Believe it or not, this is my blog post about last year's New Professionals Conference, turned into my logo by the inimitable Dave Pattern
(A lot of this applies to conference proposals generally.)
CILIP have announced details of the 2011 New Professionals Conference, which takes place in Manchester at the University, on June 20th. The Hashtag is #npc11 if you want to discuss it on Twitter etc.
There is currently a call for proposals to present, and I can’t recommend highly enough that you do this if you’re within 5 years of having joined the profession. You have till April 15th to get something in. All the details are on the CILIP website.
It’s a brilliant experience! It takes you out of your comfort zone, it connects you to your peers, it gets you into the conference for free! It’s completely worth doing – I guarantee you’ll feel differently about the profession afterwards, more positive, more energised and more excited.
Important disclaimer: I was on the organising committee last year and involved with choosing the successful papers, but I am NOT involved this year, so these views are just my opinion and are in no way official. Kay?
The most important thing about the subject matter is making it appropriate to the context of the conference. So for example, something about the value of libraries generally might be really interesting and really entertaining, but it might not be as useful for this particular conference as something which the delegates can take away and apply to their own lives, and to their own careers. Think about the utility of what you’re saying, and the ‘take-homes’ that the people watching your presentation will get from it.
Be explicit about the value of your presentation. You have 300 words to play with – I’d probably use 250 to talk about the topic, and the last 50 would start with the phrase ‘this paper will be beneficial to new professionals because…’.
Get a second pair of eyes on it before you send it off – another opinion is almost always helpful.
Same disclaimer as above – this is my opinion, and is certainly nothing official or endorsed by the organisers.
I think, personally, the formatting of your proposal really matters. The organisers of this event are volunteering and doing it on their own time, so there’s not always the luxury of a huge amount of time to discuss the proposals. There’ll probably be more than 40 decent ideas, and it takes a long time to get through that much stuff. So anything that’s poorly put together is already heading towards the ‘maybe’ or ‘no’ piles rather than the ‘yes’ pile. Of course the content of the proposal is by far the most important thing, but that oft quoted scenario of ‘two otherwise equal candidates’ actually applies quite often in this type of situation, so don’t put yourself at a disadvantage. Poor formatting shows a lack of attention to detail, and a lack of understanding of the assessment process. For what it’s worth, here’s what I would do if I were submitting:
Send a PDF – Word docs are only fit for emailing to people if there’s a chance the recipient may need to edit it.
Don’t use Times New Roman, use Calibri, Arial or similar, and make it a normal rather than tiny or huge font size.
Include your name, a short bio and your email address in the document (this does not have to fit into the 300 words – make it clear which section is which). You may have also put some or all of this stuff in the email you send it in, but the chances are the panel will be printing out all the documents and getting together over coffee to go through everything – they don’t want to be making notes or printing emails. Put everything in one place for their easy reference.
It goes without saying, proof-read it to death. Read it out loud to catch mistakes, and don’t rely on the spell-check – I still find myself having used the wrong their / there / they’re from time-to-time… Americanised spellings are another thing spell-check might not catch.
Send it to someone whose opinion you trust, and get them to check it over too.
And if you do get accepted…
You’ll be asked to write a ‘full proposal’ by June. This is really just to check you can follow up on your promises and deliver a full paper. It doesn’t have to be written to a journal standard of prose and referencing. When I presented in 2009, I wrote mine up all formally and then a week before the conference, I started to practice delivering it and realised that I’d have to completely rework it. I couldn’t read it out loud as it was (that would have been rubbish) and I couldn’t even just split it up into notes (the tone and phrases were suitable for being read alone, not said out loud to an audience). So don’t beat yourself up trying to write the full proposal – it’d be more productive to write the notes you plan to learn or speak from, and then turn THOSE into the full-proposal, not the other way around. More tips on presenting for first time speakers are available elsewhere on the blog.
Birds: agile, and capable of quick changes of direction en masse. Libraries: less so.
Increasingly I see more people, organisations or ideas struggling with the transition between adolescence and adulthood. There is something brilliant about them in the first place – something which means they become successful enough to need to grow up at all. Then the process of growing up either dilutes, or sometimes eliminates entirely, the very factor that brought them success.
We all know it happens with consumer products, where two guys in a basement somewhere set out to change the world with an ethical product, and then it becomes so huge they get bought up by the very corporations they set out to provide an alternative to.
