Posts Tagged ‘professional development’

Is the Library degree the best use of your resources? Imagine what else you could do with that time and money

12 Feb

Edit:  Despite my clarifications, people are still misinterpreting my original post as a proposed ‘solution’ to the problem of the Library degree, so I’ve rewritten this to stop that happening.


To embark upon a Library Masters in 2014 is a huge undertaking. Assuming you do it part-time, whilst working to support yourself, you’ll spend between ten and eighteen thousand pounds over two years, along with, at a conservative estimate, 1500 hours of your time.[1]

The question is, does the Library degree really represent the best use of this investment?

What if you were to spend the same amount of time and money on a self-structured curriculum of study, events, conferences, training, and building an online portfolio, whilst continuing to work in an information role. Would you not emerge as a more rounded, knowledgeable, and relevant information professional?

I think you would. If someone were to try it, the results would certainly be interesting. This is not, however, a solution to the problem.

The problem with the Library degree

I have many issues with the MA/Msc in Library & Information Management (or similar) as it currently stands, in the UK. For the record, I completed mine, via distance learning, in 2009. It was fine, I didn’t hate it, it wasn’t a bad degree in any way. My views on the degree are based on my own experience, and based on talking to others – I realise they may not be universal complaints. But here are the main ones anyway:

1)    Much of the content of the courses does not seem relevant to actually being an information professional

2)    There is one degree that is supposed to cover, in one year of full-time study, all aspects and types of librarianship, including public, academic and special librarianship (not to mention the myriad other potential careers under the information umbrella). As far as I can tell these disciplines are very different from each other

3)    Many of the courses contain modules they contained 10 years ago, despite the information world having undergone seismic shift in that time. Anything you learn on a library degree is likely to be out of date in two to five years anyway

4)    Having completed a Masters in another discipline prior to getting my Library one, I did not find the latter to be postgraduate in nature. It was just like a very short undergraduate course

5)    The piece of paper at the end – the degree certificate which allows you to apply for higher graded jobs for which a qualification is an ‘essential’ on the person spec – seems far more important than what you learn on the course itself

6)    The difference between a ‘qualified’ librarian and an ‘unqualified’ one is very rarely the qualification. It’s more often that the unqualified librarian’s circumstances are such that they have been unable to do the degree, rather than that they are in any way a lesser librarian

7)    The process by which CILIP accredits degrees and the institutions which offer them does not seem to be in any way rigorous, based on the experiences of colleagues who have attended certain institutions…

8)    To add insult to the injury of the points above, there are many more qualified librarians than there are posts for qualified librarians – meaning that in my own institution alone there are several very talented new professionals who have gone to the time and expense of getting the degree, but who are nevertheless in the same roles they were in whilst they studied

Most importantly, the degree is so expensive that it is actively excluding people from good jobs – we are putting a financial price on progress in our profession, and for what? A degree that isn’t particularly relevant or, in some cases, even particularly enjoyable to complete. I don’t think it’s acceptable that we’re all of us complicit in such a flawed system. Employers, students, CILIP, people like me who recognised the issues but did the Masters anyway just to get the piece of paper – we’re all part of the problem with the Library degree.

If you are going to create a professional environment in which a ten thousand pound degree is necessary to earn more than £25,000 a year, then the degree itself needs to be a LOT more meaningful than it is at present.

What do we do about it?

If it were up to me, I’d do two things:

A) re-design the Masters to be a Problem Based Learning (PBL) degree, which would allow a much closer connection between study and the reality of library work, and

B) issue some kind of nation-wide edict forcing all hiring library managers to give proper value to the second half of the sentence ‘Library qualification or equivalent experience’ which appears on so many job specs.

There are actually a pleasingly high number of hiring managers who do ‘B’ already, although it’s not that wide-spread. But ‘A’ is a lot trickier.

I am writing (or was writing – we’ll get there eventually!) an article with Alan Carbery about rethinking the degree as PBL. I find PBL incredibly difficult to explain succinctly – basically it’s student centered learning, that is used in a lot of Medical Schools around the UK (including the one in my own institution). It’s really very different from the traditional HE pedagogy. Here’s an excerpt from what the BMJ has to say about it (read the whole page here)

In problem based learning (PBL) students use “triggers” from the problem case or scenario to define their own learning objectives. Subsequently they do independent, self directed study before returning to the group to discuss and refine their acquired knowledge. Thus, PBL is not about problem solving per se, but rather it uses appropriate problems to increase knowledge and understanding. The process is clearly defined, and the several variations that exist all follow a similar series of steps.

