I am currently an Enquiry Services Librarian at an NHS Foundation Trust.
Prior to this I have been a Sixth Form College Librarian in Greater Manchester, and a Library Assistant at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford, with many NHS administrative roles in between!
I am also part of the team at Salford Zine Library, in Greater Manchester, and co-organise Northwest Zinefest.
It’s been a while since I last updated but I just wanted to update to say I represented the NHS in the Manchester Pride Parade for the second time this year and had a really positive experience. It’s such a lovely atmosphere and the crowd’s love for the NHS section is overwhelming!
I also bumped into a fellow NHS Librarian which is always a nice surprise!
I am hoping to submit my Chartership very soon so more updates on that soon…
This was back in early May now, but I am at the critical writing up stage of my Chartership and so here I am, reflecting on it.
The day had the useful hashtag #nlpnconnect and also NLPN have published a guest blog post on their blog here so if you are really keen to read more then there you go. I know there is at least one terrible photo of me on the hashtag so you might enjoy that.
Firstly I must be completely honest as is my way, and admit that this event would probably have completely passed me by if I hadn’t been invited to be one of the ‘speed networking’ people. I had literally no clue what this would involve but it’s nice to be asked isn’t it! Anyway I am so glad they did approach me because honestly I had SUCH a positive experience and it really got me enthusiastic about libraries again as I met so many likeminded people who were doing inspiring work. It encouraged me to finally get on and do this Chartership thing I’ve been dragging my heels over, and it was one of the reasons why I decided to make this blog, which seems to be going okay, so that’s awesome.
It was on a Saturday, us poor new library professionals giving up a precious Saturday! There was coffee and cake though.
Some reflective thoughts on the day:
It made me think more about what it means to be a library professional. I did wonder if my job title was the reason I was invited to be there, and if that mislead the organisers into thinking I had a LIS qualification, which I don’t. Am I therefore not a New Library Professional? I did a bit of soul searching in a previous blog post about this. Ultimately, I think this has pushed me forward a bit in making strides with Chartership, because I know I have the experience and know in a way I do self-identify as a Library Professional or at least Para-professional, but for some reason without that piece of paper, others may not agree.
It made me realise how far I have come. I went to a New Professionals Information Day run by CILIP back in 2011/2012 I think it was actually this one blogged about here. At the time I was a Library Assistant at the Bodleian Healthcare Libraries (a great place to work, btw) and was still undecided about if I should do a Library MA or a Museum Studies MA. In the past 6 years since then I have spent 3 years in libraries, 1 doing that Museum Studies MA and the other 2 years working in the NHS. I feel like all of this experience has been incredibly valuable, even the masters in a way, and being back in libraries is the right path for me. While I have not done a lot of library networking in that time, I have done a lot of public speaking and museum networking and I realised that I felt more confident this time, perhaps with a bit of time and experience under my belt. I was not shy to introduce myself and get chatting with people who I wanted to meet and find out more about their roles.
The presentation/workshop on Library Job Titles, Future Library Skills run by CB Resourcing contained a lot of things I already knew, so maybe I’m cleverer than I realised? It also contained things I knew to question, so maybe my information analysis skills are also better than I give myself credit for. I felt able to query something I was confused by, and there was a critical discussion at the end which felt really useful.
The Networking session was interesting, I went around 4 tables and sort of did a mini presentation (with literally no notes or anything) about who I am, my role and my journey to this point. I think I was the only one without a LIS qualification (correct me if I am wrong, someone!) but my job was a real example of one where if you didn’t read the job description, the job title may have put you off.
It was great to chat with academic librarians for the first time in a while actually, and gain some insight into what they get up to, including collections and open access work. I also chatted with some FE librarians, and as I spent a year covering Maternity in a college library, and also spent a year volunteering in a secondary school library and absolutely loved this work, it was fantastic to chat to them about themes in their line of work, particularly the loneliness of the solo librarian.
I also got to hear Penny Andrews chat about values which is definitely something I am interested in and have thoughts about. In particular the way that librarians and CILIP like to talk about what it really means to be a librarian. I found this to be very insightful and I have been doing a lot of reflective thinking about why I got into this and what I want this work to achieve going forward.
