It’s a good time to be a New Professional

24 Mar
a photo of a road sign that says 'good times'

Sign of the times

I’ve been working in libraries since 2006, and only really been aware of the wider goings on in the profession since I joined CILIP around a year ago. But as far as I can see, despite the massive economic difficulties involved in the sector, if you can secure employment it is actually a great time to be a New Professional. There’s a growing realisation that you can really get things done and make things happen quite early on in your career – making opportunities, rather than waiting for them to come to you in management 10 years down the line – and of course social networking has made it much easier to connect with other New Professionals and share experiences and advice.

I’m pleased to see that CILIP (and indeed SLA-Europe) are not just responding to but catalysing that excitement about being a new professional. From what I can understand, a huge amount of credit for this emphasis must go to Maria Cotera, currently serving her year as Past President of the Career Development Group; it seems she instigated a lot of the stuff that is now going on. Chris Rhodes has his role as the first New Professionals Coordinator, and last year was the inaugural New Professionals Conference; this year’s (coming up in July) I’ll blog about at a later date but details of it are here.

On Thursday I went to CILIP HQ to plan this year’s version of the Graduate Open Day, at which I presented a paper last time around. A whole bunch of New Professionals Support Officers for various regions of CILIP, plus some other interested parties, got together last year to draw up plans for a regional version of the Open Day – CILIP is often criticised for being too focused on London and the South. A working group of myself, Chris Rhodes, Annette Earl, Maria Cotera and the indefatigable Kathy Ennis reconvened last week to take those initial ideas to the next stage and actually plan the days.

What came out was a New Professionals Information Day, which may be themed to some extent along the lines of my previous blog post about the applicability of existing interests to the library profession. (That, incidentally, is a great example of opportunities for New Professionals… I went from writing a blog post on a Tuesday, musing about how we can make more of the fact that you can apply all sorts of existing intersts and passions to librarianship, to suggesting this on the Thursday as a theme for a whole conference which’ll hopefully be attended by hundred of people. There are no comporable opportunities in my 9-to-5 role.) It’ll probably run twice, once in London (replacing the Graduate Day) and once in Newcastle, and cater for people who are either starting out in the profession or just at the ‘wondering if LIS is for them’ stage, and we’ve devised what I reckon is a really exciting format and programme. One of the best things about it, which if I remember rightly was thought up by Bethan Ruddock at the previous meeting, is what I and sadly no one else except me likes to call* Palindromic Scheduling™ – where the parallel sessions from early afternoon are repeated early evening, either side of a central section with a couple of key presentations and some time to network… This allows different people to catch the same programme at different times suitable to them, and ensures the key social networking opportunity is hopefully available to everyone in the middle bit. The event will be welcoming, inclusive, free, and exciting, I think. We’ve got loads of great ideas for it, and it’s a brilliant thing to be involved with. (If you have anything you’d like to see happen at it, leave a comment or send me an email.)

What struck me about the day was how the five of us seemed to contribute almost exactly the same amount of ideas (correct me if I’m wrong, fellow attendees!) – something that doesn’t often happen with committees. Not only that but Kathy was really happy for us to have an equal say in what happened – despite the fact that she’s the expert on this sort of thing, and it is in effect ‘her’ day that we’re appropriating and mucking about with. I hope that when (if) I ever become an expert in anything, I’ll be so open to everyone else’s ideas!

By the way, another reason it’s a good time to be a New Professional is that the online New Professionals Network (LISNPN) is almost ready to launch. Stay tuned for more on that, I think it’s going to be ace.

In other news

I was also really pleased to get an email confirming my essay – The Unspeakable Truth – was one of the three winners of the LISNews Contest. It was a good contest to support and I’m glad I entered, as I got comments and interaction with people who’d never read this blog, so that’s great. To win is a lovely bonus. :) I’ll stick a PDF of the essay on the website shortly.

- thewikiman

* I’m afraid I can’t think of a way of phrasing this that don’t be making me sound like a pirate. I likes to call it Palindromic Scheduling – yaaar!

