Being a librarian without a library

I’ve been neglecting my blog lately and although there are a few reasons for that (laziness being one), I think on reflection one of the major reasons was because I didn’t know how to write for a librarian’s blog when I’m not technically a librarian at the moment. Since finishing my library internship I was employed in the research department of my organisation with the title Research Administrator/Assistant. I really enjoy this role but I suppose I felt slightly disengaged from the librarian side of myself what with the lack of librarian/library/information in my title and the lack of an actual library to call my own.

However, in the past few weeks I have been thinking more and more about my new role and about how much I use the skills I developed in the MLIS and my other library experiences on a day-to-day basis. In fact, it is because of my MLIS experience that I now have this role. When I began the MLIS I couldn’t really understand why we were required to complete not one but two research modules. Now, I wish we had had even more research experience. On a daily basis I use the knowledge gained in those modules – I am involved in literature search, retrieval and review, I use SPSS (which I very surprisingly love considering the stress I felt when I first encountered it during MLIS) for statistical analysis of data and the fact is that I have a very strong understanding of the various things that people are doing in my department which makes me good at my job.

Plus, ORGANISATION – this is what we do! I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to my current project being less time consuming because there is so much organisation to be done. Files and folders need to be named appropriately and managed in such a way that things are easier to find and things need to be weeded out. Processes and procedures need to written up so that the knowledge I had gained with relation to administration for a large national survey with multiple waves isn’t lost. I cannot express how much data I deal with – piles and piles of spreadsheets from multiple projects – without organisation, without processes, this could get very messy very quickly.

On top of that I like to call myself a bit of a stealth librarian – while I wasn’t hired to be a librarian I get involved with things that I know I can help with – I help people with reference management systems, I train people how to use different platforms, I help people with their literature searching and search strategies, and I have conversations about how we should think about an open access policy etc. I keep myself visible and make sure I get involved in things that interest the librarian within. I am still in fairly regular contact with the Heritage Centre and I get updates on the projects that I have worked on and make sure that I continue to talk to other staff members about the library and the new research room. I’ve even brought my current colleagues over for a tour of the library and archive very recently.

I really like my job and I’m grateful to be working. I think I would happily stay working in research as long as I get to keep doing all of these things; however, when people ask me what I do, what do I say? I almost automatically reply ‘I’m a librarian.’ Should I say I’m an information professional or I work in research? Does it really matter what I call myself as long as I am working in a job I like and I am using my skills?

Documenting your learning

Used with permission - Guudmorning - FlickrThe tagline of my blog is ‘perspectives of a newbie to the library world’ and so today I thought I’d share with you something that I believe is useful for those new to the profession and maybe even for those who have been in the profession for awhile but want to keep track of their CPD.

I have just completed a Jobbridge internship and I am one of the lucky people who had a very positive experience and gained a lot from the 6 months I spent working as a library intern. One of the things I wanted to share about my experience that I think is useful for anyone starting out is the process of keeping a learning log.

As part of the internship we were required to have weekly meetings with our mentor and keep a note of everything we were learning in a monthly learning log. I found this process very helpful and rewarding and it will be something that I hope to continue into the next part of my career.

For the internship the learning log asked the following:

  1. What are the key skills/learning areas you developed this month?
  2. How will you be able to apply what you have learnt?
  3. What areas would you like to develop?

I found that this process was very rewarding for several reasons, the most important being that when it came to writing up my CV I had all the relevant experience and training already written down. This meant the CV was easier to compile and it was less likely that I would forget or omit anything important.

The section that required us to think about the ways we can apply what we learnt helped to identify transferable skills and aspects of the job that you might otherwise overlook. It also got me thinking creatively about how I could apply my skills in various roles and this will be extremely useful when it comes to answering interview questions.

I also enjoyed reflecting on the areas I wanted to develop because these sections make it easy for me to identify areas for CPD so that I can focus my learning in the areas I feel are important or interesting. Also, because I had a very supportive mentor I was allowed to develop my skills in areas that weren’t necessarily part of my original job spec (e.g. I received training in the use of CALM software and in how to catalogue to archival standards because I asked my mentor if this would be possible).