Anyway sorry for all the waffle, but I needed to get this down for posterity, and Evidence. Thanks to NLPN for putting the event on, I will keep an ear to the ground for another event like this in future.
I originally wrote this as part of a response to the e-course I previously blogged about here: Feminist Pedagogy in a Library Context but I feel it is important to be transparent about some of what I try and do as part of Salford Zine Library so I am reposting here so it is open access.
I am one of a team of 4 volunteers, there are no paid staff though sometimes we get commissioned or paid to run workshops or exhibitions. We work to administrate, promote and make the zine library accessible, and I am increasingly aware of the importance of critical practice and feminist pedagogy when it comes to zine librarianship. Absolutely everything we do is informed by these themes. As zines are a form of free press and are self-published, they often raise up voices and views of marginalised authors who may otherwise struggle to get published. We are a donations only library as we do not have a budget for purchasing zines, but I am becoming increasingly aware that this may be a barrier for some who cannot afford to donate or post zines to us as they need to cover the cost of producing them, as such their work will not be represented in the library. We allow donations in person at various events we attend and try to attend a variety of events across the UK to help with this. I do personally purchase zines with a view to adding them to the collection, but as we are volunteers and the library largely relies on applying for funding or donations, this is not always feasible.
We try to relinquish librarian ‘control’ of zines by not having them displayed in a certain way. It is a reference library but so far we have not labelled zines, and though we may end up doing that some time, we do not plan on shelving them in a particular order. It is also not staffed so we do not monitor the collection and the reference only system currently only works on a trust system and the library is based in an area of a cafe.
While the lack of ‘rules’ ‘order’ or ‘conduct’ may make the library less accessible in some ways, as visitors may be confused by the absence of them, or struggle to find things in what might come across as chaotic, we hope that the friendly space makes users of the library feel confident to dive in without worrying that they are disrupting any categorisation on the shelves. The subject of cataloguing is an ongoing conversation we have been having with others who follow us on social media and attend our events, so is not set in stone and may develop over time.
As volunteers in a library of this nature, we try to avoid positioning ourselves as experts, particularly because all of us in the team are white, but also because zines are inherently creative and can be approached as a medium in many ways. We know a diverse network of zine makers and hope to provide a community and put on events that showcase work by makers, rather than formally curating the library or making rules about what a zine is or isn’t, though we may have our own opinions on this. This school of thought also informs the open collections policy, as we accept any zines as long as they are self-published. So far nothing completely offensive (ie. racist) has ever been donated, though if this happens we will have to discuss how to deal with it and I imagine we would do that via a dialogue with the zine community, much of this dialogue takes place on social media and in person at zine events.
An issue that comes up a lot with zines is consent, the creator may wish to be credited in a certain way, or want their material back. We are open to requests like this at any time. It is important that creators of zines retain control over their output, and we want to reflect their wishes if for example their pronouns change, or they are no longer happy with having their work included in a public space. Zines can often contain personal or sensitive information and we try to take this into account rather than having a more rigid collections or cataloguing policy. As a zine-maker myself, I have seen my zines catalogued in a way I was not happy with online, and I requested it be changed, and the library refused because they catalogued based on what was on the printed material which is obviously traditional library practice. I found this to be frustrating and unfair as I was the author, and zines are not a traditional medium! Another issue with zines is digitization. It is not seen to be best practice to digitize zines in full, although some authors may do it to their own zines, we would not do it without consent. Digitization in the library world in general is seen to be a positive thing, but again due to the subject matter and the regular use of pseudonyms and anonymity in zines, it would not be ethical.
The ‘power structures’ of cataloguing and librarianship mentioned in Saunders (2017) felt relevant to the themes of zine librarianship and as such we are mindful as zine librarians to have a quieter voice than those contained in the material on the shelves.
A question I want to ask is: how would you go about cataloguing a diverse collection in a way that is accessible, non-hierarchal/prescriptive but also helps people navigate a lot of material to find what they need? We want to avoid formal cataloguing altogether, for the reasons outlined above, but also if people are seeking particular resources we want to make it easier to find things.