It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does. Students absolutely love it. At my University it is also used, with great success, by the Law School, and it is their approach specifically that I’d like to see emulated with libraries. Here’s what the Law School has to say about it:

You and your colleagues decide how your firm operates and determine how to divide up the work.  Through the process you will build working relationships with each other and learn how to deliver on your responsibilities.

For each case you will identify the legal principles involved in the problem and unravel the legal and contextual issues that lie at the heart of it, which will typically involve more than one area of law. All of the problems will be simulated real-life examples brought to you by virtual clients.

In many situations you will have to interact with other student firms, sometimes working alongside them, sometimes in opposition.

For me this notion of operating in firms with real-life examples is key. Based on UCAS applications etc the Law School tailors each firm to suit the personalities and talents of the people involved.

Imagine arriving at Library School and being divided up into Libraries, and then given real-life, pertinent, and up to date examples of problems Libraries face. You’d work cooperatively with your peers (and in the era of constant-contact media, Google hangouts etc, distance-learning shouldn’t prohibit this) and deal with things which you really will have to deal with when working in a qualified library post. Issues around web-design and social media, around marketing and communications, around copyright, data protection and FOI, around managing budgets in difficult economic circumstances, around whatever is relevant and important, year on year. It’s not just that it allows Library Schools to cover contemporary issues, it’s the manner in which it is taught, which seems to relate more directly to the real world. Here’s another quote, from the Law School’s guide to students on their use of PBL:

The key role of the problem is to trigger your awareness that these issues exist, and create an interest in them by highlighting their real-world ramifications. Once this has happened, the problem then gives you a context which you can use to identify exactly what you need to learn in order to understand the problem and address the issues which it raises.

This, to me, sounds like the kind of approach which has the potential to produce Library Masters graduates who are significantly more qualified, aware, relevant and prepared, for the real-life world of libraries. In fact it’s a bit like what we all do with our CPD anyhow.

Clearly this would be a massive shift in how things are done. Any library school attempting to implement this would have to completely scrap the existing degree and build a new one from the ground up. But I’d argue that needs to happen anyway; perhaps a new teaching method would add much needed impetus and inspiration.

I’d be interested if anyone reading this who is familiar with PBL, or with teaching on current Masters courses, has a view on this! Is it the kind of thing we could realistically do?

[1] You are notionally expected to spend 100 hours of study per 10 credits on the Masters – assuming you do the dissertation as well, there are 180 credits in the degree, so the total figure is 1,800 hours. I don’t believe anyone has ever spent 225 full 8-hour days studying for a Library Masters, so I reduced it to 1,500 hours, although that still seems fairly fanciful.



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3 essential things to do AS SOON AS YOU JOIN twitter…

05 Jul
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Via IconFinder

When most people join Twitter, they don’t know whether they’ll stick with it or not. For this reason, they often start following a few people before they’ve really set up their profile, and this can actually end up being detrimental to their twitter experience.

The reason is, when you start following someone, in most cases they get an email saying ‘X is now following you’ – this email includes your bio, your pic, and a link to your profile. If you don’t have a bio, your only tweet is something along the lines of ‘Don’t really understand this twitter lark!’, and your picture is the default twitter egg, chances are they won’t follow you back. And seeing as you’ve gone out of your way to identify key people to follow first of all, this is potentially a huge missed opportunity to engage with people who you’d get a lot out of chatting to.

So to avoid this, and generally get off on the RIGHT foot on Twitter, here are 3 very simple things to do right away, as soon as you join, and before you do anything else:

  1. Put in a picture, preferably a head-shot. If you’re really camera shy then put in a picture of a robot or whatever, but put in SOMETHING – lots of people refuse to follow anyone with the twitter egg, right off the bat. Twitter is a personal medium – even if you’re only using it for professional networking, you really need a picture of yourself up there.
  2. Put in a proper, engaging bio. Remember, people get emailed when you follow them. Oh, who is this new follower and shall I follow them back? I don’t know who they are because they’ve not put in a bio – so I won’t bother. Twitter is about connecting with people – use the bio to say something about yourself, which will make the kinds of people who you want to connect with, want to connect with you. Try and avoid ‘reluctant twitterer’ or similar as the last sentence.
  3. Write a couple of tweets. I know it seems silly to broadcast tweets to no one, but you need to give people something to go on when they’re deciding whether to follow you back. Everyone’s first tweet is roughly ‘Am trying twitter out – hello world!’ or something along those lines, and that’s fine, no one expects your first tweet to be a work of 140 character genius. But follow that up with something more meaningful, perhaps about what you want to get out of Twitter, the types of professionals you want to tweet with, or maybe a link to a really useful article or piece of information.

