CILIPS Autumn Gathering: my presentation on CPD23

I was honoured and excited to be asked not only to speak at the CILIPS Autumn Gathering this month, but also to be presented with an honorary membership. At the CILIPS Conference in June, I travelled to Dundee with Wendy Kirk to chair her session on Glasgow Women’s Library (above) so it was great to repeat the double act with Wendy chairing my session on my experience of CPD23. We had another wonderful day. The slides from all the sessions are now on the CILIPS webpage (as are the citations and pictures of the honorary membership presentations) and I have put mine on Slideshare too. I’m not sure they make a lot of sense without my commentary, but my main conclusion was that the CPD23 scheme was a great way to a) brush up my skills b) plug into a new network and c) reflect on my career at a critical point in my life (early retirement) and start thinking about where to go next. Everyone’s experience will be different – the last few slides suggest ways in which you can still access CPD23 or similar schemes, including an interesting article from Leigh Bunton comparing two programmes, one external and one in-house. It’s a model of learning in bite-sized, achievable chunks which could be applied to any subject. For more pictures of the event, see CILIPS’ Flickr set.

Thing 23: What next?

What next indeed? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself since starting this blog back in May. In my first post, I wrote about the closure of the library I had worked in for over 20 years and my decision to take early retirement rather than move to a job that wasn’t really “me”. I thought that cpd23 would be one way of keeping in touch with the library world, learning new skills and connecting with new people. I’m not saying it hasn’t been those things – but I’ve found it harder to complete than I expected, mainly because I was offered another job out of the blue. I spent 3 months at the Scottish Agricultural College (now SRUC) as temporary Site Librarian in Edinburgh – the job didn’t exhaust me, but the commuting (from Glasgow) did, so there was a period of two months when this blog was almost entirely neglected. Now, my contract is over and I’m finishing – quite late but, hooray, within the deadline to claim my certificate!

I reflected in Thing 19 on what I had got out of the programme. For me, a lot of the parts which would be forward-looking for a younger professional (mentoring, selling yourself at interview etc) have been retrospective, and this has actually been a very useful process for looking back over my career and evaluating, for my own satisfaction, what I have achieved. Thing 23 is also very forward-looking and asks us to identify skills gaps and make a Personal Development Plan to fill them. At the moment, I’m not very sure where I am looking forward to so I think this is beyond me! I have a few small projects in the pipeline but need time to think about where to go next – should I look for a part-time job? Or for voluntary work (of the non-job substitution sort)? I do know that I want to continue writing this blog as a means of reflecting on my library and book related activities. I’ve changed the “About” section and the tagline, which now reads “Adventures of a retired librarian”. So I’m committed to having some! Thing 23 also asks for a 6 word story on our experience of cpd23: mine has to be “Not put out to grass yet”. Will that do?

When Things 20 and 22 collide: the case of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

I was saddened at the weekend when I was alerted via Twitter that most of Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s libraries were under threat. On 10th November, both local papers, the Journal and the Evening Chronicle, carried detailed articles by Adrian Pearson in which we were told that”The vast majority of Newcastle’s 18 libraries will either be closed down or handed over to community groups as city chiefs set out £90m of cuts over the next three years. Only the newly-rebuilt city centre library is said to be safe from the axe.” One of the comments led me to a transcript of a Radio Four Today Programme interview from earlier in the year with Tony Durcan, head of Newcastle’s libraries, in which he “gave, at best, lukewarm support for the universal need for paid and qualified library staff”, offering the opinion that library work was “not brain surgery”. Well, other than brain surgery, nothing is, and it doesn’t hold out much hope for the libraries if this is the attitude of the boss. More hopeful is a pre-emptive campaign against the move by authors such as Alan Gibbons, Philip Pullman and Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson which has been covered in the Bookseller, BBC News, and the Guardian. Local anti-cuts campaign Coalition of Resistance is also taking up the fight.