I identify as an intersectional feminist who works in a library, so when I saw this e-course being run by Maria T. Accardi via the American Library Association (ALA) I felt like this could be really exciting and relevant to me.
I never studied these sorts of topics at university (besides one gendered geographies module I started before dropping out of my second year for other reasons) and so even though I am interested I felt like some directed reading and discussion could be something I would get a lot out of.
I have a history of struggling with e-courses, and not feeling like I can keep up with them, but so far the reading has not been too intense and 2 weeks in, all of it has been open access so far. In the second week there was a choice of reading so if you were really keen, or time rich, you could read all of it, which I did.
As I might be studying a Lis PgDip via distance learning, I felt that this course would be a good way to dip my toes in the waters of e-learning and make sure it is not in fact a terrible idea.
I have in the past felt that discussion didn’t really get off the ground in elearning spaces, but Maria sets us all specific people to respond to, and then also we can respond to other people that we want to. So we know when we post something we will definitely get a response which is heartening.
Anyway I will write more at the end of the course. If you are interested in reading more, there is an article linked below which was part of the first week’s homework. It’s exciting to be learning again!
I must admit even though twitter library chats seem to be quite popular, I never really feel organised enough to remember them, or most of the time, I have plans outside of work. I do often dip in and out of them and enjoy reading people’s opinions but don’t often take part for the entirety of one. A journal club more focused to me, plus reminded me a bit of a book club, so I felt like this appealed more somehow!
Anyway the experience was a really positive one and I have reflected on it and uploaded it as evidence in the form of a word document of the transcript. I highlighted my tweets and added some reflective thoughts on it and then saved it as a PDF for uploading to the VLE.
The experience has made me feel like I would be interested in taking part in one in the future, especially after going back through it and reflecting on the experience more deeply as part of Chartership. Certainly if another journal club one came up I would absolutely give it a go, as I felt more confident contributing to a more focused discussion like that, rather than stating my opinions on a wider topic area, while I am still learning myself. Still I would definitely recommend it if you fancy getting involved in one. I know #uklibchat is a big one, and of course #ukmedlibs is the one for health librarians.
The next #ukmedlibs chat is on 17th July and is about Open Access so I might lurk around that one as I want to learn more on that topic.
It’s high time I updated about Chartership, isn’t it.
So when I left off last, I was about to have a look at my PKSB (professional knowledge and skills base). This was a massive stumbling block when I first started Chartership but after attending the local workshop at MMU I felt much more confident. It was suggested that you fill out the excel spreadsheet version of the form, and much to my relief, that you hide all the cells of things that you are not focusing on/are not relevant to your job. This made it feel much more of a manageable task as there is only so much you can achieve in this process and by my count, 96(!) elements that could be explored. They all come under the subheadings in the handy PKSB wheel below.
These subheadings include things I feel a bit scared by and are not directly relevant to my role, including Contract Management, Legal Deposit, Preservationand… Information Architecture, whatever that is, it’s okay don’t comment I will google it.
Nevertheless one nice thing about the PKSB is that if there is an area of librarianship you know nothing about, or you don’t get the chance to explore at work, and want to improve your skills in, the chance is there to do so.
So even though the Excel version is apparently easier to use, you can fill in the questions nicely on the website which leads to a downloadable PDF. I looked at my printout and shock horror, I had filled it out on 26th May 2017, so it is high time I get the rest of this admin done, I mean look at the state of it!
One cool thing they have on the website is a set of templates where you can see, based on your sector, where your skill level should be. So there is an example for an NHS Clinical/Outreach Librarian, which is pretty interesting as I can benchmark my own skills against that. Mind you it “provides an indication of the level of knowledge and skills you may need” and I don’t want to get too hung up on comparing myself to others when this is mostly about self-reflection, right? or DO I.
I can be really hard on myself and I think I have already mentioned in a previous blog about how I want to do ALL OF THE THINGS, so it is tempting to try and change/improve everything about myself, but actually I have been doing this for a year, and I don’t want to burn out. The Chartership workshop leader said that you shouldn’t try and fill it all out, so I didn’t.
