FCLIP Feedback and advice

Now that have achieved FCLIP, I can pass on some of my hard-earned wisdom (such as it is) on how to avoid all the mistakes that I made and give yourself the best possible chance of getting your portfolio through the assessment board first time (unlike me…)

I have divided this into three areas: portfolio-specific advice, general advice, and advice for CILIP

Portfolio advice

  1. Critical evaluation: It’s not enough to say you’ve done an amazing thing and to provide evidence of it. You need to reflect on what you did, how it went and what you would do differently next time. Repeatedly. On multiple documents: your evaluative statement, your evidence (every single piece of it), the PKSB, your CV, your job description and through your supporting statements. If you’ve done Chartership recently (note I said recently i.e. in the last five years) you will already know this. Forget passive voice. You need to adopt the persona of a charismatic preacher convincing the congregation that you can heal their terminal illnesses simply by laying hands on them.
  2. Supporting letters: The handbook states that you need a minimum of two. Actually, the more letters you can get to prove your case and blow your trumpet on your behalf, the better. This should be explicitly stated in the guidelines. Ask everyone that had anything to do with anything in your portfolio. Those people will say extremely nice things about you. Their words are useful to refer to when you’re on your fifteenth go at doing your evaluative statement and you hate yourself, CILIP, all library workers (even the ones you vaguely like), anyone who already has FCLIP, and you wish you’d become a nail technician/writer/professional Sims player rather than a librarian
  3. Mentor: You need an FCLIP mentor – as in, you need someone that has been through FCLIP themselves, or at the very minimum has a proven track record of getting other people through it. I firmly believe that an MCLIP mentor (even a very experienced one) is NOT sufficiently equipped to know which areas to push in an FCLIP portfolio. I’m a Chartership mentor and I don’t think that I would have had the skills to support someone doing Fellowship before I went through the process myself. Moreover, I think that FCLIP mentors need more extensive training than MCLIP mentors and that they should refresh their training every 2-3 years.
  4. Evidence: You must link it to the PKSB and I mean by putting a paragraph at the top of every single bit of evidence stating explicitly which bits of the PKSB it supports, down to the numbers. So far, so Chartership. Additionally, you need to signpost the assessors and point out PRECISELY why this evidence matters. You also need to elevate the reflection so that it provides clear evidence of higher-level management and leadership thinking.
  5. Language: forget everything you’ve been told about not putting ‘I’ into stuff because there’s no I in team. In your FCLIP portfolio you are the supreme ruler of your realm. You did a thing? Great! You LED that thing. You’re an ADVOCATE! You’re a LEADER! You’re an INFLUENCER!. Modest people DO NOT ACHIEVE FCLIP. Even if you *are* modest by nature you must pretend that you’re an arrogant so-and-so. This is hard but there’s no way round it.

General advice

  1. It’s a selling job. You’re selling yourself and your skills to convince the assessors and the panel that you are worthy of FCLIP. It’s not enough to have done lots of innovative, interesting things. You have to tell them, through your portfolio, in glorious technicolour. Repeatedly. In self-glorifying language. Activate jazz hands, a chorus line and twenty-five tapdancing musical theatre stars WITH CANES AND TOP HATS singing at the very top of their lungs about your greatness.
  2. You need to be confident about your management and leadership skills: You need to demonstrate – repeatedly – that you have high-level management skills. Don’t assume the assessors will be able to read between the lines and see that you’re working at a significantly higher level than a Chartership candidate. You have to tell them repeatedly throughout your portfolio.
  3. It’s lonely: Some candidates set up FCLIP support groups and have find them extremely useful, but I know they wouldn’t work for me because they would enhance my already heightened feelings of inadequacy. Everyone I’ve spoken to has gone through a really difficult time with it and it does feel like you’re trying to navigate without a map. If you can’t face being part of an FCLIP group, perhaps buddy up with someone who already has already achieved Fellowship but isn’t your mentor, or with someone going through Chartership. Even if you just end up sending each other Gavin and Stacey gifs on Twitter.
  4. It’s emotional: someone said that to me early on and I was surprised. However, reflecting on your career and your journey pushes certain buttons. It forces you to go back and explore complicated unresolved feelings about projects that went wrong, significant achievements, and the reality of day-to-day working life over a period of time. It also reminds you of things that you’ve done that you completely forgot about. It’s an odd sort of professional therapy.
  5. You have to want it: I had two drivers pushing me towards FCLIP. It’s the last library-related qualification I plan to do, and I wanted to reflect on what I’ve achieved so far in my career and work out my next steps career-wise. I don’t think that I would have contemplated taking it on otherwise. You need your reasons and you need to be able to refer back to them when the going gets tough.
  6. You’re allowed to find it hard: I think it’s very dangerous for anyone to pretend that it’s a smooth process because it prevents others from sharing their fears and worries. FCLIP should not be easy. It’s a significant step up from MCLIP. It feels like you’re trying to free solo El Capitan at times and I worry that the step from one to the other is too high and that the expectations are disproportionate.

