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Sunday, 30 October 2011

CPD23 Things Programme in 6 words!

A summary of the CPD23 Things programme of career development learning......

"Keep calm and never stop learning"

Now that's a record -my shortest post ever!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

CPD23 - Thing 23 - Final Reflections and what next for this blog?

It's impressive how much we've covered throughout the CPD23 Things programme which has involved learning not just about new tools and services but also crucially about ourselves and our impact on others.

Throughout the progamme I've tried to be thorough and reflect as fully as possible on each topic, hence some exxxxxttttreeeeemmeeellllyyyy long blog posts (must surely have won the award for the longest posts!).

Overall, I'm pleased to have kept up my personal commitment and to have seen this through to the end of the programme. Surely that stands for something good!

As a specific result of CPD23 Things: I'm now using LinkedIn and Twitter more, have signed up to Google+, have created my first Prezi presentation, used Screen-o-matic and advised others to do the same, reflected (no stressed) over the concept of 'personal branding' - so there's a lot to answer for.

CPD23 Things has also helped make me feel more engaged with other information professionals (sometimes can feel isolating in my current role).

But is it really an end?

October is now mid-year appraisal review time so seems like an appropriate time for the programme to end.

However, I feel that there is much that CPD23 didn't cover and should have done - for instance, such as accessing information via mobile apps and analysing modern search engines - so potentially there is much that could be covered in a follow up programme.

I'm also quite sure that the CPD23 programme could be rolled out much further to other organisations and sectors. For instance, there is room for a dedicated CPD23 Things programme just for government information professionals.

My personal next steps though, are to follow the suggestions and do a SWOT analsyis which will hopefully make my thoughts clearer on where to go next (really don't know). I'm also still planning to revalidate, for what it's worth!

Now that CPD23 Things has come to an end, the question is should I carry on blogging?
For lots of reasons, the answer is yes. As I am increasingly coming to appreciate, blogging is a great (although scary) form of self-expression and dialogue. Being part of the CPD23 Things programme has felt like a community and I hope to continue with this feeling and sense of support.
In continuing to blog, I want to post meaningful thought provoking posts, so I've been thinking about some future topics to blog about on both personal and work related issues:
  • Government consultations
  • Stakeholder management
  • Preparations for Government Libraries Conference 2012
  • Managers - the good, bad and the ugly
  • Internal communications
  • project
As writers say, the best advice about writing is to write for your own pleasure first and from that everything else will onwards and upwards.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Yes, I really want to join a book group!

Do you feel like this?
On Saturday 8 October 2011, as part of the first East London Literature Festival, I attended the Reading Group Conference which took place at the University of East London.

At the event, Dr Roberta Garrett (a Senior Lecturer in Literature and Cultural Studies) considered the value, impact and cultural importance of reading groups. She raised the contraversial question of whether reading groups make a useful contribution to literary culture.

In considering this question, we have to remember several things. First that reading groups are not new and in fact date back to the creation of the novel in the early 18th century. Second, reading groups are not homogenous - they reflect different literary trends, age groups and membership groupings. Reading groups can very broadly be defined into those that meet political or educational needs such as feminist or marxist reading groups and those that are more commercially orientated.

The modern trend in joining a book group is part of this second commerical definition, as demonstrated by the commercial success of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club in the United States (originally set up in 1996) and the equally popular UK equivalent, the Richard and Judy Book Club (set up in 2004).

Like them or not, these groups demonstrated the power of book clubs in relation to publishing. It is estimated that the books featured as part of the Oprah Book Club (70 titles) resulted in an estimated 55 million copies. A prime example is that after featuring Leo Tolstoy's novel "Anna Karenina" as part of the club's selections, the book went to the top of the US bestseller lists. Likewise in the UK, the Richard and Judy Book Club has had an equally powerful effect, so much so that Amanda Ross, the show's producer was listed as the most influential woman in publishing (The Queen of TV Bookclubs Amanda Ross).

Oprah and Richard & Judy are only the tip of the iceberg and it has been estimated that there are around 50,000 book groups in existence in the UK. So why are they so popular?

Roberta Garrett presented various factors for the modern development of reading groups including the end of the price fixing resulting from the Net Book Agreement, the rise of e-commerce, the expansion of graduate and literary education, expansion of literary prize culture.
This is before even touching on some of the most fundamental reasons for book groups:
  • the opportunity to meet others
  • chance to expand our reading experiences
  • it's fun to chat and socialise
The very reasons above are what critics of reading groups find fault in. They dismiss this very social aspect of reading and are inclined to agree with Virgina Woolf's belief that "The pursuit of reading is carried on by private people".

