LwL Podcast Episode 52 – Shaun Kennedy

In Episode 52 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Shaun Kennedy, Information/Knowledge Assistant at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, Shaun moved to the UK after completing his library course. We discuss his background, career so far, juggling distance learning with a full-time role, frustrations around library qualifications, and the exciting things that Shaun does (that made me gasp with delight) when he’s not librarianing…

We recorded this episode in early February over Skype audio. There’s been a bit of a gap between recording the last batch of episodes and releasing them, partly because I want to throw less LwL content at everyone this year and give the episodes more chance to breathe, but also because I’ve got quite a lot going on at the moment and I want to do the interviews justice.

The next episode will be released in May and features Hong-Anh Nguyen.

Happy listening!

 

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Failure and first-world professional grief

As predicted previously, I found out at the beginning of April that my first attempt at Fellowship failed. I didn’t, however, anticipate how much it would hurt.

  1. The feedback said that I was working at the appropriate level to achieve FCLIP status BUT my portfolio didn’t reflect that. In effect, I’d gone into the exam and written everything I knew but didn’t answer the questions properly.
  2. My evaluative statement (of the three sections, only Organisational Context – the one that everyone else seems to find most difficult – was good enough) went through five versions, plus tweaks, before I submitted my portfolio. I now know that every single one of those versions was wrong. I can forgive version 1 as it was the first attempt, designed to loosen my mental block about Fellowship. However, I spent five months – hours and hours of time and effort – writing, refining and re-writing an evaluative statement that was doomed to fail.
  3. I’m at a crossroads in my career. After 10 years in my current role I’m ready to move on (I’m not spilling secrets here; they know) and I still have to write Fellowship (ongoing) on my CV.

When I was told that my submission had failed I cried. For an hour. I was given a packet of ten tissues. At the end of the hour there was one tissue left. I wasn’t just crying about Fellowship. I cried because I’ve worked so flipping hard over the last ten years, often at personal cost. I cried because my children will be going to secondary school in September. I cried because I need something to work out without having to take the hardest road possible and show how bloody resilient I am. Again. I cried because, well, I’m a bit of a dick really.

I’ve been through several stages of…first-world grief…I suppose. I was sad. Angry. ‘Sod it I’ll become a nail technician’. Furious. ‘I’m a failure at all things and I wish I could do one thing well’. Resigned. ‘I am hopeless and unemployable’. Tired. Determined. ‘I need to get over this, pick myself up, and go again’. World weary. ‘I’m shit at running/librarianing/all the things just like I’m shit at everything else’. Self-defeating. Full-on drama llama. ‘Why do I do this to myself?’ I have been advised against appealing the decision because it won’t change and I can’t see the point.

(I have extensive feedback for CILIP on the whole Fellowship process, which I’ll submit via the proper channels and might blog here about it at some stage. It *shouldn’t* be such an onerous, you-need-to-know-stuff-you-aren’t-told-in-the-handbook slog.)

At no point have I really, seriously, thought about not resubmitting my portfolio. The phrase ‘You are working at the appropriate level for Fellowship’ from the feedback has stayed with me. I have started doing the things I need for version 2.0.

  1. Mentor – I have a new mentor (Kate R) and I have a feeling she simply won’t allow me to fail second time.
  2. Supporting letters – The guidelines state that you need a minimum of two supporting letters. I now have eight (cheers Mike, Natasha, Sally, Anthony, Matt and Val, plus the original two I submitted first time.)
  3. PKSB – I had a Skype chat with Juanita and my rage resurfaced – not at Juanita; she’s amazing – but at how wrong I’d got the evaluative statement, particularly the Personal Performance section [side note: this is going to make me a shit-hot Chartership mentor]
  4. Pulling my old portfolio apart and putting it back together again. I couldn’t face even logging on to the VLE to start with because I knew how painful it would be. It was awful, especially now I know what I need to do with it (set fire to the original; start again.)

I’m now working on version 2.0 of my evaluative statement and portfolio, with all the new advice and support fresh in my mind. The ingredients are there; I just need to put them back together in the correct order. Failing Fellowship first time hurts, but it’s not the end of my professional world.

