Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Why I'm voting Green tomorrow

This time five years ago, on the eve of the last General Election, my friends and I were joining a crowd gathering in Sheffield city centre at a Liberal Democrat rally to hear Nick Clegg speak. We were postgraduate students, learning how to be librarians, worried about graduating into a recession and trying to get jobs in a squeezed sector. We knew that Labour had made a mess of things, but we couldn't contemplate life under a Conservative government. Clegg, the leader of the Lib Dems and local MP for Sheffield Hallam, a constituency full of students, stood there and promised us a rosier future if we gave him our votes. There was a buzz in the air, a sense of the real possibility for change, as we cheered our approval.

You don't need me to tell you how this story ends.

Feeling deeply betrayed by the party I had supported since  turning  eighteen and becoming eligible to vote, I had to look elsewhere to find someone who could genuinely represent me and the things I care about. Someone who I could trust not to let me down in a pursuit of power at whatever the cost. The Green Party seemed the most obvious choice, so I looked up their policies, and began to follow their actions...and I realised that I had found the candidates for my next vote.

The Green tagline is "for the common good", and this sums up why I believe in them. The other parties try to categorise us and I find this immensely alienating. I don't see "British people" and "immigrants"... why should you matter more because you just happened to be born in a certain area of this ball of rock and water that we all share? I don't see "hard-working families" and everyone else... why should you be less important if you're single, child-free or unable to work? I see people - human beings - who are all residents of this planet (which we need to look after because without it, where will we be?). We have a duty to each other, and to help out those less fortunate than ourselves; it’s called compassion, and it has been tragically lacking in the coalition government, who seem more concerned with pitting one section of the population against another.

The Greens believe in trying to make the world a safer place rather than ploughing money into horrific and dangerous weapons that we'd never bring ourselves to use. They believe in looking after the earth, making sure it will continue to support future life, not just taking what resources we want right now. They believe in ensuring that everyone has somewhere to sleep, enough to eat, and opportunities to make their way in life, without treading on others along the way. To me this all sounds simple and obvious. But the other parties don't seem to want these things.

The Green Party are actually representative of our country. I look at the other parties and I don't see myself, or my friends, or the people I encounter at work. Amongst the Green candidates I see women, I see faces which aren't white, and I hear regional accents coming from people who weren't educated at Eton and Oxbridge. These are not people who have selected politics as a career choice; they are people like you and me, who have experienced the challenges, trials, highlights and milestones of everyday life, and who want to make a positive difference. 

You can call me an idealist, or a nutter (you won’t be the first), or tell me that I’m wasting my vote and should give it to Labour to keep the Tories out, but I know that I am voting for what I believe in, trying to make the world a better place. And imagine - just imagine - what could happen tomorrow if everyone else did the same…

Sunday, 26 April 2015

My top tips for a painless CILIP Revalidation

I’d been putting Revalidation off. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you have been too. It was one of those things that I knew I should do, but it kept slipping down my to-do list, and I didn’t really know what it entailed, and then the CILIP VLE looked complicated and fiddly. Sometime late last year I decided that enough time had passed since my Chartership and I really should be re-evaluating my personal development, particularly since I had moved up the ladder to a new role at another institution since Chartering.  When I actually looked into what I needed to do, and started to do it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually a fairly easy process! 

This post assumes that you know what Revalidation involves. If you don’t, go and read Jo Alcock’s comprehensiveblog posts about it. Even if you think you know what you’re doing, go and read them anyway; I found them immensely helpful in getting to grips with what I needed to do. 

Once you’re ready to get started, here are my top tips for making the whole thing as painless as possible…

Bear the criteria in mind when recording your CPD. You need to show you have met the criteria for whichever qualification you are revalidating. Go and read the relevant handbook (the Chartership criteria at least have changed a bit since I Chartered in 2012) to make sure you know what they are. I then copied and pasted them into my document where I was recording my CPD, and added another column to the table I was using where I stated which criterion/a that particular activity met. This will make it easier to identify any gaps, and to write your reflective statement. You don’t have many words to play with (more on this later) so don’t try to pigeonhole in anything that doesn’t fit the criteria. 