Roberta Garrett highlighted some of the critics of reading groups which primarily seem to focus on a snobbish, elitist view of reading. These critics include D J Taylor or Giles Foden. These criticisms seem to focus on different approach to literary analysis and reviewing which upholds style and technique as the arbiter of judging a book's value.

Reading groups in comparison, by their very nature, are driven by a different agenda. They are more driven to look at context, topics and themes.

Garrett believes that criticism of reading groups is founded on two aspects - class and gender. In terms of gender, it is particularly noticeable that approximately 78% of reviewers in the London Review of Books are male. In comparison, it is estimated that about 69% of book club members are women. Another notable statistic is that 48% of women describe themselves as 'avid readers' compared to only 24% of men.

The presentation offered a really great foundation for a more in depth conference examining the role and power of book groups. Given that the UK's National Reading Group Day took place on 25 June 2011, I personally think there is still room and space for reading groups as part of our reading and literary landscape and there should be more examination of their roles in our society.
The Reading Agency's campaign - National Reading Group Day
Now it's over to you:
  • What is your opinion of reading groups?
  • Are you a literary snob who would never join a book group?
  • If you are a member of a book club what type of member are you and how do you contribute?
  • How do you think reading groups help libraries and reading? 
  • Does the idea of joining a book club conjure up images of a "troop of bored housewives sitting around their local Starbucks weekday mornings after they’ve dropped off their kids at school, killing time together by offering their empty insights on the latest Nicholas Sparks novel"?
  • What books would you recommend for a great book club read?
Join the debate.......

CPD23 - Thing 22 - Is volunteering in libraries the answer to all our prayers?

Volunteering is universally considered as one of the best activities that you can ever get involved with (a potential win/win for all with a supply of willing motivated workers). It is therefore not surprising that libraries and volunteers do cross paths and that volunteering is a focus for discussion and debate within the information sector.

For instance, the issue of volunteering in libraries was considered during one of the sessions at the 2011 Umbrella Conference on New Structures, New Technologies, New Challenges - How Can We Adapt To an Age of Austerity?  which was held at the University of Hertfordshire on 12 – 13 July 2011. During this session held under the 'Libraries in the Big Society' strand, presentations were made by Mike Brook about Volunteers in Libraries, Tracey Long spoke about Using volunteers in libraries - the Dorest experience and Tracy Hager spoke about using volunteers as part of the Summer Reading Challenge.

What I sense from these presentations, is that volunteering and libraries do mix and now is an important time to consider volunteering in libraries in a consistent way. As Mike Brooks says, we should use the current economic context in 2011 as an opportunity to truly consider the use of library volunteers and look at what is benefical for both libraries and volunteers themselves.

In assessing the topic of volunteering in libraries I have two questions:
  1. Why is it good to volunteer?
  2. Is volunteering good for libraries?
before providing some general concluding thoughts.

Why is it good to volunteer?

Being a volunteer has the potential of providing a range of benefits for both the volunteer and the organisation involved.

For individuals, volunteering offers the opportunity amongst other things to:

- meet new people and make new friends
- experience new opportunities and challenges
- gives you a greater sense of well-being
- get a legup in your career (or to grindhop according to Bronogh McCrudden)

For instance, in a survey conducted by the charity Community Service Volunteers (CSV), the following benefits were apparent:
  • More than 50% of volunteers perceived health and fitness benefits
  • 62% said that volunteering reduced stress
For busineses, there are also benefits.  For instance this is indicated by a survey among 200 of Britain's top businesses, carried out by TimeBank a national campaign inspiring and connecting people to give time, which found that 73% of employers would employ candidates with volunteering experience, more readily than those without and 94% of employers believed that volunteering could enhance skills.

I am a volunteer myself (currently volunteering once a week at an Age Concern day centre for people with dementia together with my dog as a Pets As Therapy visitor) and know first hand the satisfaction and value it brings to the people and staff as well as myself from something as simple as putting a smile on someone's face and speaking to people.

Is volunteering good for libraries?

As highlighted in the introduction to Thing 22, library volunteering can be invaluable to people looking to find a professional post and to solve the universal catch-22 of needing a job but lacking practical working experience.

