Friday, 26 August 2011

Thing 12 : Social and anti-social media

I don't think I've got much to add to what has already been said on this subject, at least by advocates of the use of social media. Phil Bradley has recently looked at librarians' use of social networks: if you haven't read it yet do, as it is a good summary (and not just for librarians). Interestingly, in the very week we were asked to consider this subject several librarians using Google+ deleted their (new) accounts.
- hold on! wait for me! I haven't got into it properly yet and people are leaving already! 
See Woodsiegirl's blog post here for some of the reasons why she and others have already given up on Google+.

What are the advantages to social networking in the context of professional development? Can you think of any disadvantages?
Advantages in the use of social media for librarians include the bringing together of what can be a scattered and sometimes isolated group, especially for solo librarians and back room staff. In these times a sense of cohesion can only be good for the profession, and social media can provide moral support for those actively involved in defending libraries. It is democratic: you can become accepted online in a way you might not at a networking event, especially if you are shy and/or not politically minded or looking to advance your career. Online nobody can hear your accent or be put off by your appearance: it is a leveller, in that sense.

There can be negative things too. We're all adults and grown up about this, but the whole following/not following/unfollowing thing can be irksome. I'm often surprised by how many people seem to have issues with their colleagues and social media, but I can see that problems could arise in an institution, as I have mentioned before here.

JISCMail lists are a survival of earlier attempts to provide a forum for sharing ideas and information, but they are less "social" than newer social media. They are periodically subject to lengthy posts which are not always "on-topic", or else rather tedious requests for missed recordings (the list fulfils its function if this provides a useful service to some). The tone of these lists is usually more formal than that of more recent channels of communication. Discussion lists and online message boards seem less friendly than more modern expressions of social media.

Social media can be time-consuming. The boundaries between work and play become blurred. I read a comment somewhere and now can't remember where (bad librarian) that employers used to worry about employees spending work time on leisure activities, but that it has worked out the other way round, with people thinking and talking about work late into the night and when supposedly on holiday!

Did you already use social media for your career development before starting CPD23? Will you keep using it after the programme has finished?
I'm a convert (not an early adopter usually). I've found my use of Twitter professionally helpful but I can't really imagine using Facebook in the same way. I have joined Google+ but have only lurked on it. Having got used to Twitter I'm finding it quite hard to change my habits again and try other things. I am sure I will keep using it and I hope try others after the end of CPD23.

In your opinion does social networking really help to foster a sense of community?
Social networking can create its own "in-crowd", but it is one which is at least in theory open to all, although as time passes and friendships or alliances develop it may become more difficult to break into. It certainly can help foster a sense of cohesion and community.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Things 10 & 11: Chartership and Mentoring

As I mentioned in my previous post, once time passes the names of institutions and other things change. My experience of chartership was through the Library Association (now CILIP) and I became an ALA (which sounds more elegant than MCLIP!)

It is not only the name which has changed. In the 1980s the path to chartership was (having completed a first degree, a year's traineeship and a year's postgraduate course at library school) = one year as a Pre-Licentiate, under the supervision of a chartered librarian, following an approved programme at the candidate's workplace, including a variety of experience, visits to other libraries and sessions on professional issues (all of which required the cooperation and participation of the employer). At the end of this year you received an enormous certificate declaring you to be a Licentiate of the Library Association, and you then had to do a further two years, again under the supervision of a chartered librarian, during which time you completed your professional development report demonstrating what you had learned and all the exciting professional things you had done. So, if you're still with me, that was a minimum of eight years from leaving school to chartered librarianship, assuming nothing going wrong or taking longer at any point, rather like training to be a junior doctor but with a small fraction of the salary at the end of it. The scheme was no doubt devised with the best intentions to provide a framework for training and development to take the place of the old Library Association examinations. It took no account of the economic situation of the time, in which jobs on what could be regarded as professional scales were few and far between, qualified librarians were suddenly widely being employed on clerical scales in universities, and training budgets were for sending chief librarians to IFLA.

My period of unemployment on leaving library school lasted for three months, which was not bad at all for the time. I got a job, not, alas, in Oxford after all, but at the LSE (London School of Economics), advertised as a "training post". As a training post it was on a clerical scale, and it turned out to mean a cheap way of getting cataloguers. I hadn't intended to become a cataloguer: I was happy enough to do cataloguing, but I really wanted the sort of post which was rapidly disappearing, the subject librarian who did the cataloguing for their own subject. Two other new librarians were appointed at the same time, and with two recently qualified librarians already on the staff we embarked on the pre-licentiate year as a group of five, which gave us a bit of a numerical advantage in asking for our employer's support. We got used to being referred to as "the pre-licentiates" (which sounded rather dubious).