So you basically have to rate yourself on various elements, using the below scale, and also give an ideal rating which can be more or less or the same as your own score.
0 – None
1 – Basic
2 – Good
3 – Comprehensive
4 – Advanced
So a good example of this is my own score of 4, an advanced level of knowledge for 12.4 Social media and collaborative tools. I have a firm hold and am well-rehearsed in this area partly from using it for work, and researching it during my Museum Studies MA, which is relevant in my opinion, as many aims of museums are the same as what libraries try to achieve on social media… but also partly from my love of tweeting inanely about my life.
I feel that a score of 3, a comprehensive level of knowledge, is ideal for my role, so maybe I’m doing a little better than I need to on that front. Having said this I do think that there are apps and other tools out there I could be better informed about, so in hindsight maybe I should say I have 3? Okay I might actually change it to 3 and then explore these things and blog about them and then that can be a bit of evidence…. Anyway the last few sentences there are very much representative of my thought process throughout filling out the PKSB. I guess it’s important to value your skills but also give yourself room to grow and also don’t assume you do know everything.
I’ll do some more examples.
5.3 Copyright, intellectual property and licensingis an area I have a vague understanding of from day to day practice, so I rated my self as having 1 – a basic knowledge of it. It is not an area I feel I know the ins and outs of though, and I feel this would be useful in health libraries, so I gave that area an ideal score of 3, a comprehensive level of knowledge.
1.6 Thesauri – these come up in healthcare database searching and when I did my PKSB, remember this is something I filled out over a year ago now, I rated myself as having 0 or no knowledge of. Ideally I feel like I need to have a Good knowledge, a rating of 2, to excel in my role. So I have put that is one of my goals.
Below is one of the sections of the PKSB excel spreadsheet and it shows that I have made some notes in the end section, which is basically a brain dump of my own ideas for exploration. Also you’ll see that 6 of these rows I have decided not to fill out, so I will be hiding these rows and not worrying about them for the moment.
All in all this didn’t take me that long to do, and it made me really think about how each part of my job fits into it. But it is very daunting and the possibilities are endless. I’m not sure I will ever feel satisfied with my skill level enough on something to rate it a 4, which means ‘Advanced’.
Anyway, it feels a bit fiddly at times but actually I did find this process to be valuable. I barely ever allow myself time to reflect on how far I have come and Chartership is forcing me to do that. I am very much the sort of person who continually charges on to the next thing and the next thing so hopefully this will allow me to think more carefully about areas for improvement and areas I am nailing. Go me.
Sometimes I feel like I don’t fit in to workplaces even when I know I have the skills and the talents that they want. As a result I have moved jobs a lot, seeking a good fit. The NHS is the one place where I feel valued and part of a massive team. Libraries have always felt like a safe space. Perfect combination right? Even so NHS libraries can feel professionalised. I was following #HLG2018 on twitter and reading a lot of opinions on professional qualifications during the keynote address.
Having already done a ‘professional’ MA that did not lead to work in the sector (museums), I am reticent about doing the LIS MA and suspicious of the opportunities it claims to unlock. I am currently doing the CILIP Chartership (and trying to blog about it too, with varying degrees of success) and so far have realised that Chartership as a professional qualification has not taught me anything I didn’t already know, but I do know now how to talk about what I already knew. So is a professional qualification really going to add value to my CV?
What does a professional qualification really represent?
It can be something that is listed as essential or desirable on an application but honestly if they like you the most out of all the candidates regardless, they will recruit you, I know this for a fact. In which case, it becomes a barrier to people who want to apply but don’t have the qualification or the gumption to apply anyway. It also becomes a barrier when a candidate doesn’t have it, at what cost do they have to do one if offered the role? How will their workplace support them in this pursuit?
