Communicating with our library users at the University of Bradford - my Graduate Trainee Project
It’s the last day of my traineeship tomorrow so I thought this would be a good time to look at thing 15, as this is the only library job I’ve had yet where I’ve been lucky enough not only to be allowed to attend events, but to be actively encouraged to go.
Before I did this job, I worked in libraries but I had no idea that so many library-themed events existed. Yes, some are very expensive (particularly the huge conferences, where you would also most likely need accommodation) – but the Lis-Cilip-Reg mailing list advertises loads of cheaper events all over the country.
I’ve attended quite a few of these, and others that I came across on Twitter or via colleagues too. Although I am as yet quite inexperienced, and don’t always feel that I have enough to contribute, I find events really beneficial. Sometimes I have just been in awe of the knowledge and experience of the people around me, but every event I’ve been to has allowed me to take something valuable back to my job. Because I’m a graduate trainee, I haven’t always attended events that were directly applicable to my job – but I think an event is what you make it, and almost any piece of information can be tailored to apply to your role. But overall, I think the most important thing about events is meeting other people. I’ve often learned more from chatting to people during breaks or working in groups than I did from the official speakers. That’s why I also love impromptu ‘unconference’ events like library camp, where everyone gets an equal opportunity to give their opinion.
The only ‘events’ I’ve organised are within the University library and library visits for trainees. I guess you could say my incompetence in this field is matched only by my enthusiasm – although I’m not the most organised person in the world, and my events don’t always go quite according to plan, I absolutely love doing it!
In the library I ran an event for National Libraries day, where we encouraged students to tell us about their own libraries (we have a lot of International students here, so we got some great library stories from all over the world). I also ran a stall at our ‘re-freshers’ fair at the beginning of this term to gather student feedback about the library. I love working with our students, and it’s exciting to be engaging with them in a way that’s slightly more interesting than issuing their books. It gave me loads of confidence in my job and because Bradford is a fairly small University the students I spoke to remembered me and have been greeting me around campus ever since, which is just lovely.
However, this library-fame has come at a price, because now whenever I’m doing any other events outside the library (we are piloting a pop-up library service around campus) students think ‘ooh it’s feedback lady’ and start telling me how the toilet doors bang too loudly and that we need more PCs.
Today I stood up and gave a presentation about how we communicate with our students in front of all my colleagues. My previous job involved demonstrating and promoting a website to large rooms full of people. Somehow this never phased me – I just got on with it. But put me in a room full of people I know quite well and I fall to pieces. As soon as I tried to log in to the PC everything went wrong – I had to restart it to log in, my presentation wouldn’t load in Firefox, there wasn’t enough room for everyone to sit comfortably. I panicked, ignored my carefully planned flash-cards and babbled on incoherently for half an hour. I also forgot to ask the essential ‘any questions?’ at the end and had to be prompted! Despite all this, I think I got away with it – people were so dazzled (or seasick) at my use of Prezi that my rambling paled in insignificance. I even got some complimentary comments!
I really want to make sure that I’m still able to attend relevant events and conferences in my new job. In fact I even asked about it in the interview. I’ve already seen loads on the mailing lists that I’d like to go to, but sadly most of them seem to be on the day I start my new job, which I guess would be slightly inappropriate! Eventually, when I have more experience to draw on, I’d really like to speak at an event. Weirdly, I actually quite enjoy getting up in front of people and talking. It takes me right out of my comfort zone which I guess is a bit of a buzz, and I feel a real sense of achievement afterwards.
Having only ever worked in para-professional roles so far, I think that having a great manager is really important. Especially in my first couple of jobs, having someone (preferably someone who’s ‘been there before’) to give advice, talk things through and support my decisions made a massive difference. My first job after graduating from Uni (as a Public Information Officer – not exactly library-related) was really tough at first – I (an inexperienced writer in her first ‘real’ job) had to go into a social services department where people had years of experience and tell them that their leaflets/posters/website/promotional materials were not up to scratch. Needless to say, they were not thrilled at the prospect of being told what to do by an extremely naive 21 year old.
I can honestly say that I would never have got through this experience at all (never mind getting through it AND actually winning the respect of my colleagues AND ending up loving my job) without my absolutely amazing boss. One of her most admirable qualities was the absolute support she gave our team – almost to the point of being fiercely supportive! If you made a decision and had a good reason for doing so, she would always back you up – even against the highest authorities. That made a real difference to my ability to have confidence in my own judgement, not only in that job but in everything I’ve done since.