For those doing Jobbridge the LAI offers accreditation (see here) and this requires a 2 page reflective report. Having learning logs available to you will certainly help in writing up this type of report.

In fact, learning logs and keeping an up to date log of your CPD will be very useful should you wish to apply for Associateship or Fellowship of LAI further down the line.

I would encourage people interested in doing something like this to be quite reflective during the process rather than just listing very simple factual information. While it is useful to have a list of skills it is even more useful to put thought into how you can use these skills in different ways and perhaps evaluate your learning to acknowledge what was useful and what wasn’t, or perhaps how you could improve your learning. There is the possibility that this might help you to identify a useful MOOC or other course that will fill a gap in your knowledge.

CPD diagramFor those beginning an internship or CPD it might even be a good idea to write down what you think you will learn before you begin and compare this to the outcomes at the end.

As I have said I was very lucky with my internship and actually had another great internship experience before this one, both experiences were made great by fantastic mentors who were willing to provide me with training in areas I wanted. In other words it wasn’t a one way street.  By having a good idea from the outset about what you think you are going to gain from the internship this might give you more confidence to discuss your ideas and what you want to gain from the internship with the host organisation. The point of an internship should be to gain experience and to learn and if this isn’t happening for you then you should definitely consider other options.

I was delighted to see CPD certificates being given to attendees of the recent A&SL Annual Seminar and I think this will also help to encourage me to put together a file that keeps track of my learning and CPD. Keeping track of everything you do makes it easier to apply for jobs (and prep for interviews), be confident that you are keeping up to date, to be creative in your thinking and see patterns and trends that might be developing either in terms of your own interests or in terms of what is happening in the profession.

Social Media: A blessing or curse for librarians and libraries?

Last week I tweeted a link to an infographic which looked at the role of social media in the recruitment process, particularly employer’s use of social media to screen potential candidates.

The tweet got a fairly big response with various attitudes towards the subject matter expressed.

Some felt that social media would take over from CVs, others felt that social media should be outside the realm of the professional and that it was intrusive of employers to ‘google’ employees. However, despite the infographic claiming that 43% of employer’s used social media as a reason NOT to hire versus 19% using as a reason to hire, the majority felt that social media offered opportunities rather than problems as long as people take the right approach.

I suppose the biggest issue in terms of social media is that you might say something inappropriate or offensive or post pictures of yourself that aren’t seen as being professional. Social media is something which has huge potential in terms of showing different sides of yourself to the rest of the world. I think the biggest piece of advice I could give is to decide the audience for each of your social platforms and then consider the implications.

The reasons employers gave for not hiring candidates were:

Inappropriate content posted online

Information about the candidate drinking or doing drugs

Bad mouthing a previous employer

Poor communication skills

Discriminatory comments

Lied about qualifications

Although you might hope that people would be aware enough not to post this kind of content (or lie in the first place) I understand there could be slip-ups when you might say something about a bad day at the office that might FBbe taken the wrong way.  Or, take for example, you are of the opinion that your Facebook is social and for friends and family only, you post pictures and make jokes that taken out of context could be off-putting to a potential employer. Or, perhaps your friends have a tendency to write silly comments or tag you in images. Employers realise people have a life outside of work but if they are looking for reasons NOT to hire then it is probably best that you keep you private life just that, private. There is an easy solution to ensure this does not happen and that is to make your Facebook private. There are plenty of how to guides on doing just that and there is even a feature that lets you see how your Facebook looks to the general public.

Twitter is a tfacebook.twitter button (1)rickier one as people may want to use it as a way to bring their opinions to a bigger audience using hashtags etc. Some keep their Twitter private but change settings in order to get involved in chats and for conferences etc. However, a good rule for Twitter if you don’t want to use privacy settings all the time would be this – if you wouldn’t shout it out in a crowded room filled with a mix of friends, family, employers and strangers, then don’t shout it out on Twitter. Essentially without privacy on Twitter you are talking to the approximately 241 million monthly active users. Any one of those users could be your boss, your colleague, the person you are about to meet at interview. Be smart!