So how does this relate to Things 20 and 22? Well, Thing 22 was about volunteering in which I stated my opposition to job substitution and handing libraries over to community groups in this way. Thing 20 was about Library Routes, and part of the post I wrote in 2010 for that project said of a library I visited as a child “I was intrigued by all the Browne tickets and wondered how on earth they ever found mine (especially as they seemed to be in a different place each time). The only time I remember asking for help was when we had a kitchen planning project for Cookery and the person I asked took me straight to the right shelf which I thought was very clever.” You’ve guessed, that is one of the libraries on Newcastle’s little list. My family lived in Fenham between 1968, when I was 11, and 1973. To go back to the Evening Chronicle article, I read that “Fenham’s library is one of those with an uncertain future. Mark Johnson, 85, a retired police officer, said he goes to the library three or four times a week to read the newspapers. He has been using the service for 40 years. “I’m very disappointed. They got rid of the pool too. I think it would have a very big impact on people around here.”” I must have overlapped with Mr Johnson, perhaps we queued up at the counter together and marvelled at the way the library staff could always find our tickets?

So this was the branch that first got me thinking about the methods of actually managing a library, starting me on the career path I later took. It also influenced my choice of degree subject – staff at Fenham never seemed to mind me using children’s tickets to take books out of the adult library. In those days, there wasn’t the fantastic choice of teenage literature that there is now, so I went through all the Agatha Christies that they had, then moved on to historical fiction. After that, I started taking out historical non-fiction and biographies which, coupled with a charismatic teacher, inspired me to study history at university. I can fairly say that Fenham Library shaped my life. Where are today’s young Geordies going to get that sort of experience if you close all the libraries now, Newcastle?

Thing 22: Volunteering

Thing 22 asks “Have you undertaken unpaid work to further your career?”  and  “Is volunteering a good thing, or by working for free are we in danger of devaluing our profession?”  Volunteering in libraries is a really contentious issue, and reading some of the other blog posts on this Thing throws up a range of views. My own answers are “No, but I’m now in a position to volunteer (without having a career to further any more)” and “It depends on the volunteering”. I’ll explain by outlining what I see as three different kinds of voluntary work.

Job substitution

This most definitely is a bad thing and devalues the profession. Work previously done by paid library staff should not be done by volunteers and I abhor what is happening in so-called community libraries. Fortunately for me, some other bloggers have rehearsed the arguments for this view very eloquently, notably Gemma Bayliss’ Blog and Rebecca at It’s not about books or being quiet all the time so that I don’t have to. Thanks guys! However, I do have strong, personal feelings about the latest threat to libraries in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but I’m going to leave that for a separate post.

Volunteering to gain experience

This is actually the full title of the Thing and, on a small-scale, I find this acceptable. I don’t agree with the concept of “interns”, who are really just doing jobs for free, but for someone who has no job and can’t get one through lack of experience, I think volunteering shows initiative and it would encourage me to look favourably on any job application they made. Several bloggers have given good descriptions of how volunteering helped them – for example Kelly Quaye, the Physicist/Librarian and Theatregrad.

I’ve not done this myself, but I have taken on volunteers and done my best to give them varied experience. Most recently, in the last couple of years at Jordanhill, I had two at different times. One had a qualification, but had never worked in a library and was finding it difficult to get a job at any level. The other was a recently qualified teacher who could only get supply work and was considering a career change. In both cases, they came in one day a week for a few months, mostly working in Reader Services but with spells in other areas so that they could see all aspects of life in an academic library. They were always an extra and never used to plug staffing gaps – in fact, they took up staff time to train, but nobody seemed to mind because most people enjoyed sharing their knowledge and passing on their enthusiasm. One volunteer later applied for, and was offered, a weekend post: this is obviously the ideal way for library school students to add experience during their studies, but there are never enough jobs to go round. Volunteering can be the next best thing.

