The long goodbye

I’m in the middle of a two-month notice period at work and I’m sliding into a state of irrelevance. Handover work is ongoing and I’m helping with the recruitment process for my replacement. Nearly two months is an incredibly long time when you know, and your current employer knows, that you’re leaving. I haven’t quite reached the chair-spinning stage yet (on my last day in a previous role I spent the afternoon in the library office spinning in my chair and singing Goldfinger to my bemused colleagues) but I’m definitely winding down.

There are now meetings that I don’t attend – or meetings that I attend the start of and then part-way through someone says ‘You don’t need to be here for this bit Jo…you’re welcome to stay of course’ (I am not expected to stay and if I did it would just get awkward, so I gracefully depart.) All meeting invitations after 27th September have been declined and deleted, some with more relish than others. I do have the occasional ‘Oh’ moment though, when conversations and meetings about the library happen without my knowledge. It’s a forcible reminder that it’s not *my* library any more. I think I’m allowed to feel a little sad about that.

More and more people in the organisation know that I’m going. I started off telling those close to me in person, which led to some difficult and sad conversations. Then my departure was announced in team meetings. Then it was announced in the strategy directorate news email. I have booked a venue for my leaving do and now the wider London team knows. I’ll be writing something about my departure for the next current awareness bulletin. There’s talk of my departure being announced as a news story on the staff intranet. Gradually everyone will know.

I have been described by colleagues as irreplaceable, an institution, a massive loss to the organisation, a hard act to follow. All of which is extremely flattering, but the sun shines, the world turns and later this year someone else will become LIS Manager and I’ll quickly become a distant memory, if I’m even remembered at all.

After I handed in my notice I expected to have a middle of the night “WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?” moment but it simply hasn’t happened. I have done everything (and more) I could possibly achieve in my current role and while I could sit here for the next ten or twenty years quite happily, I don’t think it would be healthy for me or my organisation.

It’s an oddly enjoyable time. I have been able to let go of a lot of things that were irritating me because they simply don’t matter. Whether they really, in the grand scheme of things, mattered before is now irrelevant. The pressure is – finally – off for a little while and I’ve started doing long-neglected hobbies again because I have more brain space to enjoy them.

I’m going to be incredibly busy in my new role. I haven’t been a newbie for a very long time and I know my brain will ache with exhaustion from trying to remember names, procedures, how to get in and out of the building, and learning a completely new job from scratch.

Even though I’m becoming irrelevant to my organisation *now* I have done some impressive things over the last decade and that I shouldn’t allow myself to minimise my achievements in my current role.

New job and reflections on interviews

Since I submitted my Fellowship portfolio I’ve been feeling quite ‘What next’? As I said in a previous post it feels like the end of an era and the right time to move on and do something else. As a result, I’m leaving my current role to move to Public Health England as a Knowledge and Evidence Specialist in October.

Having been in the same job for a long time in a niche sector (social care/work) I didn’t quite know how to pitch myself. I was put forward by recruiters for some terrifyingly grand jobs and was rejected by them. I gained considerable insight into structuring an application.

I wrote a key skills document for one role that I was approached to apply for, which highlighted areas of my current role that I really enjoy (my FCLIP portfolio was a good starting point, proving that it is useful beyond the qualification): building relationships with colleagues across departments, internally and externally and getting them to buy into and become advocates for a service; compiling literature searches and really getting under the hood of a subject; and (cheesy alert) helping to make other people’s lives better and supporting policymakers to affect positive change.

I picked up advice from friends. You shouldn’t overinvest in a role you’ve been ‘found’ for because it’s a recruiter’s job to find you, encourage you to apply for a role that’s well beyond your reach, help you craft a great application and then send you a rejection email prior to the first interview stage. If you’re very unlucky you won’t get an email, but you will see the role advertised by a different recruiter. Also, go for an interview if you’re offered one. The worst-case scenario is that you hone your interview technique and get to see a different workplace and the best-case scenario is that you get offered the job.

Since 2003 I have had four jobs; five if you count an internal promotion. I’ve been in my current role for ten years and I didn’t have to interview for it as I was TUPE’d over from my previous employer. During the LwL 50 AMA I talked about turning down a job a few years ago. I don’t regret the decision I made as my dream job in my twenties was no longer right for me in my thirties.

There are good and bad interview experiences. The good experiences make you feel better about yourself even when you don’t get the job. The prospective employer goes out of their way to make you feel comfortable, doesn’t act like you’ve shot them if you ask questions at the end of the interview, procedures are followed and promises of feedback kept.

