A librarian by any other name…
Barbara Band, Head of Library and Resources, The Emmbrook School & CILIP Vice-President
Rather than talking about an overview of the library and information profession, Barbara said that she would talk about the opportunities and skills available for new professionals.
After a brief intro of her past in a business-based career, Barbara described how she “fell into librarianship” after making a career change after having children.
Titles and roles
Barbara highlighted the odd nature of job titles within the profession. In her current role, Barbara is the Head of Library and Resources, but when talking to parents she is The Librarian, and her staff access card describes her as the Library Manager. She also highlighted unusual titles that are out there such as Media Resources Officer and the even stranger “Cybrarian” title that she saw recently advertised.
Regardless of role title, Barbara argued, we often do the same role and our core values will always be the same. The only real difference is the variety of services offered which are shaped more by the aims/goals and overall vision of the organisation that the library is a part of. An additional source of guidelines and vision can also be found by looking at CILIP’s vision statement.
Opportunities and changing outlook
Overall, there are lots of options and opportunities out there as many different organisations hire library and information professionals and there is a lot of job satisfaction to be had in this line of work.
Another exciting point that Barbara made was that the profession is changing and is in a state of flux. She highlighted the recently rejected CILIP name change proposal, as well as the upheaval in the public library sector. But even with these high levels of rapid change, Barbara emphasised how our profession has a very rich tradition and history, much of which is archival and that it is important that we do not lose this background.
If anyone ever says to you that libraries are dead and simply not being used, Barbara suggested that you send that person to visit the recently opened Library of Birmingham. But, you have to get there early because apparently the queue to get in can often reach a one hour waiting time!
While acknowledging our rich history, it is essential that libraries also adapt and change to reflect the society that we’re living in. With the dramatic societal shifts that we’ve seen over the past few years, information provision, access and delivery have changed as well. In line with these social pressures on provision, we must continue to provide relevant and useful services to our users otherwise they will simply seek them out elsewhere.
These changes and shifts are not a threat, but more an opportunity or catalyst for libraries to change, adapt, respond and develop.
As a profession, we are often aware of emerging trends before anyone else, so we can be proactive rather than reactive. Our adaptability is a huge strength.
In her own role, Barbara has noticed that her students still prefer to use traditional books and magazines. While the librarian role has certainly changed from a traditional one to one with a more varied skill set, traditional stock is still playing a bit part in this transformation.
One really interesting fact that Barbara pointed out is how transferable the librarian skill set is. She listed several areas that she works in which can easily be adapted to other job sectors:
With regards to collaborator, Barbara mentioned an all too familiar scenario where colleagues in her school were teaching World War I for separate History and English classes. However, neither of these subject teachers were talking to each other about resources or collaborating on teaching. Barbara stepped in and encouraged this sort of collaboration to take place.
In her role as teacher, Barbara supports students taking their Keystage 3 Information and Literacy Skills course, as well as helping Sixth Form students with their bibliographic and referencing skills, and their extended project.
I should mention here that this type of teaching could be supported in non-school libraries as well. For example, I recently helped a local Sixth Form student with their extended project because they were focusing on an aspect off polar history. We should be encouraging local (and non-local) students in to use our collections, and in an academic context this could be a form of access and outreach. Their experience of using a “real” university-level library could very well inspire and encourage students when they start considering their university applications in a few years’ time.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
One key piece of advice that Barbara gave everyone is that you have to learn new skills by getting involved and being proactive. Sitting behind a desk and saying that something is “not in your job description” is a sure fire way of missing out on chances to learn new skills. Learning does not just happen on the job. Barbara listed several suggestions such as volunteering to organise a trip or sitting on a CILIP committee.
Whatever you do, you need to always be thinking about continuing personal development. Learning never stops, especially in a world that is constantly changing!
One main plus of doing chartership is that it shows off your continuing CPD efforts. Rather surprisingly, to me anyway, activities such as blogging, or chatting on online forums, attending branch meetings, and going to lib meets all count towards CPD!
Barbara also suggested that people do the following things to continue CPD:
- Sign up for newsletters in your sector. They may well have links to recent reports which will allow you to be proactive in your information provision
- Read blogs
- Use social media
- To help with all the above points, create an email for professional use
- Network online
- Share good practice
While CPD counts in a major way to the profession, so too does advocacy. While advocacy can include lobbying, Barbara emphasised the promotion and endorsement of the profession.
“Anyone who is good at what they do make it look easy!”
A key factor with this quote from Barbara is that not many people actually know what we do as a profession and, as a result, there are a lot of misconceptions. I personally have a lot of experience of this with students and academic teaching staff. They are often surprised when we help them with something that we consider simple and typical, but that they had no idea that we were even the people to ask in the first place!
Fundamentally, if you don’t tell people what you do, who else will? The promotion of services is a key part of the advocacy of your library and profession.
Barbara concluded by using an example that many of us are familiar with from our school days. When students are on a trip, they are always told to behave because they are representing their school. The same applies to representing the library profession!
Barbara’s final key pieces of take away advice were:
- Grab opportunities: be flexible, adaptable and say yes!
- Keep learning: your CPD starts today! Be proactive
- Advocate and promote your profession
I found Barbara’s keynote speech to be inspirational and motivational. She really set the tone for the day as she got us all excited about everything that is out there to discover and learn in our careers as new professionals.