LwL Podcast Episode 36: Minnie Birch

In Episode 36 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Emily AKA Minnie Birch, prison librarian, former public librarian and folk singer extraordinaire. Emily was recommended to me by Jo Cornish, star of Episode 19 of the podcast. I’m lucky to know people who will recommend interviewees and I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed. I certainly wasn’t in this case as Emily is fab.

Her website is here.

The next episode will be released on 11th September and stars Kate Grigsby.


Lwl Episode 11: Tom Peach

In Episode 11 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Tom Peach, Academic Liaison Librarian at York St. John University.

Tom is the second person from YSJ to have starred on the podcast. Clare McCluskey Dean who I interviewed back in Episode 3, ‘introduced’ me to Tom through a slightly surreal set of circumstances involving Kevin Clifton from Strictly (we love him) and me re-registering as a Chartership mentor. Tom asked me to mentor him so I decided I needed to go up to York and meet him (and Clare) and see the library he worked in (any excuse to travel on a train, meet like-minded info pros and visit a library.)

We recorded this podcast in person (I know! This hardly ever happens!) in the library at YSJ during Libraries Week back in October. I also got to meet Clare, who I have chatted to for YEARS on Twitter about Strictly and Eurovision but had never met in person and we both got slightly giddy about it all. So, all you need to do to meet all the excellent people you really love on Twitter is to start doing a podcast. Simple!

Tom started at YSJ in September and before that worked in FE libraries. He’s also doing his library qualification via the distance learning route at Robert Gordon University AND doing Chartership on the side. He is super-enthusiastic and as his mentor I intend to mercilessly exploit harness this so that he eventually becomes CILIP President and I can say ‘I knew him when…’.

We chatted at length about information provision and inequality, the acquisition of facts, difficulties associated with working in an FE setting, rewards and challenges of providing public-facing services, the frustrations associated with being part of a profession that doesn’t advocate its worth particularly well, fangirling over Carla Hayden, and the transferable skills that being a confident performer provide (basically, winging it.) We get quite philosophical about information literacy and were having such a lovely time that this episode is quite  long.

The next episode will be released on Tuesday 28th November and stars…er…Jo Wood.
Happy listening!

LwL Episode 10: Helen & Amy from NLPN

In Episode 10 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Amy Finnegan, a health information specialist at NICE, and Helen Monagle, a senior assistant librarian (serials) at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU).

This is the first episode that features more than one person. Amy and Helen were together at one end of the Skype call and I was at the other. I was conscious throughout that I needed to give them both space to speak, and to refer to them by name as much as possible so that the three different voices were distinguishable.

Helen and Amy chat in-depth about NLPN, of which they are (with Catherine and Siobhan) co-founders: the process of setting it up, keeping the network going and continually being innovative. (I sound about 165 years old during this section, for which I apologise.) NLPN offer a job shadowing service, which I urge everyone to sign up to – either to offer to host or to take part in. The NLPN site also has a number of (written) interviews with information professionals on it and I may shamelessly ask some of the contributors to be on the podcast themselves at some stage.

We chat about becoming information professionals during an economic crash, lack of opportunity in public libraries, the depressing cycle of applying for library jobs and not getting them, Malory Towers, Chartership, I try to sell Revalidation (again) to them, and the importance of loving what you do. We also discuss library advocacy, ideas for public library campaigns, and the importance of evidence-based practice. A link to the abstract for an article on the tool that Amy mentioned can be found here.

In excellent news, I finally get to ring my bell ( the reason for this will become clear when you listen to the episode) AND we discuss setting up a private detective agency. I realised afterwards that I stole the idea for using a magnifying glass in the logo from QI, so I’ll have to have a re-think…



The next episode will be released on Tuesday 21st November and stars Tom Peach.
Happy listening!







LwL Episode 9: Laura Woods

In Episode 9 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Laura Woods, who is a subject librarian at the University of Huddersfield. Laura has worked in three different sectors – law, charity and academic  – so we had quite a lot of ground to cover. She’s also done a lot of CPD so we spent a lot of time talking about that. Therefore this episode is in two parts.

Originally I was going to release Part 1 today and Part 2 next week but I took to Twitter and asked people to vote on whether they wanted both parts at once or on separate weeks. It was neck and neck for quite a while but getting both parts at once edged it so you’re getting 1 hour 45 minutes of #librarianswithlives podcasty goodness in one go this week.

This episode was recorded one evening in September, back when I didn’t quite know when to shut the heck up. We recorded both parts in one go and finished recording quite late so I apologise in advance for how much I ramble towards the end because it was late, I was exhausted and I’m basically an idiot.