Professionalisation though, what is that? Sometimes I think sectors like to seem important and take back control because their skillset is becoming outdated, jobs less prevalent, underfunded or less understood, so they professionalise. It’s a lot of chatting to other people in the goldfish bowl of the same profession about how important what they do is, and how deep and meaningful their development is as professionals – at least this is very much my experience of doing Chartership so far. Sometimes a professional qualification is a really useful way of bench-marking skillsets. But honestly when you work in a sector long enough and are committed to keeping up to date with developments, brushing up your skills and qualifications and getting to know your library users and what they really want, what exactly can a LIS MA give you. Especially in the UK we need to remind ourselves that education, particularly Postgraduate Education, is a business.
I came from a background where going to university was not expected, and being at university was a massive social challenge. At one point I dropped out and went back to repeat the year, because I found studying at university level incredibly inaccessible and there really was a lack of support, or at least a lack of communication about the support available. I think this experience was a massive impetus in me wanting to work in a role where I facilitate learning and make it more accessible and enjoyable to everyone. Thing is though, I am being faced with the dilemma of, do I need to a LIS qualification to be deemed ‘professional’ in my area. I mean I find that term problematic in this use anyway, because it indicates a person being a certain –level-/ having elevated status somehow. But surely all people who work in libraries are LIS professionals. The job title Librarian and the actual job description/person spec is not a set in stone template either so just because you are a ‘professional’ doesn’t mean you are a ‘librarian’ within these unspoken remits, and vice versa.
So what does professionalism do? I personally see it as a massive barrier, I have education, an MA even, I have worked hard, I care passionately about what I do, yet am I not seen as a professional because I don’t have a LIS MA? Even though that seems very wrong to me, I see it happening. I like to think of myself as being too dynamic and pragmatic to blindly do a qualification because a professional body recommends it. I am obviously not saying that LIS qualifications have no value. I have heard amazing things from people whose work I fully respect, about how their MA has given them so much insight. I have an offer of a PG Dip this September and do plan on trying to do it, but at the end of the day, I am human and I cannot afford to do it without some funding. I am not eligible for the postgrad student loans as I already have an MA, which I got into bank debt to do, and took 5 years to pay off. Should I have to put myself through that all over again for a job? Or should I keep trying without the qualification and see where that gets me. Will I be passed over because I don’t have the qualification even when I have everything else? If I don’t get the MA, does that make me not a professional? Also I don’t love how if you are not a professional you can be a para-professional, which feels quite derogatory, or maybe I am just unprofessional.
I have a lot of love for librarians and what they do, but professional qualifications feel like gatekeeping just like when we have to pay ridiculous fees to publishers to access journals. Do I not get to identify as a professional without paying £££ and giving up my evenings and weekends for two years (if I do it part time, which I have to!). Why is that? Is that because other librarians who have done professional qualifications feel that because they did it, everyone else must do it too? Rights of passage are outdated, my friends. Just because something has always been a certain way… wait aren’t librarians always trying to be innovative and dynamic in their work? Then why not in the entryways to becoming a librarian?
A lot of people who disagree with me seem to be people who have already done it. It’s like, they can’t see past their qualification and critique the system perhaps? Was your LIS MA worth it? Are you now a better person? Did it really make a difference or did you do it to tick a box? Do people who have LIS MA’s get to feel superior, what does the ‘Professional’ version of me look like? I know I did my Museum Studies MA because it felt like the last possible thing I hadn’t tried in my quest to work in museums, and because everywhere kept telling me, I had everything they wanted but the qualification. But what happens if getting the qualification crushes your spirit and passion for the area and ruins it for you? I certainly feel that my MA was transformative but I know if I could turn back time I would not repeat the experience. Masters courses can feel like a dangling golden carrot we offer people who want in to something.
I feel like I have often had to ‘come out’ at networking things as having not done the LIS MA and risk feeling like people may not take me seriously. How much emotional labour and work outside of work do I have to do to feel legit? If I don’t do one, will my peers judge me on the basis of not having one unfairly. Not having one can be for a lot of different reasons, many of which might come under the two ticks, many of which are just the sign of a person who isn’t privileged enough to access professional qualifications, for financial reasons, or lack of time, support, other life things. Do I undertake professional qualifications and become part of the system? Will doing one completely change my opinion of them and experience of the sector? I guess I will find out when I finish Chartership and if I do end up doing a PG Dip.