First, my ‘blogging at speed’ disclaimer – This post is an attempt to capture some of the discussion that took place during a session at Library Camp UK. I hope I haven’t mis-represented anything that was said and I know I have definitely missed out some important points! Feel free to add info and thoughts via the comments. Views are not necessarily mine, except where indicated, but my attempt to show what we talked about as a group and the points people made. Now on with the post…
I’ve participated in some #uklibchat sessions on Twitter. These can be great – a place online where you can chat, using the hash tag, about a pre-set topic. More details about the usual, online, process are available via the uklibchat blog. So it was interesting to see how the popular Twitter chat sessions translated into Real Life at Library Camp.
I enjoyed the session, and it was nice to actually see people as we talked. But I kind of missed the side chat on Twitter, and also missed the slower speed required of my brain when I can look back over what has been said! The original idea was to include ‘people who couldn’t be with us today’ via Twitter, but a slightly dodgy network made this tricky, which was a shame.
Career progression was the first item. It was quite frustrating to find that most library sectors seem to have the same slow career progressions and that is seems always to be hard to get on. Basically, waiting for people to retire seems most common/best option, which is a bit depressing!
Finding out about jobs brought up useful alternatives for job searching, including someone who got a job via a tweet! TES, CILIP etc were the main source. Agencies were not so well used, but some people find that they were sent unsuitable jobs, for example in the wrong location etc. Time spent in getting set up with an agency can be an issue, but may be a good investment. Temporary jobs via agencies seem most common and ost successful, although these can be useful if they are for a longer period of time – e.g. 9-12 months.
The next question was “Chartership- is this important?”. Many people made that point that other people (including senior maanagers) in libraries don’t know what this is. It also raised the interesting question of continued CILIP membership. If you are no longer a member of CILIP, how do you deal with chartership on your CV? Some people have mentioned it as a previous experience, which seemed fair to me, but it was seen as misleading on the CV by an interviewer and candidate was marked down. Although I could see why the person on the selection panel felt this way, I had mixed feelings. CILIP membership isn’t cheap, and may be unaffordable for someone who is out of work. However, this is probably the time you need to be showing off your chartership credentials. A potential vicious loop, I’m afraid.
PGCert seen as very valuable in Higher Education sector, possibly having more value than chartership? Comment made that this is not better/worse but different, as chartership is seen as affiliation with professional body not a qualification as such.
An interesting question was “What skills do you think your employer wants, and how might this be changing?”. Customer care/customer-facing skills were universally the most sought after currently. For public librarians, customer-facing skills plus ability to work with children seem to be a killer combination.
Academic libraries – another big push on customer services skills. Linked fee-paying students and their expectations. This has always been at the heart of the academic library, but improvements are very keenly sought. The expectations of fee-paying students is really making this the biggest single issue.
The accessibility of the library and specialist knowledge plus a deep understanding of the needs of users is what makes a good library service, and the most sought after skills are the ones that support this kind of approach. Flexibility and being able to turn your hand to anything are the most useful skills for smaller libraries/library & information services. In a small team, such as a special or private sector library, everyone needs to be able to do everything.
An interesting question next, “Are technical skills important?” Yes, as so many services are online. This has potential for promotion, to be able to deal with technical skills. The main thing is how to apply/use/teach the skills of using technology rather than the technical creation of things. Also, the skills of being able to brief a technical person are very valuable. However, being able to actually code or fix a broken system, useful though they are, are probably not essential or looked for skills in librarians from employers – they have other specialist staff to work in this area.
The subdued mood of the session wasquestioned – is it just early in the day, or are people actually negative about their careers? This comment, made tongue in cheek, was greeted with some positive comments and enthusiasm. An afternoon session was pitched at this point, on where librarians want to be in ten years time. Stress is felt, though – you can’t compromise on quality of your work, also have to be willing to move. Is the library sector dying as a profession? We need to ask about the future and what we THINK the librarian role will be. We need to define this and fight for this!
The point was made that librarians ARE the knowledge society that everyone seems to think is so fundamental to the national success. Anger at what is happening in public libraries is common, but this doesn’t mean librarianship is a dying profession. There may be more and more ‘librarians’ in many roles, using the key skills and at the heart of the economy.
The frustration of an employer being incredibly specific in their requirements and thus seeming to negate your valuable experience and qualifications was a shared experience within the group, common in every sector. There can seem to be a terrifying amount of competition for every job. This can be harshest at entry level jobs, where huge amounts of candidates can go for library assistant posts, many of who will be qualified librarians. This can be tough when trying to enter the profession or when moving across sectors. On the other side, if you apply for a library assistant job when qualified, you may well not get an interview as you’re over qualified. This makes it hard to stay in work and/or move sectors.
However, on the whole librarianship, tough as it is on the application front, is not *as* bad as many other industries – e.g. the music industry.
It was an interesting session, and I’m looking forward to the next online chat where I can keep getting my regular fix of library chat tweets.