Friday, 25 November 2011

Thing 23 : reflection - what next?

So here is the end of CPD23 (but, of course, it's only the beginning ...)
I'm a bit late finishing, but I hope I've still done enough to get that certificate! It's been an interesting experience, and I have really appreciated the chance to do a free course which hasn't tied me down with specific times (I registered for the ECDL a few years ago and I've never managed to fit that in to my timetable!). There's enough flexibility for the time challenged (I wish I had kept up as it went along though!)

The big thing which it has got me doing is the blog, although it is still very basic and I haven't yet strayed beyond CPD23. I'm hoping that I will keep it up now the programme has finished. I'm still conscious of the rather self-indulgent aspect of talking about yourself in public a lot (hence the title of the blog), and I'm aware that I am slipping into anecdotage at times. Still, perhaps the recent and not-so-recent library story has value for new professionals too, to understand how we have got to where we are now. I intended to make the blog look more interesting but haven't yet mastered my anxiety about using images, something I must do as blogs with pictures look so much more appealing. Watch this space!

Some of the tools we have looked at have great potential for me and I hope to revisit them one at a time and get to know them better (I'm thinking of Dropbox and Evernote in particular). Some of the others will be less relevant but at least I now know about them, and I may find a use for them. One really surprising outcome is that I'm definitely going to revert to the written appointments diary which fell by the wayside a while ago due to a combination of unexpected events and our getting an electronic calendar at work. Also, although it's an online programme, another unexpected result was actually meeting others locally and getting to know people better.

I don't think I'm going to share a formal analysis of my strengths and weaknesses with the world, but I'm hoping this element of "thing 23" will help with the ghastly and ever-evolving appraisal form I struggle with every year. (An aside - all the emphasis on goals and outcomes can sometimes have a knock-on effect on other people. I am behind with everything at work partly because there are lots of things which need to be done because they fulfil somebody else's goals and outcomes!)

Thank you to all those who put the course together and planned it so well, and made all these "things" so accessible.

Here's my six-word story:

Still got a lot to learn!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Thing 22 : volunteering

Can't get a job without experience, can't get experience without a job : it's an old problem. So why not work for nothing for a while to accumulate some experience (and perhaps to try out different types of work to see what suits you?)

I have to accept that some new professionals are saying that volunteering has been a help to them and has led to employment opportunities. That's great, if so. I've got a lot of reservations about this, but obviously it does get you that experience without which so many doors seem to be closed. I also know a number of young recent graduates who lead a double life: there's the work they get paid to do (shop assistants, barmen, waitresses) and then there's the thing they trained to do or the thing they aspire to, which doesn't pay (historical textiles, art history, fashion, playing in a band). Major couture houses rely heavily on interns, television companies and political parties use the free labour of eager aspirants hoping to get a foot on the ladder. There are far more young people working for free in some of these industries than there are ultimately opportunities for paid work. I wouldn't like to see libraries fall into this category.

People with private means are free to work for nothing, but that creates a difficult precedent for everyone else. With all the KPMG-inspired talk of volunteer-run libraries, a new strange attitude seems to be emerging: nice people don't expect to be paid for what they do, nice people wouldn't greedily insist on money for themselves to keep a service going, nice people offer their time. We all know, of course, that we need money to live on, and with that money we pay taxes and buy goods and services. Paid employment is an essential for most of us. The generosity of wealthy people with their time can have the effect of shutting other people out. If there is a plentiful supply of free labour, it may be that the employer will never need to offer paid work, which would create a vicious circle: you may gain experience but never then get the chance to get a paid job using it.

I qualified at a time when it would not have been expected or really acceptable to undertake voluntary work for any length of time. Quite a lot of contemporaries got into the workplace eventually after year-long low-paid placements on government-backed job creation schemes (e.g. the Manpower Services Commission). Some of these projects were very worthwhile, and while they were usually finite they sometimes led on to other things. I did work for the Church of England for nothing for experience for quite a while, at its request, but on reflection, while it was valuable experience, I am not sure that it did me any favours. That which is freely given is not always appreciated, and of course it may not be what is wanted - in which case it is much more difficult to tell someone so!

So, on the whole, I have deep reservations about voluntary work within a profession, except as short-term focused placements for those trying to acquire experience at the start of their careers. Voluntary work outside the profession is quite another thing, and there are lots of ways in which people with time to spare can make themselves useful, putting something back into society and gaining experience and some gratification at the same time.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Thing 21 : job applications and interviews

Just thinking about this one makes me feel miserable. So much hangs on successfully finding a suitable niche for yourself, and yet at times it can seem an almost impossible task. Fortunately it's a long time since I have had to go through this horror, and I am very much hoping it won't ever be necessary again, but you never know, especially given the current economic climate. I do not have a current CV, and I think I would need to start from scratch again if I had to do one now. I did at one time have the art of the written application so finely honed that I got a high proportion of interviews. Sadly if you are no good at interviews you don't get any better at it as time goes by - if anything I have found that you get worse ("that answer must have been the wrong one, I must find another one").

