Thursday, 24 November 2011

Reflections on the CILIP Career Development Group National Conference 2011

The 21st November saw the CILIP CDG National Conference 2011 take place in Bristol. I was lucky enough to have been asked as a local CDG committee member whether I would like to help out on the day. When I accepted the invitation, I expected to be purely a kind of runner on the day, but I actually joined the organising committee for the final stages of planning the event, which was a great experience.

I started off the day meeting and greeting in the venue reception – it was fun to be the friendly face of CDG as attendees arrived! Once everyone was seated it was time to take on my main role for the day, as a kind of official conference Tweeter; reporting on the conference using the #cdgpp hashtag and monitoring the tweets coming through on it. I have tried to Tweet from conferences in the past and found it difficult to do so at the same time as making good notes; however, having thrown myself into it this time, I’ve found that my Tweets act as fairly good notes in themselves. If you want to see what was being said, you can see the Twitter archive here. Quick tip if you’re looking after the Twitter side of things at a conference; remember to set up an archive with Twapper Keeper or similar before the event – as far as I know there are no tools that capture Tweets from before the archive for the hashtag was created. It’s really useful to have this archive; non-Tweeters can then catch up with what was said on Twitter.

The theme of the conference was the Practical Professional, and this was reflected in an excellent set of papers on a range of topics. Amanda Poulton kicked the day off with a presentation on changing sectors, something which several of the speakers had done. Amanda has worked in NHS, academic and public libraries, from which she has gained a broad range of skills and experience. She emphasised the importance of researching your target sector if you are wanting to move; from seeking out contacts on Twitter to arranging visits to a relevant library service. Amanda’s presentation introduced a theme which ran throughout the day; the transferable nature of many professional skills. To illustrate this, she showed us some snippets of job adverts, asking us to identify which sector they were from; this was not as easy as you might expect. The different adverts were asking for similar skills and experience i.e. liaison and enquiry work. Our professional skills can be applied across the sectors; it’s up to us to demonstrate this when applying for a job in another sector
Next up was Emily Hopkins, who discussed the challenges for a library service in the NHS, with the recent restructure and other changes having a big impact. Emily came into a newly merged service as a library manager. The issues she has had to deal with range from maintaining a virtual reference service whilst the print stock was in storage for six months (emphasising the importance of professional skills; with these, the staff were able to keep the service running with no stock!), to losing users, gaining new potential users, and numerous IT problems! The library had to re-assess its whole strategy and collection development policy in order to ensure that it could provide the service now required. Emily emphasised this need for all library services to be constantly re-evaluating services in times of change, to ensure that it remains useful and relevant. Emily also echoed Amanda’s thoughts on the importance and transferable nature of professional skills.

Katie Burn and Kirsty Whitehead then spoke about being “career chameleons”. Both are currently on extended secondments in the Information Directorate at the University of York; Kirsty as an academic liaison assistant and Katie as an executive officer for refurbishment (!). Both of them emphasised the need to be flexible when looking for your next career step, but also the necessity of maintaining clearly-defined goals; what is important to you – what factors have to be in place for you to be happy? They also continued a theme which began in Emily’s presentation; treating challenging situations as a positive opportunity to develop new skills; in this case, being in fixed-term positions. This rang true with me as I am also on a fixed-term contract; I am saddened by the prospect of having to leave my job (and obviously worried about being unemployed!), but rather than dwelling on the negatives, I need to be focusing on what I am getting from this job, which has been fantastic experience.  Katie and Kirsty offered several other useful tips, including the need to be able to say “no” or admit that you have too much to do, and the suggestion that we should all be looking at job adverts even if not actively job-hunting, in order to remain aware of the skills currently required in the LIS workplace. A major theme through this presentation was change – the fact that it happens frequently and significantly, and the need to treat it in a positive way – and I think this was reflected in every paper of the day.
The next speaker was David Clover, who discussed “thinking big” when it comes to career development. David argued that a planned approach to professional development is necessary – where do you want to be, and how will you get there? David suggested that our CPD goals should be big, ambitious, scary and exciting. Sometimes you will need to take risks, and sometimes you will need to invest your own time and money in things. David shared his experience of applying for the Travelling Librarian award. He was unsuccessful, but as the panel liked him they offered him a smaller grant which went towards a trip to the USA to visit libraries there. David was successful in persuading me, and, I’m sure, others, that we should be thinking big; you never know what will come of it. Another comment from David which stuck with me was that we should be setting our own personal goals rather than relying on the formal appraisal systems in our workplaces; our employers probably don’t care where we’ll be in 10 years’ time as it quite likely won’t be with them! A lot of us will have created development plans for Chartership, and David suggested that we need to be continuing to maintain these plans after we’ve Chartered, in order to keep our professional development on track.

Phil Bradley was up next, with a fast-paced and thought-provoking paper on social media. Phil argued that search engines can no longer cope with the amount of information available online, and that we will need to in the future find things using social media. Phil emphasised his belief that organisations which block social media are damaging themselves by doing so. Social media is a new kind of resource which we should all be using – and we should be moving from one network to another, in the way we would move from one traditional resource to another, to meet our information needs. Social media, argued Phil, is now far more useful than mailing lists or websites; Phil uses people for information, not websites; he pointed out that seven of the top ten results in a Google search for “CILIP CDG”  are social media (including my blog – I had no idea!). He emphasised the importance of having a presence on social media as LIS practitioners, as that is now where people go to ask questions; we need to show that we are credible sources. If we aren’t there, someone else will be, and it will be them who appears credible, not us. I was already convinced of the importance of using social media, but Phil’s presentation did make me realise just how important it is. He also convinced me to go back and give Google Plus another go, as he was so insistent that it was something we should be using.