There is the option of using a more anonymous handle and avatar but this means that all the great things you say won’t be attributed to you.

Facebook and Twitter are just two examples I have used because they are the most well known. These and other social media platforms have amazing potential to showcase why you are the perfect candidate. You can highlight your ability and your interest by the things you share and the discussions you are involved in. Being involved on social media also means you know how social media works; more and more libraries and other organisations are using social media for public engagement and engagement with their users, being able to use it well means that you have another skill employers will be able to utilise. On a personal note I have found social media to be extremely beneficial in terms of getting to know other librarians and in keeping up to date with hot topics and trends. I know many solo librarians who feel that it has really enhanced their job by allowing them to be a solo librarian but still have a sense of community and a network to engage with and pose questions to.

Libraries, including my current place of work, have been able to market their services to a wider audience and communicate in a quicker and easier way since they have started using social media. Yes, there has to be policies in place and procedures about how to use the platforms but as far as I can tell the benefits far outweigh any negatives.

Personally I think that libraries have a great opportunity to engage with users about social media. A lot of librarians use social media to network and keep on top of trends and have good knowledge about the area. Libraries could assist researchers in finding and sharing information through social media, perhaps look at the copyright issues that are becoming more of an issue because there is such ease in sharing information, help soon-to-be graduates to make the best of their social media profiles in order to impress potential employers and generally help students to be a little bit smarter when it comes to the big wide world of social media. There has been study after study in recent years about how digital natives aren’t necessarily as digitally savvy as you might think and you just have to have a quick look online to figure that out.

Some libraries have already gotten in on the action:

University of Leicester has information on keeping up to date using social media

University of York has a section on how to become a networked researcher

The LAI HSLG group have a link to a great guide to using Twitter for academics on their website. Created by the LSE Public Policy group but definitely adaptable for libraries.

Queen’s Library, New York have put together a Slideshare for those using social media as part of their job hunt – very relevant to students nearing graduation.

There is huge potential for libraries to get involved. Libraries have already taken the step of using social media to communicate and market so there is every reason they can get involved and help users use social media to its full potential both socially and professionally.

social media

I know a great deal more could be said about social media and its effects on our lives but I hope my thoughts are in some way useful and show how librarians can use social media effectively and without fear that the social will get mixed up with the professional parts of life.

Open Access

As many of you may know I’m a huge fan of the whole open access movement. I think that research (especially research paid for by the taxpayer) should be easily accessible and not hidden behind paywalls.

My main area of interest is health libraries and I think in this area more than any other it is so important for us to get behind open access. Open access allows for information to get to the consumer quicker, and makes it easier to find and use. We expect doctors to practice evidence-based medicine and removing paywalls can only help to encourage them to access research and allow it to inform their work. At the moment doctors access to information may very much depend on their place of work or whether they are involved in extra training (i.e. undertaking courses in universities).

The NIH open access policy in the US has really helped to provide access to quality peer-reviewed health research. Many other governments and other organisations are now getting in on the action.

The Irish government launched the National Principles for Open Access Policy Statement last year and the Health Research Board also has an open access policy. Lenus, the open access health repository has just been added to RIAN which is a site that harvests research from different institutions, mainly Irish universities, into one portal.

Of course, open access is not just relevant to health research. There are many people who would benefit from less paywalls and more access. I know personally I would like to continue researching my own field of library and information studies but it is far more difficult without the access I had through UCD.

Whatever your own opinion of open access, one thing that is clear is that it is a growth area and it is garnering increased support.

Today saw the launch of the Open Access Button which is a project attempting to track the impact of paywalls and help people to gain access to the research they need. You can read the press release here.

I think this is a really interesting project and hopefully it will help to highlight some of the problems with paywalls.

