Friday, 30 November 2012

The final curtain...

And now, the end is near; And so I face.. Thing 23: What next?

What more fitting way to tackle this final task than with a few words of inspiration from Mr. Frank Sinatra?! (..and no - before anyone asks, I promise I've not been at the gin!).

Photo All About Jazz
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

Taking part in CPD23 has made me more appreciative of what a truly varied and dynamic profession Librarianship is. Through the visits I've done, by connecting with some fantastically interesting and innovative library people, attending events and generally opening myself up to new perspectives, I have come to learn what values are important to me and to contemplate just what I want to achieve in my library career. I have begun to realise just how great the threat to public libraries, in particular, is and to understand that it is up to information professionals from across all sectors to speak up for libraries.

I've travelled each and every highway;

I've wandered a fair bit in the course of this blog and have now lost count of the number of libraries I visited in the past six months. Although it has been exhausting trying to keep a record of this at times (uploading photos, wrestling with Blogger's often rather erratic tendencies, yada yada..) I'm so glad I did it! I feel I will be able to look back on this journey with a fair amount of pride in years to come (and cringy-ness too! Wouldn't be the same without the cringy-ness!). I would recommend a staff exchange to anyone, if you do get the opportunity, whether through a scheme operating at your own work, through LIBEX or organised independently. It was great to meet up with some of the staff I met during my time out there in the States when they came to the UK just a couple of weeks ago. I have continued to research the things I found out while I was in the US and am now just starting to help to put some of these things into practice in my own workplace. 

Regrets, I've had a few;

Promise not to rant on but the one major regret I would like to mention, looking back, has been not putting more thought into the design of this blog from the start! As a tip to anyone considering participating in this scheme next year - keep it simple!! Half of this blog has ended up in a font size which ostracises many people over the age of 40 and editing in Blogger is quite unpredictable at the best of times (have I mentioned?) so trying to mess around with different templates, layouts and things will just make matters worse! (Try Wordpress, maybe..)

I planned each chartered course,

Pretty sure CILIPquals weren't exactly what Frank Sinatra had in mind in this verse but finishing my Chartership is very much the next step along the byway for me. The same goes for many other CPD23 bloggers - TheatreGrad, It's not about books or being quiet all the time, Get Chartered! (..naturally) to name but three. I'm chuffed that I have already managed to achieve some of the goals set out in my Personal Professional Development Plan (PPDP) just through the experiences outlined in this blog, including those relating to broadening my knowledge and understanding and showing my commitment to professional develpoment. My other goals focus upon leadership skills, assertiveness and learning to evaluate service performance. I am also working my way through the Professional Knowledge Skills Base to try and identify other areas where I could improve. As an aside, I noticed an interesting quote from Liz Jolly on the latest Twitter #Chartership chat which explained a Degree/Diploma/Masters in LIS as the theoretical element of qualification, with Chartership itself as the practical part. Think that about sums it up.
To say the things he truly feels;

Hyperlinked Carliebrary posted her brilliantly earnest Future Librarian's Promise earlier this week and much of this rang true for me, for instance:
  • I refuse to say "librarian” apologetically
  • I promise to never be afraid to say “I don’t know.”
  • If I think [my work] is moving the profession or the library in the wrong direction, I will be brave and speak up.
For those who have not seen the full Promise yet, I would more than recommend having a look - it reads like a modern-day Hippocratic Oath for Librarians and I certainly could not have put it any better!

That's about all from me but just a quick word of thanks to those who have done a great job of organising this course. I have greatly enjoyed reading other CPD participants blog posts throughout too, so cheers for sharing those and congratulations to everyone else who has finished!

What's my "6 word story"?

Well...I did it my way!

Volunteering in libraries...

Thing 22 is all about volunteering in libraries. I read Jo's story and really admire the brave decision she made to go and work as a volunteer in a job which provided her with genuine opportunities, instead of falling back on the safe option which was to return to a job (after having left to attend library school) where she found herself stuck in a rut. Others, like Girl in the Moon & Lisa in the Health Library have also shared their experiences of how voluntary work has helped to provide them with a solid grounding in Librarianship, through which they have been able to take on paid roles. There are some utterly fantastic-sounding roles which crop up in the voluntary sector, for instance this one which appeared this week on LIS-LINK, offering the chance to work for a library project in Peru! I would dearly love to have the sheer gumption to simply take off to go and do something like this (especially after the staff exchange I attended earlier this year - an experience which has made my feet more than a little itchy!).

