Two steps forward, one step back

On Sunday I was doing the usual ‘preparing for the working week ahead’ routine. My life is made much easier if I get everything I need ready the day before, from my packed lunch to exactly the right handbag, to every part of my outfit, including earrings. It saves me so much time and I don’t even need to think about having an outfit crisis because it’s sorted.

I pulled a pair of socks (to go in the trainers I wear on the commute, see?) out of the drawer, turned towards my bed and smacked the little toe on my right foot hard against the bed frame. For a moment I thought I’d got away with it. There was a slight sting. Then I made a dreadful, primeval pain noise. I hopped downstairs and applied ice to the toe, which was already swelling and turning red. I muttered to myself: ‘It cannot be broken. It cannot be broken. It cannot be broken’. As a runner, I’m always in denial about anything that might prevent me from running.

Initially I thought (hoped?) that it was merely badly bruised. Yesterday I couldn’t put any weight on the toe and it was turning purple and black. I went to A&E (5 hours – worst game of Theme Hospital EVER) and they confirmed in less that 5 minutes that it was, indeed broken. It’s a small break so it should heal relatively quickly as long as I rest it, but it impedes every aspect of my life.

Why is this relevant to LwL?

I commute into the office (a short walk, a mainline train journey, a short walk and a tube ride) and I can’t do that journey when I’m struggling to walk at all. Luckily I can work at home this week because my organisation is brilliant about flexible, remote working but it’s far from ideal because…

  1. I’d arranged to meet the lovely Helen from CILIP to discuss lots of fun CPD ideas. I had to send apologies and postpone our meeting until August
  2. I had to dial in to an internal meeting and the phone reception was terrible so I felt very disconnected (lol) from the conversation
  3. The much-discussed desk move happened on Monday, so we’re now facing our lovely users but I’m not there to enjoy it
  4. I was supposed to go on a CPD visit to the Guildhall Library on Thursday and I had to send apologies for that, too
  5. I normally work at home two days a week, but the thought of doing five days on my own in a row is filling me with horror. I need to be around other human beings or I start to go slightly feral.

Last week I thought I was making really good progress with the ‘Born again Librarian’ project and it’s ridiculous how a tiny accident can have such a negative impact. However, it could have been much worse and, while I feel incredibly silly, I have devised a plan to get me through:

  1. I’m trying to get my work ‘To-do’ list done before I go on leave next week. I’m an inbox zero sort of person – anything I don’t have to deal with immediately goes into a sub-folder – so everything in my inbox is something I actually have to get done. This is keeping me nicely busy.
  2. I’m going to *drum roll* start gathering Fellowship evidence, dust off my job description and CV and begin working on the PKSB. I will also update my CPD log on the VLE (I’m pretty diligent about doing this, but I need to add the Conference to it.) [Note: someone needs to HOLD ME TO THIS. I need accountability. Essentially, I need Strava but for CPD]
  3. I need to make more tweaks to LwL. I’m still not completely happy with the way it looks and there are sections I need to update e.g. Publications

It’s a small setback, but nothing more than that. I’m resilient enough to realise that it’s not world-changing or life ending. It’s a temporary frustration that might just give me some much-needed headspace to reflect on various things.

Stupid toe.

CILIP Conference 2017: Part 4 -Day 2 sessions

My notes for Day 2 are (mercifully) brief as I was absolutely exhausted (see the Day 1 and lazy networking posts for more details), although a lack of sleep didn’t prevent me from going for a run in the morning.

An insiders guide to professional registration – Kate Robinson & Dan Livesey

I didn’t plan to attend this session as I thought it would be about Chartership and Revalidation and I’ve been there, done that. Juanita set me straight though and there was plenty of advice on Fellowship, too.