At some point this year (with a little help from my #LibraryFriends) I’ll be able to write FCLIP (achieved 2019) on my CV.

LwL Podcast Episode 51 – Phil Bradley

In Episode 51 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Phil Bradley, until recently a consultant and trainer about working for the British Council, CD-ROMs and libraries, the coming of the internet, the impact of Twitter, playing around on the internet for a living, mental health and loss, and what it’s like to be CILIP President during turbulent times…

Phil’s training website: https://philbradleytraining.weebly.com/ He’s offering his Apps for Librarians video course of 40 videos entirely free of charge. His training course of 40+ videos lasting over 6 hours is available for £20 for unlimited personal access. People can email him for more details: philipbradley@gmail.com (Phil is happy for me to publish his contact details here.)

We recorded this episode in early February over Skype audio. Normally I’m able to switch off after a podcast recording but this one really stayed with me as it was a lot to process. Phil talks very candidly about being CILIP President and the impact that the experience had on his mental health. I was shocked by some of the things he said and, listening back to the episode, I think that comes across.

I missed a lot of what happened in CILIP and in the profession generally when I went on an extended CPD break from 2012-2016 and I was largely disconnected for about a year for various reasons prior to that. On reflection it was probably a good thing.

Even if you’re not a massive fan of Librarians with Lives I’d urge you to listen to this episode. If nothing else, we should reflect on how we treat others (as a previous low-level library twitter moron I very much include myself in this) in the profession. The main point being that if you’re moved to send death threats to the CILIP President by email, maybe…don’t….?

The next episode will be released on Tuesday 23rd April and features Shaun Kennedy.

Happy listening!

LwL Podcast Episode 50 – #LwL50 AMA

50 episodes! To celebrate this epic milestone Mike Jones hosts an Ask Me Anything (AMA), turning the tables on me by asking listeners and previous participants to submit questions on a variety of topics. This episode also features a surprise (to me) quiz, where I unleashed my poorly-concealed Monica from Friends competitive side…

I deliberately chose not to have sight of the questions beforehand, so the answers you hear are spontaneous. I have included every question I was asked, although I have made small edits for clarity and where I was rambling with no purpose trying to come up with an answer. I have left the pauses in during the quiz section for tension-creation purposes.

Huge thanks to Mike for putting a phenomenal amount of work into putting this episode together and for being an ace Quizmeister General.

Many thanks to the following people for submitting questions: Ian Anstice, Holger Aman, Sam Burgess, Mike Ewen, Paul Jeorrett, Sally Walker, Jen Bayjoo, Jo Cornish, Clare McCluskey Dean, Heather Marshall, Ellie Downes, David Clover and Helen Monagle.

Normal service will be resumed on 26th March with the wonderful Phil Bradley.

10 years ‘Enjoyably stuck’ – Part 4 & Reflections on a decade

Intro & Part 1

Parts 2 & 3

Part 4

The beginning of 2017 to now has been the most professionally fulfilling period of my working life.

One of the first projects I collaborated on with the new library assistant was a complete reclassification of the physical collection. I had simply adopted Bliss from my previous employer and although I found it infuriating, I stuck with it as I was also responsible for cataloguing and classification. When the new assistant asked me to teach him, I found that I couldn’t – one of the things that simply disappeared from my brain when I was ill was (weirdly) Bliss classification. As the physical collection is relatively small we decided to reclassify it ourselves, to Library of Congress. I was resistant at first, but we actually got the project done in 3-4 months, fitting it in around our other work. As well as being a useful project it acted as a good bonding exercise. Two years on I’m glad we did it.

I’m really proud of the Library Management System Project, which accounted for one of my darkest times at work and one of my finest. In early 2016 I put together a project plan to secure funding for the new system. The initial project plan had been rejected, which I later found out was due to reasons beyond my control. In early 2017 I decided to have another go at getting support and funding for the system and this time I got the green light to get on with procurement. While my assistant (now promoted to LIS Officer) concentrated on the systems side of things, I worked with the new LMS provider on the design. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, and we’ve managed to achieve that. The library catalogue is more ‘on brand’ with the rest of the organisation and works much better. The new system went live at the beginning of May 2018 and I can barely remember what the old one was like now, even though I worked with it for 11 years across two organisations.