It appears to be happening with Twitter - to quote Alexandra Samuel in the Harvard Business Review: “When Twitter burst on the scene, it was on the strength of an API (application programming interface) that made it extremely easy for developers to create a wide range of user experiences and tools. Twitter was lego rather than destination: a way for people to build something expansive rather than color within the lines.” But last friday they announced they were ending all that (or most of it), instructing developers to stop building new consumer-oriented Twitter client applications. They got too big to be open. They had to formalise things to ensure control of something that had become too valuable to be casual about.
It happens locally all the time, too, in our work places. The really bright, switched on, enthusiastic library staff – the ones who absolutely LOVE libraries, who really GET what the mission is whilst accepting that the way we implement this is changing all the time; the ones who are amazing with the patrons – pretty soon get promoted away from the front-line, so end up spending far less time (or no time at all) dealing with the people (for whom libraries exist, after all).
What I’m really interested in, is the grass roots movements in libraries, and how they can cling on to what makes them great when they grow up into fully fledged library services. It seems there’s a lot of individuals or groups who are making things happen on their own, rather than waiting for the Great Library Machine to lumber in to action and give them top-down instructions and go-ahead.
When I was in Cambridge for the #LAC11 conference, the whole afternoon was given over to presentations on these kinds of initiatives – 23 things programmes, teach-meets, library presence at the fresher’s fair, Open Libraries. Projects which people decided to get done, and which were run (to a greater or lesser extent) informally, without people having big meetings with minute-takers, often without budgets being involved – in short, without all the trappings of micro-managed organisation that prevent an idea from being dynamic and agile. A lot of these initiatives went really well, which means they’ll be repeated, and expanded, and officially sanctioned – which means there’ll be minutes, maybe some money involved, and basically they will be held to account a lot more. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can prevent the kind of innovation and quick-response to new ideas which made them work the first time around.
the shining example
The shining example of what can be achieved when you decide to take some action is surely Voices for the Library. The majority of people reading this will know who they are already, but for those who don’t: this is a campaign group made up of librarians all of whom have proper jobs, but who come together in their own time (often via social media) and have achieved extraordinary success in a very short space of time. If you’ve read a newspaper article about libraries, chances are you may have seen a quote from at least once VftL member. You may even have seen them on the 10 o’clock news. They’ve muscled their way in to the library narrative, and speak for us where previously we weremute and unrepresented, like a someone standing trial without a lawyer.
They have done this by being flexible, proactive, dynamic, and aggressive. But of course, the whole point is they had to come together and form something new, because the existing channels weren’t getting the job done. They had to move outside the usual library environment and set up their own suburb to achieve, because only then were they unburdened by the usual restraints. Even now, their success has led to some compromise – they have sponsorship and plenty of celebrity support, which means they can’t say anything completely outrageous (not that they’d necessarily want to) and their members probably have to self-censor a little more even when they’re ‘off duty’ as VftL and just speaking for themselves – plus Phil Bradley has had to stop being involved because of a potential conflict of interests with his CILIP Vice-Presidency. The great thing about that, of course, is that he’s bringing some of the forward-thinking dynamism that VftL have thrived on, to the massive, multi-million pound operation that is the Chartered Institute.
the big question
The big question is, how do we combine power and authority, with agility and malleability? How do we become more like a flock of birds, who are capable of the same dynamism and adaptability when they are flying with 3000 of their peers, as they are when flying solo? How do we become adults without losing the ideals, ideas, and rebellion of our adolescence?
so what’s the big answer?
I really wish I knew – I suspect it has a lot to do with bravery, being willing to try something and fail, and being able to listen and understand really well. Being brave – doing something you know might not work – gets harder and harder the bigger the organisation, because more and more people are stakeholders in your success, and more and more people will know about your failures. But there’s evidence that bravery and innovation can work – CILIP seem much more gutsy and more responsive under the current regime, and it’s working so far; Andy Priestner is in a position to implement new and intimidating (to some) ideas at Cambridge, and does so, successfully. People like Buffy Hamilton and David Lee King seem to be getting it done on their own terms in the US, which is inspiring.
I suspect a lot of library-innovation success is about empowerment – librarians empowered to make decisions without endless checking for approval, and in turn empowering their staff to take control of their own area and revel in autonomy.