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the blogging lifecycle

19 Mar
Graphic showing the lifecycle of good and bad blogging

May contain exaggeration


- thewikiman

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the best thing about librarianship is…

16 Mar

…you can apply almost any pre-existing interest to your career.

Wanted - please apply to Library

Apply to what now?

I’ve thought this for a while, but it was really crystallised for me this weekend. I had a friend to stay – when I met him a couple of years ago he was doing a literature-based PhD. Then recently he had one of those ‘turns out I wanted to work in the library sector all along!’ revelations you see so often on Library Routes and is now training to become an archivist. The amazing thing is, he’s working at the British Library and is now working on an archive of stuff he was writing about for his PhD! He’s literally following up the interests from his Doctorate, despite having completely changed career path. Archiving roles are great for that – I recently saw an ad for an archivist post working in a ’traditional folk dancing and music archive’, or something like that; for someone, somewhere, who loves folk dancing and works in the library sector, that is literally the best job in the entire world

I used to want to be a Careers Advisor, working in Higher Education. Various circumstances resulted in my working in a library, and I’ve found it sufficiently diverting that I no longer have my original ambition. But as it happens, I get to do all sorts of careers related stuff in my job – acting as a New Professionals Support Officer at CILIP, presenting on issues relating to our profession, creating a careers resource of sorts in Library Routes, etc. I also love writing, which I get to do here and in a bunch of publications too. It’s amazing – I’ve ended up doing something I had no inclination of any kind to do until the day before I applied for my first library job, and it’s all gone full circle and back to the things I loved originally.

If you’re interested in marketing, editing, web 2.0, emerging technologies, computers, art, the law, music (and a whole host of other stuff, as well as the more traditional things like rare books or old manuscripts) – almost whatever it is you can apply that knowledge or passion to something in librarianship, whether it’s part of your 9 to 5 job or your extra-curricular activities you do as part of being a professional.

This is a fantastic bonus, and one we should make more of when promoting the profession. How many other sectors can boast this much diversity? How many other jobs allow so many hobbies, passions, expertise or ambitions to be brought to the working table? Libraries FTW!  :)

- thewikiman

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Information Professionals as Sherpas – Part II

11 Mar

“…a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention…” - Herbert Simon

This is part II of a pair of posts on Information Professionals as Sherpas. You can read Part I in isolation here.

I’ve written before about the ever increasing mountain of information. Specifically, my point about Sherpas relates to this quote, from this post:

We’re all aware of the very real danger that libraries could become redundant, with users being able to do their own research, unassisted, and entirely online (hence the phrase you often hear bandied about, that ‘we’re all librarians now’). Who needs a library when you can find everything yourself? The answer to that may be that you need a library as a gateway to information with integrity. The current information-seeking behaviour of our users is simply not fit for purpose for searching on the kind of staggering scale we’ll be dealing with in the near future. You can easily type a key word into a search engine and get a million hits – what we professionals of information can do for you is sort the wheat from the chaff on an epic scale. We can rule out the majority of those hits on the basis of dubious authorship, or validity, or context, or even just quality. And we can provide access to those materials which are legitimate for our users (and must brand this information accordingly, so our users understand the role the library has played in assessing it). These are roles which will become more and more important as the amount of digital information becomes more and more vast. Imagine the available data as an almost random stream of sentences, arranged without rhyme or reason across a hundred pages. You might find a sentence or two which is really useful, but overall the effort required to search through it all would be overwhelming. What the Information Professional can do, is arrange the sentences into paragraphs, the paragraphs into chapters, and provide you with a Contents page, an introduction and an index. More and more, that will become an invaluable service in the Information Economy in which we live.”

Edit: Good to see Agnostic, Maybe writing along similarish lines!