The interview process can have its lighter moments. *whispers* some people are not very good at conducting interviews - some consolation perhaps!  Most memorable disasters included the library which had summoned all the candidates for a day which was to have included a tour and sessions with current staff. The library had flooded in the night and everyone had been sent home, so we spent the whole day shivering in a different part of the campus which was deserted as it was out of term time, and never saw the library or met the staff (but had to hang about all day just the same!) At another interview candidates were given lunch, plate in one hand and glass in another, and then invited to traipse up some narrow stairs, through numerous doors and across a courtyard. Maybe that one was a test of social skills! Most annoying was the university library whose interview process required two days, with a shortlist of five being whittled down to two before lunchtime on the second day. Only as we three who did not reach the final cut set off to the station (without any lunch) did the box-ticking nature of this exercise become apparent. Out of five candidates, there were three white people and two from ethnic minorities, three men and two women; so, two white men, one white woman (me), one man and one woman each from other ethnic groups, thus exactly complying with an HR target of a 3:2 m/f and white/non-white ratio. No prizes for guessing which the final two were. This simply made me feel that I had been wasting my time: I don't want to be a token female (and I did really want the job!) On another occasion I tentatively asked a County Librarian of a public library service whether there were any plans to automate, and got the answer "over my dead body!" (This was in the 1990s, so it was not an unreasonable question!)

I could go on, but I won't: dwelling on this sort of thing embitters the soul and gets you nowhere. It's an employer's market at the moment (for those who are able to recruit at all), so things are not easy for those who are looking. Best of luck to everyone at the start of their careers, and even more luck to the older ones, because whatever equal opportunity policies are in place it does not become easier when you are older. I am going to take on board all the good advice in the cpd blogpost, and I may update my CV, but I am not going to spend too much more time thinking about this topic unless or until it is forced on me, as I think I've done my share.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Thing 20 : library roots and routes

Thing 20 asks us to blog about our library roots (how we got into libraries in the first place) and routes (our career paths to date, and to add the story to the Library routes project wiki.

I have already talked about how I came to be a librarian here, and my early experience up to chartership here, so I won't go over it all again. While all this was going on, I was on another trajectory, towards ordination in the Anglican church, which ultimately came to nothing but is relevant here because it was the main reason for my switch from academic to public libraries. My Oxford degree and academic library job didn't press the right buttons in the church at the time, so while jumping through various hoops I also changed from full-time to part- time work so as to gain experience as a lay assistant in a parish (as a volunteer), and from the so-called "ivory tower" (ha!) to more immediate contact with ordinary Londoners through working in a busy central London reference library. The public library post outlasted my attempt to become ordained, and eventually needing more than a part time income I obtained an even more part-time post back in the University of London which I fitted round my public library job. The main purpose of the second job was to edit the annual "Theses in Progress in Commonwealth Studies", which has only this year gone online only, and to do some cataloguing at times of the year when there was less to do for "TIP". Although my reason for doing it was not the usual one, I think a lot of people, particularly women, end up working part-time in librarianship, which can change the course of your career. I was ready to return to full-time work at a time of cuts in the public sector (plus ├ža change ...) and in 1991 the university post came to an end and the public library one was scaled back to the half-time hours I had originally been employed on (trying to remember now what was going on in 1991 - probably much the same as today!) This left me with no option other than to seek a full-time job elsewhere (astonishingly, people do need money to live on - coming to that in Thing 22). 

My next move was to the English-Speaking Union, where I was Librarian & Information Officer for two years. Being a solo librarian is another interesting experience! I was rather isolated in the organisation, and I certainly needed to be an advocate both to members and to other staff. I needed to get out to promote the library, but if I did that it meant the library was unstaffed and there was nobody to do the day-to-day work, which wasn't ideal. I did get out to lots of other organisations, and I was also involved in the ESU's literary lunches and evening events. I wasn't there long enough to make a real difference, but I did unearth details of the defunct Travelling Librarian Award and revived it in 1994. There was a little hiatus after I left but I'm glad to say my successor picked it up again and it is now flourishing once more in association with CILIP.