Advice for CILIP

All of the above plus:

  1. Mentor or tutor? I think the line is pretty blurred in professional registration and I don’t think it’s entirely helpful. A mentor advises and a tutor teaches. I needed both when I was putting my portfolio together. I’m not convinced that a one-day course or webinar teaches anyone how to support a candidate through FCLIP.
  2. The step (or rather, the sheer climb) between Chartership and Fellowship needs to be made clearer at the outset. The woolly expectations in the handbook don’t indicate how onerous it is in terms of time commitment and sheer mental and emotional effort.
  3. Make the processes and documentation clearer. The handbook is extremely woolly and there should be a separate FCLIP-specific version. There shouldn’t be a whole host of ‘Stuff you aren’t told but are somehow supposed to know’ hidden away. It’s not supposed to be a treasure hunt.

Achieving FCLIP and what it means

Last week I got the email telling me that I have achieved Fellowship from CILIP. Anyone that knows me even a tiny bit via this blog, the Librarians with Lives podcast, Twitter or in real-life will know that it has been a journey for me to get to this point.

It feels like another lifetime now but less than three years ago I was so unwell that I couldn’t write an email or read text longer than a page. My short-term memory was non-existent and I often felt frightened and overwhelmed. When I returned to work full-time in January 2017 after a lengthy phased return I didn’t imagine for a second that I would take on something like Fellowship. I registered for FCLIP in February 2017. On reflection it was too soon after my illness but I felt that I needed a long-term goal to focus on beyond being able to get up in the morning and function effectively.

I have written extensively elsewhere on the process I’ve been through, so I won’t repeat that here. When I opened the congratulatory email I did a little whoop and then felt oddly calm. I had expected to be running around with joy (that came later) or maybe even have a good cry. It turns out that I’ve shed enough tears over the last few months. I told my family and friends first, then put the word out on social media. I’ve had so many lovely messages. On Monday I took treats into work and wrote a brief email outlining why, with a brief explanation of 1. CILIP and 2. Fellowship. Again, the congratulatory messages have been overwhelming and it’s nice to be appreciated.

The feedback from the Professional Registration Assessment Board on my FCLIP portfolio was as follows:

“Congratulations on achieving Fellowship. Having created a successful service you have been looking outward and involving the wider sector in being customers of the service. Your learning and development is clear at both a strategic and managerial level and is reflected in your successes reflected in the comments from the organisational leads’ supporting statements. The work you have done with Librarians with Lives and the number of “lives” it has touched is considerable. A growing and global community is emerging which is testament to your efforts”.

Ultimately, achieving FCLIP doesn’t really change anything. It’s more letters after my name (cheers to the person I know IRL who said I needed to do a PhD next to complete the set. NO. I mean, really. No.) It’s something to add to my CV. It demonstrates my commitment to continuing professional development. It will make me a better Chartership mentor. I’m now part of a fairly small group of people who can describe themselves as a Fellow. In 2016 I didn’t want to do my job any more. I didn’t want to be a librarian. I didn’t think I was worth saving. Achieving FCLIP has given me a forcible reminder that I have made something of a difference to my organisation and the wider profession.