Just do those 3 simple steps and you’ll hit the ground running, and have more chance of developing relationships with people who matter to you.

- thewikiman

More on stuff on Twitter from this blog:

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Average is no longer enough? Noted. Now let’s move on.

27 Jun
Picture of a spoon

Looking for this? IT DOESN'T EXIST, REMEMBER!

A lot is being made of the fact that in librarianship, Average is No Longer Enough. Was average enough at some point previously? Possibly; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that there are enough librarians in the profession who love it enough that they don’t want to be average, rather than reluctantly excelling themselves because they’ve been told to do so at a conference or by a blog post.

I predict that the total number of information professionals (in the current understanding of the word) will shrink at a fairly steady rate during my career. The Average will probably be the first to go (the Really Bad being, in my experience, remarkably stubborn). It’ll be a Darwinian process – the people that really love this will probably be strong enough to survive, because they’re the ones likely to be enthusiastic about embracing new challenges.

In a job market where there are far more qualified professionals than there are professional posts, the whole idea of trying to turn the drifters into yet more super-librarians is perverse anyway. The people who think average is enough are probably never at the kind of events where people say it isn’t. Let’s stop telling each other what we already know, take the non-existence of THE SPOON as read, and use our time in conferences and on social media to talk about something more useful – like specifically HOW to find your ‘extra’ rather than just the fact that you need to.

- thewikiman 

p.s Please use the Comments section for all puns about what mean-spirited post this is. :)

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Everything you need to know about technology to work in libraries

06 Dec

I’ve given a couple of talks on technology in libraries recently. Here’s roughly what I said. (Or, more accurately, roughly what I intended to say, :) )

In modern librarianship you can do so many jobs, such a diverse array of roles which are salaried by the library; actually very few threads run through all of them. Over the course of the two New Professionals Information Days we’ve had more than 150 delegates through the door, and there’s very little in common between ALL the roles we do or aspire to do. Certainly not books.

‘Problem solving’ is probably a thread which runs through most roles, ‘people’ is another. But really technology is the only thing that unites pretty much all the jobs we Information Professionals do. So, it’s incredibly important to be comfortable with it. By technology I do mean hardware (PCs, scanners, iPads etc), but to a greater extent I mean software, platforms, social media, the internet and all that it entails.

Technology, when used well, is at the heart of the revolution libraries are currently under-going. Already well under way is the change from libraries as ‘book wharehouse’ to libraries as something much more dynamic and fluid, led by the information-seeking needs of our users. As New Professionals, we will soon become custodians of that change: we need to be ready.

If you think about a timeline of the world, and a timeline of libraries, the two have not been changing at the same rate. Libraries have been bobbing along in a very similar fashion for quite a long time, with not much in the way of drastic change between the library of Alexandria, and the libraries of 30 years ago. Suddenly, however, they’re changing more in the last 30 years than arguably in the whole of the rest of their history put together. And of course, that seismic shift has its heart in technology.

Let’s imagine a library has stood on this spot since the 1890s. Imagine a 30 year old man, like me, goes into this library in 1890 – he can expect a certain look, a certain feel, certain types of resource. If you took that man and forced him to travel though time, and placed him in the 1920s, he’d be all at sea. The world, and society, would be almost unrecognisably different. A World War would have been and gone, there’d be telephones revolutionising communication, cars all over the roads, JAZZ happening in clubs! Along with much else that would be almost unimaginable to our 1890s 30 year old. But this library – this library would probably look and feel much the same. Jump forward another 30 years – society has leaped again. The Roaring Twenties have been replaced by the Stepford Wives era, the straight-laced 50s. Technology has moved forward. Another World War has devastated much of Europe. Once again, our 30 year old’s head would spin with all the changes. But this library is mostly unchanged – the types of resources are much the same. Fast forward another 30 years, to the 1980s. Society is permissive and developed in a way which would shock our 30 year old. Technology has moved on so much that not only has man landed on the Moon, but he’s become indifferent to the idea of bothering to do so again. The Cold War hangs over the world. Computers are becoming common. A 30 year old from the 1950s would find the 80s a culture shock, to be sure. Yet he’d have little or no trouble using this library; the resources would look mostly familiar.

