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.

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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)

 

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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:

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  • 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!

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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?

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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] …

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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.

Chartership and the KISS Principle

Over the last year or so, as more of my professional peers have started the Chartership process, I have noticed that it has developed a mystique that I don’t think existed when I did mine in 2007. I think that Chartership candidates are making a much bigger deal of it than they really need to. Granted, compiling the portfolio at the end is a bit time-consuming and it’s hard to get the tone of the Personal Evaluative Statement right initially, but actually it’s no more difficult intellectually than writing up your thoughts for an annual appraisal.

There seem to be a lot of misconceptions about the Chartership process and in my role as mentor and as a concerned fellow professional I’d like to dispel some of the myths here*:

  1. 1.       “I don’t currently do enough to put into a Chartership portfolio”

Putting aside the fact that the people that have said that to me are practically running one aspect of the profession or another, everyone will have done enough development (either at work or externally) since they completed their qualification to make a decent attempt at a portfolio. I recently wrote my pre-appraisal review at work and was concerned that I hadn’t achieved as much as I had done the previous year. Six pages of bullet points later… My point is that unless you sit in a pit of your own filth day after day baiting celebrities on Twitter, you will have done things that you can put into a portfolio.

  1. 2.       “I’m not involved in enough committees”

Want to know how many committees I was involved in when I did my Chartership? None. Zero. Zilch. Well, I was on the Library Student Journal committee editorial board but that was online and I didn’t actually have to go and meet anyone. (Back then I was in denial about the whole librarian thing and didn’t want to fraternise with my peers). If you’re on a committee already – great! Put it in your portfolio. Don’t join something you don’t want to, or don’t feel comfortable with just to put it in your portfolio. You’ll end up resenting it.

  1. 3.       “Everyone does more CPD than me and I don’t measure up”

When pressed, these people admit to comparing themselves unfavourably to the Gods and Goddesses of library CPD. It’s a bit like taking up jogging and getting depressed a week later because you’re not matching Mo Farah’s PB for 5,000 metres. The average Joe (and in my case the very average Jo) cannot hope to emulate the great CPD feats of the few, but you can carve out your own niche. As long as your CPD methods work for you, who cares what everyone else is doing?

  1. 4.       “It’s all really woolly”.

Unlike everything you’ve done before, there isn’t a winning formula that will get you an A-Level or a degree. There isn’t a curriculum or a checklist. As someone that craves order and rules I found this a bit hard to get my head around to start with. However, I soon realised that within the parameters of the portfolio structure, I actually had a great deal of freedom to tailor my Chartership to what I actually needed to do to do my job better. So many people start a course and moan that it’s too generic, it doesn’t cater to their needs or it’s not applicable to their job. The beauty of Chartership is that it is what you make of it. It’s an opportunity for you to play teacher and set your own curriculum and who doesn’t have ambitions to be the master of their own universe?

  1. 5.        “I’m rubbish at reflective writing”

This whole reflective writing thing has a mythology all of its own. You aren’t aiming to become the next Aristotle here. I’m sure your philosophical meditations on the state of information seeking among the great unwashed are beautifully constructed nuggets of wisdom that will live on long after you’ve been reduced to a small pile of ashes but remember this: you’ve got 1,000 words to play with. If, for example, you have identified five development needs you’ve got 200 words for each section. You aren’t going to get much beyond a ‘When I did X I learnt Y and in future I would do Z’ approach and that’s perfectly fine. Save your meditations for a blog post.

This is all a very roundabout way of saying that people are making a much bigger deal of the Chartership process than they need to and once you’ve registered you just need to suck it up, stop whingeing and get on with it. Oh, and get someone to kick your arse occasionally, should you need it.

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

I have added my Chartership portfolio to LwL (see the tabs at the top of the page) for your delectation and amusement…

*These views are my own and are not endorsed by CILIP

CPD and the art of saying no

When you’re presented with an opportunity to do some CPD it’s very easy to say yes. Here’s a brief lesson in why you need to learn to say no sometimes:

In the Autumn was asked to consider joining the committee of a particular CILIP group. As the group was one that I had an interest in (it dovetailed nicely with my new Mentoring role), I said I would attend a meeting and see how I felt. I went along and discovered that the Chair and Secretary posts (along with a couple of others) were vacant. As the meeting progressed my synapses started firing and I thought   ‘I could actually do something here’. When the discussion about the vacant posts came up on the agenda, I opened my enormous mouth and declared that I would like to be Secretary. The Chair post was still vacant but I figured that if I did a good job as Secretary I would be in with a shout of the role at the end of next year, once I’d learnt the ropes.

Call me old-fashioned – call me crazy (many do) – but I think you need some experience before you take on a leading role.

Anyway. I went home, buoyed by enthusiasm and the chance to really achieve something tangible. I started thinking of ways of generating revenue, events we could put on, new initiatives. A couple of weeks later, reality hit. The Committee needed more work and time than I could possibly give it. I have an aversion to people that sit around telling everyone how ‘busy’ they are. In fact, can we all stop using the infernal ‘b’ word? We’re ALL busy. EVERYONE has a life outside work – if they don’t they should really get one. I worked out how much time the Committee would need from me, looked at what I was already doing and the numbers didn’t add up. If my job wasn’t as intense, if I didn’t have small children, if I didn’t have creative hobbies, if I wasn’t a Mentor, I could do it.

I was faced with a straightforward choice. I could either be a Mentor or I could be on the Committee. I couldn’t do both. I’m passionate about Mentoring. I believe it’s a really important role and I really like the idea of helping future leaders get to where they want to be and offering them some support on the way. I realised that getting involved in the Committee would mean that I would become the thing I dislike – someone that justifies inaction by telling everyone how unbelievably busy they are. I couldn’t give the Committee the time and attention it deserved, and frankly it needed someone with plenty of both.

I sent the person that recruited me an e-mail explaining my decision to not only step down from the Secretary role, but to also leave the Committee completely (I’d only attend meetings, get irritated and get over-involved again). I sent the Committee an apologetic e-mail and have heard nothing since. I hope that the Committee fills their vacant posts soon and I’m sorry that I reneged on my promises.

It’s hard to say no, but you have to be realistic about what you can fit into your life.