When I submitted my FCLIP portfolio it felt like the end of an era. I had reflected extensively on my achievements over the last ten years, particularly building a library and information service for social workers from scratch and making it successful and sustainable. Achieving Fellowship is the culmination of a decade of work and I’m now ready for a new challenge.

 

The notion of ‘Fine’ and professional confidence

I submitted the second version of my Fellowship Portfolio last week, less than two months after the first attempt was rejected. I cannot thank Kate Robinson enough for everything she’s done for me. Short of picking me up and carrying me (which she pretty much did in a virtual sense), she’s the reason that I felt able to press the submit button again.

There was some reaction to my previous post on professional failure. I have been contacted by a few people who were a little…concerned. I was keen to reassure everyone that I was fine and that things were moving forward again. I mean, there was the day that I and went and sat in a toilet cubicle at work and couldn’t face unlocking the door and going back out again because everything felt too difficult. There was the day of the terrible job interview, where even before I went into the interview itself I was told by the person giving me the library tour that I really, really didn’t want to work there (talk about putting you off your stride; I hope they did it for the right reasons) and I walked out afterwards thinking ‘Please don’t give me the job’ (They didn’t.) There was the day where I ran a marathon without meaning to. I listened to I’m Still Standing by Elton John and Run the World (Girls) by Beyonce (Homecoming live version) repeatedly. Other than that, all fine. Nothing to see here.

Kate kept saying to me: ‘Why aren’t you showing off about everything you’ve achieved?’ I honestly thought I *had*. I won an award in 2017 and when I went to accept it the Director of the organisation presenting me with the certificate said ‘Jo is so unassuming but she does all of this amazing work’ and I thought ‘No, I’m such a show off really’. Or all the times I assume that people who I’ve met previously won’t remember me and when they do I feel like an idiot (one doesn’t like to assume…)

My immediate family are kind, humble, quiet, hard-working people. They’re not given to boasty posts on social media. They quietly accumulated qualifications but don’t discuss them. I don’t know what my Dad’s golf handicap is (I have asked, he doesn’t tell) and I didn’t know until recently that he once ran a sub-three-hour marathon. My sister got a significant accolade last year, but she asked us not to talk about it anywhere.

According to my children you’re now allowed – no, expected – to show off about your achievements to your peers. When I was at school it was incredibly uncool to be clever and social death to show off about it. Once you were labelled a ‘Boff’ (short for Boffin – a 90s Bedfordshire term?), it was game over for your credibility. I learned to play everything down. To make myself invisible. To not put my hand up when I knew the answer. I stopped taking up space. I turned self-deprecation into an art form as a survival mechanism.

At university and until my mid-twenties I became a bit of an arrogant sod. I’d learned to combine my clever academic stuff with the ability to dance until 3am in a sweaty nightclub and be the ringleader of the social gang in my part-time job. I achieved a promotion in my second library job with the caveat that I had to promise not to be as arrogant as I had been in the interview (I didn’t think I’d get it, so I went in like an absolute baller with nothing to lose.)

Having children really dicked with my professional confidence. There was the sense that I was lucky to have a job, that I didn’t deserve to achieve anything, that I should concentrate on the babies and stop having notions about ambition. Some of that came from within but there were some external forces at work too. It comes to something when, after all of this, you’re on the receiving end of a lengthy pep-talk from one of your children telling you to show off more, be brave, do the scary things and tell everyone what you’ve done and why it’s important. Essentially, everything I’ve said to her over the course of her life. Turns out that your children actually do listen to what you say after all…

There’s a disconnect between how I feel internally (I’m bloody excellent, obviously) and how I project myself on paper and in person (depending on the context, of course.) I’m now at a point where, professionally, I need to change that if I want to move forwards. I had to swallow quite a lot of awkward feelings when I re-wrote my FCLIP evaluative statement because it felt utterly alien to be writing about myself in such as self-aggrandizing way. I can big-up my library and my team and my colleagues until the end of time, but I simply can’t do it about myself with any conviction.