There is already evidence that users want some kind of guidance, that simply typing stuff into Google isn’t working any more. When Facebook purchased FriendFeed, Mashable posted this interesting article about ‘the new search war’. The article suggests that with its 250 million registered users (and that figure is up to 400 million now, according to Facebook’s own stats), Facebook has always been in a position to lead the way in Social Search – the web search method that determines the relevance of search results by considering the interactions or contributions of users - and that now this could come to fruition. The same article also links to a blog post from Paul Buchheit (creator of Gmail, among other things), from way back in 2008, in which Buchheit anticipates the power of ‘human link data’ and suggests it could one day become more useful than ‘web link data’.

I already use human link data, in the form of delicious and blogs, and in real-time with Twitter, to get information. Particularly with more qualitative information, I prefer the opinions and advice of my network of peers than just asking Google’s non-human algorithms to provide me with information I can trust. There are efforts to formalise this process, such as the search-engine Aardvark,which ‘connects users live with friends or friends-of-friends who are able to answer their questions’. The wikipedia article on Social Searchis slightly dated in that it mentions Aardvark, but not the fact that Aardvark was acquired by Google last month, as Google seeks to even the odds with Facebook in the search-war… The recently launched Google Buzz is also an effort to tap into this side of using one’s social and professional network as a knowledge pool.

Facebook looks well placed to win this war, which sucks for me as I hate Facebook and want no part of it. But getting relevant information from a network of real people exploits mobile technology a lot better than algorithm-based computing power does,  and in any case, look at how Facebook is grabbing people’s internet-attention more and more while Google is declining slightly:

Graph showing Facebook increasing, Google decreasing

Sourced via Stephen's Lighthouse

So, all of this points towards a move to more qualified information – information provided by someone you trust to give you the good stuff, rather than an anonymous piece of mathematics proffering you its results. And as I’ve said before, just as solicitors are the experts in legal matters, we Information Professionals need to position ourselves as the experts in information. The Information Professional has a valuable role to play. In a comment on a blog post about the #echolib debate, Gareth Osler suggested “How about a personal librarians friend on Facebook, someone who could answer questions, and maybe even offer timely advice on information” – which makes sense in this context. It needn’t be one individual or one institution who provided that service – in the same way that asking your network for help relies on a number of them definitely being online at any given time, so you could have a network of information professionals, not formally organised, who all contribute to the ‘friend’ role whenever they are online. Might be interesting to try, and it might increase awareness of what we can do to help people.

Interestingly, there is some argument that the Information Professional could play this role without the platform of the library itself. In response to my entry to the LISNews Essay Contest, a comment entitled We need librarians more than ever; libraries, not so much was left by T. Scott. He argues (and this post is getting long so I’ve heavily edited this):

Libraries are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. They were built by librarians in order to fulfill our role in society — to facilitate the connection between people and recorded knowledge for the whole vast range of reasons that this is important to people — education, entertainment, self-improvement, science, art, religion, fun…. In the print world, building libraries as we have come to know them was the best way to do that. In the digital world it probably isn’t.

We need to quit wasting time trying to figure out what the “role of the library” is in the digital age. Who cares? The library is just a tool. We know, if we stop to reflect, what the role of the librarian is — as I said above, it’s to connect people to recorded knowledge. It’s the same role that we’ve always had.

There is an incredible future within our grasp — but it’s a future where our focus needs to be on librarians, not libraries.

Now I’m not convinced about the logistics of information professionals surviving beyond libraries – the issues of lack of collection, lack of funding and budget, lack of actual physical space to engage with people, all seem to point to difficulties there. But it is interesting to consider that in the digital age, the information Sherpa could exist without being tied to the dying building. Naturally I hope the buildings don’t die, but I do think that the role of the Information Professional is less dependant on the library than it ever has been before.

- thewikiman
P.S – I’ve just added a temporary page to this website about an upcoming event I’m presenting at. I’m afraid this events is only for CILIP members in the Yorkshire & Humberside region (ironic really seeing as the presentation is about escaping the echo-chamber…) so I don’t want to do a proper blog post about it that’ll clutter up peoples’ Google Readers. But if you’re interested you can click on the other pages on this blog link on the right, or just click here instead.

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