I’ve already jotted down some hurried first impressions of the CILIP Y&H Members Day, but I wanted to say a little bit more about the sessions I actually attended, besides the one I was co-presenting!
The first talk of the day was Biddy Fisher’s welcome and keynote address. Biddy spent a bit of time talking through the preliminary results of the CILIP Defining Our Professional Future report. She began by going through what the information professionals surveyed had identified as their most important skills: interpersonal, customer service and ICT skills all scored highly, which didn’t surprise me; but teaching, cat & class and indexing skills were all ranked fairly low. I was particularly surprised that teaching was rated so low: although I wouldn’t consider myself a teacher, I know my job involves an awful lot of user education/training, and I should imagine that most other librarians would say the same. Perhaps it was the wording of the question – I wonder how many more people would have selected this as an important skill if it had been labelled “training” rather than “teaching”? The fact that traditional library skills were also ranked lower than “soft” skills such as customer services didn’t really surprise me. I know I didn’t select those options when I filled out the survey because cataloguing and indexing don’t really feature as part of my job. Biddy argued that we shouldn’t disregard cataloguing and indexing skills – even if you are not a cataloguer, you probably use those skills, if only for organising your own computer files. I’m not sure I completely agree – yes, I do organise my own document folders, but then so does every other office worker (with varying degrees of success, admittedly!).
What really stood out for me was that information professionals don’t really have a standard skill set in common. This was reinforced for me when I was chatting to some fellow attendees in the pub later on – we were all librarians, but in such diverse roles, that my job didn’t really have that much in common with the jobs of the other people I was talking to. Biddy said in her talk that, rather than gathering around a standard skill set that doesn’t really exist, should librarians take our professional identity from our shared standards of professionalism, common ideals and professional ethics? I really like this idea – the one thing I and all the other librarians did have in common was our commitment to professional ideals such as access to information, and maintaining high standards.
The other morning session I attended was Maria Cotera’s workshop on “Developing Your Professional Network”. I’d been really looking forward to this – Maria is a fantastic networker, so I was keen to see what tips she had! She gave us some great advice on how to get the most out of your professional network. She started by acknowledging the value of online networking, but wondering whether the emphasis on online means that we’ve lost sight of the importance of face-to-face communication. I’m not sure I really agree with Maria on this: as @lexrigby commented, things like twitter are really useful for breaking the ice. We’re not all as extroverted as Maria, so for us introverts, face-to-face networking can be really difficult. I cannot overemphasise how much using tools like Twitter has helped me to build up a network. I’ve made connections online that I’d never have managed if I were relying on face-to-face meetings.
Much of Maria’s advice was fairly common sense – things like knowing how to “pitch” yourself, but also taking a genuine interest in other people. She also stressed how important it is to follow up on contacts, and stick to any offers of assistance, advice etc. you’ve made. She had some great examples of the value of professional networks, and pointed out that networking isn’t just about making professional contacts, it’s about making friends. I’m totally with Maria on this – I do wonder sometimes if discussions on networking “strategies” and the like can sound a bit mercenary. For me, the main value of the professional networking I’ve done is the good friends I’ve made along the way :)
After lunch (which was pretty good, although I was a bit confused by some pastries that looked savoury, were on a tray with all the savoury stuff and served with rocket leaves, but appeared to be filled with custard – any ideas, anyone?), there was the AGM and Maria’s keynote. I must admit to tuning out a bit during the AGM – it was very formal, and I’m not really involved with either branch or division, so I struggled to pay attention! I did really enjoy Maria’s talk, which was really more of a conversation than a keynote. We had a really good, free-ranging discussion of the problems facing libraries in the aftermath of the credit crunch. Maria started us off by reading out an extract from one of Andy Woodworth’s fantastic blog posts, provocatively titled “Why closing more public libraries might be the best thing (…right now)” (a must-read. If you haven’t seen it already, go and read it immediately. Seriously, right now. I’ll wait). Andy talks in his post about how the recession might be an opportunity for weeding out some of the “dead wood” from the profession – those librarians (and we all know one or two of them), “that are poor representatives of the profession”. This sparked off a fantastic discussion in the room, some negative, some optimistic. It was great to see everyone get so involved – great alternative to a keynote speech, Maria!
That was pretty much it for the day, besides some young upstarts rambling/ranting about the echo chamber… And then some of us (the cool kids) decamped to the pub, where the world was duly put to rights. Good times all round :)