Once I’d pressed the Submit button on version 2 I felt curiously flat and oddly ambivalent about the whole thing. I maintain that the real achievement was pulling together a portfolio in the first place (even though version 1 was crap) so I don’t know how I feel this time. At some point (if/when I pass) I’ll write a constructive post full of advice to FCLIP candidates, but I don’t have it in me right now. I have picked a few CPD things up again: LwL is back next week, Mike and I are pulling together our workshop for the conference, and I want to reconnect with the wider profession in a fun way via LwL @ #cilipconf19. I don’t really know what’s next, but I’m already looking for the next mountain to climb.

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 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.

FCLIP – it’s all about the process, not the outcome

I have – finally – submitted my CILIP Fellowship portfolio. I want to celebrate the effort I have put in to writing, pulling together and submitting the portfolio, rather than the achievement itself (if/when it comes.)

I did Chartership in 2007 when you had to submit three printed folders. Guided by my wonderful mentor Allison I wrote the portfolio when I was seven months pregnant with my twin girls. I don’t remember it being an onerous process: I gathered evidence, put together a statement, pulled the portfolios together and posted the cumbersome package off to CILIP. I found out I’d achieved Chartership when my twins were a month old.

As revalidation is optional I didn’t bother doing it until 2016. I *meant* to do it every year but I was distracted by, variously: parenting small twins, building and running a library, having an early mid-life crisis and re-training to be a sport psychologist, dealing with health issues, wider family crises, bereavements and, finally, being ill.

By the time I got around to revalidating everything was done on the VLE and felt like a bit of a dark art. Part of the process seemed to be figuring out how to use the system, but revalidation itself was straightforward. I updated the CPD log, put together my statement, and submitted. I revalidated on three successive occasions. The easiest Revalidation I did was the year I was off work for a significant period.

I registered for Fellowship in February 2017. I’d let go of my professional networks when I was unwell and felt disconnected. I won a bursary to attend the CILIP Conference in Manchester. During the drinks reception I got chatting to Juanita and Jo from CILIP. They were both really encouraging and as she had successfully navigated the process recently, Juanita was able to offer lots of advice. She gave me a list of things that I could do, including completing the initial PKSB which I duly did.

I decided to record some interviews with library workers from other sectors to include in my – at this stage mythical – FCLIP portfolio as evidence of wider professional involvement, which became the Librarians with Lives podcast. I whinged about FCLIP. Barbara Band contacted me on Twitter and offered to be my mentor. Using the PKSB I created an incredibly detailed and highly pointless spreadsheet matching the areas for development with things I was doing/had done. Barbara came to meet me in April 2018, gave me a load of useful advice and I vowed to crack on.

I tried to write the evaluative statement on several occasions but had to deal with the tyranny of the blank page. My friend George offered her assistance. In September 2018 we sat in a café and she typed while I told her stuff. It was mostly her saying ‘You did X. How did you do that?’ and me replying ‘I don’t know. I just did it’ and her sighing and writing something coherent. Several hours later we’d put together version 1 of my evaluative statement. I pulled my portfolio together on the VLE. Barbara came back with a comprehensive list of questions, changes, corrections and suggested amendments.

After that I couldn’t face looking at the portfolio for another two months. In the interim I spoke at seven professional events in six weeks where I riffed on my lack of Fellowship progress. It became a sad joke that my speaker bio always said: ‘Jo is currently working towards CILIP Fellowship’. At CILIPS Autumn Gathering two people – separately – came up to me after my talk, gently asked if I was ok and told me that I didn’t *have* do FCLIP now if I wasn’t feeling well enough. At the HMC Librarians Conference one of the attendees, the wonderful Kate, came up to me after my workshop and asked ‘What’s stopping you pressing the submit button?’ I explained that my portfolio was awful. She kindly said that I could send her the draft evaluative statement and she would offer some advice.

In November 2018 I met with my line manager and asked him to write FCLIP into my workplan. I booked a meeting room, removed all distractions and set to work on version 2 of the portfolio. Kate gave me loads of useful advice: ‘This is too descriptive’ ‘Stop telling the story’ ‘What was the result of this?’ ‘Stop wasting words’. The statement went backwards and forward between us several times. I had a complete break over the Christmas period and decided to tackle it again in January. I went through the changes that Kate had suggested to versions 3 and 4 of the statement and once I was happy I updated the portfolio. Barbara came back with some more suggestions and now my portfolio is worthy of submission.