"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life ..."
I don't think I was tired of life, but I was very conscious that if I stayed in London I could look forward to many more years of bedsits and rooms in shared houses belonging to other people, and I wanted to see some of my own possessions again. All this time I had still been gently moving towards another shot at selection for ordination, but in 1994 the parish I was attached to imploded (nothing to do with me, but it resulted in the sudden departure of my sponsoring vicar and it meant I was back to square one). I was particularly, though not exclusively, looking for work in Wales, and the opportunity that came up was, once again, part-time, with the then South Glamorgan County Council, for which the writing was already on the wall with local government reorganisation scheduled for 1996. My post was as a Senior Branch Librarian in the north Cardiff suburb of Rhiwbina (a garden village), as a job-share. The post survived the reorganisation when it was transferred to the new unitary authority for Cardiff. With this post I filled a number of gaps in my experience - some very worthwhile and some not so much fun. Lending experience, and stock selection for it, were really useful, although we soon lost the latter to supplier selection (somebody please tell Tim Coates that this has been going on for years!), also lots of hands-on children's activities, story times and author visits. Less appealing, though doubtless useful experience, was the daily struggle with the timetable, trying to cover the opening hours with not enough staff and negotiating endless requests for relief from other branches trying to do the same thing, and, even worse, anything to do with the boiler or the roof. How I sympathise with Philip Larkin's boiler experiences in his first (public library) job!  How I grew to hate that (oil-fired) boiler! The library was at the heart of the community in Rhiwbina. I seriously hope that the rumours currently circulating about the possibility of a volunteer-run library in Rhiwbina are misinformed.

I stayed there for eight years job-sharing with the same job-share partner, but I also, in the year after arriving in Cardiff, managed to get part-time work on the retroconversion project at Cardiff University, specifically to catalogue the Salisbury Library (the Welsh/Celtic/Border Counties collection), so once again, as in London, I was splitting my time between the public library and an academic library, sometimes on the same day. The retrocon project was for two years, but I was kept on on a number of very short term projects and then became a permanent cataloguer at the university. When my son was born I knew I would find it difficult to do both, and I had to think carefully about which one I should relinquish. The public library job was on a higher grade and I liked the branch and the area, but it did involve Saturdays, and, early as it might seem to anyone wanting to use it, late nights (6 pm and 7 pm) are very late if you need to look after a small child.  Formal childcare ends at 6 pm, which means collecting child and therefore leaving work before that - and that is without all the extra times when you are summoned earlier because of child illness (I hadn't got as far as thinking about school holidays and INSET days!) It was already difficult covering the opening hours of the public library with the staff we had, and in fact I and my job-share partner did a higher proportion of late nights between us than a single full-time librarian would have done. I could foresee problems if I were simultaneously the person needing to leave early and the person trying to make other staff stay on later than they had been expecting. The thing that really swung it in the end was a silly bureaucratic thing - my baby was born 11 weeks early, which according to the rules meant that my maternity leave also began early. The rules therefore expect you to return to work earlier than you were originally planning even though you have had a baby requiring hospitalisation (whereas, if the threatened early birth had not happened but I had been sent home and told to stop work and stay in bed for 11 weeks and had the baby at the appointed time, I could have stayed off as planned). A baby born that early does not come out looking like a full term baby, whatever the date on the birth certificate, and in the early days you cannot be sure what additional problems there may be. I had no child care in place for an early return and in any case it was not appropriate. The council stuck to the letter of the law and said I had to come back early, although I could have taken the four weeks' emergency leave allowed with a child under 5 in one go to defer the date (but what would I have done if I had had an emergency after that?) whereas the university allowed quite a long period of unpaid leave to be added to the statutory six months. It has, of course, all become a bit easier since then!

That is how I ended up jumping off the fence on the academic side, since when my cataloguing post has been upgraded and I have also acquired additional subject liaison responsibilities, so I am no longer "only" a cataloguer. There is obviously a consistent pattern though - I may only have one employer now but once again I have two roles and I am not in the same building each day!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Thing 19 : catching up and fitting things together

Like quite a lot of people, I've fallen behind with cpd23, but I'm going to try to finish it by the end of the month, so I have plenty of catching up to do! I have not really reached thing 19 as I have skipped things 17 and 18, and I realise that the points where I have stalled with the programme are the points where stuff needs to be downloaded. I've been trying to do most of cpd23 in my own time as I am short of time at work, but there are some things which really require more sophisticated hardware than anything available at home (although there are some difficulties at work too - our system doesn't even like Blogger very much!)

So far, then, I've enjoyed experimenting with new things, although I have to confess that I haven't got very far with actually changing my habits and integrating some of them in practice. I was already using Twitter; I set myself up on Google Reader for RSS feeds but have not as yet remembered to use it much, and Twitter has been bewailing recent changes to it, so perhaps I am already too late with that one!