Anyone else have a big answer to the big question?
a new bit added later
I wrote this post a while ago and haven’t had time to proof it, add the links etc so only got around to publishing it today. I’ve been thinking about it since, and the more I consider it the more I think a horizontal hierarchy is the key to this issue. If you have a traditional pyramid structure there are just too many levels of seniority to escalate issues to, to ever really get anything done. A flatter system allows for more people to share more of the power – and because no one person (even a genius, visionary leader) can expect to know about or to be able to facilitate EVERYTHING, perhaps that’s the key. Distributed power equals agility?
One of the main strengths of LISNPN (already, and even more so if and when it realises its potential) is that the face-to-face meet-up events are run by people from the regions in which they take place – there is no top-down instruction or go-ahead happening there, people just do stuff under the LISNPN umbrella. That’s easy for the network because it’s an informal network, there’s not a lot of money involved in it, the stakes are low. But maybe big organisations need to try and have that aspect of self-organising cells that work independently towards the same ideals, in order to be able to incorporate all the great new ideas and initiatives which library staff are capable of.
Also, make sure you read Andy’s comment below, it’s ace.
Quick presentation I had to prepare to link to from another presentation! There are a lot of misperceptions about twitter, many of which I used to share. This stops people using it, which is a shame.
Basically, people who don’t ‘get’ twitter, tend not to realise how much it is about dialogue, interaction, and engagement. So this is an effort to tell people – because I think twitter is ace, and information professionals who aren’t using it are in real danger of being left out of the loop.
PLEASE NOTE: if you’re reading my blog for the first time, most posts aren’t like this!
I feel like I was professionally asleep for the first few years of my career – then in 2009 I presented at the New Professionals Conference and everything changed. I realised there were other people out there like me! Who really cared about the wider profession. I realised librarianship was awesome, and that the people in it were ace.
Less than two years later some amazing things have happened, and in particular over the last week – I’ve been named as the winner of SLA-Europe’s Early Career Conference Award (in the Leadership & Management division) and I’ve been named as a Library Journal Mover & Shaker. I’m thrilled, delighted, proud, giddy, grateful, a little intimidated, honoured and above all excited. I get to go to the SLA conference in Philly in June (w00t!) so if anyone else is going, let me know and we can say hi…
And many of my library heroes have been Movers & Shakers, and to be included in a crop with Bobbi Newman, Buffy Hamilton, Aaron Tay and so on is just amazing.
Anyway: there are a number of people to whom I’ve wanted to say thank you for a while. I figure I’ll never get as good an excuse again to break a number of rules about good library blogging, and just talk about myself for a post and say thank you to loads of people! So please forgive me… All of the following people having in some tangible way, through their actions, help, advice, influence or collaboration, had a positive effect on my library career: Angie Robinson, Ian Jennings, Chris Rhodes, Kathy Ennis, Lyndsay Rees-Jones, Jo Alcock, Maria Cotera, Laura Woods, Biddy Fisher, Richard Hawkins, Annie Mauger, Bobbi Newman, Oskar Smith, Bogdan Leonte, Alex “fair play, to be fair” Mayer, Ian Mayer, Andy Woodworth, Buffy Hamilton, Toby Greenwalt, Joel Kerry, Phil Bradley, Heather McCormack, Justin Hoenke, Andromeda Yelton, Jan Holmquist, Bethan Ruddock, Jennie Findlay, Andy Priestner, Sarah Busby – I’m really sorry if I’ve left anyone out, there are loads more people (basically my entire network) who have helped in other ways, so thank you everyone very much!
I really want to thank my wife because she puts up with the fact that I do so much library stuff in my own time. I always swore I’d never be one of those people who put their career first, and I’d still never prioritise it above the family, but the fact is when you’re writing a book and doing presentations outside of work time, you do spend free-time upstairs typing at a computer which takes you away from your wife. She allows me to do this, so thank you, The Wife!
Thanks to baby Emily because it’s a good excuse to get a picture of her in:
Apologies to all those who aren't fans of baby pics...