Community groups

In an ideal world, charities would not be needed – but we are never going to have an ideal world and I see nothing wrong in giving your time for organisations which would not exist without volunteers. Many people see this as putting something back into society, but it can also give valuable and varied experience. Joining the committee of a professional group or becoming a union rep are other ways of achieving the same thing. In my own case, I have now finished my current contract and need to plan what to do next and this is the sort of area in which I will be looking to volunteer. However, I need time to relax and reset my sleeping patterns after three months of getting up early for the Glasgow / Edinburgh commute and will leave any long-term plans till the New Year. In the meantime I –

  • have the next Glasgow Libraries Tweetup to organise.
  • have a full complement of chartership / revalidation candidates.
  • have a meeting with staff at Glasgow Women’s Library coming up to discuss joining them as a tour guide.
  • have volunteered to help Glasgow Libraries distribute goody bags for Book Week Scotland.
  • have agreed to edit Scottish Roundup for Sunday, 2nd December. That’s the end of Book Week so I’m aiming for a books / libraries theme and will be looking out for good blogs to include.

As I said in my last post, I now have the luxury of being able to pick and choose what I do, and these are all things that interest me and that I will enjoy. I feel very lucky.

Thing 21: Promoting yourself when applying for jobs

As a manager of over 30 years standing, applications and interviews are things of which I have far more experience “from the other side of the desk”. Even if you assume one shortlist, typically six people, per year, and sometimes there were more, that’s the best part of 200 interviews, and probably thousands of forms and CVs to be read. I wish more of those candidates had read something like Maria Giovanna’s post for the cpd23 blog, which I think is full of excellent advice and anyone applying for a job should follow it. I can’t add much to what she has said, but here are a few of my own thoughts:

Part 1: Identifying your strengths; capitalising on your interests

At my stage in life, there is no excuse for not knowing these! I like / am good at: being part of, including managing, a team; dealing directly with library users; organising events; writing; book promotion. When my library closed earlier this year, the alternative job I was offered included none of those so I decided to take early retirement instead. I now have the luxury of being able to pick and choose what I do, not necessarily for money, and will be making those choices very carefully. Watch this space – I’ve made a start, but will keep that for the post on volunteering (or I’ll run out of things to write about!)

Part 2: Applying for a job

Personally, this part of the post is very relevant at the moment. The temporary job I’ve had for 3 months since “retiring” is about to end, so updating my CV is a must. I’m glad to have had this experience to add to it because it shows I’m still active and haven’t given up work just to sit around watching daytime TV!

Crossing to the other side of the desk, the most recent post I appointed to had over 120 applicants. Getting an interview in a large field is a major achievement, but how do you make yourself stand out from the crowd? Essentially, by following Maria-Giovanna’s advice! Customise your CV – it’s really obvious who is applying for any old job, and those who fail to match their skills to the particular post on offer will never make my short list. I’m always amazed at how many people make no effort to do this – it’s a waste of their time and mine. Keep your personal statement or covering letter relevant too. There will be many people whose CVs show that their qualifications and experience meet all the criteria, probably too many to interview. I’ll look for the ones who can substantiate their claims. If someone writes that “My communication skills make me an excellent candidate for this post” my reaction is “Well, I’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much.” You can claim to have any number of skills, but you won’t get interviews if you don’t provide evidence. Far better to say something along the lines of “I have developed (or demonstrated) my communication skills by…..” then give an example.Yes, you have to promote yourself but not by empty boasting.

Part 3: Interviews

I really enjoy interviewing – over the years, I have met some fascinating people and have often been sorry that we couldn’t offer all the candidates a job. Sometimes, the final decision is really difficult. I like Maria-Giovanna’s CAR (Context, Action, Results) acronym which I hadn’t come across before, but essentially it describes what is required when asked questions based on behaviour (i.e. competency based). For example, if you’re going for a job dealing with the public, be prepared to be asked about a time you gave excellent service or dealt with a difficult customer. Give a real example – what happened, how you dealt with it and what you learned from it. That’s what the interviewer wants, not your theories about what good customer service is (although they might ask about that too), or hypothetical answers about what you would do in certain situations. Don’t be afraid to take a moment to think before answering – I remember interviewing a candidate who obviously wasn’t used to this kind of question and was slightly fazed at first, but after saying something like “A difficult customer, hmm, let me think….” came up with an excellent answer to this and other similar questions and was offered the job.