I feel that the contribution of the library to the organisation is now recognised and appreciated. The library was specifically mentioned in the organisation’s Ofsted report in 2018 and I felt quite emotional when I read it. This came a few months after winning the Link Officer of the Year award from Research in Practice. We now offer access to the library to three external organisations in addition to our own staff.

None of this can be achieved overnight, particularly when you are working within severe constraints. I don’t think I could have squeezed everything I’ve achieved in the last decade into a shorter timeframe. It takes time – years, even – to build up the requisite level of resources, support, respect and contacts to get a library service going. The future of the service is now secure and looks extremely promising. Whatever happens next, I can look back and reflect positively on what I’ve done.

Reflections on a decade

Building and managing a workplace library is incredibly hard. I have fought to get the library recognised and for my skills as an information professional to be valued in my organisation. I have had to surmount the ‘Jo is *just* the librarian, what would *she* know about information/research/referencing/knowledge’ barrier on countless occasions. I have had to shift the organisational narrative from ‘An in-house library would be a nice thing to have’ to ‘This seems to be working, let’s see how it goes’ to ‘The service is so successful and well-used that Jo is off work and we can’t manage without it’.

I have been given the freedom to experiment and chances to fail. If I had stuck to my original plan I would have left the organisation in 2011 when the library moved location for the third time. I would have been absolutely devastated to read an article or attend a conference presentation by someone doing ‘my’ job, reaping the rewards of all my hard work. I don’t feel I’m making a direct difference to anyone’s life, but I know that my library makes the working lives of my colleagues’ much easier. There’s a lot of job satisfaction in that notion when I’m having a bad day.

In 2013, as an act of rebellion against the constraints at work at that time I spotted a job that looked interesting, applied, and was offered the role. It would have been my dream job when I was younger, but it required me to be in the office five days a week. I simply couldn’t manage it around childcare. I agonised for a while before, reluctantly, turning it down. When I was ill in 2016 I simply couldn’t contemplate doing my own job, let alone seek career progression somewhere else. I firmly believed that I was a hopeless information professional, that I was a failure, that I should go away and find something – anything – else to do.

I didn’t imagine for a second that I would qualify and set up a brand-new library service from scratch when I was firmly in the new professional stage of my career. When you pay half the rent, you need to work to help keep your family alive, and you don’t have family childcare on the doorstep, you do what you can with the resources you have.

None of my achievements over the last decade are unique or particularly special. I know a lot of library workers have been though similar, or had to deal with much worse, in their careers. The path I’ve taken is not the easy one and I’m not sure I’d be able to recommend it to someone coming into the profession. The highs have been wonderful and the lows have been horrific. I didn’t think it was possible to care about or cry so much over a library service. I currently describe myself as ‘Enjoyably stuck’. If my dream job came along tomorrow I’d be an idiot to turn it down (I absolutely wouldn’t at this point) but there’s a lot of satisfaction to be found in creating, building, cultivating and innovating a library service. That’s not something you can do in 2-3 years. Looking back, a decade feels about right.

 

10 years ‘Enjoyably stuck’ – Parts 2 & 3

Intro & Part 1

Part 2

By 2010 the library had become successful enough to need a full-time library assistant. It was my first experience of line management which was a massive adjustment. The library moved (in the end the service moved four times in five years and I project managed every move), into our head office in 2011, then based in Westminster. Initially we were based with the collection on the lower ground floor of the building with the rest of our colleagues six floors above us, but I started a campaign to get us moved upstairs. The collection remained where it was, but we were surrounded by colleagues who worked for the same organisation as us. My first library assistant left in 2012 after two years in post and there was a gap where I ran the library solo again before the new assistant started.

