Sunday, 29 April 2012

The end...of my career, probably (also known as #cpd23 Thing 23: Final Reflection)

Crawling over the cpd23 finishing line is going to leave a massive great big gaping hole in my life. What will I do now to procrastinate when I really should be sleeping or watching the West Wing? To save myself from feeling too bereft I've decided to channel my muse, the great philosopher Gloria Gaynor. So here goes, a song about survival. Feel free to join in. Here's the tune:

First I was afraid, I was petrified,
Kept thinking I couldn't do the Things unless I really tried,
And worst of all was blogging, trying not to be absurd,
But I grew strong, and I remembered my password.

We started off with personal brands
I think I probably asked Hugh Laurie to be my husband
There was Twitter with the Rickman
And then stuff about Pushnote
It was marginally less boring than an hour of Quote... Unquote.

So we say yes! to CPD!, especially when it has been numbered,
And there are 23
Can we please just all forget I should've finished this last year.
Did you think I'd crumble? Will this ruin my career?

Oh no not I! I will survive!
Oh as long as I know how to tweet, I know I'll stay alive,
I've got reflective stuff to think, I've got connections on that Link...
Oh what's it called? Oh what's it called? LinkedIn!

[Funky instrumental bit]

It took all the strength I had not to fall asleep
'Cos that Google Calendar, it ain't no Meryl Streep
Finding a decent rhyme for that was really pretty tough to hatch
So you just wait until I mention Cumberbatch

And you see me, a Dropbox whizz,
And as totally into Prezi as Prince Phil is into Liz,
We covered mentoring and CILIP
Chartership for all our sin
And how updating our CVs drove us straight to Gordon's gin!

So now that's it, and now I'm free, 'cos I'm hoping that this crap will
Be enough for Twenty Three
And all that's left for me to do is thank the organisers too
I've packed my Game of Thrones pyjamas and I'm off to Timbuktu!

Oh no not I! I will survive!
Oh as long as there's the Internet I know I'll stay alive,
There are pictures of Hugh Laurie that I haven't found quite yet
So I'll survive, I'll survive, I'll survive...

Goodbye for now, and thanks for reading!

50 shades of volunteering (also known as #cpd23 Thing 22: Volunteering)

Writing about volunteering in libraries feels like opening a can of worms, pouring them out all over your kitchen table and finding out that they're not just any old worms, but they're the worms from Worms 2, and they have hand grenades, combat trousers and knowledge of the kitchen table's terrain. The trouble is that there are different shades and levels of volunteering, ranging from the frankly awesome to the horribly damaging, and they're all conflated under the same umbrella heading.

We hear loads about early-career librarians volunteering to get experience because you can't get a job without experience and you can't get experience without a job unless you're willing to work for nothing. Leaving to one side the less than ideal situation that precipitates this, volunteering does constitute a valuable way of getting sensibly shod feet in library doors. It's proposed as a way of progressing, filling CV gaps, getting interview fodder, showing commitment or drive or initiative, or testing out a new bit of the profession to see if it floats your boat. And it works.

It's wrong to write off this sort of volunteering just because the practice has a few darker connotations. Even if there's no denying that it'd all be a gazillion times better if the volunteer were actually being remunerated with actual money that can be exchanged for goods in B&Q rather than a few custard creams. Personally I've never done it, save for a week's work experience in a solicitor's firm when I was 17 which was enough to put me off any sort of work ever, and I'm not really certain I ever would. But it strikes me that if, at its core, volunteering is mutually beneficial--good for the institution and possibly just a little bit better than good for the individual, whether their motivations are driven by interest or self-interest; if everyone's happy and respected and if there are clear working guidelines; if the volunteer is managed well and given opportunities and listened to, and if the volunteer is a bonus to the organisation, then awesome. Carry on kids. Even if the volunteer still deserves to be paid. I guess it's not a perfect world.

This is all gorgeous happy-clappy stuff borne of goodwill and probably directly associated with a lack of impending mortgage repayments. The trouble is that it naturally overlaps with the doomy and ominous side to volunteering and it's this that brings the whole ceiling of political and moral issues crashing down around us. It's this which turns an otherwise useful and helpful practice into something more akin to wading through a swamp filled with the worms from Worms 2, but now they've traded their grenades for bazookas and are aiming them at your head.

This is when volunteers are considered to be valid, cheaper replacements for the actual library staff. Which is pretty damn awful for the staff who're told to clear their desks and get out the door in the manner of a scene from Lemmings, but it also fundamentally undermines and denigrates their skills and their knowledge and their professionalism and yes, by extension, our skills and knowledge and professionalism. It's when community-run libraries are posited as the single alternative to no libraries at all and the goodwill of volunteers is, let's admit it, exploited. It damages the library service because it's now being run by someone who doesn't know their arse from their Dewey Decimal System. It's not good for users who might suddenly be faced with changes in the services, different priorities, being given duff information or--even more depressingly--being given information that's charged with particular political or moral messages. And it's bad for the volunteers too, either because they're doing a job for which they deserve to be paid (and a stressful job as well), or because they're trying to get experience and haven't realised that, erm, cuts to professional library positions will lead to, erm, there being fewer professional library positions.