I now have a to-do list:

  1. Fill out the PKSB on the VLE (not all of it, just 6-8 sections that are most relevant to me)
  2. Annotate my job description
  3. Annotate my CV
  4. Find a mentor (this still feels insurmountable)

Learning points:

  1. The portfolio doesn’t need to precisely match the PKSB and evidence of change is good
  2. Be really obvious about your journey and how it meets the assessment criteria
  3. Think strategically when evaluating service performance. Don’t be too operational and adopt a high-level mindset
  4. The ‘So what?’ principle: which criteria does a piece of evidence actually match? Learn to be selective and let go of biases about favourite bits of evidence if they don’t fit the criteria
  5. When going on library visits, reflect on your understanding of how they work and how it fits into what they do.
  6. For fellowship, you can draw on a body of work, developed over a number of years.

Information Mismatch workshop – Jonathon Berry & Jane Fox

  • There’s a huge gap in understanding between clinical staff, patients and their families around the language used. This doesn’t surprise me as I’ve seen it in action. It’s very easy to overestimate intelligence (both intellectual and emotional.)
  • SMOG – Simplified Measure of Gobbledegook calculator. Online tool that aims to reduce nonsense and unnecessary wordiness [Won’t be using it on this blog any time soon.]
  • Good quality information requires the following elements: Information production, evidence sources, user understanding, user involvement, quality control, feedback and review

My specialist colleagues use a lot of acronyms (the name of our organisation is an acronym!) and specialist terms at work. As I have a different background to them it took me a while to adjust to the language and terminology used. As a result I try not to use any overtly librariany (I WILL make it an actual word. I will!) terms. It’s one of the reasons that I eschewed a more lofty job title and am simply ‘Librarian’ as it’s a term that everyone understands.

How to be a chief librarian in 15 easy steps – Caroline Brazier

SPOILER: Not 15 steps. Not easy!

I find listening to other people’s career stories incredibly interesting. It was refreshing to hear someone being honest about the fact that career decisions aren’t always made rationally and with a step-by-step plan. This session expanded out and looked at developments at the British Library, so that’s reflected in my notes.

Learning points:

  1. Tell people your career story
  2. Think about your core purpose (as an individual and as an institution.)
  3. Income generation is incredibly difficult and you have to work hard for it (I know this only too well!)
  4. Work out what people value about us and focus on that.


  • I found the exhibition a bit difficult because virtually none of the products are relevant to my library service. I did, however, enjoy chatting to people from the special interest groups and sitting on the faceless duck (long story.)
  • CILIP stand – I wish I’d had my photo taken with the Facts Matter sign on Day 1 as I look exhausted in the photos. I’m going to suggest that next year they take it to the evening reception as I’m much more comfortable with having my photo taken when I’m wearing lipstick and after a glass of wine.

Final thoughts

I was so tired that I was virtually on my knees by the end of the conference. I’d forgotten how intense a professional event over two days can be. I hope it’s evident from my posts that I got a huge amount from attending, both professionally and personally.

My primary aims when I submitted the bursary application were to reconnect with the profession and make a decision on whether to continue with Fellowship. I feel much more embedded now and I’m definitely going to continue my Fellowship journey.

After my Thursday morning run, which took me past Manchester Central Library, I popped into the coffee shop near my hotel for a cold drink. They were playing How Soon is Now by The Smiths and I had two thoughts:

  1. Manchester is amazing
  2. Being an information professional is BRILLIANT.

Well played, CILIP. Well played.

CILIP Conference 2017: Part 3 – The art of lazy networking

To the evening reception! This year’s event was at the Museum of Science and Industry and it was an impressive venue that I spent a nanosecond exploring before I started chatting.

It’s tricky to get networking at conferences right. The received wisdom is that as practically everyone is a stranger you can just go up to anyone and say hi to them. In theory that’s fine, but in practice it feels quite forced. Also, bowling up to someone and saying “HIIII!” in a decidedly tiggerish way really freaks people out. I’ve had some bad networking experiences at conferences that come back to haunt me in the dead of night. Part of the problem is that I try too hard, forgetting that it’s not up to me to make all of the conversational effort. Networking has to be a two-way process.

