Communicating with our library users at the University of Bradford - my Graduate Trainee Project
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!
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.
I have a confession to make – until about 3 weeks ago, I was conducting an experiment into how to be invisible online. Most people who know me in real life would say that I am outgoing and (possibly annoyingly) over enthusiastic, I am also an anthropologist at heart and am fascinated by other people – but in reality I am quite a private person. I live in the middle of nowhere, I have no real interest in popular culture (I don’t have a working TV) and (like most people) I am completely disillusioned with Facebook.
So for me, the concept of ‘branding’ myself is terrifying to the point of almost inducing a panic attack. In order to conquer my fear, I had a long and soul-searching conversation with my boyfriend, who works in advertising, and gave me lots of good advice which applies to branding a product, but not (I think), a person. I tried to think about this objectively, and turned to DDC 23, thinking a nice library-based approach might be to classify myself, like a book. This turned out to be impossible, seeing that my classification skills are limited at best. I struggle to classify photography books – I’m definitely not ready for people! And that, I think, is the essence of my issue with self-branding – the terms ‘personal’ and ‘brand’ are antithetical: a ‘brand’ is cold, carefully calculated and neatly packaged. a ‘person’ is unpredictable, changeable and psychologically complex. What is most intriguing about someone else are the subtle quirks that you can only uncover by really knowing a person, in real life. That’s why people make the effort to become friends, to get to know someone…
It was Ned Potter’s ‘You already have a brand…’ that marked the turning point for me. It made me realise that I’ve already jumped in with both feet by setting up this blog and my Twitter account – and that I might as well make sure that my online presence is telling people what I want them to hear! Reading other people’s ‘thing 3’ posts also taught me that being online is just an entry point – a short introduction to you (and hopefully one that makes people want to know more). So here goes: I will now commence a strategic analysis of my brand identity and market position…
When Googling myself incognito, none of the results on the first page refer to me at all. The first result that comes up is someone else’s Facebook. This Emily Corley appears to own a horse, which obviously makes me immediately jealous. The rest of the results appear to relate to people in America – LinkedIn and Twitter profiles, flickr and Formspring accounts and a sportswoman who shares the same name as me. Apparently ‘Corley’ is a more common surname in the US. My Twitter account (finally!) appears on the second page of results, and 4 pages in comes my Lisnpn profile (kindly pointing out that I have 0 friends!) – but that’s about it.
When adding ‘library’ to my name, a lot more hits actually relate to me – my Twitter profile is top, followed by a post on University of Bradford’s special collections blog, and my account on the National Libraries Day website. This blog doesn’t come up, which I imagine is down to my sub-standard self branding skills, as I don’t think my full name is attached to this at all. This wasn’t initially intentional, but I think I will leave it that way for now – I’m still testing the waters.
The name of my blog
I have not used my own name in the url of this blog. This is because I am not a strong enough ‘brand’ yet for people to have heard of me by name, so instead I chose to use a pseudonym which I think reflects both my childlike curiosity for most things, and the fact that I am just starting out (and therefore still exploring the world of librarianship).
The photograph I have used is me – in the distance on my very old and much loved bike. I like this photo (and the ones I’ve used as a background and header) because they were taken with my brownie camera, which I guess reflects yet another of my personal interests – analogue photography. I also used this image as I do not enjoy having my photo taken, and I couldn’t find any suitable ‘close-up’ shots of myself.
On Twitter, I don’t have a photograph of me at all. I don’t see this as a hurdle – I want to introduce myself at meetings and conferences – I don’t want people to assume they ‘know’ me already and therefore not talk to me.
I think that finding the perfect balance is key here. I’m not entirely sure whether I’ve got that balance right? I think (hope) that in general I am a friendly and very approachable person, and I want to come across that way. But I’m not quite sure my ‘professional’ side is so evident…
My visual brand
I have to admit, I spent an awful lot of time agonising over the aesthetics of this blog. I am a perfectionist about how things ‘look’ – I know this is shallow, but my previous job was writing publicity material, which taught me that if something doesn’t look enticing, no-one will bother reading it. Having said that, as a writer I do honestly believe that what is written is the most important thing. How often do you hear people saying ‘I read somewhere that…’, but describing a visual image so that it has real meaning is much more difficult. I do not believe that a picture speaks a thousand words.
I deliberately chose not to have any images that involved books or libraries. This is because I want my blog to express other aspects of my personality too. And also because I am contrary – I always have to do things a little bit differently. I know this is not a good quality, but hey-ho.
I realise I’ve gone on and on here – but they say never to start writing until you have too much to say!
So now it’s over to you – any thoughts? Any comments on what you think my personal brand is would be useful and/or amusing! It would be especially nice to hear thoughts from people who’ve never met me in real life.
This is a very brief ‘thing 2’ since (as mentioned in my previous post) I unofficially spied on other people’s blogging activities first.
So just a short list of interesting things that my anthropological study of librarians in their natural habitat has taught me:
- First of all, and most importantly of course, ALL Librarians love tea. This is in any library-based job description.
- It is amazing how many varied career paths people have taken. And it’s lovely to see that they have chosen to settle in Librarianship (and their reasons for doing so)
- I love reading about people who are doing unconventional library and information jobs. This is great for someone who’s just starting out like me, as I struggle to focus my mind on any one subject for an extended amount of time, so it’s encouraging to know that Librarianship offers many diverse options.
- All the blogs I have read so far have been really interesting, and people have approached library blogging from lots of different angles – anything from giving advice, to describing their day or just giving an opinion.
That’s it for thing 2. I’m still procrastinating about thing 3…