Saturday, 23 July 2011

Thing 7 : professional networks and face-to-face networking

Before the internet, these were really the only networks. I think things are a little easier for introverts today!

Looking back, the big one which we were all steered towards was always CILIP, or as I still like to think of it, the Library Association. (I know all about the reasons for the name change but still think it was probably a mistake: it doesn't help advocacy, it is not self-explanatory to people outside the "echo chamber", and some people are not sure how to pronounce it - back to thing 3 and branding again!) Anyway, at my library school we were strongly encouraged to join. Then as now you could choose special interest groups - we were pushed in the direction of the then AAL (Association of Assistant Librarians) which has morphed into the Career Development Group. Over the years, as my job has changed, I have variously been in the UC&R group, the Public Libraries Group, the Information Services Group, and the Rare Books and Special Collections Group: the obvious omission for me is the Cataloguing & Indexing group. I'm not quite sure why I've never been in that! All of these have produced useful periodicals - I particularly used to enjoy "Refer" when I worked in a public reference library. I had articles published in "The Assistant Librarian" and I am a reviewer for the rare books group newsletter. Over the years the supply of hard copy journals has dried up, and I have to confess that I hardly ever get round to reading digital versions and suspect that they don't reach as many people - or maybe that's just me.

It's one thing to get journals through the post - quite another to get out there and get involved. While I was going through the chartership process, a meeting for candidates was arranged by the London branch of the AAL, advertised as being in a pub. I and a friend duly turned up, equipped ourselves with drinks, and realised we had no idea who the other people were. It dawned on us that we were actually going to have to go up to complete strangers and ask them whether they were librarians. I can't recommend the experience! Cue, friend and I arguing about who was going to do this and whom to approach. The first one was easy to spot - a shy girl who was very relieved to be asked, tagged along but clearly had no intention of taking the initiative. Desperate glances round the pub revealed two not very prepossessing chaps sitting in a corner. Definitely must be librarians, we decided. There followed a heated debate about whose turn it was to ask, which I somehow lost, and I can remember even now the horror of the two on being approached by three female librarians and accosted. No, they most certainly were not librarians, and let us say that they clearly misinterpreted our intentions. We beat a hasty retreat, and it was only on the way out of the door that we discovered the stairs to a meeting room on another floor (not mentioned in the announcement of the event). I remember nothing of the actual meeting.

Having failed this elementary initiation rite, I didn't get any further with getting involved with groups, which I now regret, as I think that they do have a lot to offer. When my work involved me in area studies libraries I had some involvement with other groups such as SCOLMA, and I edited one of their bibliographies of theses. There are a number of specialist groups like this.

One thing to bear in mind if involved in groups (online or real life) is that they can settle down into being groups of friends, which is fine but can make it difficult for outsiders to join in: it is important to make sure that newcomers are not made to feel that they are gatecrashers at a party. It's also true that there are some people who are really only interested in you if they think you are going to further their careers in some way (both online and socially). They could be wrong! You never know when someone you have slighted might turn up in a position of authority somewhere. 

CILIP membership is not cheap, and I have come close to giving up on it several times, but I'm still in it and I am sure that I am better informed and connected to the profession as a result. (Also, membership/chartership was often a  requirement for some jobs). It's a pity that it hasn't got the teeth of some other professional associations which have a more active role in representing members, but it has got better over the years at making representations about levels of pay.

Motherhood makes attending events away from home infrequent as they require a lot of planning, but I have been lucky enough to attend a number of training events and a couple of conferences: the Rare Books Group conference in (eek) 2003, and last September the CIG group conference at Exeter. The Exeter conference was very enjoyable. I made contact via Twitter with other attendees beforehand and have kept in contact since. I even stayed on after most people had left and went on one of the visits, and ended up writing about it for the CIG blog: Exeter Cathedral visit (a bit cheeky, since I am still not a member of the group!) In previous jobs I have been to events like the London Book Fair and the Online Exhibition, and (once only - it was cliquey - but it might be different now) LA Members' Day. More recently I've been to CILIP Cymru's Members' Day, which was great, but I've yet to get to its conference, about which everyone speaks highly. In my public library life there were fewer opportunities to attend external conferences and courses as staffing was always a problem, but I particularly remember a delightful Tir na n-Og Welsh Books Council event with a Q&A session with children's authors, which led to a very successful day of author visits back at my branch library with enthusiastic participation from two local primary schools. One thing can lead to another!

Recently we have seen the development of CLIC, which brings librarians from different sectors in Cardiff together. Most other parts of Wales already had some kind of network like this, so we were late to the party, but sometimes that means you can benefit from the advice of others who have already negotiated the pitfalls. I feel quite strongly that librarians from different sectors should not operate in silos: we are all in the same profession and there is a lot more movement from one sector to another than some would have you believe. Recently it seems to have become the fashion to denigrate librarians from other sectors who are involved in public library campaigns, and I think if we think about it we can all see why (dividing public librarians from others clearly weakens their position and isolates them). Sadly campaigns to save public libraries are another form of networking today.

"And finally", as part of thing 7, we had a very enjoyable "South Wales CPD23 things meetup" this week in Cardiff, as described by my colleague darklecat. We had exclusive use of a yurt, we had Twitter and blogs to help us make our arrangements to meet, and nobody had to walk around accosting strange men and asking them if they were librarians. Progress!

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