Don’t rely on your memory. You’ll remember events you’ve been to or training you’ve done, but going back through your emails, diary, and notes from meetings with your manager or team meetings may remind you of other bits and pieces which have contributed to your CPD. Bringing me to my next point…

…Think outside the box. You already know that things like reading Update and other professional literature, or taking part in Twitter chats such as #uklibchat, count towards your CPD just as much as formal training opportunities do, but examine your everyday activities even more closely. Have you written blog posts about things you’ve done, had a chat with anyone about issues and challenges, or taken on any kind of mentoring or advisor role, however informal, for a less experienced colleague? Even seemingly unremarkable things will have contributed to your development, and these can be included too.

You don’t have space to be anything other than reflective! Remember how hard it was to cram everything you wanted to say into your 1000-word statement for Chartership? Well, this time you only have 250 words – just 25% of that space! It’s all about the reflection. I recommend identifying and using the main keywords from the criteria (easy – we’re librarians!) in your statement, to really draw the assessor’s attention to how you’ve met them, without wasting words on description. Just as you were advised to do with your Chartership portfolio, make the assessor’s life as easy as possible!

And finally…just get on with it! I think it probably only took me a total of about eight hours over a few weeks to get my CPD recorded, write my statement and upload it all. If I’d been in better habits with recording my CPD as I went along, it would have taken me even less time! It’s really not an arduous process, so make some time to become familiar with it, starting putting together your CPD record, and I reckon you’ll find it much easier than you expected.

Do you have any other top tips for a painless Revalidation? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Friday, 24 April 2015

World Book Night in an academic library

Since beginning to get involved in National Libraries Day last year, at University of Bedfordshire Library we have been looking at finding ways to join in with other national events which would be suitably appropriate and engaging to our students. This year we decided to apply as an institutional giver to hand out free books for World Book Night, and we were lucky enough to receive copies of two titles to distribute.

We decided that this would be part of a wider and more long-term campaign to promote and encourage the health and wellbeing benefits of reading for pleasure. As we stated in our application to hand out books, we spend a lot of time pushing the importance of academic reading – reading around your subject etc. – but given that we as a university are concerned about student wellbeing and ensuring that our students remain happy and healthy throughout their time here, we felt that we should be promoting the ways in which reading for pleasure can help. We therefore decided to also use World Book Night to launch a blog where staff and students can share their recommendations for books to read and their experiences of and feelings on reading in a non-academic sense.

Deciding where to hand the books out was a challenge. The aim of World Book Night is to distribute books to people who do not ordinarily read, so at first we thought we would go to a space outside of the library/LRC, perhaps the Student Union (SU). However, having decided to run our event during the evening, we considered where the students would actually be at 6pm on a Thursday in the run-up to final deadlines and exams, and realised that they would be in the library spaces, so we decided to use these. We felt that we were still likely to catch students who weren’t readers, as their presence in the library indicated only that they were doing academic reading, not necessarily any other kind.

We did not receive as many books as perhaps we had hoped – only two sets of eighteen, meaning nine of each title at each campus where we were giving – due to The Reading Agency wanting to allow as many institutions as possible to give out books. Therefore we decided to run a book swap at the same time.

The event went really well at both campuses. Despite having deadlines looming, the students we encountered gave a positive response, with most of them seeming pleased to be offered a book and engaging with the titles, wanting to know what they were about and which to choose. We didn’t get many book swap donations on the night, but had had a few come in during the days before, so we had plenty of other books to offer too, which the students were keen to browse and pick from. Several said that it would be a welcome distraction from the stress they were under at the moment – a good point at which we could share some statistics on the health benefits of reading for pleasure – while others were looking forward to reading their free book once they were finished with their studies for the year.