Go to http://www.openaccessbutton.org/ to read more, or download your own button to become part of the project.

Best of luck to all those involved and I’m looking forward to following the project.

Finding a balance

elephant-balanceThis is my first post in quite a long time and the reason for my lack of blogging is really that I haven’t been able to find a balance in my life. When I was doing the MLIS I threw myself in the deep-end and was happy not to resurface into my normal life until I was finished. I figured it was one year out of my life to concentrate really hard on one particular thing and that I’d get back to normal once the Capstone was handed in. I’m happy that I took this approach because I’ll be graduating with great grades but the thing is, once the Capstone was handed in there was a hundred and one things waiting that I had pushed to the back of my mind, and I had so many people to visit and hang out with before I was completely disowned.

I had so many plans to continue with my learning and to get involved in library organisations etc. but I became totally consumed by the parts of my life that I had abandoned while studying in the last couple of months. Plus, I had spent the summer volunteering and once I finished that I started straight into my internship. I was tired, too tired to build up the energy to make an effort. I think I let myself burn-out a little.

Now, I have realised how much I regret not sitting myself down and finding a balance sooner. There were things I wanted to do that I let pass me by and being tired really isn’t an excuse. Looking back at the MLIS I was so productive, whereas right now I feel extremely lazy and I think I allowed myself to make excuses for the past few weeks. There have been really interesting blogs and stories from the library world I have wanted to write about and my Twitter favourites list hasn’t been looked at in far too long.

So now I think I have to set myself some goals:

I want to write at least one blog-post every two weeks.

I want to set time aside for reading each week

I want to attend events and get more involved if I can so I am really looking forward to the CDG AGM.

I would also love to do a short course or MOOC (suggestions appreciated!).

The thing is though, I don’t want to dive in like I did last year. I want to have time for friends and family, time to read books (ones that don’t have libraries as the subject), and time to relax. I think this balance will be good for me and will make sure I don’t burn out early in my career and become a ‘zombie librarian’. That would be a disaster!

I love that I’m a librarian and that part of my job is to continue to learn, and to make sure I am engaging with other information professionals and what other organisations are doing. I want to continue to love my job and find my career exciting. And I think while doing this I need to have a life outside of libraries. I think balance really is the key.

The Hollywood Librarian

Yesterday, as part of the Heritage Week festivities, the Royal College of Physicians opened the doors of their Heritage Centre to the public and screened ‘The Hollywood Librarian‘ in one of their fabulous lecture theatres.

They described the film as one which “focuses on the work and lives of librarians, and promises to hold some surprises for people who may think they know what librarians do.” ID-100176170

Basically, the documentary uses clips from movies and clips of ‘real-life’ librarians talking about their jobs and their love of libraries. There is even a very emotional clip of a man who is speaking about how the library changed his life by helping him to become literate and able to open a bank account and hold down a job.

The film is very sentimental. Starting with reminding us that “humans alone can save their language” and that reading is also “a uniquely human privilege.” The ‘power of the book’ is illustrated as many movie stars read the opening passage of David Copperfield in various movie scenes. This importance of books runs the whole way through the documentary. Now, I love books so it does pain me to say this but I think the importance placed on books in this film is overpowering and the makes me feel as though the documentary was filmed in a very different era, not 2007. However, you can see where the film-makers are coming from, trying to tug at the heart-strings of the general public. They are trying to get them to reminisce about how they used to read as a child, how books can make the world a smaller, safer place and how they can educate and inspire you. The nostalgia of childhood in the library. (I must admit they got me with a clip of Matilda leaving the library with her red wheelbarrow piled high – I used to think Roald Dahl wrote it just for me.)