Setting up a blog, however basic, has been useful, even though I have not yet used this one for anything else - I hope I will continue with it after the end of the programme and, who knows, I may even overcome my great fear of using any images! Perhaps I should set myself the aim of going back through the posts and adding a suitable picture to each one. I have not commented on other people's blogs much recently (I started off with good intentions!) but I have been reading some. One thing which is a visible result of the programme is the blog which we began this summer to promote the work of our Special Collections. It was an idea which had been floating round for a while, especially with the major project involving cataloguing and conserving the Cardiff Rare Books collection now underway, and with several of us enrolled on the cpd23 programme we realised that this was something we could do fairly easily.

I probably won't be using LinkedIn for the time being, but will bear it in mind for future reference. I've made a mental note to come back to Evernote and Dropbox, both of which I can see possible uses for. I'm not so sure about Pushnote or Google calendar, likewise the citation tools which it is useful to know about but as my institution uses Endnote I probably won't need others at work, although you never know!

With the discussions on advocacy, professional issues and career issues, I am on surer ground as I've had broad experience in different sectors (special, public and academic libraries) and had time to reflect on a lot of different aspects. The seed of a role as a possible future chartership mentor for CILIP has been sown, especially as I'm aware of a lack of Welsh speakers available to undertake this.

I'm certainly better informed, even if not yet fully taking advantage of all the "things"!

Thing 18: Screen capture tools and podcasting

Likewise, I'm going to have to come back to this one, but here is its slot.

... (20th November)
Having had a little look, I can see this is something I can't do justice to at the moment, as it involves lots of downloading and the need for all Java issues to be resolved once and for all, which is not the case either at home or at work.

I can see mileage in both Jing and podcasting, although I have to put my hand up and confess to never having listened to a podcast. Probably another one of those things which require a change of habit! (No MP3 player and no general earphone habit either). One of my colleagues has experimented with podcasting at work, with a six-part essay survival guide, at the moment available in English only, so if I were feeling brave I could perhaps attempt a Welsh version of it.

Jing could also be useful for talking users through some of the oddities of our LMS. I like the possibility of using images with added captions. Could this be the way to explain the most annoying feature of our own OPAC display, the fact that if there is more than one copy of a book and one is out on loan it does not also tell you that others are on the shelf, unless you can work out for yourself that number of items - numbers of items on loan/lost/at binding = number of items available (see? it is not easy to explain in words!)

I'm only one of a much bigger team and it would never be just down to me to make decisions about the use of these tools, unless I decided to strike out and do my own thing for Welsh language provision. I'm a bit reluctant to do this as the scale of it is all a bit much for me as a part-timer. I can't possibly do in Welsh everything that all my wonderful clever colleagues do in English. More Welsh-speakers needed, please - it's a bit lonely sometimes!

Thing 17 : Prezi, data visualisation and slideshare

I am skipping Prezi for the moment, but cheekily borrowing an idea from the "the disconnected librarian"  - "marking the place". The things should be in order, really, especially to a cataloguer's mind! Watch this space ...

Two weeks later ... (17th November)
I had been planning to create a Prezi for this thing and kill two birds with one stone by using it for part of an actual training session which I am due to give in December. I've seen several Prezis, including two great ones by colleagues at yesterday's social media event run by CLIC (Cardiff libraries in co-operation). One colleague even neatly used Prezi to talk about CPD23, thus fulfilling thing 17 at the same time! I'd heard people talk about "Prezi seasickness", and as someone who feels ill on just about anything that moves and can't look at the new weather forecast map I wondered what they meant, as I haven't had any problems seeing other people's. It's very different when you actually try to do one yourself! I have a nascent Prezi here, but it is very incomplete as after an hour I really did feel that I couldn't go on. I also found it quite hard as I am without sound or headphones in the library, so the tutorial seemed less helpful than it probably is.

I realise that the concept behind it is something I am likely to have difficulty with in any case, as I just don't seem to have a very visual mind. The default for all our files and folders is icons, and I have to change them into a list before I even start doing anything. I really don't "get" mind maps. I must be a card catalogue person at heart! I do like the effects some people achieve with their Prezis though, and I like the idea of a break from Powerpoint. I think Prezi is probably better for something which tells a story, even though it doesn't look linear. The points in mine are really just that, headings to talk to, so Powerpoint is perfectly adequate. If I do manage to finish it without being ill, I think it wouldn't be too bad to use, as it really doesn't need a lot of zooming about.

Slideshare looks like a good way to keep presentations together, although once again it may not be relevant for us as we have a training materials repository. Once I have got this year's presentations into a form I am happy with I must remember to upload them. The problem with being almost "the only Welsh speaker in the village" is that if something prevents me from doing a session there are not many other people who can take my place, and everything ought to be where somebody else can find it. Prezi and Slideshare are both a bit public!