Yesterday I attended the CILIP Career Development Group New Professionals Conference in Manchester. I was lucky enough to be attending as a speaker, and the whole day was an absolutely amazing experience which left me exhilarated, emotional, inspired and drained! It was lovely to see some old friends and acquaintances, meet several people with whom I’ve built a rapport on Twitter but had not yet met in real life, and to see some new faces. Sadly there were a few people from Twitter who I didn’t manage to catch up with – hopefully next time! I’ve come away with a lot to think about and do, and a day later I am still trying to make sense of all of my thoughts, hence why this is probably the first of several blog posts!
The day was a mixture of presentations and workshops. The speakers, and several of the workshop facilitators, were new professionals themselves; this was one of the criteria for submitting a paper. The full programme of presentations and workshops is available here. The first speaker of the day was Helen Murphy, who introduced us to CPD: 23 Things for Professional Development (CPD23 for short), a project being run by librarians at Cambridge (including Helen) which will help LIS professionals to develop their skills through using 23 tools, one per week, and then reflecting on what they have learnt. Helen pointed out that CPD (Continuing Professional Development) is hugely important for new professionals, particularly in a time of economic downturn, and explained how CPD23 overcomes many of the barriers to CPD; it’s free, it’s self-paced (there are “reflection weeks” built into the programme to allow participants to catch up if they’ve missed a week), it’s inclusive, and it’s fun! CPD23 is open to anyone; to register, all you need to do is create a blog, if you don’t already have one, and register the URL at the site. I love CPD, and also love any chance to play with online tools and to blog, so I signed up for CPD23 a while ago, but if I hadn’t I’m sure Helen would have convinced me to register as soon as I got home; she was persuasive, engaging, funny and friendly, and really put across the benefits of participating in CPD23.
Next up was me, talking about why new professionals should be establishing dialogues with experienced professionals, and how we can go about it. I gave a brief summary of the results of a survey that I conducted on experienced LIS professionals’ views of new professionals, which yielded some interesting results. There were a lot of positive perceptions, but also some negative perceptions which I felt were creating barriers between new and experienced professionals. I suggested ways in which we can forge links and start conversations with our experienced colleagues, online and face-to-face, and also invited any attendees who were not engaging with the online LIS new professionals community to come and join us on LISNPN and Twitter. The slides are available here. I’m hoping to publish my full paper and survey results somewhere. I’ll write a separate blog post about my first experience of presenting, but I’d like to thank everyone who gave (and tweeted!) positive reactions to my paper – I hope it was of some interest and use.
The final paper of the morning was from Sam Wiggins and Laura Williams, who asked What makes an information professional? They discussed their own confusion over the word “professional” – they are coming to the end of library school and will soon be qualified, but does this automatically make them professionals? They carried out a survey to discover perceptions of “professional” amongst the LIS community, and received a lot of responses, from both new and experienced professionals. The responses to the question of “what makes an information professional” were varied, and from these responses it appeared that a range of elements are considered to contribute to professionalism; attitude, qualifications and skills. Some other really interesting perceptions came out of their survey too; for example, Chartership was not high on the list of things that were seen to contribute to professionalism, and people still value the job title of “librarian”, although many felt that their job title did not express what they actually do. Interestingly, Sam and Laura found that the different LIS sectors placed different emphases on qualifications, attitudes and networking when it comes to professionalism, and they called for a “vocational approach” across all sectors which encompasses all three. I was extremely impressed with the research that Sam and Laura did for their paper (especially when they have both been so busy attending other conferences, meeting library school deadlines and working on their dissertations at the same time!) and they really got me thinking about the issue of what defines “professional”. I definitely agree with their argument that attitude and conduct is just as important as qualifications and skills.
The morning speakers then took part in a panel discussion, taking questions from the audience. An experienced professional who was attending claimed that professional bodies were reaching out to new professionals and that we were not engaging enough. My response was that engaging with professional bodies can be very difficult for new professionals because membership is expensive (leading me onto one of my pet topics – the badly-categorised membership fees for CILIP!). This made me feel that I really should contact CILIP about my feelings on the membership fee categories, rather than just complain about them on Twitter.
It was then time for the first set of workshops. I attended Alice Halsey and Simon Barron’s workshop on Getting involved: activism for new professionals. Alice and Simon are both members of Voices for the Library, giving up their time to campaign against public library cuts and closures. Their workshop was a really good mix of speaking and group discussion. They told us about their experiences and suggested ways in which we could get involved in activism, and encouraged us to share our ideas, experiences and concerns. I have been wanting to help with the campaign for public libraries for a while now, but wasn’t sure where to start, or whether I would even be welcome as someone who has not yet got involved, and who can’t claim to know much about the cuts other than what is reported in the media. Alice and Simon reassured us that we could all help, whether that means getting heavily involved with the various campaigns (or even starting our own in our local area), or just advocating for libraries in our day-to-day lives, to our family and friends. They also emphasised what activism can do for your CV; activism can fill any skills gap! I left feeling reassured that I am already doing my bit in the way I conduct and present myself as a librarian, and that if I want to get further involved then I can.