While I was a bit peeved at all the book references – one thing I really enjoyed about the film was that it really showed the growth in the stereotypical view of the librarian, ‘the bun-head,’ ‘the irritated shusher’ and the ‘bespectacled stamper of books.’ The first librarian mentioned is Hypatia, the Alexandrian mathematical scholar and lecturer. We are told of a time when librarians were revered and held in the highest esteem by those of the highest powers, working as trusted advisers and tutors to those in the top ranks. Then we move to more recent times, clips of the stereotypical librarian like the ‘spinster’ from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” They bring us to the 1800’s when becoming a librarian was one of the few positions a respectable women could hold, alluding to the fact that this is why librarians are perceived to have a ‘proper’ or ‘no-nonsense’ air. We see women shushing, and stamping and shelving books.

Now in order to dispel these stereotypes, the film-makers included interviews with librarians talking about their jobs, programmes they run in their libraries and their attitudes about the profession. Unfortunately, as far as I was concerned they really didn’t make enough of this opportunity to showcase the work of librarians outside the world of public libraries. Again, I think this was because the intended audience was the general public, most likely to come into contact with a public library service but they really had an opportunity here to show that librarians are needed in healthcare, law, special libraries and other organisations. These various paths are mentioned but not really explained in great detail. For example, a medical librarian speaks about her frustration when people questioned the need for her to get a degree but instead of taking this opportunity to show how the information she organised or provided aided in patient care, they just kind of glance over this and launch into public libraries again. I appreciate that they are trying to show that there are so many aspects to a librarian’s role and so many avenues for librarians and their skills but I would have liked them to delve a bit deeper into how the work these librarians do affects people.

The work of public libraries is beautifully displayed, everything from programmes for very young children to develop literacy, to language skills courses and cultural events, to the development of peer literacy programmes in the a prison library. They also do a pretty decent job of explaining that a librarian does more than just catalogue information. They show how librarians can be the teachers, problem-solvers, business people and sometimes all in one day. Another very positive aspect was showing the strength of librarians against things like censorship and being fiercely determined to protect their readers privacy when faced with the Patriot Act.

There was a small amount of time given to information technology, a quick mention of an information architect (with actually a rather lovely comparison between information architecture and creating ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics) and a insightful moment when a librarian talks about how card catalogues were really the first hyperlinks. Really in order to focus on the work of librarians, I personally felt that this wasn’t enough.

Something which I hadn’t noticed before but that struck me as being very poignant in this time of financial crisis for libraries was that films that deal with the end of civilisation often depict a library in ruins. “The Time Traveller,” “Battlefield Earth” and “The Day After Tomorrow” are a few examples. I really understand this motif because to me the end of libraries is in some part an end to our civilised world. People talk about cutting libraries in order to save money but by doing this the are really taking the last resource away from the poor that really and truly need it. People without money need libraries for education, for a space to go, for access to the technology that unfortunately some people assume everyone has at home, and a whole host of other reasons. Closing libraries really does mean marginalising people and it would a backwards step for all of us. The happy ending of this film saw closed libraries re-opening after community support but this is an issue that is not going away any time soon and it is something we need to be aware of.

After watching this documentary I started thinking about stereotypes and how we can change them. My go-to librarian in TV world is Giles from Buffy because I’m a total Whedonite (and I’m mentioning him here because I was disappointed he didn’t feature in the doc at all). Anyway, wouldn’t it be great in a re-make of Buffy if Giles was digitising all those old books to make it quicker to find out what monsters they were dealing with (and you-know, store them in the cloud so that they don’t all just disappear when the Hell-Mouth opens.) I mean, House should have featured a librarian, where the hell were they getting all the info for their crazy diagnoses? (I volunteer to star in Grey’s Anatomy if they’re looking.) How many movies have we seen about lawyers and yet no law librarians sorting them out with the information?

Anyway, its a very interesting 96 mins and I would recommend a watch, especially with someone who isn’t a librarian in order to get their thoughts. If you do see it or have seen it I would love to know what you thought.