As I’ve already mentioned, from September I’m going to be a School Librarian, alongside studying for my Masters distance learning. I’m really anxious not to allow myself to become detached from other ‘library’ people, as one of the most positive things about my traineeship has been the huge library-based support network I’ve been able to build. I think I really need to look into finding myself an ‘official’ mentor. I’ve heard from lots of different people that school librarianship can be very isolated, and I will no longer have the benefit of real-life-Librarian contact on my Masters course. So as much as I dislike the idea of approaching someone and asking them to give their valuable time to help me, I really think one-to-one support will be essential for me to continue to develop.
This time however, not only do I have an almost legitimate excuse, but it has also saved me writing two posts about my career development plans. I did have a career development plan, albeit a rather rudimentary one (it was in my head, but it WAS a plan, okay?) – but more on that later.
I have spent this year doing my Graduate Traineeship, which was the best work-based experience I’ve ever had. I’ve had a go at a bit of everything I ever imagined libraries would involve and far more besides. From customer services to e-resources, my Traineeship has given me a brilliant taster of life as a Librarian – and most importantly, I haven’t gone running for the hills. In fact I have loved every minute and am more excited about having a career in Librarianship than ever before. I know it’s rich at this stage in my career for me to be giving anyone careers advice, but to anyone thinking of starting out in Librarianship, I think being a Graduate Trainee is essential.
It sounds like a tiny thing, but the one of most valuable assets my Traineeship has given me is contacts – Over the past 9 months I’ve met more new people and got more useful careers advice than ever before in my life.
I’m actually feeling ever so slightly tearful writing about my Traineeship now it’s so close to the end!
Back to the future….
In my ideal (purely internal) plan, I was going to find my perfect 4-day-a-week library job starting in September and go to Sheffield part time to study for my Masters. In fact my plan was so advanced that I’d even saved a considerable amount of money to do this.
Sadly, what I hadn’t factored into my plan was ‘real life’ – a place (in case you are as unfamiliar with this as I am) where perfect 4-day-a-week library jobs do not exist. Believe it or not ‘real life’ also happens to be a place where potential employers offering full time jobs do not like to be asked whether you can ‘have Mondays off for two years to go to Uni please’.
The (new improved) Master plan
So obviously, my advanced prototype needed to be altered, and modelled on something quite frankly a little more realistic. And then out of nowhere (as in all good novels) something wonderful, amazing and totally unexpected happened – I got offered not one but two School Librarian (School Library Manager, LRC Manager, whatever else I may get called) jobs!
So it turns out I will be working 5 days a week, from September (this was essential as I was very determined not to leave my Traineeship early), getting hugely varied experience and working with some of the most challenging (and hopefully rewarding) library users possible.
Now obviously this does not factor in the part of my plan that says I will do my Masters next year, but I’m coming to that…
Fortunately for me, I was in a strong enough position (having been offered two jobs) to ‘encourage’ (barter with) the School to offer me considerably more money than was initially proposed. This means that I can (hopefully) afford to save enough extra money to pay the substantially higher fees to do my Masters distance learning.
Distance learning is far from the ideal option for me, especially whilst working full time. But unfortunately I do not have the luxury of unlimited time and money, and I’m really keen to work alongside my studies so that I can put what I learn into practice (in my humble opinion Library School should be far more practical anyway, so here I get the best of both worlds). Any feedback from anyone who has done a distance learning course (good or bad please!) would be very much appreciated. I would also love to hear from anyone who is/has been a School Librarian.
Putting the new plan into action
So, in no particular order, here is a list of career development options I hope to pursue in the near future:
- Masters in Librarianship/Library and Information Management
- Getting more involved with the School Library Association in my new job (I have signed up but not pursued it yet)
- Join the School Libraries Network
- Eventually Chartership
So here’s to new beginnings!
Weaving a web-based network
Despite my apprehensions about social networking and promoting myself online on a personal level (the gory details of which can be read here), I am a member of many online ‘professional’ groups, mailing lists and forums. Since starting my traineeship, I’ve made a concerted effort to join and contribute to groups that are of particular interest – including LISNPN, Lis-International, Lis CILIP reg and numerous groups for specific events such as National Libraries Day.
This has had a beneficial impact on my ‘real life’ connections in a number of ways. I’ve met people who I first spoke to on LISNPN, I’ve been to a number of meet-ups and events first arranged or advertised on these networks, I’ve attended library visits organised by groups, and have had national feedback on work I was involved in via the mailing lists.
For some reason (unknown even to myself) I seem to shy away from networks with a more ‘social’ basis, where I am required to add personal details. I joined Twitter fairly recently, but have quickly become an avid user (where else would I catch such intriguing escapades as #tropicallibrarian?!). Twitter is extremely useful for keeping up to date – but so far I seem to use it more as a news feed than a social tool, which suits me just fine.