Finally, jump forward the final 30 years to now. Of course, the world is very different. But – and perhaps I’m being naive here – I think the 1980s 30 year old could slot into society without too much difficulty – it’s not a cosmic leap forward in many respects. Similarly, as 30 year old now I could slip back into 1980 and not be totally lost. But the library would be completely unrecognisable! Suddenly the flat line of library development has shot upwards and gone off the chart. Technology has moved on dramatically in all areas of society – but much of the day-to-day effects of this are to do with how we access information. With how much we value information. With how we live now in an information economy. The internet has changed everything, including the library. Technology rules the library, it has shoved books to one side. People have always needed to access information, and libraries have always strived to provide access – but now the vessels for that information are changing. Librarians are increasingly becoming early adopters of new tools, platforms, and skills. Public perception, however, has quite understandably been unable to keep up with this change. It lingers behind, envisaging the library much as it was in the 50s, the 20s, or the 1890s.

So it is our job as the information professionals to equip ourselves with as much knowledge of the new as we can, whilst respecting what our predecessors have achieved. Because we newer professionals may not have that long to wait until we start actively start shaping the future of the profession. In fact, it’s already happening.

It used to be said that what you learn in your Library Masters would last you five years before the information became outmoded. Now it’s said to be just two years; this profession changes fast. Similarly the technology is evolving all the time – all this presentation can do is provide a snapshot of what is used in 2010 (and how we use it). I spoke to loads of my peers to crowd-source the information contained in this presentation, and they all stressed how they go to conferences, read blogs, subscribe to mailing lists and read professional publications, in order to keep up with what is going on. No one ever reaches a plateau of technological know-how in libraries, that they can afford to remain at indefinitely. As glib as it sounds, professional development never really stops.

All roads lead to technology eventually. All ROLES need technology eventually. If the job you want next doesn’t require any technological expertise, chances are the one after that will. But even if your dream job doesn’t use technology, it’s actually very hard to get far enough up the pay-grades to get that job without going for some tech-related jobs. You can’t afford to lose out to other more tech-minded people, because so many of the new roles and positions that are being created in libraries relate to the research, implementation, evaluation and development of various technologies.

As I’ve said before, it’s more of a careers climbing wall than a careers ladder in this profession – there aren’t always hand-holds directly above you. Those sideways or diagonal excersions often involve technology. For example if you need management experience, a great way to get that is from a project. Projects are often externally funded. External funders love to invest in the newest, most exciting things. The newest, most exciting things often involve technology.

Another point my peers repeatedly stressed when I was researching this, was how important interpersonal skills are. So much of what libraries do is collaborative these days – you have to be able to get on, to get on. Raw technical skill is not enough on its own – you need to be able to communicate effectively too. The TV stereotype of the computer whizz-kid who sits in the basement of an organisation, anti-social and belligerent, but kept on because HE’S JUST SO DAMN GOOD, would never happen in the library. He’d get to the end of his 6 months probation and his line-manager would say, I’m sorry, you’re out. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are if you can’t communicate them to your peers effectively.

A final word on technology. If you’re scared of people, it’ll be very difficult to sustain a career in libraries. You may be better off getting out now. If you’re scared of technology, that’s okay. We can help you! You need to immerse yourself in it – because the fear comes from unfamiliarity. Take away the unfamiliarity and you’ll take away the fear. Just use different types of library related technology all the time, until you become comfortable with it. Learn to use social media platforms or presentation software even if you don’t need to use it right now. Go on a course on one of the Office suite. Read the manual of your camera and start doing more sophisticated things with it. Just throw yourself into it.

Eventually, you get to a state where you’re comfortable enough with technology generally that you’re not afraid to take on ANYTHING new that might come up. And this is necessary because, as we’ve said, change happens fast in this industry. You need to get to a state where you’re unphased by the idea of taking on some new platform or direction. It’s all very well learning how to use one piece of kit – that’s like learning directions from here to the railway station. Much better than that would be to learn where the railway station is, then you can get to it from anywhere…


The above was from the last New Professionals Information Day for this year (and with MSU closing, who knows when there will be another one) so I can make my presentation materials properly available.

I used Prezi again, but in a different way this time. The canvas became an interactive map – I asked the delegates whereabouts in the library they’d like to work, then navigated to that part of the map and zoomed in on the desk in that ‘room’ to read all about the relevant technology. I designed it very much as an online object, able to stand-alone and be used without me wittering on in the background, so check it out below – just click on a part of the library you want to know about.

As ever, Prezis work better on full-screen. Feel free to embed this wherever you’d like – it’s available under Attribution-NonCommercial-Sharealike Creative Commons licences. And if you have any corrections or suggestions to make, let me have them!

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