LIEBSTER AWARD

After taking a little Twitter break this week, due to being completely consumed by Capstone and enjoying my time interning in the Irish Hospice Foundation, I came back today to find I have been nominated for the Liebster Award by the lovely Helen Kielt. I think this award is a really nice idea as it allows you to get to know the person behind the blog a little bit more and it helps people find blogs that might be interesting to them. On Helen’s page (which I’ve linked to her name) you will find her other nominations and its great to find others sharing their thoughts on my favourite subject, and I’m delighted to have plenty to read in the next while to take my mind off some of the more stressful aspects of the Capstone.

So the deal is I have to answer some questions, so here goes…….

1. How do you think blogging has benefited your personal/professional development?

Blogging has really meant the world to me this year. My blog started as a class project but really it has become a great deal more for me. The most important thing I have gained from my blogging is a sense of confidence in myself and my abilities. I have developed a network of lovely library people to share information and thoughts with and it has encouraged me to attend library events and really put me on the right track for the future. My blog is a place for me to reflect, to question and to stand on my soapbox about the things I find important and the fact that other people have engaged with it means that I feel that I have chosen the perfect career for myself.

2. What is the most recent book you have read?

I have just finished Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings is sitting on my bedside table for next week (or the week after or the week after that) when Capstone calms down. I have to say I’m one of the few people that hasn’t watched Game of Thrones on TV and I want to start because everyone is talking about it. However, I refuse to watch an adaptation of anything until I read the book first. I must say I really enjoyed it, it is quite a lot of reading but its interesting, you get really involved with the characters and the story hooks you, plus it’s really a quite easy read which is nice in the summer months.

3. Describe yourself in three words.

Small, smart and determined.

4. Who inspires you (in library land or otherwise)?

This year I have met a lot of inspiring people in library land but the person who inspires me the most is my grandfather. My Grandad was the type of person who made you feel awesome when you were around him. He made me feel like there was nothing I couldn’t do and to this day I feel great when I do something that I think would have made him proud. I think he’d get a great kick out of the fact I’m going to be a librarian because it was my Grandad that used to walk me to the library when I was small, in fact he’d probably go right ahead and claim all my successes were his doing and he could be right. He’s been gone a long time now, in fact this year he is as long out of my life as he was in it but I still feel his influence on me every single day and I still feel privileged to have had him as my Grandad.

5. Quote a line from a piece of prose/poetry that you love.

I’m going to use the quote from Dr. Seuss that I have on my Twitter profile.

“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

This quote basically sums up how I feel about reading and learning and growing as a person. And who doesn’t like a bit of Dr. Seuss.

6. If you could live for a time within any novel which would it be?

I think I’d say “A Study in Scarlet” by Arthur Conan Doyle. I love Sherlock Holmes and his deductions. Plus, London is one of my favourite cities so it would be a win-win as long as I wasn’t one of the victims of course!

7. What is your biggest ambition?

My ambition is to do really well at my career, have a nice house somewhere near the sea, travel a lot and enjoy life.

8. Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Natalie Portman. She’s great in one of my favourite movies, Garden State.

9. What song(s) would be on the soundtrack to that movie?

Beatles (I want to hold your hand), Florence and the Machine (Shake it out), Biffy Clyro (God and Satan), Frou Frou (Let Go), TV on the Radio (Love Dog), The Black Keys (Howlin’ for you), Hall and Oates (You Make My Dreams Come True), Pussycat Dolls (Jai ho) and The Coronas (Warm)

10. Where are you most likely to be found on a day off?

Depends on the weather, if its miserable out I veg out on the couch and watch movies or TV, if its good I like to go hiking or walking. I like the cliff-walk in Bray or Glendalough or Howth when I’m in Dublin. If I have a bit more time off I like to go home to Tipperary or my second home Cork. I haven’t been to Cork since Christmas which just goes to show how busy the year has been.

11. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard?

Stop worrying all the time. I used to be a huge worrier but worrying doesn’t do much for you so I’ve learnt to let go a little bit more and its far more enjoyable. Things go wrong but worrying won’t stop that, it only exhausts you and makes it harder for you to fix things.

Thanks to Helen for posing such good questions, definitely had to think for awhile on a few of them. 🙂