However, for me, Facebook is an entirely different beast. I do have a Facebook account, but I use it very rarely. The only function I still find useful on Facebook is the ability to publicise and invite people to events. Having said that, I can definitely see how Facebook is a useful promotional tool for organisations and companies – The audience is already there and already engaged, so the scope for creative advertising is huge.
I haven’t yet set up a LinkedIn account, as I feel that I’m still too early on in my career to make proper use of it. There is also the danger that I would forget to update my profile when I changed jobs or gain qualifications.
venturing into the real library world…
Personally, I still get far more out of actually meeting people and speaking to them in person than I do from online communities. As previously mentioned, I mainly use the groups and lists that I am a member of to get involved with and initiate ‘real life’ meetings.
Recently I’ve been along to Library Camp Leeds, The Oxford trainee library visit and CDG’s Tackling social inclusion & disability issues event – all of which I found out about via my online connections.
However, I also try to arrange trips and events myself – such as the Leeds Library visit (which you can read about here). Talking to people about their library experience and how they got there is always fascinating and encouraging, but I don’t feel like I could do that so easily online. It is much harder to approach someone you’ve never met before and start asking them personal questions about their job!
Like most people, I do feel apprehensive before meeting someone new, particularly in a group situation – but I just sign up for everything I can and hope that I’ll have found the courage to do it by the time it comes round (and I always have so far!)
So basically, I use online networking to find out what’s going on, and then go out and do it!
For my reflective practice post, I’ve decided to ponder on a Graduate Trainee visit that I organised to the Leeds Library, which is both a charity and a proprietary subscription library. Along with the trainee from Leeds Met University and the trainees from the University of Leeds, I have been on a number of visits to wonderful and varied libraries over the past 6 months (#thisiswhyilovemyjob). The basic purpose of our visits is to see as many different libraries and speak to as many librarians as possible – to find out how they got there, what is important to their library, what is different about their job etc. So here goes…
What did I learn?
Before visiting the Leeds Library, I admit that I knew very little or almost nothing about this type of library, so this was a real learning curve for me. Most importantly, I learnt that subscription libraries are rich in history and hidden treasures, and that I would definitely like to gain experience of working in one at some point.
In terms of factual learning, we were given details of the history of the library, how a subscription library is funded, how they market their services to attract new members and their collection and preservation policies.
What did I enjoy?
Basically – all of it! But I realise that I need to be selective here… I enjoyed the planning of the event more than I imagined. I’m not the most organised of people (my life is messy, but I know where everything is…honestly!), so I often shy away from this kind of thing. However, I now realise how satisfying it is to see a project through successfully from start to finish.
During the actual visit, the part I enjoyed the most was talking the the Librarian and the Assistant Librarian, who were two of the most lovely people I’ve ever met, and reaffirmed my faith that Librarians are inherently nice. They spoke very openly about both their roles and the library, which was both refreshing and intriguing. I also loved exploring the library, with it’s winding staircases and hidden spy-holes. The building has so much character – including it’s own ghost (allegedly a previous Librarian)!
What worked well?
I think the discussion part of the visit worked really well as everyone felt relaxed and although I hadn’t prepared any specific questions I found that there was a lot I wanted to know more about. I think this was successful because the Assistant Librarian and I had discussed beforehand what was expected from the visit and what we would talk about, which helped all of us prepare.
What went wrong?
Thankfully, nothing went terribly wrong on the day. I ended up feeling a bit guilty for making everyone meet quite early, as I wasn’t sure how far the Library was from the station – it turns out it was a two minute walk! But it did mean we got breakfast at Starbucks, so hey-ho.
One thing I did do wrong was go on holiday for a week in between my correspondence with the Assistant Librarian, and forget to put my Out of Office message on (or let her know). This was rude of me and I’m sure made me look very unprofessional – I’m just lucky that she was too lovely to say!
What would you change?
As above really. I would find out exactly where the destination was and plan journey times in advance.
What (potential) impact could this have at my workplace?
Speaking to the people at the Leeds Library taught me an awful lot about marketing and communications and how it’s done differently in other libraries (and for a different audience and purpose). This will be especially useful for my Graduate Trainee project as I am focussing on how we communicate with our students (and hopefully how it can be improved).
Overall, I think this visit really reminded me why I want to work in Libraries – the Leeds Library is very focussed on it’s members, because it has to be. Everything is about what the reader wants – sadly, I think sometimes that is forgotten in non-subscription libraries.