I’m less keen on being interviewed myself, and I particularly dislike being interviewed by people I know, which seems a very false situation to be in. My current, temporary, job involved no application or interview – I’m basically filling in to help a friend. As I said above, that comes to an end in a few days and I need to plan what to do next – if that involves never being interviewed again, then I certainly won’t be sorry!

Thing 20: Library routes and roots

Fulwell Library, Sunderland
Fulwell Library, Sunderland

Hooray! A Thing that can help me catch up because I’ve already done it. I contributed to the Library Routes Project at an early stage, November 2009 – you can read my story here. There’s an anecdote in it about a library staff member being nasty to me because I didn’t get my sixpence for a reservation out fast enough – sixpences are long gone as, I expect, is that library assistant, but, folks, that is the very library where the incident took place in the picture above. It was new in the late 1960s when I used it, but it looked rather shabby a couple of years ago when I happened to be in the area again. It wasn’t open, but I peered through the windows and, yes, it was exactly the same counter that I stood at as a ten-year old – except that you could see lots of holes where cabling for different generations of library automation had been. So there you are – part of my library route / roots preserved for 40 years.

Thing 20 also mentions the Library Day in the Life Project which I blogged about a couple of times in 2010 (I think I also took part in some later rounds, but only via Twitter). Looking back on those posts now, I’m struck by how much of my life was already taken up with planning for the closure of Jordanhill Library this year, after which my library route took a sharp turn towards the exit, before making an unexpected detour through the Agriculture Library I am in now. So from a personal point of view, these projects have allowed me to keep tabs on my progress – in 2009, I documented my library route, in 2010 I added a couple of snapshots through Day in the Life, and this year I’m bringing everything up-to-date via this blog and cpd23!

Taking a wider view, I think Library Routes and Day in the Life are incredibly useful to the profession. I’ve read other people’s contributions over the years and they are so varied that it should encourage anyone to think that they can find a way into library and information work. I’ve used them several times for that very purpose, recommending them to people considering librarianship as a career option, most recently just a couple of weeks ago. It’s great that Thing 20 is encouraging more people to take part.

Thing 19: Integrating the Things into life

Thing 19 is a chance to look back at previous Things and assess what has been learned and put into practice. Reading through my previous posts, it struck me that they really tell the story of my life over the last 6 months. When I started in May, I was a month away from early retirement and thought that cpd23 would be an ideal way to keep in touch with the library world, meet new people, even if only virtually, and learn new skills. I saw the future as: finish work, go on holiday, come back and think what to do next – with plenty of time for pursuing cpd23. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. I took on a temporary library job which involves at least three hours commuting each day and have been so exhausted I have fallen way behind with this programme.

So have I gained anything at all? Well, I haven’t needed a way to stay in touch with the library world as I’m still in it, and my original aim of “meeting” people through following new blogs has more or less fallen by the wayside. I do still dip into the RSS feed of cpd23 contributions, but that was more useful when I was around the same stage as everyone else. Now, if I comment on any blogs it tends to be those of people I knew beforehand anyway. I have learned about some new tools, Evernote probably being the one I’ve used most, and I picked up a really good suggestion for an RSS app for iPad (Mr Reader) from another participant. However, if I haven’t made the most of cpd23 it it’s no-one’s fault but my own – it’s not you, as they say, it’s me!

Where next? Well, my contract ends next week which will give me some free time again and a chance to finish the programme by the end of the month and qualify for a certificate. I also hope to go back and examine in more detail some of the Things I’ve skated over through tiredness and lack of time. This blog has actually been very useful as a reflection tool and although, as confessed in Thing 1, I’m rather over-provided with blogs (four), I intend to keep it going as a record of the library and book related activities I hope to maintain when I retire for the second time. So the verdict is: could do better, but don’t give up hope yet!