I had three different line managers in my first year at the organisation (the second was an interim manager while recruitment took place.) My first two managers were very supportive of the library, of what I was trying to achieve, and of my professional development. The third, by their own admission, was uncomfortable about line managing staff (they hadn’t done it before), *really* wanted my role although it wasn’t their job or background, found the organisation difficult to get to grips with (and therefore to gain traction in), and didn’t quite understand the degree of separation between their role and mine. This led to numerous problematic conversations and frustrations on both sides. After enduring a difficult three years that caused me to question what I was doing and whether I should be a librarian at all (this led to my becoming a mildly qualified sport psychologist), my manager left. I gained a new line manager, who still manages me now. He is deliberately extremely hands-off – there when I need him, but he doesn’t get involved in the day-to-day running of the library.

I’d spent four years to that point building up the service, slowly developing the collection, cultivating new users, keeping the existing users satisfied, managing my manager, and doing extensive relationship development and then it all bore fruit in one year, with demand going through the roof from 2013 onwards. My then library assistant and I were incredibly busy and had a great working relationship.

In conjunction with a graduate from another department I conducted a library impact study in 2013-14. It’s a piece of work that I’m still incredibly proud of. The study indicated areas for development and innovation, some of which I’d already identified, and justified the need for funding and support for them. The main area was the library catalogue, but I also wanted to do a massive weed of the physical collection. We secured funding to employ a part-time library assistant, which would free me up to do development work. From being on my own in 2009-10, and 2012, I suddenly had two members of staff to line manage. This was a delicate balancing act. I had an established relationship with one member of staff and we now welcomed a third person into the team, working part-time, on a fixed-term contract.

Part 3

In early 2016 the full-time library assistant left the organisation after 3.5 years. The part-time assistant was on a one-year-fixed term contract, which was coming to an end. I wasn’t allowed to recruit to the full-time role for several organisational reasons, and at one point it looked like I would be a solo librarian again. The part-time assistant found another job and left shortly after the full-time assistant. In the end, I was on my own for six months, trying to do the work of 2.5 people (probably more, in reality) by myself.

My father in law passed away in 2015 after a significant period of illness and so I was trying to support the people hit hardest and deal with the associated fallout, which none of us could have predicted. Up to this point work had acted as a protective factor. Whatever was happening in my life elsewhere, work was a reliable, safe, fixed point in my life. I quickly realised that I was no longer built to be a solo librarian. Moreover, my workload was so overwhelming that I simply couldn’t manage it. I accumulated hours of TOIL but if I took time off the work piled up and was waiting for me when I returned.

In some ways this was a nice problem to have. I had built a service from nothing that was now highly-respected, well-used, and constantly attracting new users. I had done the ultimately stupid thing of making the library I had created indispensable. This was unimaginable in the early days when I waited to be the next person to be made redundant. The summer of 2016 vindicated when I had done since 2009, but the cracks started to show. Essentially, over the previous seven years I had worn myself out. I kept getting knocked down and picked myself up again every time. I got used to getting told ‘No’ for everything I tried to do, fighting to get a yes the second, third, fourth time, and became adept at finding workarounds. This took a huge toll on my mental load because I was juggling so much work on top of my life away from the office.

I became so unwell that I had to go on sick leave for a significant period. I’d fought to secure a full-time replacement for the library assistant post and kept hitting brick walls while trying to keep the library service running on my own. I was given permission to do a full recruitment process and shortlisted for interview just before I went on sick leave. I was able to access the Employee Assistance Programme, which gave me eight one-to-one sessions with a therapist. It took a long time for me to get up to speed again when I returned to work. I returned initially part-time, building up to doing full-time hours again.

The phased return process was exhausting. I had to re-learn some basic processes that had simply fallen out of my brain when I was ill. I was also getting used to working with my new library assistant, who had been appointed when I was on sick leave. He’d been in post for three days when I started my phased return and was full of questions, most of which I struggled to answer. It was hard letting go of some of my work as I’d got so used to doing it all out of necessity but I’m a much more productive employee now and we’re a brilliant team.

Part 4 & Reflections on a decade

10 years ‘Enjoyably stuck’ – Intro & Part 1

Introduction

It’s become rather fashionable to judge those that have been working for the same employer, in arguably the same role, for more than five years as being ‘lesser’ mortals. Certainly, when I was qualifying I was (arrogantly) adamant that I would stay in a role for a maximum of two years and each move I made would move me up the ladder to…well, as far as I could go.

