Last weekend I travelled to Birmingham in order to attend my second annual Library Camp event. I attended the same event last year and found it really interesting and enjoyable, so I’d booked my tickets early for this one and was looking forward to some inspiring workshops and conversations with the 150 or so other information professionals who would also be attending.
For those who don’t know, Library Camp takes the form of an ‘unconference’, which means that there is no pre-arranged programme of presentations or workshops. Instead, anyone who wants to pitch an idea for a session does so on the day and then we each choose which ones we want to participate in. It’s much more spontaneous and informal than a traditional conference and this usually creates a lively atmosphere of debate and discussion.
One of the other traditions of Library Camp events is that there is always a large amount of cake on offer and this year’s event was no exception. I arrived at the venue at around 9am and immediately went to investigate the baked offerings that the attendees had brought with them. There were some absolutely gorgeous vegan chocolate brownies; I don’t know who baked them but they were probably the best brownies I’ve ever eaten!
After I’d sampled some cake and caught up with several of the librarians who I follow on Twitter, we all piled into the main room to hear the session pitches for the day. There were lots of interesting proposals and it was hard to decide which sessions to attend, but I have written some summaries below of the ones which I found most useful.
UKLibChat Live Session on Careers
This was probably my favourite session of the day. Hosted by the uklibchat team who run a regular monthly discussion of library-related issues on Twitter, this session was a simultaneous live chat and tweet-up which focused on the challenges of building a career within the library and information sector.
The first thing we discussed was how much scope there was for career progression within different kinds of libraries. One academic library worker felt that there wasn’t much scope within her own institution for career growth due to budget cuts, but that growth was possible if you were willing to move to another institution. Another person commented that career progression in the public libraries sector could be difficult for new professionals as they often needed to wait for older librarians to retire before they could move up to a managerial post. Someone else suggested that this was similar to the situation in corporate and special libraries, and that special librarians might have to consider changing sector if they wanted to move up to a higher position.
Next, we discussed the best ways to find out about career openings; various job-hunting websites and recruitment agencies were suggested by the group, a list of which can be found here. It was also suggested that job-hunters should keep an eye on the websites of particular institutions that they were interested in working for, as some institutions might only advertise on their own site in order to save on advertising costs.
After this, we considered the importance of having CILIP chartered status and whether this was something that was desired by employers. Many in the group commented that their employers did not see chartership as being an important prerequisite and that some employers did not actually know what it was. However, it was considered that going through the process of chartership could still be useful for those who were keen to engage in continuing professional development. One person commented that her employer was very supportive of her wish to attain chartership, although there was no real incentive for her to do so other than for CPD. Another person argued that attaining a PG Cert teaching qualification had been much more relevant for her than attaining chartership as she did a lot of teaching in her role, and others in the group agreed that the PG Cert was starting to become a more common qualification amongst HE librarians.
Next, the group considered what types of skills were most wanted by employers and how these requirements might change in the future. Most people agreed that customer service skills were of high importance, and that within academic libraries this importance was likely to increase in view of the rise in tuition fees, which would lead to students having higher expectations of their academic library services. Also of importance was the ability to understand user needs and to help users to develop and improve their information literacy skills. It was agreed that technical skills like coding and web design could become more central to the role of librarians as more and more information would be delivered online in the future.
In the final part of the session, there was a general discussion about the mood of the people in the group and whether most people felt optimistic or pessimistic about being able to find a professional post in the library and information sector. Several people in the group admitted to feeling quite stressed about their job-hunt in the difficult economic climate and many felt that they would have to compromise either on hours or location in order to get a good job. One person expressed frustration about jobs which were advertised externally but for which the employer already had an internal candidate in mind, as this potentially made it more difficult for external applicants to be successful. Another person commented on the high amount of competition for each job and pointed out that qualified librarians were often applying for paraprofessional posts because there weren’t enough posts at the right level for them. From my own experience I’ve found that once you have completed the MA qualification, it can be more difficult to get a paraprofessional post because you may be seen as overqualified, but it can be equally hard to land your first professional post because you may not yet have many years of experience. It’s a difficult position for newly qualified librarians to be in as, at the moment, there is somewhat of a scarcity of entry-level professional posts.
However, despite the worry that many people in the group had about job-hunting, it was generally agreed that the challenges we faced were by no means unique to the library and information profession. One person commented that everyone had to fight for a job and that difficulties existed across all sectors. Someone pointed out that the skills possessed by librarians were widely applicable and relevant in today’s knowledge-based economy and that librarianship was a changing rather than a dying profession.