We would have liked to have run some events or activities for World Book Night in addition to the giveaway, and did discuss this, but the main problem with this idea is the time of year – our students are too busy with their assignments, dissertations and revision to be able to engage with anything else and so we felt that we would not get sufficient attendance for anything. However, given the positive response to the book hand-out, we felt that our first foray into World Book Night was successful, most particularly in the context of the time of year.

We are continuing to add to our reading blog, and will think about other activities and events that we could run to promote the health and wellbeing benefits of reading for pleasure.

Friday, 27 February 2015

So you want to be a librarian?

Last week a YouGov poll claimed that the three jobs Brits most like the sound of are author, academic and librarian. When I tell people what I do for a living, I usually find they don’t actually have a clue what it is that I actually do; stereotypes and misconceptions abound! So is being a librarian really all about books and silence? Here’s my experience of working as an academic librarian for five years thus far.

So what do I need to become a librarian then?
You’ll need some work experience of some kind in a library environment. Excellent communication skills, self-organisational skills, initiative and problem-solving skills, and a good manner with people are also vital. You’ll also need to do a CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) – accredited undergraduate degree or postgraduate qualification in Librarianship/Information Studies/Information Management. 

Blimey! I need all of that just to sit and read books all day?
Good luck with finding space in your workload to read books! Your duties and tasks will vary depending on what sector and role you’re working in. As an Academic Liaison Librarian in a university library, I teach research skills to classes of various sizes, help students with finding material for and referencing their assignments, work with academic colleagues to decide what books and journals to purchase and how to ensure they meet student needs, manage and contribute to projects to improve library services, investigate new developments and technologies which could help our work, check reading lists and add them to the online system, create material for our webpages, and attend departmental and Faculty meetings, amongst other things. Other librarians in universities might be managing the systems or online resources, or the enquiry desk. There are all sorts of librarian roles; you might be managing a school library, or working in a public library, prison library or corporate library, in a law firm or media organisation, for example. You might not even have “librarian” in your job title; you might be an information manager, information architect, knowledge manager, information officer, media manager, information consultant to name just a few. I can’t possibly list all of the different potential jobs you could do as a librarian here…but I can guarantee you won’t be reading books all day!

OK…but a library is a quiet and relaxing place to work, right?
Come into my library the day before a big assignment deadline date and see how quiet and relaxed it is! Libraries are not quiet any more. Students in universities and schools need spaces to work together. Public libraries host baby and toddler Storytimes and other meetings and events. You might have silent study spaces in your library, for example, but generally there is activity all around you. As for relaxing…librarianship is like most other jobs – you will be busy, sometimes things will go wrong, and sometimes you’ll feel pressured and stressed. You’ll face similar challenges to anyone working with the public; sometimes you’ll be dealing with upset, angry, intoxicated, or just unpleasant people. I’ve been shouted at more times than I can count, personally blamed for all sorts of things, including impeding the access of the general public to scientific knowledge and thereby the progress of society, and had stuff thrown at me. It comes with the job.

Yikes. I hope the salary is good?
This varies quite dramatically between roles and sectors. It’s difficult to generalise, but corporate and academic library roles tend to pay more than public and school libraries. Whatever job you’re doing, you won’t be in it for the money though.

Hmm. So why do I want to be a librarian then?
My job is challenging, interesting and rewarding. I love teaching and working with the students, and I get opportunities to get involved in all sorts of projects and to follow things which interest me. In my experience, libraries are open-minded and welcoming places to work, and my colleagues have been generally lovely and funny. There are so many routes that you could take in librarianship; you’re bound to find something that interests you.

How do I find out more?
Have a look through the CILIP webpages, sign up to the LIS New Professionals Network, get chatting to some librarians on Twitter, or check out some blog posts on how people got started in libraries.