I have, in the past, encountered a small handful of people who fall into the category of ‘Just a bit rude’. Being socially awkward is completely fine and I get it. I probably understand that more than anyone knows, as I spent a considerable amount of time last year not being able to have meaningful, intelligent conversations with anyone. I generally find that librariany types are nice; we’re used to dealing with people after all, but that some find enthusiasm a bit wearing and I can go into YAY! LIBRARIES! WOOHOO! mode when I feel a conversation isn’t going well.


It feels much more natural if you chat to the people around you in the lunch queue, or when you sit down at a session. As I don’t drink tea or coffee I don’t get to join the queues for those so it makes networking during the morning and afternoon breaks a bit harder. During the first morning break I felt a bit panicky – completely my own fault as I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to be outgoing, funny and generally great company AT ALL TIMES and it’s really hard to live up to that. I went for a little walk to calm down and resolved not to be so hard on myself. The rest of the day I networked like a demon and felt much better about it all.

It feels like a bit of a cheat but if you know one or two people really well you can rely on them to act as a social buffer. It also means you can be quite lazy about networking. At the evening reception I decided to calm the heck down and just enjoy it with people that I knew and liked. CILIP had organised a ‘getting to know you’ bingo game which I didn’t take part in myself, but I was able to assist some of the participants with answers to the questions. Later in the evening we were joined by lovely CILIP people and the evening got very interesting.

It’s kind-of difficult to explain my job to people and no-one knows what the acronym for my organisation stands for, so it’s a good talking point. I spent a lot of time chatting to the lovely Juanita about what I do. I sometimes forget what an interesting (and sometimes challenging but always rewarding) job I have. This means that when I am asked about my job, I can go on for absolutely ages. We also spoke about Fellowship, too and she was incredibly supportive. Prior to the conference I was seriously considering giving up on it, but she convinced me otherwise.

As a result of that I’ve made all kinds of interesting connections and some very good things could happen over the next few months. I’ve always felt before that as I run an unusual library, I don’t quite ‘belong’ in CILIP but maybe that’s changing.

Learning points:

  1. Don’t get into such a state about the pressure to network that it becomes overwhelming.
  2. Find ‘your’ people and spend time with them rather than trying to persuade the disinterested that you’re amazing (and making them dislike you more)
  3. If you look like you’re having a good time the fun, interesting people gravitate towards you (or they try to rescue the person you’re with. One of the two.)

Next: Day 2 of the conference. Likely to be very short as I was tired (see above)


CILIP Conference 2017: Part 2 – Day 1 sessions

Note: This is quite selective and doesn’t cover everything I attended because that would be dull for everyone.

Keynote: Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress

Plenty has been written about the Keynote by Carla Hayden and I won’t add too much to the noise but I would best describe it as being hooked up to a drip of pure librariany goodness for 45 minutes. Afterwards I turned to the person next to me and said that it had topped up my enthusiasm for all that is good in the profession. I didn’t tell her that I felt so inspired that I wanted to go and wrestle a bear (and win) because that isn’t the kind of thing you say to a stranger at a conference. I was also glad that I didn’t ask Carla (she calls us her ‘British Peeps’ so I think I can first-name her) whether D*****d Tr*mp had used his Library of Congress card yet during the Q and A at the end as apparently that would have been a Very Bad Idea.

Take-away messages:

  1. Accessibility is crucial
  2. Being interviewed by Barack Obama for a job is simultaneously amazing and terrifying
  3. Librarians are the original search engines (we know this already but it’s good to be reminded of it)
  4. I want a guy that does my social media for me and leaps out to take photos. Essentially, I want someone to manage my work life.

