After lunch were three presentations on the theme of “marketing ourselves”, starting with Emma Illingworth and Sarah Ison on “Unleashing the Potential: New Professionals in the Workplace”. Sarah appeared virtually, in a series of increasingly exotic locations: nice use of technology! The presentation began with an outline of the characteristics of 21st century library users, including:
- Some digital natives, some digital immigrants
- Goal oriented
- Connected 24/7
- Bored by routine
They went on to talk about how to respond to the users’ needs, giving examples from the University of Brighton’s library service such as gathering feedback via a library services wiki (really liked this idea – would love to give it a go in my own library but not sure the lawyers would actually spend time on it!). They also talked about managing expectations – for example, countering the inevitable complaint of “not enough textbooks” by explaining that it’s impossible to provide one for each student (probably the only foolproof way to stop those complaints!) and drawing attention instead to the short loan collection and e-books.
The issue of skills required for librarians in the digital age was raised: we played a round of “library bingo”, attempting to come up with nine skills that a modern librarian needed. Sarah and Emma had borrowed a list of 17 from Meredith Farkas (couldn’t find the full list online but some of them are in this blog post). No one got all the skills on the list, but we did come up with an interesting selection. The conclusion was that traditional librarian skills in information management and retrieval are still needed, but that the digital age requires us to be more flexible in our skill set.
The presentation finished with some ideas for promoting the library service, including:
- Be visible outside the library
- Participate in library promotion events
- Brush up on your presenting skills
- Follow up events with emails, etc.
- Offer library tours
- Participate in non-LIS events
- Have an “elevator pitch” prepared (NB this wasn’t actually the term Sarah used, I can’t remember her wording, but this is what I understood it to mean).
The next speaker was Kath Aitken, with a presentation on “Beyond the Counter: What Skills Can New Professionals offer in the Public Library Sector”. Kath had an interesting perspective on the value of professional qualifications in the public library sector, as she had been a counter assistant for four years before qualifying, and had taken a professional post in the same library. She talked about some of the issues facing public library staff:
- Reorganisation/restructuring = fewer posts = increased work load for remaining staff
- Expansion of responsibilities for assistants
- Redefining roles can lead to devaluing the qualification (when it is assumed that a library assistant can take on all the work of a qualified librarian)
- Developing a service for modern users
- Proving value
- Adapt existing skills, develop new skills
She also made some points about what newly qualified librarians can offer to their employers:
- An informed perspective
- New set of skills
- Ability to combine traditional requirements with modern developments
Kath made some good points about why a library qualification is worth having – places tasks in context; learn a range of tool, techniques and subject areas; build confidence; broaden skill base; gain experience of other sectors – and was passionate about the need for continuing professional development. I really enjoyed hearing her speak – there wasn’t much focus on public libraries in my course, and I don’t know anyone in that sector, so this was a really valuable perspective to hear.
The final speaker in this session was Jo Alcock, on how to “Market Yourself using Online Tools“. I’d been looking forward to Jo’s presentation – I know from reading her blog and Tweets that she’s very good at building an online “brand” for herself, so it was good to get some tips! Jo began by talking about the value of professional networking – allows you to share ideas; get advice and moral support; collaborate on projects; and market yourself to other professionals, whether that be potential employers or co-workers. She then went through the three main tools that she uses – blogging, microblogging and social networking – and gave her reasons for using each of them:
- Blogging – allows you to share ideas/resources, reflect on your own professional development, courses/conferences attended, etc. Can subscribe to other blogs, post comments to start conversations, and build up a network of people with shared interests.
- Microblogging e.g. Twitter – can be used to engage in conversation or simply to broadcast – but you’ll probably get more out of it if you use it for conversations! Can make contact with other professionals, follow professional events e.g. conferences (see the #newprof09 tag for tweets from this conference).
- Social networking – let people know your career information, interests, activities. Can join special interest groups to make contacts, share ideas and build your network.
Jo then gave an overview of how she uses her blog (which has nearly 200 subscribers! I have subscriber envy – I think I’ve got about 6!), Twitter account and social networking profiles together to create an identity online. She also gave her Top Tips for marketing yourself online:
- Build a consistent brand, e.g. use the same name on each. Useful to have your real name for professional purposes (if you can – I prefer not to, for personal reasons)
- Think about the purpose of each account
- Decide on an appropriate professional/personal balance
- Link your online identities
- Find people to follow/network with to get the best use of each tool – Twitter is pointless if you’re not following enough people!
- Use regularly, even if you only post brief updates
- Integrate into your routine
- Engage with your followers/readers/friends
- Don’t get too wrapped up in the tools themselves – it’s about the process.
Jo finished by pointing out something I wholeheartedly agree with – a good network is mutually beneficial; you get out what you put in.
The panel discussion afterwards touched on issues such as the importance of CPD – someone pointed out that as new professionals, our library school experience was hopefully up-to-date, but that we can’t rely on the skills we learned there for the rest of our careers or we will fall behind. It was suggested that CPD and reflective practice are perhaps more important than the professional qualification – I broadly agree with this, although I do think that the library school experience is important in terms of thinking critically about your own skills and about the profession. Resources available from CILIP for professional development and library promotion were also mentioned, such as the Network of Expertise and the Campaigning Toolkit.