantee of employment. She pointed out that most employers cite lack of experience as a reason for not hiring new professionals – “getting a toe in the door is the hardest step”.

Anne drew from her own experience to give advice on making yourself more hireable. She pointed out that you can’t expect your employer to take responsibility for your professional development – it can be worth going the extra mile, including using your own time and money for CPD. I could not be more in agreement with this – I’ve been very lucky this year in getting sponsorship, as a student, to attend a number of CPD events; but I’m aware that those opportunities won’t be there any more once I’ve graduated. I’m fully prepared to take a proactive role in seeking out professional development opportunities, and willing to foot the bill myself (if I can – going to be quite poor once my Career Development Loan repayments start!) to ensure that I keep up the good work I’ve started this year. See also Emma Cragg’s excellent blog post on the subject. Anne finished her talk with a rather apt quotation from Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves”.

The final Q&A raised some interesting points on the barriers to use of web 2.0 etc. within libraries – one delegate pointed to data from his own dissertation, suggesting that the main barrier to innovation in this area is the institution’s own IT department. This is certainly the case in my experience – I’ve mentioned before about the rather draconian website blocking policy in my workplace! Another comment which caught my attention (although possibly for the wrong reasons) was a delegate from a public library complaining about the lack of funding available from his employer to allow him to pursue the LIS qualification. He complained that he had to “twist arms” to obtain partial funding, and had to work 20 hours per week to support himself while he was studying. Perhaps this is uncharitable of me but I was biting my tongue at that – would any employer, public or private sector, cough up £4500 to pay for an employee to study? I was gobsmacked that he was so disappointed to only get partial funding – some of us never had any opportunity for funding, and will be spending the next three years paying back our loans, and had to work 20 hours a week as well to keep a roof over our heads! OK, rant over. I take his point – the high costs involved in obtaining the professional qualification are certainly a barrier, and probably more so in the public library sector where your salary on graduating will be less than in the commercial sector – it just grated a bit hearing someone complain of “only” getting partial funding!

After the Q&A there was a vote for the best paper of the conference, with a bottle of Sue Hill fizz and £100 for the winner. The prize went to Ned Potter, with Jo Alcock and Kath Aitken in joint second place. Very deservedly for all three of them – they were certainly the stand out papers of the conference for me, I actually had quite a hard time choosing between them when I was casting my vote!

Overall, I really enjoyed the day. It was great to hear so much enthusiasm for librarianship, and to hear the experiences of people at similar points in their careers as me. It was also fab to meet a few Twitter friends in person, as well as meeting up with my my fellow graduate trainee from my first library post – I actually hadn’t known she was coming, so it was a nice surprise to be able to catch up with her. I do hope that CILIP runs this conference again next year: it was such a fantastic learning and networking experience. I may even submit a paper for it next time round – hopefully will have some more useful experiences to share by then!

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