Life changes. I qualified in 2006 and got my first professional post shortly afterwards. I had twins at the end of 2007. In 2009 I started my new role with my current employer. My children were sixteen months old when I started this role. They will be 12 this year and off to secondary school in the autumn.

As I am shortly to celebrate a decade with the same employer I thought I would document some reflections on what it’s like to…stay put. A critically reflective version of this document is one of the pieces of evidence in my FCLIP portfolio. There’s also a much longer version with gory details that I gloss over here. Here’s the version I can tell.

Part 1

In April 2009 I stood in a room overlooking HMS Belfast in London, with 200 books on the floor, no IT equipment, no journal subscriptions, no library catalogue, no databases, no copyright licence, no shelving and no other library infrastructure to speak of. I did, however, have a small amount of stationery, which included a tiny date stamp, a desk and a chair. I had six weeks to get a skeleton library service up and running for c.1,500 staff based in (then) 60+ offices across England. I was in an outpost, housed with several  social care organisations but with no direct colleagues.

I’d been transferred over from my previous employer with whom my new employer had worked in partnership for the previous two and a half years. I’d got the partnership between them up and running in my first professional post after qualifying. The partnership had been an immediate success but was left without a home when my previous employer decided to close their library. My new employer and I spent considerable time looking for new external partners, but many organisations in the  sector had already downsized or deleted their information departments. Having exhausted all external options, the decision was made to bring the library service in-house. This meant that I was responsible for setting up the service from scratch, as the only information professional in the organisation and we rented office space from an external body.

As I had limited time I focused on replicating the successful processes that my previous employer had implemented for their library. This meant having the same library system as them, albeit the newer version. We were given permission (for a fee) to transfer catalogue data over. Getting the IT infrastructure in place was a challenge. For several months after the library opened I had to use my personal laptop to access the staff side of the system as the work computers blocked it. IT gave permission for both sides of the system to be made accessible – eventually – after my line manager and I endlessly explained that the library couldn’t function without it.

I got a skeleton version of the library service working in the time I’d been given, but I worked a lot of long days (and nights), regularly switching on my laptop and answering emails when my toddlers were asleep. The first version of the physical library collection was made up of books donated by libraries that had closed down. I felt like I was feasting on the carcasses of newly defunct libraries, but I was giving a home to collections that would have been disposed of otherwise and ensuring that they had a second life. Boxes of books from offices around England would turn up at my office unannounced. I ended up having to put out a message that I wouldn’t be accepting any more donations.

I had to win a lot of hearts and minds, which was exhausting on top of running the rapidly growing library service. I learned to fight the battles I had a decent chance of winning. There were some people that I would never be able to win over and it took me a long time to accept that. I used to travel to different offices, attending team meetings and banging the library drum. Most of the time my little spiel about the library was well-received but I encountered some hostility. A few incidents really stand out and even now I find them difficult to talk about.

In the first workspace I had, my library shared its office with several organisations that weren’t affiliated to my employer. I lost my view of HMS Belfast when a new organisation moved in and their Chief Exec decreed that she wanted my library as her office. This was granted because her organisation paid more in rent to the host. [Side note: this organisation had a huge turnover of (largely unhappy) staff – the CEO went in the first year –  amalgamated with another organisation shortly afterwards and has now disappeared]

Some of what I encountered could reasonably be described as bullying but as I was so isolated I didn’t have anyone to report incidents to after my first line manager left. I’m a union member but the rep had given me incredibly bad advice when I was being TUPEd over from my previous employer, so I didn’t feel I could take issues to them. Moreover, I needed the job. My employer offers flexible working and as I was fitting my full-time job in with looking after twins (they went to nursery three days a week) and a partner doing shift work, I couldn’t afford to move to an organisation that would expect me to be in the office five days a week, from 9-5 every day. (No, I couldn’t afford to give up work. No, I couldn’t afford to work part-time.) I was regularly working 40-50 hours a week rather than my contracted 37 hours. Any time the girls napped or slept, I worked.

Parts 2 & 3

Part 4 & Reflections on a decade