In Part 1 we cover Laura’s graduate traineeship, library qualification, her jobs in law libraries, awesome careers advisors, excellent job titles, the impact of life changes on jobs and career paths, doing things outside your comfort zone, doing media interviews, the helpfulness of Librarians, and the importance of asking for feedback after interviews.

In Part 2 we chat about Laura’s current role at the University of Huddersfield in-depth. As someone that hasn’t worked in an academic library but has now interviewed a few people that do, I’m fascinated by the commonalities and differences experienced by my peers working in different HE institutions. We also discuss long routes to Chartership, the sometimes insular nature of the information profession, building a body of knowledge across different roles, and a plea for all of us to communicate what we do in plain English. We also devise a Buffy spin-off show. Laura’s blog is here

The next episode will be released on Tuesday 14th November and features Amy Finnegan and Helen Monagle from NLPN.
Happy listening!

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


I did the Chartership mentor training on 5th September and then time went whooshy (it did, didn’t it?) and now it’s mid-October and I STILL haven’t found anyone to co-sign my mentor application form –  how hard is it to find a chartered person that I can bribe ask? I also promised that I would write up my thoughts on the training day, so I have found my notes and will attempt to remember the pertinent points.

The training was split into two parts: 1. Mentoring generally and 2. The CILIP mentoring process. I had expected the day to be mostly about the latter and only a bit about  the former, so I was a little surprised that we did some exercises on learning styles and active listening. They were really interesting (for example, we read too much into body language) but felt quite general, considering that it was only a one-day course.

The section on giving feedback (particularly constructive feedback) was helpful and I have taken much of the information back and applied it to supervision sessions with my Library Assistant, e.g. framing feedback in a positive way, sharing the problem and working towards a solution, and techniques for drawing the other person out.

After lunch we got down to the nitty-gritty of the CILIP mentoring scheme. There is no substiute for going away and reading the regulations yourself (and no amount of training will force you to do that) but there were some really helpful bits of information:

1. You don’t have to mentor someone if you don’t want to.

2. Have a contingency plan in place if you find you can’t mentor the person any more

3. Get the mentee to set their own target dates

4. When you arrange a meeting with a mentee, give them an agenda beforehand, so that they can contribute to it. It also formalises the discussion.

5. Mentees doing ACLIP don’t have to pay for CILIP membership until they submit their portfolio, but they can’t get the qualification unti they’ve paid their fees

Most importantly:

6. The mentor DOESN’T make the final decision on the acceptance of a portfolio. They are only an advisor and cannot be held responsible for the success or failure of a candidate. It’s the mentees’ submission, not the mentors’.

Bearing all of that in mind, I’ll be appearing on a mentor list near you soon as soon as I find someone to co-sign the ruddy form.



“Much to learn, you still have” Yoda, Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones

First of all, a couple of home truths:

  1. I am not an activist
  2. I am not going to run CILIP

I am, however, keen on helping (enabling?) other people to reach their potential. Oh…that reminds me of a third one:

  1. I don’t really like management and coaching theory. I prefer practical action.

I have always considered myself to be quite selfish professionally. This was helped in no small part by being a lone worker for so long. I got used to being utterly self-sufficient and, because I had no-one to rely on I found that I didn’t need anyone to rely on. And so it goes.

Although I don’t feel able to make a difference on a grand scale, I’d like to think that I have something to offer to people by way of personal support and professional development. I really enjoyed a post by Michael in which he spoke about the mentor-mentee relationship and the notion of ‘paying it forward’. I had a fab mentor when I did Chartership and I’d like to give someone else that level of encouragement and support.

Nearly eight years into my library career I am not arrogant enough to assume that I know everything there is to know about the profession (who does, really?) but, having been round the block a bit (so to speak) and working my way up through the ranks, from graduate trainee to running a library, I reckon I might have something by way of experience to offer to the young (and maybe slightly more mature) bucks that want to do some career development. I’ve done everything from dusting bookshelves to speaking at conferences, via cataloguing, financial management, line management and dealing with the general public. I’ve worked in an academic(ish) library, a museum library, a charity library and, currently, a government library.

I did a distance learning library course whilst working full-time. I completed my Chartership whilst on maternity leave. I juggle a full-time job with two extremely demanding (but lovely) pre-schoolers and what’s left of that thing I used to call ‘a life’. I’ve had good managers and crap managers. I’ve made some enormous mistakes in my (brief) career and had some big successes. I’ve experienced air-punching triumph and sobbing desperately on the loo because I cared about my job and – by extension – about this bloody thing we call a profession so much. I love what I do but I’m not po-faced about it.

Bearing all of this in mind I have decided to try and become a Chartership mentor. I’m going to be doing the training at HQ on Monday 5th September and will be putting in my application straight afterwards. Hopefully I’ll be added to the illustrious list of mentors on the CILIP website at some point in the future.