All in all, it was a very useful and thought-provoking session. For anyone who wants to take part in further #uklibchat discussions on Twitter, the next session is on Tuesday 6th November at 6.30pm UK time and the topic is ‘Supporting Offsite Users’.
Librarians Without Libraries
I found this session very interesting because we considered what librarians should be doing to promote their services to patrons in cases where the service was accessed remotely via telephone or email and where there was no physical library space. One person suggested that frequent users of the service could be encouraged to promote it more widely to their friends or colleagues, while another person pointed out that her organisation had a well developed staff intranet where she was able post information about the library service.
We also discussed the example of a corporate library which employees needed to use as part of their job and we considered whether such a service needed promotion and advocacy in the same way that other types of library did. It was agreed that even if a library service was essential to the organisation in which it was based, it was still important to ensure that patrons were aware of the service and what it could offer them, as well as what it couldn’t offer them. In terms of the latter, it was agreed that gaining user feedback about how the service could be improved was a useful way for corporate library staff to make a case to their organisation for further funding and development of the library service.
After this, we discussed the different ways that libraries based in corporate organisations were labelled. Some people felt that the word ‘library’ could have unhelpful associations in a corporate context, as employees might associate this label with books and traditional academic learning, rather than seeing it as an information service. It was also suggested that some people might automatically associate the word ‘library’ with a physical space, and that for this reason it was not an appropriate label for an email and phone based service. Other people argued that the word ‘library’ had positive connotations for most people and that it was a word which people understood, but it was also suggested that the term might not offer an effective description of the service and that in a corporate context ‘knowledge management’ or ‘information management’ could be more useful labels.
Issues in Academic Libraries
I chose to attend this session because this is the sector that I’ve chosen to work in, so it was highly relevant to me. As expected, the issue of increased student fees came up almost immediately and we discussed how best to manage higher student expectations within the context of the budget cuts that many academic libraries are facing. It was agreed that academic librarians had to demonstrate the value of their library services both to students and academics in order to protect themselves from cuts. Several people mentioned the fact that many students are unaware that the eresources they access online are provided and paid for by the library, and instead they believe that the resources are provided for free. We discussed whether we should make more effort to brand our information access pages to make it clearer that the library was responsible for providing the online content, but it was felt that this could have a negative impact on the user experience by making their access to online resources feel less seamless.
Also discussed was the problem that some academics and students didn’t feel that their University library had anything to offer them, but people in the group argued that this was because these users didn’t know how to find the resources that were most relevant to them. Someone made the important point that if academics were unaware of the wealth of information offered by the library, they would not communicate this to their students. This would mean that new undergraduates wouldn’t see the value in information literacy training because they would want to stick to the limited selection of books on the reading list provided to them by their lecturer. One person argued that librarians should actively seek out academics to explain how the library could benefit them and their students, as we couldn’t just expect them to come to us. It was suggested that librarians also needed to be more visible within institutions, and that one way to achieve this was to ensure that library staff were members of all the important institution committees.
It was generally agreed that senior management in HE institutions could sometimes view the library as a cost to the institution because it doesn’t directly generate income in the same way as fees or research grants. It was suggested that some managers had an outdated view of the services provided by academic libraries, and that this made it even more important to demonstrate the ways in which academic librarians work to support teaching and learning to enable students to improve their grades. One person drew our attention to the JISC Library Impact Data Project, which aims to demonstrate a ‘statistically significant correlation between library usage and student attainment’ by collecting and analysing library usage data from a number of HE institutions. The results from this project could provide valuable data in the future when it comes to demonstrating the worth of well-funded academic libraries.
Libraries and Volunteers
I had expected this session to raise some controversial issues and I wasn’t disappointed. The group discussed when it was appropriate to make use of volunteers to help deliver a library service and when this crossed a line and began to threaten the jobs of paid staff. One person argued that some library events and activities would no longer be possible without the help of volunteers and that volunteers in turn could gain enormous personal benefits from being able to participate in the running of their community library. However, it was also suggested that allowing volunteers to take over certain aspects of the service could give the impression to government officials that paid library staff were no longer necessary. One person argued that a library was not simply a room full of books, and that a volunteer-run community library should not be confused with a professional library service. She argued that the reason that some people see volunteer-run libraries as a viable alternative to a professional service is because they don’t understand what librarians do, and she pointed out that we need to keep fighting against the misconception that the main job of a professional librarian is to stamp out books.
As with last year’s Library Camp event I was pretty exhausted by the end of the day, but also full of lots of useful information (and cake!). I really enjoyed catching up with some of the people who I follow on Twitter, as well as meeting some new and interesting library professionals. Many thanks to this year’s organisers – I’m already making plans to attend Library Camp 2013!