The benefits of being a library volunteer are also highlighted by Sally Hughes, guest blogger on the Voices for the Library blog. Sally speaks of being a volunteer at a museum library.

Where library volunteering is beneficial is when the volunteer's role is well defined (maybe as part of a defined project) and not acting as a wholesale replacement of paid staff. Examples might including chairing reading groups, helping to catalogue specific collections or supporting running events such as the Summer Reading Challenge.  

There are many examples of libraries using volunteers in successful ways, such as in Gateshead and Kent Library Services. Kent, for instance has had a formal library volunteer programme since 2008 which outsourced to Community Service Volunteers. Kent Libraries benefits from over 37,000 volunteer hours and volunteers work in 93 of Kent's 101 libraries. Gateshead has had a volunteering programme since 2002 and now benefit from help from around 100 volunteers involved in tasks like heritage guiding or digitising records.

The Public Library News website provides a factsheet on Volunteer-Run Libraries, which summarises the current list of UK public 'community libraries' and outlines the pros and cons of using volunteers to run a library service. Volunteer-run libraries are a step further than using volunteers for specific projects and tasks.

Proponents of these community run libraries see them as part of the trend to more localism in service provision (the so-called political agenda of a 'Big Society'). Specific benefits highlighted by the Community Knowledge Hub website are that volunteer-run libraries offer potential for:

  • Reduced running costs for local authorities
  • Increased community involvement in and control over local services
  • Increased take-up of library services
  • Library service innovation and diversification
  • Improved access to a range of public services 
However, as the factsheet points out only 1% of current UK public service library provision is available via 'volunteer-run' libraries and this approach is 'not for the faint-hearted'.

I wonder if such volunteer-run service provision became more widespread, could these benefits really be replicated everywhere (including in less affluent areas of the country)?

Despite the personal benefits of volunteering, there are potentially many risks in relying on volunteer-led services. For instance, like it or not, volunteers come and go due to life circumstances and volunteer management is a role in itself. In the case of libraries there would be a risk of service provision and hours diminishing.

There are many people who have publically stated that volunteers shouldn't substitute the work of library professionals and I agree with them.

For instance, Liam Godfrey, Press Officer of Surrey Libraries Action Movement has said:

"Librarians are professional people and professionally trained. You wouldn’t ask volunteers to take the place of Doctors, Teachers or Civil Engineers so why would anyone think volunteers can replace librarians just like that?"

The Women's Institute, who are actively campaigning for public libraries, also share this opinion ('WI slams government over volunteer-run libraries' - The Bookseller article ). Ruth Bond, the Chair of the WI has said:

"Whilst volunteers have an important role to play, they should not be a replacement for a trained, professional library service, and local communities have real concerns about their assumed ability to take on the running of local libraries, particularly around their ability to raise sufficient funds to keep library premises running and replenish book stocks."

Final thoughts

It is so sad that we are having this debate about library volunteers but due to the economic situation and the pressures and cuts in public library budgets, I am sure that librarians/information professionals will continue for some time to come to voice the Bethan Ruddock's question of Could we all be replaced by volunteers?

I can't really imagine the UK's public libraries being replaced totally by volunteers (and as referred to above, only 1% of UK public libraries are community led at the moment so there is a way to go yet before the current public library changes totally) but who knows what some councils might try to do to libraries faced with budget cuts by 'sleight of hand' (eg Islington Libraries: The Battle Begins - 7 October 2011).
 I also believe that library volunteering should remain a personal choice compared to people faced with the threat of library closures and being forced to "volunteer" with a gun to their heads. As Liam Godfrey states "This is not volunteering, it is blackmail: taking advantage of people’s desire to nurture and protect their local community, and not wanting to lose one of the key hubs of their communities".

I also share the views of Sally Hughes (a library volunteer, herself, remember) who imagines a library closure scenario and considers volunteering:

"if my local library were to close I don’t think I would be the first person at the doors to be a new unpaid employee because without the guidance of the professionals it wouldn’t be half of what it was".

For me that says it all and why volunteering in libraries is not always the answer to our prayers either for organisations or personally.....

Sunday, 9 October 2011

CPD23 - Thing 21 - Promoting Yourself

The activity as part of Thing 21 is to consider how we promote ourselves in the job market and it really daunts I am going to make an attempt to face these job promotion and hunting fears.