Friday, 13 February 2015 – a social calendar for our times

I’ve had it in the back of my mind for several years now to write a blog post on surviving relocation. I’m a bit of an expert. I don’t stay anywhere for much longer than a couple of years, moving around the country in the name of my career.  And it can be hard. Until you actually do it, you don’t realise what a massive thing it is that you’re doing. It’s not like going to university, where everyone’s in the same boat, constantly on the look-out for opportunities to make friends and get a social life going. You’re dropping yourself into an existing situation; the people around you are living and working there already; some are settled with partners and families; others are in their own routine. Yet there are lots of us doing this; not just librarians, but young and not-so-young people everywhere – we tell ourselves that it’s all about the next promotion, or we get itchy feet, or an opportunity comes up that’s too good to miss (or sometimes, in these times of austerity, the only opportunity we’re going to get right now).  And so we load our belongings into a van and start a new life somewhere else, some of us multiple times. 

The first time I did it, moving to Bristol after library school in Sheffield, it took me about six months to make friends. I didn’t really know where to start. I tried a socialising website; you were allowed one free event, then you had to pay an extortionate fee to keep attending. We all met in a city centre pub; the host ticked our names off on his sheet, starred the non-attendees for the blacklist, then went off to claim his free drinks, leaving the rest of us to mingle. Because it was so expensive to attend again, we all tried to make our new best friends in the space of a few hours. I exchanged numbers with another young woman, and we started meeting up. She liked spending the whole of Sunday shopping. I definitely did not. After a few evenings of stilted conversation over dinner in a chain restaurant, we silently, mutually conceded that we were not compatible, and that was that. Eventually I started meeting other local librarians at events, and began to build myself a small social life there. 

When I moved to Bedford, I was determined to try harder. I felt I hadn’t made the most of Bristol. Despite my previous experience of a socialising website, I decided to search online for social groups, and I found one for people in their 20s and 30s, hosted on the site, which was new to me. It had a very small annual fee (£2) to join and seemed much less formal. There was a meet-up in a pub about 10 minutes walk from my flat the first weekend I was living here; I thought it would be worth a go, and I could always make my excuses if it was awful. 

It turned out to be a really welcoming group. In the past almost two years we’ve run the Race for Life together, gone wine-tasting and cocktail-making, taken a day trip on the train to Paris, gone to the theatre and cinema, and done a lot of dancing and drinking (oh god, so much drinking). I was able to explore the nightlife in the safe company of others, and made some genuine friends, not ones of convenience. This group has impacted profoundly and positively on my life in Bedford (a town which, I’m sorry to admit, I still don’t like) and I can’t imagine what I would have done with myself without it.

The reason I’m finally writing this post now is because today that group has ceased to exist. After a few changes of leadership, the final lead organiser has stepped down, and no one has pressed the button in the 15-day grace period to rescue it. The URL leads to a message that the page cannot be found. Just like that, it’s gone. I expected to feel sad…but actually, it’s OK. Because this is the nature of Meetup. It’s transient. Groups disappear once they’ve run their time, and every day new groups appear; people meeting up around an interest or commonality, or simply to make friends. And this reflects the transient nature of the lifestyles that so many of us lead; moving on every so often when we need to, with minimal looking back. Last year our group was in its hey-day, with so many events on the calendar I couldn’t possibly keep up, and nearly burnt out when I tried to; now it’s gone, but other local groups flourish. I have contact with the friends I’ve made through other means, and I can join other groups to make more. The nature of all of the Meetup groups I’m familiar with is that most members can and do dip in and out of the activity; making the group fit our schedules rather than the other way round. All the time, people leave, and new people join, just as people ebb in and out of the towns and cities, on their way throughout their life.

It’s often said now that there “is no such thing as a job for life any more”. I think this is true, and with that comes all of the other elements of our lives; for those of us moving frequently, nothing is stable. reflects that and gives us a means of trying to fit in, to make a life for ourselves, however temporary, wherever we go.