Tuesday 13 October 2015

CILIP President Jan Parry talks Career Planning and Advocacy

On Wednesday 7th October we were honoured to receive a talk from none other than CILIP President herself, Jan Parry, at RISC in Reading. Thank you to Matthew Henry for writing the following summary of Jan's talk. 

Jan started the informal presentation with a brief roundup of her career, including how she got into librarianship, and how she got out of it again but used her professional skills to great effect in a wide range of applications. Of course, she was more modest than this but her CV includes senior Whitehall civil service positions working with Secretaries of State and other ministers and more recently being a member of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s Secretariat.

Jan was not ashamed to admit that, having attained her degree in Librarianship and Information Management a little later in life after starting her career at the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate library, she discovered that she was ambitious.

She didn’t let on to anyone else – even her family – but quietly went about her duties confident that there was almost always a better way of doing something.  She also believed that she was capable of discovering and implementing those improvements, and that the only way to achieve them was building a case for them using evidence and demonstrating that they were effective by collecting data and communicating them.

The key to her message to us CILIP members at various stages in our information careers was that the very same principles apply to us as individuals. We should be able to communicate what we do, and its value, easily and quickly. And for this, librarians, “you need your business head on.”

If someone asks you what you do, don’t give the passive response “I’m a librarian” or “I manage a library service.” Better to say something like, “I’m an expert in finding information from a wide range of sources, and fast.” You might not be a natural self-promoter but becoming one will help to advance your career.

Jan told an anecdote about one civil service colleague who sought out his boss every day to give an informal report on what he was doing. Some in the audience thought this might become counterproductive, but this employee apparently got a bonus every year for his efforts. Jan recommended an alternative tack for those of us who don’t want to look like the school swot (because, lets face it, how many of us actually were the school swot?). Instead, write a weekly email to your superior, copied to his/her manager, outlining your achievements and ideas that week. Do this religiously. After a year your manager will have ample material with which to perform your appraisal, you will definitely have been noticed, and – perhaps most importantly – you will have had to stretch yourself in order to have written about your progress, week-by-week.

As to what that progress might be based on, with information services forever having to justify their resources – even existence – you should find ways to gather evidence, whether it be qualitative, such as written feedback or quantitative, such as user numbers, resources accessed, costs saved, etc.. All of this should be documented and ready for if – when – your service is under review.

In short, get a career plan. Don’t wallow in the “duvet of librarianship”. There are no longer jobs for life so you need to be ready to measure, improve, and move on and up.

Inspiring stuff; and it was easy to see why Jan has been so successful.

Matthew Henry library assistant at Reading Libraries and MSc Library Science student at City University London. Twitter: @matthew1001001

Jan has kindly shared her presentation slides for those who weren't able to attend:

Thursday 1 October 2015

Visit to the Dragon School Library

On Monday 28th September, we visited the Dragon School Library in Oxford. Beth Ash from Radley College Library has kindly written the following summary of our visit:

What a treat to be in leafy North Oxford on a glorious sunny September afternoon.  We were visiting The Dragon School, an independent mixed boarding and day school for children aged 8-13.  Tucked away  just off the Banbury Road, the school felt  100 miles away from the bustle of the city centre.

Our motley group of school, university and public librarians were welcomed by the Dragon School Librarian, Helen Mastrantone, who showed us across campus to the library.  Helen works full time across five days and is aided by a part time Assistant Librarian, to cover opening hours from 8:00-6:00 through the week and 8:00-12:45 on Saturdays.  My first impressions were of a well laid out, spacious and comfortable library, with thoughtful and clear displays.  Helen’s obvious enthusiasm for her role was apparent throughout the visit and it was fascinating to hear about her journey from teaching into school librarianship. 

Helen talked us through her ‘imaginary average day’, describing the mix of activities that make up her role at the Dragon School.  I was impressed by the amount of organised contact that students have with the library, with every English set having a reading lesson in the library each week.  This means that Helen has contact with every child in school across the timetable.  As well as this considerable responsibility, Helen’s role also includes the usual tasks of book buying, cataloguing and classifying (amongst other things!).

What kept coming across was Helen’s care that the children should feel ownership of their library.  She described herself as a custodian of the library, actively encouraging recommendations and suggestions from the students.  This struck a chord with me and the environment we try to foster in our library at Radley – in both instances the school is also the children’s home.  It is important that the library is a place that they feel comfortable, welcome and want to spend their time. 

It was great to hear some frank discussion about the positives and challenges of school librarianship, and helpful to swap tactics on dealing with issues such as building relationships with other school staff, library discipline and line management.  For me, working in a very similar setting, much of the conversation resonated and I enjoyed seeing what was clearly a well thought out, and well run school library service at work.  

This was my first foray into attending CILIP events, so I was a bit nervous about what to expect, but based on this afternoon’s event I can thoroughly recommend taking the time out to meet up with other librarians.  It is invaluable to see how other settings are putting ideas into practice, and there are certainly some aspects of Helen’s work at the Dragon School that I will be taking back to Radley.

Grateful thanks to Helen for her kind hospitality and all the work she put into our visit, and to Becci for organising the trip.  

Beth Ash – Assistant Librarian, Radley College Library