Paul Mullan is one particular careers consultant among many whose advice I've stumbled across online. His advice makes some sense to me at this particular moment in likening job hunting to tackling fear. He says that FEAR stands for “Fantacised Events Appearing Real”.

Paul talks about what to do when you are afraid - that you need to challenge the fear and the fact that you are creating a fantasy. You need revisit past experiences when fear was present and how the reality was very different. You need to relive the highs when you overcame fears. By facing your fears you can start to have a more positive impact in searching for a job.

I can't absolutely say I think this way positively yet, but I do understand that my current approach to job hunting is beset by 'fear hurdles' which need to be overcome.

Part 1 is to look at our own career and identify strengths and weaknesses

"Tell us about your greatest strengths" is a very common interview question. Why then that so many of us find it so difficult to answer?

Book title says it all!
Like many others, I probably fall into what Paul Mullen describes as the 'the pit of self promotion'. In other words I have an under performing CV because I tend to hold back on highlighting key achievements or successes because of a lack of appreciation of the bigger picture and fear of being boastful.

To address this will take some time and as a first step I need to develop  an achievements log (maybe as part of an extended Revalidation portfolio activities log.

Part 2 looks at CV writing

I have a CV and it works (or has worked) adequately, but after over 3 years in my current job it definitely needs a dusting off now. I'm aware that the approach to presenting CVs has changed in recent years and it is interesting to learn of new techniques and approaches rather than the chronological work based approach that I continue to use. Presentations about CV writing such as Really Ugly Resumes and Resume Zen provide food for thought.

Did you know that in general it can take recruiters as little as 10 seconds (not surprising given CV filtering software) in some cases to judge what you are like from your CV?

It's therefore important that we take the time to think very carefully how we present ourselves in the best light and in a way that stands out from the crowd.

Part 3 looks at job interviews

As Paul Mullen states, the final task in job hunting is the 'dreaded interview'. He advises that the best way to tackle this fear it to PREPARE. This is also the advice from many other people and sources including CILIP which provides Going for an interview - Top Tips.

I've been to a couple of interviews in the past year or so and I find them more nerve-racking than ever. However one thing that does keep me going is an awareness that the interviewers are just as nervous as the interviewee. I've been fortunate to sit on an interview panel and to see first hand how the process works from the other side of the desk. As an interviewer I have found myself willing candidates who are under performing to explain themselves more and show themselves in the best light possible.

Lastly, I found the attached skit from the BBC 2 TV show "Mock the Week" funny. It's all about what not to say at job interviews......

Thursday, 6 October 2011

CPD23 - Thing 20 - Library Career Routes and Wisdom

Career Paths
If you are anything like me, then anything to do with career planning, career pathways, careers guidance and careers advice seems very daunting.

This is where both the Library Routes Project and the Library Day in the Life Project are such great ideas since they help to demystify some of the nature of what working as a modern day information professional involves.

Our perceptions of careers and jobs are built by our own unique mixture of experiences and by talking to friends, family, parents and teachers, learning from the media (TV, newspapers) and from reading online and books. Existing perceptions and prejudicies can be very hard to shift. Therefore these two website resources are as Laura Woods says in her overview to Thing20,  "intended to shine a much-needed light on the types of jobs and career paths available within the information profession".
I have previously contributed to the Library Routes wiki already - see my blog post to CPD23 - Thing 10 - Routes into Librarianship.
Do you think your own path was typical or unusual compared to others?
Having a nose around at other contributions, I'm probably one of the few people who actively pursued a career in library and information work, compared to most other contributors who seems to have stumbled a lot more into this career path.
I'm also one of very few contributors from a government or special libraries background (not because there aren't people like me out there but presumably because less people working in these areas are aware of the wiki).
This raises the question of what we can all do to actively promote what it really means to be an inforamtion professional and the value of information management and libraries beyond what Ned Potter and Laura Woods call the 'echochamber' of talking about being a librarian and libraries to ourselves.  That battle is not yet won!