Marketing workshop – Terry Kendrick

Marketing is a big component of my role as I manage a remote service. Most of this was relevant to what I do, but here are some key points:

  • Surveys don’t enable you to understand your users in depth. Personalisation is very important
  • The value proposition: does the user get back more than they invest in the relationship?
  • Marketing isn’t about sending out lots of messages. Timeliness and relevance is crucial. It should be a clear, sustained effort
  • You need to think and work like an app so that you can be spot-on with user need. You need to take your users’ pain away, not add another distraction. Be very clear about how you can get them from where they are to where they need to be
  • Invest time in people that will be around for a while and use you a lot. You cannot convert everyone into a library user [This was hugely refreshing to hear as I used to be obsessed with winning over the non-library users. They won’t listen to me but are much more likely to listen to their peers who use the library and love it]. Make people positive about the library, get them using it and they’ll promote it on your behalf.
  • Get testimonials from people that use and like you. This is very relevant to me at the moment. I have quantitative data about my service coming out of my ears but rich, qualitative data is incredibly powerful.
  • Marketing should be experimental. Look at what actually happens, not what might happen It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.

I hope it’s apparent that I got a huge amount out of this session and have already discussed it in supervision with my manager. There is so much that I can implement in my organisation and above all, it was tremendously reassuring. I finally have permission to stop chasing the unwilling.

Designing for excellent customer service – Neil Potentier

If you run a remote service, your customer service has to be excellent. I think we’re pretty good at getting it right for our library users, but there are always improvements that can be made.

Key points:

  1. Users can damage your reputation but moaning about you to others, but not actually telling
  2. You need to create a culture of continuous improvement. The concept of customer satisfaction is outdated and organisations must aspire to be excellent. This reminded me of my visit to the London Library earlier this year, where their ethos is to ‘Delight’ their customers.
  3. Staff should be able to deal with any query asked of them. This was couched as a utopian concept but in a two-person service like mine, it’s a necessity.
  4. Recurring theme of survey saturation. People are bored of being asked to rate services and surveys don’t tell you anything new or useful

I am a little concerned that we’re really good at reaching out to our colleagues across the country but perhaps less successful at engaging with those in the same building as us. This is compounded by the fact that our desks (in an open plan office) face away from the majority of staff. Plans are now in place to rectify this…

A collection of asides

  • In the ‘What makes a great communicator’ session, attendees were asked to take two minutes in private to find their “power pose”. Here’s mine:


  • I get very cross about public libraries that are reduced to information hubs in leisure centres. Also, telephone box with a few manky paperbacks in is not a library
  • If I’m promised a free cupcake, I will behave in an increasingly irrational manner until it is given to me.

Once I got over my temporary wobble about networking with strangers (and introducing myself to the unwilling/disinterested), I had a brilliant first day at the conference. I felt that I chose my sessions well and had plenty of ideas that I could take back to my library. Moreover, I had secured a large bag of free swag from the exhibition AND I’d eaten a lot of sugar. Day 1 of the conference was a definite WIN.

Coming next: the evening reception and the art of lazy networking



CILIP Conference 2017: Part 1 – Getting there

I haven’t been to a CILIP Conference since 2011 and over the last few years had become increasingly gloomy at my prospects of ever attending one again. Last year was a particularly low point as I felt completely removed from the profession and everything happening within it. Oh, how things have changed since then.

Proposal fail

As part of my whole librarian reborn thing I decided to submit a proposal to speak at this years’ conference. It’s important that this reflection records both my successes and failures so I’m going to be terribly brave and admit that my proposal was rejected. It stung at the time but I now understand why. I misjudged the tone and pitched the proposal at the wrong level. I needed to think on a much grander scale and what I proposed was too niche and was (frankly) dull.

Bursary success (not me)

I then did my selfless nurturing manager thing and encouraged my Library Assistant to apply for a bursary so that he could attend. I figured that if he attended he could share the learning with me (this is one of the joys of working in a two-person library team.)  He was duly awarded a bursary by the Government Information Group SIG and I was happy, thrilled, proud, etc., but also a little sad that I wasn’t going.

