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.

 

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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.

LwL Podcast Episode 39: Angus MacDonald

In Episode 39 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Angus MacDonald, web and digital manager at CILIP, who is also a qualified information professional. He worked briefly in libraries before moving into roles at a start-up and an advertising agency. We discuss developments at CILIP, engaging with members, and whether Mad Men accurately portrays what it’s like to work in advertising…

Happy listening!

CILIP Careers Day 2018 – Networking for the Rest of Us

…aka The One Where I Co-Led A Workshop On Networking…

In the radical cheese dream that my professional life has been since July 2017 (Start a podcast! Release 25 episodes! Engage with listeners worldwide! Get invited to speak at stuff! Bother @CILIPInfo on a daily basis!), speaking at Careers Day last week was definitely a highlight.

As a result of all my podcasting, online professional engagement, CILIP-bothering (and my – frankly shameless – pleas to ‘Let me come and do stuff at your events because I’m doing FCLIP and unable to go to anything unless I can attend them free please please please pleaaaaaaaaase) I have good relationships with a number of their staff (in my role as mad lady in hat who they very sweetly indulge) and Helen Berry asked if I’d like to do something for Careers Day.

I kicked around a few different ideas but the one I kept coming back to was networking. Feeling awkward at conferences is such a recurring theme on Librarians with Lives that it’s almost become a meme. For those that play LwL Bingo, it’s up there with (get your jotter pens ready) ‘Fabulous’ ‘Bursaries’ ‘Does my head in’ ‘Own your achievements’ ‘The young people’ and ‘I shouldn’t offer advice but…’.

Back in November I recorded two episodes of the podcast very close to one another: Mike Jones one evening and Nick Poole the following day. Mike and I had been chatting on Twitter for a bit since he’d been to ILI and found the bits between the talks hard and I’d *shamelessly* plugged LwL on the conference hashtag (as I said, no shame) and it was a topic we explored at length during his episode. I was able to relate as I’d had my own experience of the horrors of having to talk to strangers at the CILIP Conference in July. Networking was a subject I raised with Nick during his episode and so the idea for ‘Hungry hippos and hot chocolate’ was born.

I didn’t think it was right for me to do something on networking on my own so it make sense to approach Mike and ask him to co-lead it with me. Luckily he jumped at the chance (turns out he’s a Yes Man fan) and so we put together a workshop. We were determined that what we delivered would be relatable and practical, rather than theoretical. Mike did a survey on networking and the findings became the backbone of our presentation. From there we developed a toolkit of tips and advice that (while admittedly Twitter-heavy at the moment) could be adopted by anyone that struggles with social situations at professional events.

One of the huge benefits of co-leading a workshop is that you have someone else to bounce ideas off. It also meant we could play to our strengths and divvy up tasks – I wrote the slides and Mike made them look fantastic. When I questioned whether I should include certain bits of information he could offer a balanced view. Mike also added in information that I’d overlooked. Hands-on activities were a large component of the workshop and I spent a couple of evenings putting together a special LwL-themed version of Guess Who for participants to play with. I raided my children’s board games and selected those that could be played without too much thought and wouldn’t impede conversation. I also took along a jigsaw puzzle and a large colouring-in poster with plenty of pens and colouring pencils.

During the preparation stage it didn’t really occur to us/me that the first time we would ever meet in real life would be at Careers Day itself. Thanks to the podcast and the Joy of Twitter, it didn’t feel like an issue though. We delivered the workshop twice and were really pleased with how it went, once we got over the ‘People have actually come to this and are engaging with it and we can’t believe we’re here because of a couple of blog posts and a podcast’ feeling.

So, what went well and what would we improve next time?

What went well:

  1. The presentation was really well-received, with lots of nodding along and laughing (hopefully with not at…) when we told our stories and offered advice
  2. Participants engaged with the practical element of the workshop and seemed to be enjoying themselves
  3. We got lots of really good, useful feedback, both online and in person from  participants
  4. We’ve been asked to deliver the workshop again at the New Professionals’ Day later in the year

Even better if…

  1. We took slightly too long with the slides the first time which didn’t leave enough time for game play, which we were able to remedy in the second workshop (so successfully that we finished early..)
  2. Ideally we’d have longer to let the conversations flow during the interactive element
  3. Originally we said that we wanted participants to find out three facts about the person they were conversing with, but that took too long so we cut it back to 1-2 facts for the second session
  4. The second session was really well-attended and there weren’t quite enough activities for everyone to do, so we’d either limit numbers slightly or include more activities next time

Overall, Mike and I were absolutely thrilled with how the workshops went. My biggest fear was that our advice might appear patronising and homespun, but the survey results underpinned everything we said and we were very honest about our own experiences, which really resonated with participants. As I said at one point, it would be hard to argue with anything we said.

I’ll write a separate post on Careers Day from a participant perspective at some stage. Huge thanks to Mike for being such a brilliant co-leader and to Helen from CILIP for inviting us along. I think a (friendly, helpful) beast has been unleashed!

 

 

 

LwL Episode 19: Jo Cornish

In Episode 19 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Jo Cornish, Development Officer (Employers) at CILIP.

We chat about her previous life in public libraries, managing staff, qualifications, fellowship and baseball.

Links:

The next episode will be released on Tuesday 20th February is a graduate trainee special, featuring Elle Codling, Rhiannon Williams and Hannah Smith.
Happy listening!

LwL Episode 16: Nick Poole

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

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

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

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

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

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

LwL Podcast Episode 6: Juanita Foster-Jones

In Episode 6 of the Librarians with Lives podcast I chat to Juanita Foster-Jones, Development Officer (VLE) at CILIP. It is very apt that in Libraries Week Juanita acknowledges – and namechecks – the brilliant school librarian (Mrs Haynes) who not only provided a brilliant, personalised service but also offered a safe space for those who found school difficult. SAVE SCHOOL LIBRARIES.

We discuss accidental librarianship (yes, teaching-avoidance crops up again), getting employer support to study, balancing work and part-time study (and latterly parenting and work), strategies for applying for jobs and the importance of building up career experience and grasping opportunities. Juanita had the perfect job, which she gave up for her ideal lifestyle and couldn’t quite marry up the two for a while, but she’s now in the lovely position of having the best of both worlds

[Note: academic librarianship sounds ACE]

We recorded this episode in September, in person, at CILIP HQ. I couldn’t do a lot about the sporadic background noise but – great news – CILIP are through to the International Door-Banging Championships, so yay for that! This was the second in-person interview I’d done so there’s a lot less of ‘me’ in this episode, which is probably for the best.

 

After the interview I joked on Twitter that Juanita should be prescribed on the NHS. She’s the reason I’m still trying to progress my own Fellowship and she’s a brilliant sounding board for ideas as well as being a great shoulder to cry on. Juanita is genuinely interested in other people and their progress and achievements and it was lovely to sit down with her and find out how she got to where she is.

 

Don’t forget that you can subscribe to the LwL podcast via Soundcloud and iTunes so that you don’t miss an episode.

The next episode will be released on Wednesday 18th October and features Katherine Burchell.

Happy listening!