The evaluative statement is unrecognisable from the version that George and I put together in September. I think two partial sentences have made it all the way from versions 1 to 5. The process of writing the evaluative statement has been complicated by the fact that I tend towards the negative and am harder on myself than anyone else could ever be. I’m also bad at owning work-based achievements so my inclination is to say ‘we’ or depersonalise. Apparently, I’m unusual because I found writing the wider professional context and organisational context sections easier than the personal section. The latter has been subject to the most changes during the five versions of the statement. I’m now ready to let the assessors pull the portfolio apart and give their verdict.

Achieving FCLIP won’t give me anything particularly tangible. I’ll get some extra letters after my name and a nice certificate. My colleagues will get cake. I won’t earn any more money for having it. However, it’s likely to be the last academic endeavour I’ll ever complete. For years I kept going back to academia in a fruitless effort to become the cleverest person in the room. I know now that I don’t need to chase qualifications to prove my worth (to myself) as a person.

Submitting FCLIP also marks the culmination of my ‘comeback’, as it were. In 2016 I was convinced that I was done with librarianship. I couldn’t see how I could ever return to work and be the same as I was before I was ill. I can’t begin to describe how frightening it is to go from being able to write library strategy papers and academic essays to becoming incapable of writing a simple email and then to slowly, slowly recover enough to get myself to a point where I could even contemplate doing Fellowship.

Nothing I do is achieved in isolation. I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by amazing people. Glenn and our girls at home for giving me the rounded life I badly need. Matt for being my second brain and the other half of TGLTTWHES. Richard for being the line manager I need (and writing one of the supporting statements for my portfolio), and many other brilliant colleagues at work. Helen, Jo and Juanita at CILIP for kicking it all off. George for helping me write version 1 of the evaluative statement and for tolerating me sending her #FCKFCLIP when she asked me how it was going on Whatsapp. Barbara for taking me on as a mentee and guiding me through the process. Kate for the advice and support. Anyone that’s ever had anything to do with Librarians with Lives. My Library Twitter crowd.

I’m not saying that the outcome is completely irrelevant – I’ll definitely feel down if I fail or if I am asked to make significant changes to the portfolio. However, I think we’re too quick to dismiss the process and focus on the end product. FCLIP has been significantly harder than I ever imagined it would be when I enrolled. At some stage I’ll write something about my opinions on FCLIP itself and I’ll attempt to offer some advice to those thinking of doing, or embarking on the Fellowship journey. For now I’ll just bask in the fact that I have Finally Submitted The Damn Thing.

 

189.5 hours of CPD – or trying to stay sane when your professional life explodes

I updated my CPD log on the CILIP VLE recently. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I’ve accumulated a considerable number of CPD hours in the last twelve months. If anything, 189.5 hours might be an underestimate.

I think it’s worth giving this some context. The majority of my CPD has happened outside of work hours, aside from the conferences and events that I’m very kindly given time to attend by my manager. I’ve been asked a few times if I have a proper job, and if my employer minds. 1. I do, and I’ll be blogging about it separately at some stage. 2. My line manager’s view is that anything that gets my name (and, by extension, my employers’) ‘out there’ professionally in a positive way is to be embraced and celebrated. I mostly record Librarians with Lives episodes in the evening, when my children are in bed. I don’t do any CPD at weekends, or when I’m on leave.

The background noise accompanying this is my mental health. In the presentations I’ve done about mental health and professional resilience I mention that there were three different things that triggered my severe illness in 2016. I have talked in detail about the work-related aspect and gloss over the other two. Currently, my work life is great and acts as a protective factor because the other two bits (one health, and one not-my-actual-family) aren’t so great and, right now, one of them is severely affecting my general health and wellbeing.

The Librarians with Lives podcast also acted as a brilliant protective factor until, one day, it didn’t. I had a crazy 6 weeks in October and November where I presented at seven different events, including a wonderful two days at ILI where I ‘live’ podcasted the event. I’m grateful that I was so busy because otherwise I think things would have been very bad indeed. I’m not going to give airtime to events in the autumn, but I am going to talk about the impact that it had and continues to have.