Next came Katherin Schopflin, who spoke about the role of a knowledge manager. I didn’t really have any idea about what a knowledge manager was or how they differed from a librarian, so I found this presentation really helpful! Simply put, Katherin told us, a knowledge manager organises not only information, but also the stuff that is in people’s heads. Many of the skills required and duties of the job are very similar to those of a librarian, but organising knowledge as well as information requires tasks such as skills audits to be carried out. Katherin explained the benefits of being a knowledge manager, being at the heart of an organisation, but also the challenges faced; namely that the role can be ill-defined and it can be difficult to demonstrate value.

After lunch, we did a bit of speed networking, which involved rotating around the room forming groups of threes, and spending three minutes in each group telling each other about our jobs and what makes us unique – a difficult question which I wasn’t really able to answer! This was however a great opportunity to chat to some attendees whom I hadn’t yet had chance to meet.

Miggie Pickton kicked off the afternoon session with a presentation on providing services for researchers at the University of Northampton. Her role was newly-created, with a basic brief to provide services to researchers; she decided that her aim should be to “be useful”. Miggie carried out a survey of researchers’ needs, which provided an evidence base for developing the library service; Miggie emphasised the importance of having evidence to work from. She also made an interesting point which hadn’t occurred to me; it’s not only a good idea to carry out your own research to inform your service, but it also improves your credibility with the researchers with whom you work. When I began to think about it, I realised that, actually, my experience of carrying out research and having it published in a peer-reviewed journal could allow me to better understand the needs of academic staff and other researchers, having been through the process myself.

Emily Hopkins then returned, with Tracey Pratchett and Gil Young, to talk about “negotiating the scramble net” of a LIS career from the perspective of librarians in their 20s, 30s and 40s.  The really interesting bit about this presentation was that all three of them had had very similar experiences. The themes brought up by the previous speakers were again echoed; the need to be flexible and ready for change, and to see challenges as opportunities. The transferable nature of our professional skills was again emphasised, and all three speakers encouraged us to develop networks and contacts both inside and outside of work; a peer support network can be extremely valuable, which is something that Gil Young highlighted in particular when sharing tips for surviving redundancy – if you tell people that you’re job-hunting, you increase your chances of hearing about something suitable. Another great tip from Gil was to keep your CV up-to-date in case you need it; if you suddenly find yourself in the position of needing to find a new job, you may well not be in the positive mindset needed to produce a good CV.

Next up was Jo Myhill, with my favourite presentation of the day (being part of the organising team I didn’t get a vote for best paper though!), about being visible. Jo started off her presentation by speaking from the very corner of the room without the microphone, to illustrate her point, which I thought was a really effective opening. Jo leads a team of academic liaison librarians at the University of Bedfordshire, who were suffering from a lack of visibility when they moved off the front desk. Jo’s vision of being visibly is not just about physical visibility, though – there is a huge emphasis on virtual visibility too. They worked on improving visibility on their webpages, from putting photographs of the subject librarians all over the Library website, to creating blogs with an element of personality (one of them now has 500 followers!). There is also a focus on branding when it comes to visibility; the team has a logo saying “academic liaison librarians” which goes on everything. I really like this approach – it helps to ensure that students know what an academic liaison librarian is.

Last but certainly not least came Lizz Jennings, talking about “every flavour career beans”. Lizz was another speaker who had moved between sectors and, like the previous speakers, she emphasised the fact that there are core aspects of library and information work that are found in every sector; our skills are transferable. Lizz also recommended, like David, maintaining a structured and planned approach to professional development, even if you’re not working towards ACLIP or MCLIP. Lizz made the very good point that sometimes you can find yourself with too much on your CV, especially if you change sectors; knowing how to be selective in highlighting your skills is a skill in itself!

The delegate vote for best paper selected Amanda Poulton as the runner-up and Katie Burn and Kirsty Whitehead as the winners.

I found the ideas around career development expressed throughout the day really helpful for organising my own thoughts and ideas. It helped me to realise the importance of a planned approach to professional development; I think it is very easy to find yourself doing anything and everything in the name of CPD, and not really working out why you are doing something or how it will help you progress. Beginning Chartership has forced me to make a plan, but I think I could still be a lot more organised in regularly reviewing my plan and looking at what my evidence actually says, so I am going to make the effort to do this. I also found the emphasis on viewing challenges in a positive light as opportunities useful, particularly in relation to secondments, fixed term contracts and redundancy; as the end of my contract draws closer, I find myself starting to worry about what will happen next, but the speakers at this event persuaded me to focus more on what I have gained from my time in the role, what contributions I can make in my remaining time there, and what I can take forward to my next role. I am going to take Gil’s advice and make sure I keep my CV totally up-to-date, so that it is ready when I need it.

I really enjoyed being involved in the organising of the day, which has sparked a desire to become further involved in organising events. I’m really pleased that the CDG national events team is happy to keep me on, and I can’t wait to get involved in organising the next conference.

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