Words of advice
True words of wisdom!
My first top tip is that if you get the opportunity, do try to find a job via the CILIP graduate traineeship scheme.
This is beneficial to both employers who are seeking enthusastic graduates looking to find experience in information and library work. It also works vice versa for those same graduates who are looking for real-life working experience to demonstrate work commitments and to start to earn money. CILIP clearly indicate that those who are successful in securing a traineeship are looked on favourably if they then decide to apply for a CILIP accredited course. You have to be organised in applying for these roles, but opportunities do appear throughout the year and they are very varied to suit all personalities and backgrounds (and maybe get your foot in the door with an employer). They are also a competitive job-seeking process, so be prepared for submitting your CV and interviews. To get an idea of some graduate trainee schemes you can check out the websites run by graduate trainees working at Cambridge University (CATALOG), OWL: Oxford Website for Library Trainees and the Albert Sloman Library Assistant pages. Remember these are only three possibilities from around 70 opportunities advertised annually.
Being a graduate trainee definitely helped me with Plan A - ie applying for a Masters in Information Management and finding a full time job.
However, you should also always be prepared for a Plan B (or even C or D) as you come to appreciate the older you get that life is not always straight forward and plain sailing.
By the time you have been around for longer in an organisation and you get associated with a particular job, position or role (particularly if you work in a larger organisation), the more closely you are associated with your existing skillset. For all the talk of the possibility of changing sectors, I personally think that unless you move around when you are a 'newer' or 'younger' professional, the harder it will be disassociate yourself from your perceived skillset later. Be prepared to reach an invisible 'glass ceiling' mid-point in your career and plan for that.
Whatever propelled people into their current situation, I'd also advise everyone to:
  • continue to keep flexible and current with new technologies and ways of working
  • volunteer to undertake new work and activities
  • be positive as long as possible and avoid listening to cynical voices
    Wish I had one of these!
Also be open to all the wisdom of others. Here are some words to ponder:
  •  "Analyzing what you haven't got as well as what you have is a necessary ingredient of a career" - Orison Swett Marden
  • “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” - Michael Jordon
  • "What is the recipe for successful achievement? To my mind there are just four essential ingredients: Choose a career you love, give it the best there is in you, seize your opportunities, and be a member of the team.” - Benjamin F Fairless

Monday, 3 October 2011

CPD23 - Thing 19 - Catching Up

This is the second time that the CPD23 Things course has dedicated a specific time and space for participants to reflect (the first time being Thing 5 way back in July 2011!)

This time, however, we need to think about each of our previous posts and consider:
  • what elements were most useful
  • how you could integrate them into working routines
Throughout the course we have covered:
  • social media tools (blogging, RSS feeds, Twitter, LinkedIn)
  • productivity tools (Evernote, Google Docs, Wikis, Google Calendar, Mendeley, Prezi, Jing, Podcasting, Screencapture software)
  • professional development (personal branding, reflective practice, advocacy, events, networking, mentoring)
Here are my thoughts in these elements:
  • Blogging
The first element to reflect on is blogging, which underpins this whole course. Since Week 1, I feel more comfortable writing my thoughts for public consumption. Still not sure anyone is listening but like the therapy value!

Given the work I do, I am still not sure whether I will be to blog in an official work capacity although my department now have a departmental blog (which includes contributions from Ministers and policy officials) and there might be an opportunity to contribute to this in some way in the future.

I am now starting to think about what to do after the end of CPD23 Things ends and will share some thoughts separately.
  • Social Media tools
I already used all of the social media tools (with the exception of Pushnote) before the course in either a personal or work capacity. I've started to use Twitter and RSS feeds more personally (both following others) and building up more own followers via my work and personal accounts.

Since Thing 6 about online networks, I've actually signed up to Google +. Not sure how much use this will be until friends, colleagues and family also start to use as well - I'm virtually billy-no-mates at the moment on there! I also noted with interest, the changes to Facebook's news feeds in early September (in response to the launch of Google+ beta version), and I have monitored some of the comments and feedback shared by others about these changes.
  • Productivity tools
Most of these tools were unknown to me before the course. I've particularly enjoyed exploring using Prezi, podcasting and screen capture software which will be useful at work as part of my communications/awareness raising role.

I've downloaded a few of the tools including Evernote and Mendeley but not really had a chance to use them properly. I'm still most excited about using Mendeley to manage and group my PDF documents. I've also been recommended to download Camtasia (a premium screen capture software) which I intend to explore using as well.
  • Professional development
The CPD23 Things programme generally has been a great opportunity to reflect on things I've achieved and where I can support others. I made a commitment to put my name forward to become a CDG Chartership Liaison Officer - something I've only just done - so great to be reminded.

In summary, I think most of the elements of professional development have a potential impact on my working routine in making me more motiviated and conscious of how I work with other people. Understanding your impact on other people is very important in helping you to progress and grow in life (professionally and personally).