Our training sessions and occasional trips to other libraries were not viewed with favour by existing staff who had not had any of this: we eyed their academic-related grades with envy and wondered what they were complaining about. The change from academic-related posts to clerical-related was so recent that we were working alongside people not much older than us who were on the higher scale, and the University of London in general being (then, at least) quite hierarchical this was about more than money: there were places which they were allowed to eat in and we were not, and they even got longer library loans. I am glad things seem to be so different for new professionals now (all those conferences they seem to get to!) At the end of the year I got my Licentiateship: I still have the huge certificate embellished with fancy calligraphy. It must be the most short-lived and least useful qualification I ever obtained, but it is pretty!

The problems with the LA scheme became more apparent after this stage, as the two year period to chartership was less well defined. Rumours of cataloguers across the University of London having their reports rejected for lack of professional activity began to emerge, but how was anyone supposed to get this experience in such an economic climate? Our employers saw us as clerical staff, even though they asked for all the usual qualifications; we were not going to be on internal working groups or attending external events. Our activity was confined to cataloguing, apart from late nights and Saturdays on issue and enquiry desks (for which we were under-trained and lacked experience, at times which could be very busy). The only way would have been some extra-curricular activity. Out of the five "pre-licentiates", I think I am the only one who did eventually both charter and remain a member of the LA (CILIP), but I was disillusioned and did not rush to add to the reject pile. I explored other options (it's a long story, so I'm skipping most of it) and moved from the LSE to Westminster Libraries as a reference librarian.

This really was completely different, and although I had never set out planning to work in public libraries my six years there were very good grounding in librarianship. While chartership was not essential for the post, there was an understanding that newish professionals would be working towards it, and it was not long before I was summoned to the office of a senior member of staff to report progress. She turned out to be a stalwart of the Library Association, heavily involved in training, and there was my mentor at last! She persuaded me that my previous experience was a valid part of my professional development and she pushed and pulled me through the process of chartership. Much to my surprise my report was accepted, I shed the unattractive "Licentiate" status, became an ALA and, the icing on the cake, it turned out that Westminster set such store by this that I was automatically upgraded on becoming chartered (which would not have happened in the university!) I did this about two years later than originally planned, and I don't think it would have happened without the extra push from my mentor. I have often considered becoming a mentor myself; I may do it one day, but I think I am too out of touch with current chartership procedures at the moment (hoping that younger CPD23ers will enlighten me with their thing 10 blogs!)

See some great pictures here of the LSE in the 1980s (including the library). They capture the atmosphere of the time very well. It is beginning to look like a long time ago!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Thing 10 : Dreaming spires and lost causes : the path to librarianship

Thing 10 asks us to talk about how we became librarians, and to consider our training and experience and how we arrived at where we are now. For those of us who are a bit long in the tooth this is a lot to consider, so I'm going to confine myself to training in this post. The passage of time also means that a lot of the places and bodies I've been associated with have since changed their names.

I grew up surrounded by books, read at an early age, and always used the public library, although it was quite a trek down a steep hill from our house so I wasn't as frequent a visitor as I might have been. I have an early memory of being ticked off by the librarian for tidying the books! As a teenager I had a great desire to be an archivist (even though a careers talk at school had suggested that there was a minimum height requirement for this, which I didn't reach). I never particularly thought of librarianship as a career, and I certainly didn't consider going down the BLib route.

I was lucky enough to have two particular teachers who had faith in me in the sixth form, and who encouraged me to sit the Oxbridge entrance exams in the lower sixth (the usual procedure then was to wait until after A levels and stay on for an extra term at school). You could say they were my early mentors: success at anything often depends on having someone like this in your life at the right time. I got into Oxford to read English (language and literature), a wonderful three years which allowed me to sit around on the lawn by the river reading novels - and that counted as work! This is all so long ago that perhaps I need to explain that my fees were paid for me and I also had a grant (my parents had to contribute part of this, but not on a scale which broke the bank). I even had a minor scholarship, which was a quaint legacy from the olden times when students did not have grants and fees paid for them, and was given to certain students with no reference to financial need. We were expressly forbidden from taking paid work during term time - it was a disciplinary offence - so no jobs shelving in the library for us.