One day I am sure I will will venture further afield, in fact...but not just yet. For the time-being, at least, my clodhoppers are very much grounded here in the UK where I feel voluntary work is all too frequently undervalued (and even treated with suspicion in some cases) within the information sector. I have written an article for Voices for the Library highlighting why I think volunteering is so important. This is with particular reference to the plight of Brent Libraries - a cause which I have written about several times before in this blog and one which has relied upon the dedication of volunteers since the closure of six libraries in the borough. Here's are some extracts from of the article which highlight my own views on volunteer libraries:


Six Brent Libraries were closed in October of last year - campaigners and volunteers have since been
working tirelessly to try to keep as many of these from staying closed permanently as possible

The S.O.S. Brent Libraries campaign was formed in May last year following the Council’s decision to implement library closures as part of Brent’s Libraries Transformation Project (LTP). Library campaigners gained support and raised funds to try to overturn the Council’s decision, resulting in a high profile but ultimately unsuccessful case heard in the High Court in July 2011. The seven libraries which make up the ‘Save Our Seven’ (S.O.S.) Libraries campaign are Barham Park, Cricklewood, Kensal Rise, Neasden, Preston, Tokyngton (all closed) and Willesden Green Library which remains open but is set to undergo redevelopment in a “mini Civic Centre” project seen as unfavourable by many local residents (visit their blog for more details). 

Community setups staffed by volunteers have now been established in Brent, each with a view to reclaiming a permanent presence either in their previous premises or in the vicinity of libraries closed in their respective areas. These are
Friends of Barham Library (FOBL) Volunteer Library, Kensal Rise Pop-up Library and Preston Community Library.

The FOBL volunteer library which has been set up in Wembley
(picture courtesy of
Brent S.O.S. Libraries)

Volunteer libraries are, of course, a hugely contentious issue within the library sector as a whole. The Culture Media & Sport (CMS) Committee is not in favour of the idea of libraries that are wholly run by communities, stating councils must continue to give volunteer libraries “the necessary support to maintain the service”. The opening of these volunteer libraries without any support from the Council is no-one’s notion of an ideal situation - it has been implemented as very much a temporary measure, one born out of necessity in Brent. Quite simply, it is a case of ‘do or die’ for these libraries and where a groundswell of support for libraries in the borough has failed to materialise, the future for those libraries is now bleak - a fate which has befallen the libraries of Tokyngton and Neasden.

A short video about Preston Community Library

I am certainly not suggesting the implementation of volunteer libraries as something which should be done in all instances where libraries are under threat. What is happening in Brent, though, shows people still care about physical libraries, they still need them and many are prepared to make tremendous sacrifices to keep them going, even in the face of strident opposition. How could anyone working within the library sector be anything but encouraged by this?! I work within the academic sector and as such I do not feel I am in any position to suggest what is right for public libraries as a whole. As a qualified librarian, though, I do not feel threatened by the presence of volunteer libraries in Brent – quite the opposite, in fact. I respect the work which those professionals in the remaining Brent libraries are doing to transform their services and am certain the new Brent Civic Centre Library will be a big improvement upon the current Town Hall Library. Yet I am far more encouraged to see some of the work that is being done where the libraries have been closed.

The pop-up library at Kensal Rise is also staffed by volunteers
Something I have witnessed first hand has been the incredible generosity which people have shown in providing support for these burgeoning volunteer setups. When I have spoken to friends and colleagues about what is happening in Brent, they have frequently offered to provide a lending hand towards the project, whether this be through attendance at a fundraising event, by signing a petition or (more often than not) donating their own books. I am heartened that so many people have put a great deal of work into retaining a library presence in areas which desperately need them. In this respect, Camden Public Library Users’ Group’s sentiments in their provocative blog post, The Demonising of Library Volunteers ring true, viewing those who are prepared to give their time and energy as “the heroic pawns in a local government story of indifference and mismanagement”.


My own experience of volunteering has actually been outside of libraries, where I enjoy volunteering for a tennis club near Waterloo. For over four years I have spent time at weekends helping to teach kids the basics of the game and last year completed my Level 1 Coaching Assistant training with the LTA! I have been given opportunities to gain leadership skills, to teach others and to manage a small team of volunteers through this work. It is a responsibility which I found stressful at times (particularly when I was also studying part-time on top of my full-time job) but I am happy to say this has paid off as we have now been able to employ a Licensed LTA Coach who has taken on the role of managing the project. I am proud that much of what has been achieved at the club came about because I stood up for a project I believed in and was able to advocate effectively. That people in positions of power actually sat up and took notice, lending their support and resources to the project, is one of the key things which has motivated me to want to advocate for libraries too.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Jobs and interviews...

OK - it's high time I stopped neglecting you, dear CPD23 blog and faced up to Thing 21: Promoting yourself in job applications and at interview (ugh!).