Bursary success (me)

CILIP in London announced their bursaries comparatively late, so I took a punt, applied and was lucky enough to be awarded one. [Note: I have sat on two bursary awarding committees previously and I know that people are *really* bad at applying for what is essentially free money, so I’m not saying that my proposal was amazing but I knew the odds of success would be pretty good] I actually squealed when I got the acceptance e-mail because I loved attending Umbrella (yore!) in 2009 and 2011. Having started the Fellowship process earlier this year I wanted the conference to provide the platform for me to get on with it. A metaphorical kick up the backside, if you will.

The bursary gave me a full conference place (including evening reception), plus a generous allowance for travel and accommodation. I felt very nervous because it had been a while since I had done any proper networking with real-life information professionals ( ALISS doesn’t count as they’re not strangers) and I had all the usual worries about saying something stupid, falling over and/or inadvertently dropping food over someone. Only one of those things actually happened. [Top tip: never get into a conversation about knowledge management over lunch where the conversation turns so you are quizzed on your definition of the subject. This does not end well.]

Fashion. Turn to the left! Fashion. Turn to the right!


The agony of deciding what to wear to a library conference! There seem to be no hard and fast rules. I didn’t want to wear jeans as I felt that they wouldn’t convey my professional persona but equally I didn’t want to look too dressed up. In the daytime I wore shift dresses with flat sandals, which is exactly what I wear to work in the summer. For the evening reception I wore a nice skirt and top and sandals with a slight heel that I could walk in. I’m really into patterns and florals and I have a definite style, so my chosen outfits reflected my personality. I even got a couple of compliments (Oasis collection nerds of the library world assemble!) I also took two sets of running gear because I can’t go to a different place without exploring and Instagramming the heck out of it on a run. The air conditioning in hotels tends to be aggressive, which I like, but I don’t like having cold feet so a pair of fluffy socks is a must.

To Manchester!

My journey to the conference was uneventful but I saw the singer-songwriter Paolo Nutini at Euston. [Insert joke about last requests and pencils full of lead here. Or maybe not] I used to spend a fair bit of time travelling up to Manchester for work, so I have a great fondness for the city. My bursary allowed me to stay at The Principal, which was quite a step up from the Premier Inn. I took full advantage of the facilities during my stay, including the gym, the bar, the table tennis table, the pool table, the free wifi, and the excellent breakfast. I ran, I showered, I Nando’sed, I Herdricks’ed (just a small one), I slept, I gymmed, I bathed, I breakfasted and then I was ready to take on the Conference.

Coming next: Day 1 of the conference


Guess who’s back? Tell a friend.

Last time on LwL (November 2012!) I said farewell to library CPD and flounced off to study sport psychology. Now LwL is back and so am I. What happened?


I’m now a mildly qualified sport and exercise psychologist. I really enjoyed studying sport psych and was flying through the course but realised I was far more into the theory behind it than the reality of doing it. I took a break after the ‘taught’ component of the course with the aim of having a year off before starting the dissertation. Then things went really wrong and I was unable to do anything at all.

In the Wilderness Months my brain reset itself and I realised, very slowly, that I was Actually Really Quite Good at being a Librarian. Who knew?  It’s hard to describe how I went from being on the verge of quitting the profession to being *so* enthusiastic that I’m doing Fellowship and rekindling all of my professional associations, including this blog. Taking a break from ‘thinky work’ allowed my brain a chance to calm down and remember who I really was and what I’m actually good at.

I was co-opted onto the ALISS Committee in 2014 (I couldn’t stay away for very long, really) and it was one of very few side-activities I kept up when I was learning about physical activity interventions, team roles and leadership, and declarative memory. I managed to Revalidate twice; in 2016 and earlier this year. Once I’d made the decision to end the sport psych course, Fellowship felt like the natural next step if I was to fully commit to being an information professional.