I was about and about doing my thing, meeting people at professional events, involved in all the stuff I love – presentations and podcasting, meeting new people and making connections, and feeling nauseous and frightened the entire time. Second-guessing whether the person I was talking to was happy to be talking to me, or whether I was being sized up to determine what I was *really* like. Suddenly feeling mistrustful of people and politely distancing myself from those that I felt had enjoyed the drama at my expense a little too much. Batting away ‘I saw what happened. Are you ok?’ queries from concerned friends, strangers and bystanders so I didn’t worry them. Fretting that I (and by extension Librarians with Lives) was damaged goods, to be avoided. Turning my experiences into jokes in conference presentations. Laughing at the ludicrousness of it all while feeling angry and sad.

I knew that once I stopped podcasting and presenting and networking and being ‘Jo the Librarians with Lives person’, my brain would make me pay for distracting myself for so long. The intrusive, frightening thoughts I have when I’m in a really bad place returned with all kinds of disturbing new twists. I felt irrationally panicky most of the time. When I didn’t feel panicky I felt sad. At least I had stopped feeling nauseous by this point. I hadn’t experienced anxiety-induced nausea before and I don’t recommend it as an experience. I had a long break over Christmas and apart from being (physically) ill for part of the time, it was wonderful.

I gave myself space to make decisions without forcing it to do anything and realised that:

  1. I love my job. It’s not fashionable to stay with the same employer for so long but (highly edited highlights time – as I said earlier the full version will get airtime in the spring), in the last 10 years I have set up a library and information service for social workers across England from scratch building up a large user base in the process, I won an award for my work to embed evidence-informed practice across the organisation, my library has partnerships (which I set up) with three external bodies to whom we provide information services and there are more in the pipeline, and the LIS was mentioned in my employer’s recent Outstanding report from Ofsted. This isn’t stuff you can do if you change jobs every two years. It takes time and effort to build the necessary partnerships, connections, and reputation to achieve meaningful change. Why on earth would I walk away from a job that offers me the chance to get involved in projects across the organisation and influence the sector externally, that is highly valued and championed by its users, with brilliant colleagues, an organisation that has families and flexible working in its DNA, with a management team that ‘gets’ me and understands that by letting me be me they’ve got a sector-leading LIS out of it?
  2. The Librarians with Lives podcast is a positive force, that is valued by listeners and participants and is leading to small but meaningful changes to the profession. I have a slide I use in my presentation about podcasting depicting a world map with all the countries in which LwL is listened to coloured in. It blows my mind every time I update it. I started LwL as the tiniest of CPD projects to put into my Fellowship portfolio as a way of demonstrating wider professional involvement and the fact that so many people listen to it is just mind-blowing. I seriously considered stopping LwL in the autumn because I didn’t feel I could ever enjoy doing it in the same way again. I’m continually meeting and finding new people that I want to interview though, so it marches onwards. When I’m feeling down I try to remember that I’m better off being me, trying to be a force for good in the profession, raising people up rather than tearing them down.
  3. I would happily go and podcast at conferences every year for the rest of my working life, so do invite me *hint* *clang*
  4. I will achieve FCLIP this year. After my #fckfclip rant to my friend (not on social media) at the end of last year, I have resolved to get my CILIP Fellowship done in 2019. The carrot for me is that when I (finally) achieve Fellowship, I can go and get a nail technician qualification and somehow combine professional networking, podcasting, wellbeing and manicures together in one sparkly package.
  5. I’d like to do more to highlight mental health in the profession. Every time I’ve delivered my mental health and professional resilience presentation I have had a little queue of people who want to speak to me afterwards. Some want to thank me for being so honest and for raising awareness of difficult issues. Others want to share their own mental health experiences with me. I’m asked for advice on supporting partners, family members and colleagues struggling with mental health. I think there’s *something* valuable I can do here; I just need to work out what it is.