Image courtesy of

To get the hard bit out of the way first, interviews are not a favourite subject of mine, it's fair to say. I can see the need for them, of course; when recruiters advertise, they seek a person with just the right set of skills, character and experience to fit seamlessly into their organisation. It's not the sort of thing that can be done without meeting a candidate, scrutinising them and generally make them squirm! What I struggle with a bit is the performance element of it - the retelling of experiences I have learnt from in a way which has a clear beginning, middle and end. I prepare these in advance, naturally and the C.A.R. or "Context. Action. Results." formula is a useful one.  'Mr Library Dude' Joe Hardenbrook also has some top tips when it comes to interviews and particularly the awkward business of knowing what questions to ask. Over the years, I have practiced interviews with friends and family and have made the most of careers sessions offered my various workplaces, professional organisations like CILIP (of course!) and the Universities I attended (tip: it's really handy that many Universities will still offer Careers guidance long after graduation). Despite this, I still don't find interviews in any way easy but importantly have not let that put me off from applying. 

Something I would ask of anyone who conducts interviews who is reading this is to give genuine consideration in the feedback you give to candidates who are unsuccessful. There is no obligation too provide detailed feedback, it's true and this article goes so far as to suggest that it is those unsuccessful candidates who react badly when given feedback which greatly reduces the likelihood of employers being prepared to offer such feedback in future. The chances are, though that anyone who is serious about the job will have gone to great lengths to prepare for their interview and may have made significant sacrifices in the process. Those who have missed out tend to appreciate it more if those on the panel take time to offer honest feedback about specific areas where they did not do so well. Letting the candidate know how they can improve the next time around is infinitely more helpful than standardised platitudes to all candidates about just how marvelously well they did anyhow - or, worst of all, offering no feedback. 

I really enjoyed the musings of Library Wanderer (no relation) on job applications. I can definitely relate to the comments about having had to reformat my CV from an old version of Word when updating this and can attest to the fact that "A-levels and degrees are listed in orders unfathomable to the average human being" on many online application forms. Revisiting my CV after several years was something I did recently when starting to put my Chartership folder together. I got a lot of good advice about this from some of the Careers sources mentioned above (putting the work stuff before the education stuff, now that I have had a few years experience, as one example).

Thing 21 done and dusted, I continued my series of library visits around the East London area recentlyfocusing on mobile libraries this time:

 Paleys upon Pilers in Aldgate - created in celebration of Geoffrey Chaucer

To give a bit of context, mobile libraries in the UK are in decline, it has to be said and it is those in rural areas and the elderly who are being disadvantaged the most by this. There were around 700 bookmobiles in Britain in 1990 but by 2010 this figure had reduced to 430. It is estimated there are now around 120 fewer mobile libraries still in 2012. the UK's foremost authority on Mobile Libraries is a (now retired) librarian named Ian Stringer, the man who has, quite literally, written the book on the subject. I had the pleasure of attending an event a on behalf of the International Library and Information Group (ILIG) a couple of years ago. During his talk, Ian gave a brief overview of all the mobile libraries in existence, including donkey libraries, elephant libraries and even camel libraries – some of which are extraordinarily sophisticated, incorporating solar panels and satellite dishes for internet access. Ian also explained just what on Earth a Catepillar Library is and how he brought these to poor farming communities in South Africa. 
Some day, I would certainly like to go and visit the elephant libraries of Laos & Thailand or the Bangladeshi boat libraries. For now, though (with the busy academic term in full swing) I have been a bit limited in the time available for travel. Nevertheless, I did get to visit probably one of the most interesting mobile libraries available here in the UK, namely The Bicycle Library. This converted bus is now enjoying its second incarnation, having originally launched near London Fields, Hackney in September 2010. The bike bus is now based in the shadow of the Olympic Park, very near Hackney Wick station. It is primarily a bike hire service but the upper deck contains a growing selection of books, magazines, flyers and artwork on the subject of bicycles in their various forms (folding, minivelo, fixedgearsinglespeed, Utility, Cargo, Electric... you get the idea):

(Some of the library's books can be seen in the upper deck's windows)
The City of London's only mobile library was set up as a stop-gap solution following the closure of the Camomile Library: 

Inside the City of London's Mobile Library  - with colourful book reports on the walls!
The library would tour schools, hosting reading challenges and other fun activities for kids. Free reservations for collection from the bookmobile were offered as an incentive for former Camomile users and others in the City to join up. Staff working on the bus claim this has proved effective in the retention their users - as one staff member working on the bus put it, "once you lose library users, then they don't tend to ever come back". The importance of ensuring temporary measures are in place to prevent active memberships receding where library services are being transformed is, I feel, a lesson which many local authorities have yet to learn. For anyone wanting to visit this mobile library.. well sadly you have missed out, I'm afraid as it closed at the end of October. This is to enable preparation of a new permanent library to be opened next month in nearby Artizan Street. 
Picture courtesy of Artizan Street Library - City of London Libraries Facebook Page
...but that's not all so far as the CPD23 Things goes, just yet.. for me, anyhow.. and it's good to see plenty of others also still working their way through! 'Fraid my priorities have been elsewhere of late, not least with the SOS Brent Libraries project (more about that to follow in Thing 22) but I vow that I will get there in the end.* 

(*..before November 30, in fact, as I want my certificate!)