Really big thanks to my Mum, and really big thanks to my Dad. My Dad is my biggest inspiration, the person who generates most of my good ideas, the person who still reads every article before I send it off to the journal / publication / publishers, my biggest support and my biggest fan. He’s also an amazing singer! If you’ve not heard Officium or the Dowland Project I’d reccomend checking them out… (I know I’m biased but the former has sold over one and a half million copies and the latter was a New York Times record of the year, so other people like him too. )
Finally in this long and admittedly self-indulgent blog post (it is a special occasion though!) I wanted to reproduce part of my Mover & Shaker interview here. The way the Movers and Shakers process works, you get asked about a million questions to see if you live up to what your nominator said about you, and then you answer more questions, and then they follow up with yet more, and then they do fact checking – all in all I must have written over 4,000 words, which necessarily got boiled down to about 15 words from me in the final article. Because most of what I was nominated for is collaborative (all of it, really) I wanted to put my actual answers down in print (thanks to Sarah Bayliss for her permission) and give people credit where it is due.
What drives your passion for this profession? Why did you start “Library Routes” and “The Wikiman?” What are your goals for these?
My passion for the profession comes in a large part from that combination of the fact that we’re doing amazing things in librarianship, coupled with the fact that not enough people outside the profession know about them. So it’s great to be working on interesting and innovative things – throw in the fact that there’s this massive challenge to increase awareness of them and the whole thing becomes all-consuming. It’s also about the community: there are so many interesting information professionals to communicate and collaborate with.
Laura Woods and I set up the Library Routes Project just as a way to bring together everyone’s accounts of how and why they got into the profession. There’d been gluts of blog posts where several librarians were inspired to talk about this subject at the same time – Laura and I figured if we set up a wiki it would collect them all in one place, and maybe inspire more people to join in. It worked better than we every expected, and there’s now more than 150 entries in what has become a really useful careers resource.
I set up thewikiman blog because I wanted to engage in dialogue with the wider profession. A blog is a fantastic way not just to get your views and ideas out there, but to become plugged in to libraries generally, and become part of a global conversation. That’s very exciting. For me, all the amazing stuff that has happened in the last couple of years (like this accolade!) ultimately can be traced back to my decision to start a blog in summer 2009.
Which professional assignments are you most proud of?
There are two things I’m most proud of – instigating the Echo Chamber movement, and creating the New Professionals Network. Myself and Laura Woods (with whom I worked on the Library Routes Project) began to try and start raising awareness of the Echo Chamber problem in libraries, at the start of last year. All we did, really, was draw wider attention to an existing problem, give it a name (and a tag, #echolib, to allow a sort of trans-Social-media shorthand way of discussing it) and start going out there and writing and presenting on it. And it’s worked!
The Echo Chamber problem refers to the fact that we spend too much time in libraries talking with like-minded peers, preaching to the converted, having our own views reflected back at us, and never reaching the people we should really be targeting – potential patrons, currently indifferent to our unaware of our services. I sincerely believe that while libraries aren’t useful for everyone, there are vast swathes of most populations who would use them if they had a better understanding of what they were really like. So Laura and I started exploring ways of focusing the discussion in this way. A good example is when the profession is criticised from out-side – by a popular figure like Seth Godin for example, or by the media. The first response of the librarian seems often to be to find another librarian, and complain to them about how unfair the criticism is. This serves no purpose – the other guy already knows how unfair it is – and people were taking it to extremes, writing articles about how great libraries are, in library publications that are only read by librarians! So the echolib movement encourages people to think about what they could more productively use their time for. Writing a pro-library piece for the same main-stream media source which criticised libraries in the first place, is a good start. Reach the same audience that got the bad news about libraries, with some good news about libraries. This whole thing has grown and grown, and we’ve presented to more than 1000 people on this subject so far, with more booked for the summer. It really seems to be making a difference – particularly as people like Andy Woodworth (a Mover & Shaker himself, of course) and my personal library hero Bobbi Newman, have brought the issue to the attention of a wider library audience. Since we started talking about this, there are so many more librarian’s voices being heard in the wider media narrative on the industry, which is important. We need to tell our own story, because others won’t do a good enough job on their own.