Then I started to feel a bit stuck again. On a whim I applied for a bursary from CILIP in London to attend this year’s CILIP conference, hoping that it would give me the much needed kick up the backside to crack on with Fellowship and reconnect with my professional peers. I was awarded a full bursary and what happened next is worthy of its own post [TL;DR – it went well] …


The ethos of LwL hasn’t changed. I still want to share my thoughts on CPD and I also want other people to write guest posts on how to fit professional activities into a busy life and stay connected to the profession without feeling overwhelmed by it.

Most of all, I want to enjoy being part of the community again. It’s going well so far.



The exits are here, here, and here

I fell into a job and subsequently a profession in my early twenties. I always had it in the back of my mind that I would stay in the profession for a year or two, maybe up to five years, while I worked out what I really wanted to do with my life. Nine years later…

…it turned out I was actually pretty good at the thing I’d started purely because it was a job and I needed one at the time. Then I got onto the professional treadmill, got qualified, got chartered and, through a combination of internal promotions and company moves, moved steadily up the ladder. Then I started doing continued professional development stuff: mentoring here, case studies in books there and some conference involvement and committee work for good measure.

To the outsider it probably looked like I was totally immersed in what I was doing. Inside I knew differently. What began as mild discomfort a couple of years ago became a roaring fury earlier this year. I tried to ignore it. I submitted ill-advised papers to conferences. I tried not to roll my eyes (I often failed but I really, really did try) when I was told WHAT I should be thinking about the future of the profession and WHY I should care. I thought about the next 10, 20, 30 years and where I’d like to be when I’m 60 and decided that, actually, I didn’t want to still be doing this when I was almost ready for my bath chair. For lots of people it is their forever profession (and that’s great), but I don’t think it is for me.

Running parallel to all of this is the fact that I really, really like my current role. Moreover, I’m good at it. However, I can do this role very well without any of the professional gratification I have been seeking over the last few years. In any case, it has become far less of a librarian role and much more about research so I don’t fit the ‘traditional’ model any more. In the current climate, though, I’m under no illusion that my job could go at any point. If the will is there…with that in mind, I like having a Plan B bubbling away.

In January I’m starting a distance learning access course in Psychology with the University of Derby. After that, I’m hoping to get a place on the distance learning Sports Psychology MSc course at the University of Staffordshire and from there, wildest dreams, pie in the sky stuff this may be, I want to sort sportspeople’s heads out and make them even better at what they do. Yes, it’s a massive swerve from what I’ve been doing (if you’re interested, there’s a more fulsome explanation of the reasons for this on my other blog I like to Ride.) It might not work out. However, I don’t want to look back and wonder ‘What if’? I have to try this out. If it doesn’t work at least I gave it a good go.

To juggle all of this some things have to give. I have given up the Chartership mentoring, but will be seeing the lovely Emma through to her submission. For obvious reasons I won’t be writing this blog any more. Most of what I write boils down to this: STOP OVERCOMPLICATING THINGS YOU CRAZY, MOSTLY LOVEABLE NAVEL-GAZING LOONS! It’s not exactly a great loss to the professional canon of literary works. Let’s face it, I’m no loss either. There’ll be no more conference presentations (thank the freaking Lord), no more meetings, no more professional networking, no more Twitter-baiting. Basically all the extracurricular CPD stuff is going.

I’ll leave the blog up because I know people have found the Chartership post useful (all I ask is that you give me due credit if you use or recommend it) and there are some posts that hold up pretty well. However, I won’t be writing Librarians with Lives any more. Through the blog and Twitter I have met some great people (and some not so great, sadly), some of whom I now regard as good friends. Oh yes, if you want to unfollow me now I’m not doing the librarian CPD thing anymore, feel free (I’ll only judge you very very slightly for being shallow and career-grabby.)

It’s been an entertaining few years, all in all, but now it’s time to give something else a try. It’s been….enlightening. Thank you.