Over the last few months I’ve found it hard to appreciate all the positive things that have happened as a result of doing LwL, but here are a few to remind me:

  • The articles and news pieces in Information Professional, the MMiT blog, and in Business Information Review
  • The conference presentations in London, Brighton, Glasgow, Cambridge and Aberystwyth
  • The networking workshops with Mike, who I now count as a good friend
  • Being a guest on Calon FM in Wrexham with Paul
  • Appearing as an occasional recurring character on the Doctor WHEasel podcast
  • My theatre trips with Clare
  • Becoming one of the ‘faces’ of CILIP (I wrestled with this for a time; now I embrace it)
  • Running after people I would have been too scared to approach at conferences previously because they’re cool and amazing and asking them to be on my podcast (sorry Joshua). See also: ‘Stay there! You need to be on my podcast!’ (sorry Holger)
  • Podcasting at the ILI and CILIP conferences (possibly the most fun it is possible to have at a professional event)
  • Plotting to steal CILIP Presidential medals with Ellie and Rachel in Aberystwyth
  • Squealy, excited hugs with Sally and Margaret in Glasgow
  • The pre-conference dinner in Cambridge, where Claire engineered the seating plan to surround me with lovely people
  • Getting to know a whole load of people, most of whom I wouldn’t have otherwise met, as a result of doing LwL: Helen B, Clare, Mike E, Andrew, Juanita, Katherine, Michael, Laura, Amy, Helen M, Tracy, Nick, Alisa, Mike J, Jo C, Rhiannon, Elle, Hannah, Jen B, Jenny F, Caitlin, Kathryn, Tom P, Tom R, Jane, David, Louise, Emma, Anne, Natasha, Ian, Minnie/Emily, Kate G, Leah, Kate F, Gus, Kat, Brian, Alison, Helen L, Martin, Hal, Phil, Lynsey, Sally, Paul, Ellie, Holger, Angela, Naomi, all the people I’ve interviewed at conferences, and the forthcoming interviews with loads of awesome people.

I reference the concept of high-achieving anxiety in my presentations and while it’s not a recognised medical term, it absolutely fits my approach to all aspects of life. If I *have* to deal with being anxious and taking on too much to cope, I might as well get a lot out of it. If almost 190 hours of CPD time is what it takes to feel reasonably sane, I’ll do it.

A year of the Librarians with Lives Podcast

Librarians with Lives in numbers:

[from 3rd September 2017 to 25th July 2018 am]

35 episodes released (plus the CILIP Conference Special)

72 people interviewed

9,928 plays

Top 5 most listened to episodes:

  1. Nick Poole
  2. Helen Berry
  3. CILIP Conference 2018 special
  4. Katherine Burchell
  5. Jane Secker

50+ (the Soundcloud stats stop at 50) countries in which the podcast has been listened to

The top 10 are:

  1. United Kingdom
  2. USA
  3. Australia
  4. New Zealand
  5. Luxembourg
  6. Ireland
  7. Canada
  8. Sweden
  9. Japan
  10. Spain

10 things I have learned:

  1. How to spot who has enough ‘voice’ and personality to sustain an episode
  2. Once you get (most) people talking about themselves, it’s virtually impossible to stop them
  3. Being bold but polite gets results.
  4. People will complain about things that never occurred to you
  5. Social media personas can be extremely amplified versions of someone’s actual personality.
  6. Some people are *exactly* the same in real life as they are online.
  7. Everyone hates the sound of their own voice. Nobody has a bad voice.
  8. Occasionally, interviewees will drive you mad by not promoting, or mentioning to anyone, their own episode of the podcast when it’s released.
  9. Don’t go looking for the dissenting voices. If you’re *really* lucky they will a. Make themselves obvious and/or b. People will tell you about them. Honestly, I and/or LwL are not worth your hate.
  10. The Librarians with Lives alumni I have gone on to meet in real life have, without exception, been absolutely lovely.