LISNPN, the New Professionals Network, is the other thing of which I’m most proud. It came out of my work as New Professionals Support Officer with CILIP (which, roughly speaking, is the UK equivalent of the ALA), and offers an online and face-to-face network for librarians who have entered the profession within the last 10 years or so. Gratifyingly, many more senior Info Pros have joined up too, to give us newer people the benefit of their wisdom! The site contains forums with, for example, advice on Library School, and a blog with interviews (recently with Bobbi Newman, Buffy Hamilton and Andy Woodworth) and a Resources area with loads of downloadable documents to help people out. Se have guides to public speaking, anonymous reviews of library school courses, tips on getting published – everything you might need when you’re starting out in librarianship. There are over 800 members now, from all over the world – so come on over, people of America, and join us! LISNPN members have started to set-up face-to-face networking events themselves, under the LISNPN banner, all over the UK. It would be amazing if someone got them going in the US too. People have found it really useful to connect with their peers, and discuss the future of the profession over a drink or two.
Can you give me a few specific examples of the echo chamber’s success–published articles; lectures; etc. that reach a large audience?
Lauren Smith is the arch Echo Chamber escapologist, we feature her in our presentations. She wrote this article for the Guardian, and that was just the start. As it happens she was on the BBC News at 10 (the UK’s flagship news programme) this very evening. She’s also part of Voices for the Library who basically exist to escape the echo chamber. They’re mentioned in this newspaper article from yesterday – but really they do that sort of thing all the time. They’re a group of normal librarians, with full-time jobs, who have decided to make their voices heard in public.
Tell me, specifically, about the work you are doing to prevent library closures. Are you working with Lauren Smith on this (also nominated as a Mover & Shaker this year)? If so, can you tell me about your collaborations?
In terms of my efforts to prevent library closures, I shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as Lauren! She as an absolute legend, and has achieved extraordinary things. If I can claim any part in that, it’s that I know she took her library advocacy the next level after seeing mine and Laura’s Echo Chamber presentation. As a side note, I’m really proud that Lauren and I are representing the Brits in the Movers & Shakers!
The stuff I do is more about trying to raise awareness of the profession, and trying to establish a new paradigm for disseminating information about libraries and librarians. There are others much more skilled than me who have taken the actual messages out into the wider world.
Tell me about Buy India a Library. What is your role, and how did this come about? Where are you in the process, and what is your long-term goal?
Buy India a Library was and is a fantastic project to crowd-source enough money to make a real difference in a book-free area. When Jennifer Findlay pointed out on Twitter that you could build an entire library, including the building, books and staff for two years, for under $2000 via a charitable organisation, I couldn’t believe it. There were also mobile libraries, drawn by donkey, that would tour former war-zones in Africa, available for under $150! So I re-tweeted this information, and Andromeda Yelton said: why not try and fund one collectively, via Twitter? It was simple, brilliant notion. Jan Holmquist and Justin Hoenke got involved, we set up a blog, and started asking for donations. We all had the same role – promoting the project, trying to reach people and asking them to become involved.
As Jan put it, so many libraries are closing; why not open one? The response was overwhelming, and in less than two weeks we had enough to buy India a Library and to buy Africa TWO mobile libraries! It was absolutely fantastic – truly, the power of collaboration via social media, in action, changing people’s lives. People were so generous. Thank you so, so much to everyone who donated.
Can you tell me specifically what libraries where have been built/procured, and what the timeline is?
The libraries in both Africa and India will be built within the year. The library in India will be built at a school in Mysore, on the edges of a slum in a very poor area, where there are literally no books at present. The mobile libraries in Africa, which are aimed at promoting literacy among children in former war zones, will travel to schools in Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.
What’s the best thing you’ve learned from your successes? From the projects that didn’t turn out exactly as you’d hoped?
I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with four things which have had some generous recognition from the wider profession: the Library Routes Project, the Echo Chamber movement, Buy India a Library, and LISNPN (the New Professionals Network). The thread running through all of those is collaboration. Working with others is fantastic, I love it – you get new ideas, new angles, cover new ground, reach new audiences. If you have a particular way of working, chances are your skills will be complemented by someone else with a different way of working. And it’s fun… My advice to anyone is: worth with people. It is so much better to be part of a movement, to catalyse change, than just to achieve something on your own.
I’ve had one project which didn’t turn out as I’d hoped – and that was because it was launched before it should have been. With any venture which relies on the commitment and buy-in of an online community, you really need all your ducks in a row before you start issuing public invitations. No one wants to be the first on to an empty dance floor..
This is a blog about Information Professional stuff, library marketing and advocacy, tech trends, and the odd how-to-guide on various platforms and bits of software. It is written by thewikiman, who works in Higher Education.
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