All good things come to an end. In my third year at Oxford I duly went off to the then Oxford University Appointments Committee (popular name, the Disappointments Committee), and, along with just about everyone else at the time, was told that I should train to be a chartered acountant. No, I said, I don't think so. Further pressed, I said that I was not good at maths, had no interest in economics, law or tax, and didn't think I was suited to accountancy. "Perhaps you're not ready for the world of work at all then". Hmmm. (They never actually explained that chartered accountancy was the route to world domination). My first choice would have been to stay on to do research, but cuts were biting then as now and there was not much opportunity unless you were cleverer than me; I also thought of the civil service, even going as far as a three-day event for potential high fliers (!) but the entrance exams were due to take place on my 21st birthday, and that was enough to put me off (so I can't have wanted it that much). I rejected just about everything sent to me by the Committee except the library graduate traineeship schemes which I liked the sound of (despite the disapproval of my careers lady). To be honest, I fear my main motivation was to stay on at Oxford somehow - there are lots of libraries there, after all! I applied for the SCONUL trainee scheme and various other similar training posts, got nowhere with any of my Oxford choices apart from one interview, but struck lucky with my second SCONUL choice, the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

This being the 1980s, the sector was contracting rapidly, and before I could go to my interview, the National Library decided to stop funding the SCONUL traineeship and withdrew its invitation. Then they wrote again, this time saying that they had come to an agreement with St. Deiniol's Library in Hawarden (who up to then had had an arrangement with John Rylands, who had also decided to cut back on its traineeship), and that the post would now be there instead, with a month at the National Library and some time with Clwyd public libraries. It was a bit of an accidental way to get a job, and it wasn't what I had applied for, but it was an interesting year. St. Deiniol's is a residential library and at that time was also a theological college with resident ordinands. It is the Gladstone memorial library, started by Gladstone himself (he lived in the village). Its strengths are theology and history (including Gladstone's own annotated books). Much was expected of the SCONUL trainee (living in, working until 7 every night, working every Saturday, chatting to guests at mealtimes, making teas for the weekend post-ordination and NSM courses). It had atmosphere:  the hand-held lamps planned by Gladstone for looking at low shelves in dark corners were still in use (soon to be banned for health & safety reasons), as were the card catalogues of his design with the original brass rods, and an in-house classification scheme allegedly derived from his ideas. There was little direct funding, and heavy use was made of Manpower Services Commission and Youth Opportunity Programmes, 1980s short term job creation schemes for people who had already been out of work for a while.

My month at the National Library of Wales had a great influence on me, and I can't quite believe it was only a month - it resulted in lasting friendships. Its wonderful flexitime scheme spoiled me for life (I've never managed to work anywhere else that had one since!) It was my first introduction to LC classification (which it later dropped). Clwyd public libraries were also fun, despite being in the middle of a work-to-rule (something to do with data entry and objections to computerisation - hard to believe now!) Scariest moment was being abandoned in Mold Branch Library with a Browne issue system (a child came to my rescue and showed me what to do).

After a year's graduate traineeship you were expected to go on to library school for postgraduate diploma (not a Masters then). My first choice was UCL, which had a good reputation for cataloguing and historical bibliography and for being somewhere from which jobs in academic libraries might follow (rumour had it that Oxford libraries favoured UCL students). I got an interview (much was made of the fact that my application had been posted just before the deadline, and I fell over a bin). I was offered a place, but without a grant. CLW (The College of Librarianship Wales), my second choice, offered me a place without an interview and put me on a reserve list for a grant. I tried to find funding sources and I also applied for other library training posts, but then CLW produced a funded place for me, so once again it was Wales which offered me a chance even when I hadn't made it my first choice. At CLW I chose historical bibliography as my special choice (25% of the course); I enjoyed the projects, I didn't enjoy all the stuff about pre-coordinate and post-coordinate indexing which I didn't understand; I remember being shown "the future", a shiny videodisc the size of an LP. I chose King's College London for a month's placement. By the end of the course I was fairly sure that I wanted to work in an academic library, ideally with older books and with a chance to apply the historical bibliography I had studied. I had no job at the end and (shame on me) I fled the minute the exams were over and rejoined friends in Oxford, where I found myself a room, and hoped to find a job. Most of us left without a job lined up, just a few were seconded from employers they were returning to.

I was lucky to belong to the generation which didn't have to have loans or need to find jobs to get through study. I did my share of studying part-time while working later on, and it's hard work! I was not so lucky in that I graduated and then qualified at a time of cuts and shrinkage in the sector, rather like today.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Thing 9 : Elephants never forget

Thing 9 introduces Evernote.

This is another new thing for me. I have duly registered, attracted by the promise that it is going to help me remember things (but oh! another username and password! not going to help me with remembering that, is it?) I love the elephant logo too.

It seems to offer to do what a writer's notebook does - a place to note interesting things to come back to for future reference - and it seems to address some of the nebulousness of the web (it's so easy to move around from one website to another and lose track of where you have been). I'm looking forward to getting to know my way around it (will it archive web pages which change? That could be really useful if so!)