27 Unexpected consequences…

…or things that wouldn’t have happened if the podcast didn’t exist:

Conferences

  1. Co-delivering a workshop on networking at the CILIP Careers Day in April with someone I interviewed for the podcast, who I hadn’t met in real life until the morning of the workshop
  2. Subsequently co-delivering that workshop at the CILIP Conference in Brighton in July
  3. …and being asked to co-deliver it again at the CILIP New Professionals Day in October
  4. …and at a CILIP in London event in November
  5. Seeing the Welcome Zone at the CILIP Conference and thinking ‘I helped to affect that change’.
  6. Going back to Aberystwyth, 12 years after I finished my distance learning ILS qualification there, to deliver a plenary presentation about mental health, podcasting and resilience at the CILIP Cymru Wales Conference in May
  7. Standing up and telling 100+ people, most of whom had no idea who I was, about my mental health (see no. 5.)
  8. …and being asked to deliver a similar talk at a CILIP Scotland event in October.
  9. Recording an episode of Librarians with Lives at the CILIP Conference, where I interviewed 40 people, many of whom I had never met before and turning it into something coherent
  10. Submitting a very speculative proposal to speak at the forthcoming ILI Conference in October and for it to become a break-out session called Live, Love, Librarian!

In print

  1. Appearing in three consecutive issues of Information Professional magazine in 2018 (sorry…):
  • 60 seconds with…
  • Revalidation and CILIP Cymru Wales conference mentions
  • Networking article with Mike and being mentioned in Nick Poole’s editorial
  1. Writing an article for MMiT about the tech behind the podcast
  2. Being interviewed for a journal article about my experiences of being involved with a professional body
  3. Being interviewed for a case study for a forthcoming book on management

Professional development

  1. Gaining two Chartership mentees
  2. …and a Fellowship mentor

Fun stuff

  1. #Libraruns
  2. Hacking a shop-bought Guess Who game and turning it into a special Librarians with Lives edition for the networking workshop
  3. Hosting a Christmas Special of the podcast featuring previous guests and keeping it (mostly) in order
  4. Getting to see the inner workings of CILIP HQ (small, mostly open plan, desks, people) [Spoiler 1: it’s not Narnia. Spoiler 2: everyone I’ve met from CILIP is lovely]
  1. Being asked to guest on a community radio show
  2. Being asked to voice a small role on a comedy sketch podcast
  3. The Love Island DM group
  4. The Queer Eye DM group
  5. Chess: the musical with Clare “Wasn’t it good? OH SO GOOD” “Wasn’t he fine? OH SO FIIIIIINNNNNNEEEEEE” etc.
  6. Becoming (very) mildly ‘Library Famous’.
  7. Making new Library Friends who are now Actual Friends

2 negative things

  1. I have severe writers’ block with my Fellowship portfolio. If I could record me speaking about it, I could probably submit it. I firmly believe that I *will* be able to write and submit a successful application at some stage, but I’m not *yet* ready or able to do so.
  2. I probably won’t ever write my Mills & Boon ‘Love in a library’ bestselling novel now…

1 sad thing

I can’t believe it will ever be as good as this again. To watch something that I started as a tiny little CPD project grow into an actual podcast with listeners across the world and from different sectors of the information profession is mind-blowing.

…and finally…

Thank you to everyone that has taken part, listened to, promoted, and contributed to the Podcast in some way over the last year. There are too many of you to thank individually but it takes a village small city to make a podcast successful and I’m incredibly grateful. This is the greatest CPD thing I have done, and will ever do, and I’m already looking forward to the next LwL Podcast season.

LwL will be back on 4th September after a little summer holiday.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Queer Eye.

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LwL Podcast Episode 35: Ian Anstice

In Episode 35 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Ian Anstice, AKA Public Libraries News  about his day job(s) and lengthy career in public libraries, his ‘other’ job running PLN, sponsorship, marketing, speaking at conferences and much more besides.

The Time to Read initiative

The Librarians with Lives podcast is having a break over the summer so the next episode starring Kate Grigsby will be released on Tuesday 4th September

LwL Episode 29: David Clover

In Episode 29 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to David Clover, Head of User Engagement – Library and Learning Services at the University of East London. He has written a couple of posts about his career journey that complement this episode, which can be found on his blog: Part 1 & Part 2.

This episode was recorded in-person at the UEL in February.

The next episode will be released on Tuesday 5th June and stars Cassandra Gilbert-Ward.
Happy listening!