I’ve had a few bad interview experiences over the years. Usually you get a ‘Please prepare a 5-10-minute presentation on X and Y’ in the interview invitation. On one occasion, with no warning, I was given 30 minutes prior to the interview to write an on the spot scenario-based PowerPoint presentation. I got about half-way through delivering the presentation, was enthusiastically outlining my plan for saving a failing, fictional but not really, library service and saw the HR representative on the panel roll their eyes. The interview got worse from there. I think they wanted someone to slash library services and I was all about saving and improving them. I didn’t get the job. Three and a half years later I’m still waiting for the promised feedback that I requested twice afterwards.

I was once asked to value a book in an interview, for a post that was mis-advertised as a library job but was really a curatorial role. The book dealer on the interview panel painstakingly explained how I should have been able to value the book he gave me based on the binding and some other subtle clues that I had absolutely no idea about. The ability to value books was not a requirement in the job description and I didn’t indicate that I possessed such a skill in my application.

Early in my career I had an interview for a library assistant role and it was clear the moment I walked through the door that they were just going through the motions of interviewing me. The interview lasted twenty minutes. At the time I thought I’d done something wrong (I requested feedback but didn’t get any) but now I think they’d already found someone amazing and I was simply making up the numbers.

Feedback tends to be along the lines of ‘The skills of another candidate more closely aligned with the job description than yours’, which roughly translates as ‘We liked someone else better than you’. I was once told to contact an email address for feedback on a job I didn’t get. The address they gave me was for a no-reply mailbox.

I saw an advert for the PHE role and crafted an application. I received an interview invitation before I was due to travel up to Manchester for the CILIP Conference, for the following week. The fact that I was so busy may have worked in my favour because I had less time to overthink the process.

Everyone I met at the interview was lovely and put me at ease. I raced through my presentation (the nerves!) and felt that I answered some of the questions better than others. I took myself off for a consolation Frappuccino afterwards. I was kicking myself because I thought of a really great example for one of the questions and it completely fell out of my head during the interview. I braced myself for a rejection email and feedback. I was shocked when I received a phone call offering me the job. I went away and spoke to my brains trust as I have three other people to factor into any decision I make. Their unanimous verdict was that I should accept the role.

I leave my current role on 27th September and I am actively supporting the recruitment process for my replacement. I start my new role on 1st October. I’m excited and terrified but most of all I’m looking forward to a new, very different, challenge.


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.


Don’t be afraid of social media

Reposted with permission from Mike Jones:

Last year when Jo Wood and I were delivering our “Networking for the rest of us” workshop at a variety of library events, including the 2018 CILIP Conference in Brighton, the most frequent question we were asked was how the advice we were giving about how to better approach social situations at professional events could be translated into the online environment, particularly how they could be applied to better use social media as a tool to expand, and make the most of, their professional network.

So here were are getting ready to head off to CILIP’s main event once again and attempting to answer those questions with more detailed and evidenced answers than we garbled as a response 12 months ago. So what will you get from attending our session (at 11.05am on Wednesday 3rd July in 1.218 should you be interested)?

First and foremost you’ll get an analysis of the data gleamed from the survey we carried out in April that sought to discover how library workers are currently using social media for personal professional purposes. We’ll also take a look at the options available to you in regards to the social media tools on which library folk interact. Finally, we’ll offer some advice as to how you might approach getting started on these tools. There’s even going to be some interactive elements (for which you’ll need an internet enabled device if you have one) and of course (and most importantly) the opportunity to mix with fellow members of the library community in a similar position to you – hey, you might even pick up your first Twitter follower, LinkedIn contact or Facebook liker from within the room! 

Ultimately the workshop brings together two things that we’re both really passionate about – improving networking opportunities and the place of social media as a tool for harnessing a vibrant and supportive library community. If that sounds like something you’d like to be part of then we’d be delighted to see you there!

LwL Podcast Episode 53 – Hong-Anh Nguyen

In Episode 53 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Hong-Anh Nguyen, Information Service Manager at The King’s Fund. I don’t want to give away too much because I want everyone to listen. She’s fab. That’s all the spoilers I’m willing to give you…

Hong-Anh is recruiting for a BAME graduate traineeship at The King’s Fund – contact her for more details.
CILIP BAME network is officially launching in the summer. Find out more here:

We recorded this episode in early February in person at Hong-Anh’s workplace. We chatted for about an hour prior to the recording, and the recorded interview itself ran to 1 hour 30 minutes. We’re chatty people! I have taken out the really non-librariany bits and put them into a mini episode, which will be released next week. I try to keep LwL episodes to an hour but Hong-Anh was so brilliant that I simply couldn’t edit anything else out.

Happy listening!

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.