Things 17 & 18: Presentation tools

Oh no, where have the weeks gone? I haven’t posted here for over a month. I thought I would have so much time for cpd23 once my job ended – but I didn’t bargain on getting another one almost straight away. And I certainly didn’t bargain on one that involved driving back and forward to Edinburgh every day. The upshot is that I have been far too exhausted to think about cpd, but now I have the incentive of meeting the 30th November deadline for getting a certificate and I’m going to do my best. Posts might, however, be a little shorter than they were before.

I’ve also taken the liberty of combining Things 17 and 18 into one, because I don’t have a great deal to say. User education was never a big part of my job and I relied on PowerPoint when it was, sometimes using the Cephalonian method depending on the circumstances. I thought when Jordanhill closed that I would never have to take a library induction again but in my 3 months at the Agriculture Library I’ve done nine! Getting to grips with such an unfamiliar subject was challenging enough without learning new methods of presentation so I feel I’ve met my cpd obligations.

I do, however, have experience as a user of many of the tools mentioned in Things 17 and 18. I’ve never created a Prezi, but one of my former colleagues started experimenting with it and I’ve used one of hers when I covered classes for her. If done well (i.e. without too many swoops) they can be very effective, and I’ve downloaded a Prezi reader for my iPad so that I can keep up with any interesting presentations that I come across on Twitter or blogs. Likewise Slideshare – I’ve read plenty by other people but never had anything worth posting myself. I’ve no experience of Jing but, again at Strathclyde, we were starting to look at Camtasia so I have a little knowledge of that. Finally podcasts – I’ve been using them for years on my iPod.

In conclusion, as a consumer I can see how useful these tools can be. Once I am “retired” again, I might have time to experiment with them and think of some uses, but this time I really do think my days of user education might be behind me!

Thing 16: Advocacy and speaking up for the profession

LOAF (Libraries Open and Free) 1984
LOAF (Libraries Open and Free) 1984

When I qualified in 1980, the Thatcherite cuts were just beginning to bite. Libraries came under threat – just as now – and LOAF (Libraries Open and Free) was set up, a sort of equivalent, in a very unsophisticated way, to today’s organisations such as Voices for the Library. I still have my badges, see left, but I honestly can’t say I remember much more about it. Of course, we were hampered by the lack of an internet to make it easy to communicate our message, but I don’t think there were any campaigners around with the passion and dedication of those of today, whom I greatly admire. I merely offer this snippet of history to show that I do have a little bit of activism in my past, even though I’m not a person to whom campaigning comes naturally. These days, it is limited to low-key efforts such as writing to MPs and signing petitions, although I did organise an event for National Libraries Day which got onto the STV website (though not, sadly, actually onto the TV.)

However, as the original Thing 16 blog post, and many other contributors have pointed out, advocacy is really something that should be in every librarian’s toolkit. If you don’t advocate your own service, what hope is there for it? You may think of it in different guises – in my days in public libraries (many moons ago) we talked about “outreach activities”: school visits, talking to local groups and so on to promote use of the library.

In academic libraries, you might think there is less need for promotion as you have a “captive audience”, but that’s not really true. Many students don’t see the relevance of the library (the “It’s all on Google” syndrome), or even know how to use it. For example, often they don’t realise that the electronic materials they use are “the library”, even when they are sitting at home. Every user education or enquiry desk session is a chance to combat this and get the message across. I’ve also advocated for the library in other ways, such as through social media, writing for in-house journals and attending meetings in other departments to explain what we do. And of course, it’s also important to advocate within the library for your own section – for resources or more staff perhaps – and beyond to the parent body, whether council, university or whatever. Make sure they realise what the library does, and the value it adds to the institution.

I realise none of this is new or original, and wouldn’t have been even if I wasn’t so far behind and had said it earlier. However, it’s important, and it’s something I hope I have honed, if not to perfection then to a high standard over the years.