After lunch, we went in for the second set of workshops. I chose to attend Suzanne Wheatley’s workshop on #marketingyourselfonline. I am already a heavy user of Twitter and blogging, and am dipping my toe tentatively into LinkedIn, but I still found some of Suzanne’s pointers really useful. She emphasised that we need to really think about everything we put online, as it all reflects on us and it is easily accessible to our employers. Suzanne helped us to think about how we can market ourselves as a brand, asking us to think of six words to describe ourselves, which was surprisingly difficult (I came up with “academic librarian new professionals advocate writer” but that still doesn’t really say what I want it to)! As a result of Suzanne’s workshop I am going to work on my LinkedIn profile and start using it properly, connecting to other LIS professionals and joining in the discussions on the groups.
The presentations then re-commenced. The first speakers of the afternoon were Ka-Ming Pang and Jo Norwood, who spoke about building opportunities for student activism and why it matters. I feel that their presentation slides deserve a special mention, with gorgeous hand-drawn pictures! Ka-Ming and Jo felt that LIS students were missing opportunities to get involved in activism, and gave the results of a survey that they carried out amongst their classmates on the MA Information Studies at Brighton. They found that two thirds of their classmates were already engaging in activism, from using social media to promote libraries to writing to MPs about library cuts, but that there was a perception that CILIP were not doing enough politically. Ka-Ming and Jo felt that CILIP need to reach out to LIS students, contacting them early on in their course and better promoting library advocacy. They also argued that LIS students need to communicate more, using more online tools; they held up the HackLibSchool blog and the #libchat that is often run on Twitter by librarians and students in the US as examples of good communication between LIS students, which can help to create a “stronger voice” for advocacy.
Next up was Megan Wiley, who spoke about the need to develop professionalism in a careers information team. Megan is an information specialist in a university careers service, which is a very different environment to that of an academic library. I found Megan’s paper absolutely fascinating; although I knew a bit about what she does, I had no idea about the different issues that careers information specialists face. Megan explained the importance of promoting herself as a librarian; often careers advisors have no idea what the information specialists can do, meaning that they don’t always refer students to them when they could be really helpful. She explained that careers information teams can vary in their make-up and roles, and that a LIS qualification is not always needed, which can cause confusion over how a careers information specialist defines themselves. Megan conducted a survey of careers information workers to discover their perceptions of professionalism, and found opinions on roles and the value of a qualification varied. I hope Megan will publish her paper somewhere as I haven’t got anywhere near enough room in this blogpost to share all of the interesting points that she made! In short, working alongside careers advisors can cause difficulties for careers information specialists in understanding and promoting their role, and some careers information specialists did not feel that a LIS qualification was important. Megan argued that there is a place for careers information workers in CILIP, that a qualification is important for developing skills and understanding the wider profession, and that all LIS professionals, whatever sector they work in, need to be communicating what they do and what their value to the organisation is, particularly in a time of cuts. Megan’s paper was interesting, informative, thought-provoking, and a well-deserved runner-up for best paper.
The final speakers were Katie Birkwood and Naomi Herbert, who shared their experiences of how special collections outreach can help you, your career and your library. They explained how outreach benefits all who are involved; the community and the institution. Naomi discussed a project that she ran in which she worked with primary school teachers and children. She collaborated with two local teachers to overhaul the school’s Year 4 literacy module on explanatory texts, using a book from the library’s special collections called Hocus Pocus Junior, which, published in 1638, was the first ever book in English to explain magic tricks. The children came for a tour of the special collections and were able to look at the book, before making their own version. The project was highly successful, with some lovely (and amusing!) thank-you letters from the children, and has been run in subsequent years. Katie then told us about her project in which she ran a session at the Cambridge Science Festival, on “build your own astrolabe”. This came from the donation of Sir Fred Hoyle’s papers to the special collections. Katie worked with a friend who happened to be an astronomer to create a “build your own astrolabe” kit, and then ran sessions at the Festival, as well as creating a web-page on the library’s website on how to build one. This outreach project was also highly successful. Katie and Naomi also gave us some tips on how to find funding for outreach, how to approach it, and emphasised the importance of considering the practicalities (how are you going to manage 30 children needing a wee?). I had never considered getting involved in outreach, but as a result of Katie and Naomi’s paper I feel confident that I could make a case for it if I had an idea. It was also great to hear about such interesting projects. Katie and Naomi’s presentation was voted best paper by the delegates, and this was well-deserved.
Closing comments came from Biddy Fisher, past president of CILIP, who summed up the day with “amazing”. Biddy commented on the cuts facing public libraries, saying that Voices for the Library need all of our support, and reminding us that, in such difficult times, professionalism, whatever it means to us personally, means more in the outside world which we serve through our library services. Biddy encouraged us to promote free CPD opportunities such as CPD23 to senior management. She also highlighted the evidence-based research in several presentations, encouraging those of us who had done this to do more, and promoting the LIS-DREaM project, who are hosting their launch event soon.
I very much enjoyed the day, which has left me with much to think about and do. I want to develop my LinkedIn profile properly, start on Thing 1 for CPD23, keep blogging, keep engaging with other LIS new professionals, do some more research and writing, and try to do whatever I can for library advocacy. I’ve also been left with some things to think about in terms of how LISNPN could develop and improve. I am already looking forward to next year’s event, and hope to be involved in some way.