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”.