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.

 

LwL Podcast Episode 48 – Holger Aman

In Episode 48 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Holger Aman, now working at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia as the Coordinator, Learning and Teaching Services. When I interviewed him for the podcast back in October 2018 he was working at BPP Holborn (UK) as the Library Manager.

We recorded the interview in person at BPP. Get comfy because there’s a backstory involved. When I did a call-out for people to get involved in Librarians with Lives…LIVE! at the CILIP Conference last year, Holger answered. However, we couldn’t make the timings work because break-out sessions, roving interviews, travel chaos, etc. When I podcasted at ILI, he answered my shout-out again and this time, because I had a stand, he knew where to find me. At the exact moment Holger came over to podcast I had a queue of people. When I spotted Holger in the queue I pointed at him and said STAND THERE! I may even have said STAY! What can I say? I get bossy when I’m podcasting at conferences.

Holger recorded his bit for the live(ish) episode and I did my classic ‘You should be a proper guest on the podcast’ line, which I use less than you’d think to lure potential interviewees. Holger told me he’d love to be involved but he was leaving the UK – FOREVER – in the next few weeks but maybe we could work something out. We arranged a recording date and I duly pitched up at BPP for the interview as he’d very kindly given me some time during his last few days in the UK to meet with me. All was going well until he needed to take a call. Not a problem; I was taken downstairs for a tour of the library (I flipping love a library tour) by his colleague, with my iPhone in hand. To explain: I record the in-person interviews using the Voice Memo app on my phone. I checked my phone to make sure the recording was still there and it had DISAPPEARED.

Even now, more than three months on, I cringe at the memory of frantically searching through *all* the voice memos to make really, really sure the recording wasn’t lurking somewhere. Apple had recently updated the Voice Memo app and a product that had been bulletproof beforehand had become glitchy and weird. [True story: a week later I inadvertently exacted revenge when I dropped my iPhone 7 down five floors in Selfridges. The Voice Memo App works perfectly on the replacement, the iPhone X.] Worst of all, Holger was going to finish his phone call and expect to carry on with the interview. I had two options:

  1. Run, Run out of the building  – not an option as my bag and coat were in Holger’s office
  2. Confess and hope that I didn’t look like a total moron.

I went for option 2. Holger was spectacularly lovely about the whole sorry mishap. He found some time in his diary the following day (I was supposed to be at CILIP New Professionals Day but missed the morning session to do the re-record.) For take 2 I took my full recording setup – Blue Yeti Microphone and laptop – and we pretended we hadn’t met the day before as I asked him (mostly) the same questions and he gave (mostly) the same answers.

I really enjoyed recording this episode (the second time) and I’m pleased with the result. It was the first interview in which I included the new ‘What do you do when you’re not being a librarian’ question. Full credit to Gus MacDonald for suggesting that I include it.

The next episode will be released on Tuesday 26th February and features Rebecca Hill.

Happy listening!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LwL Podcast Episode 43: Sally Walker

In Episode 43 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Sally Walker, Children’s Librarian in Orkney and CILIPS Library and Information Professional of the Year 2017.

Sally and I first met at the CILIP Conference in Brighton in July, where she delivered one of the keynote presentations. During her talk I tweeted CILIPS and asked them if they could help me get Sally on the podcast.

After delivering her kick-ass talk, Mike Jones and I were shocked when Sally came along to our networking workshop. While we emphasise the fact that the workshop is for everyone, it tends to attract new/trainee info pros/library workers. We didn’t expect one of the keynote speakers to come along and confess that they found professional events extremely daunting.

Since then Sally and I have become friends [One of the lovely benefits of doing the podcast is that I’ve met so many people that I now class as friends as a result of interviewing them. Sally is definitely in this category.] and we recorded this episode over Skype audio in September. Again, apologies for the quality of the recording. My ancient desktop computer (RIP) was definitely on the way out and the sound quality isn’t great. I’ve cleaned it up as much as I can and it’s absolutely worth listening to.

I haven’t quite decided which episode I’m going to release next. I have a few episodes banked and ready to go so it’s just a case of choosing one…

Happy listening!

 

 

LwL Episode 16: Nick Poole

In Episode 16 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Nick Poole, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). Nick was kind enough to give me 1.5 hours of his time back in November to record this episode in person at CILIP HQ.

We had a wide-ranging discussion (I asked some of the usual questions but several of them felt quite redundant, so it made sense to follow the flow of conversation for much of the episode) that included: the acquisition of and access to knowledge and information, routes into the information profession, efforts to diversify the workforce, living and working in the information age, “Librarian on Librarian Violence”, being part of CILIP, professional ethics, funding models for library services, and celebrating achievements without fear of ridicule. You can find out more about the CILIP Action Plan 2016-2020 here.

Nick also offers advice to both new and mid-career professionals, we chat about networking and speaking at conferences (please note my – frankly – shameless plea to be able to speak at the next CILIP conference), and the dreaded Imposter Syndrome rears its ugly head yet again… If you have any questions, Nick is happy to answer them. Just click on his name at the top.

I’m very pleased to announce that this episode contains some exclusive news, but you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out more. No spoilers…

If you’re new to the profession, you can join CILIP here

The next episode will be released on Tuesday 16th January and stars Alisa Howlett (we’re going international again, this time to Australia.)
Happy listening!

Awards and comebacks

On Friday I won an award. At the the Research in Practice (RiP) Link Officers’ Annual Conference (LOAM) I was awarded Link Officer of the Year. Full disclosure: I won the silver award. The gold award – deservedly – went to Shelley Caldwell, Principal Social Worker in North Somerset. However, the certificate says Link Officer of the Year and doesn’t mention the silver bit so my LinkedIn profile probably won’t mention it either. Lets keep that between us, eh?! 😉

RiP LOAM award

[Yup, I can’t say who I work for because people….]

It is always such a cliche when award winners say how honoured they are to win an accolade. However, it is generally true. I knew my manager had nominated me (which was very lovely of him) but the submission that Dez Holmes read out included information that he couldn’t have known about so there’s an anonymous guardian angel out there somewhere. Whoever they are I owe them a massive debt of gratitude.

Professionally I don’t seek awards but it is gratifying  to be recognised and I also think it is a good thing for the information profession. Look at the text on the certificate just below my strategically-placed finger: “…embeds evidence-informed practice at all levels across the workforce…” …encourage colleagues to engage with RiP resources” “…they really stand out as a champion of evidence-informed practice”. All of this is what we do in the information profession. Every. Single. Day. If this isn’t library advocacy on a wider scale I don’t know what is. What we do matters. What we do makes a difference. If they know about it, people outside the profession notice and appreciate what we do. We need to be bolder about telling people. We need to learn to stand up and shout. We need to be proud of what we achieve.

[Note: I was the only  information professional at the conference. I’ve been to a few RiP LOAMs over the years and there used to be a little group of us. No longer.]

Personally the award means an awful lot because this time last year I was incredibly unwell, had been off work for some time and no-one was quite sure (least of all me) if I would be able to go back again. To go from where I was in November 2016 to where I am now is actually mind-blowing. I made it back. I did it. I owe so many people so much for helping me achieve this. (I wrote a much longer post detailing how unwell I was last year but I’m not ready to share it just now because it makes for uncomfortable reading.)

I love being the RiP Link Officer for my organisation (not just because they give me awards and let me attend their annual conference with free food and wine) and I pledge to continue sharing the best evidence-informed practice service possible with my organisation, for the benefit of everyone.