I'm depressed now, so back to the random peaceful images
I so massively wish that volunteering hadn't become something tinged with these political issues. But it has. And I so massively wish that the huge armies of wonderful, wonderful volunteers who are fabulous and do brilliant and valuable work and deserve nothing but our respect and our thanks hadn't inadvertently become the baby about to be chucked out with the bathwater. But when all the joyful, positive volunteering makes professional library staff superfluous in the eyes of them upstairs, bad things will happen. Forget about Worms 2. I'm talking Tremors.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Dum de dum de dum de dum de dum (also known as #cpd23 Thing 21: job applications)

There is little more awful and despair-riddled than the prospect of writing or updating a CV. On a scale from zero to eye-bleachingly horrendous, it falls in between cleaning up dog sick and culottes making a comeback. It'll come as little surprise, then, that I haven't updated my CV since I got my current job. This is an oversight, and one I intend to rectify as soon as I have a few spare hours and some excess will to live.

Then there are job applications, also on the 'necessary evil horizon', sandwiched between dentist appointments, GCSEs and wrapping birthday presents that are an unconventional shape. I defy anyone reading this to imagine something more likely to take a ruby-encrusted pickaxe to your soul than a poorly formatted Word table. Truth is, though, setting aside CV currency for now, the practical nuts and bolts of getting a job are reasonably straightforward provided a) there are jobs and b) you're not fully devoid of common sense and c) you're capable of reading and following instructions.

Random peaceful image #1 by Bill Gracey
The CV/covering letter combo would be my favourite approach, if only because it means you're saved from the unsavoury and unsettling prospect of a pre-generated application form, otherwise known as an unquestionable assault to your pride and your sensibility. The first Krypton Factor style challenge will be the format in which you submit your qualifications. If you're unlucky, which you will be, you'll have one of those aforementioned Word tables. A little known fact is that there was a law passed in 1995 which stated that the font used in said tables will at some point change from a nice 11 pt Garamond to 13 pt Comic Bloody Sans, and will be entirely uneditable. It's the law. If you're equally unlucky, you'll have to fill out your qualifications using drop down menus, in which A-levels and degrees are listed in orders unfathomable to the average human being. And they'll never include the name of the qualification you actually have (I've got an M.Th. Yes, it's uncommon. No, I didn't make it up.)

Quite frankly, if you've got that far, the personal statement is a walk in the park. All you have to do is sell yourself and your skills while weaving in all the details in the person specification, and without rambling on for England. And though initially torturous, it is an acquired skill and eventually stops hurting quite so much. Don't be modest, but don't be arrogant either. Don't make unsupported statements. Don't be subtle (some poor devil is having to read a gazillion of these, and they're not going to read between the lines). Don't do typos. Don't lie. And most importantly, if at any stage you're tempted to illustrate your exemplary teamwork skills with reference to your "Making Tea" Brownie Badge earned circa 1989, just stop and don't do anything else ever again. Then get it in on time, send it to the right person, don't get their name or title wrong, find out what format they want it in and follow their instructions--now is not the time to be creative. There's zero point in irritating the hell out of the person who has to deal with these and if nothing else it proves you can read.

Random peaceful image #2
Honestly speaking, I have way more trouble with the cognitive processes attached to job applications than the practical ones. Like whether to apply for something that's less--or more--than your little heart desires. Something that's part-time, or only temporary. Something that's your perfect, ideal job but just happens to be in Milwaukee. I've taken the 'it can't hurt to apply' approach before now and ended up in a pickle. It's hard to turn down interviews and--even more so--jobs, especially with the devil in the form of Adrian Chiles sitting on your shoulder and whispering in a Brummy accent that you'll never be offered anything else. The creeping hope, the creeping disappointment, fanning the teensy tiny burning flame of PANIC in your gut is such an emotional minefield that I'm genuinely surprised I haven't ended up on Trisha more frequently.

By comparison, I don't find interviews quite as gut wrenching or soul destroying. In fact, they can be quite good fun. A day out somewhere new and a nosy around another library. But a lot of this is due to an ACE decision I made about four years ago which was to have a mock interview with a careers advisor at the careers service in my university. I was chronically sceptical, but it REALLY helped. I had two real interviews lined up the following week, and sent in the job specifications and the applications I'd submitted, and she tailored the interview to those. I was told precisely what I was doing right and doing wrong. It was like being inculcated in the mysteries of interview science. And it might be coincidence, but I was offered both the jobs I was interviewed for the following week. So if you have access to a careers service, use them. I definitely owe that woman a drink.

Random peaceful image #3
I seriously can't cope with another second of thinking about god-forsaken job applications or CVs now. And I KNOW I should update my CV pretty soon, but nobody's perfect and as Dr Mark Sloan once advised me (and the rest of the daytime BBC2 audience), I should cross that bridge when I come to it. And realistically, there's more chance I'll apply for the next series of The Apprentice.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Really cool AND a librarian (also known as #cpd23: library roots/routes)

I begin this post with a question: what's NOT to love about the library roots/routes project? Its title is a play on words! It's a way of finding out random bits of information about people you vaguely know without feeling like a stalker! Its title is a play on words! (I'm not being facetious, I really do like the wordplay).

Having read a few posts, including my own, they seem to perpetuate this idea of the dichotomised pathway into the profession. In the red corner, we have those who chose to become librarians in the few moments following their own conception, and whose initial demonstration of this profound and intrinsic and inescapable desire was realised at the age of six when they designed a categorisation scheme to organise their Famous Five books according to the number of smugglers in each. And in the blue corner, we have those who, in some post-degree or post-other-career haze awoke one glorious morning in a library position and learned that it was warm and there were biscuits and then announced to all who would listen that they had seen the light and the light said METADATA.

The demarcation's a superficial one, right? And also generative of about as much shock and surprise as the news that the rich people try to avoid paying the tax (George Osborne aside). Yes, some people choose their careers when they're kids and they stick to their guns, and some people choose when they're a bit older. The only exception to this is management consultancy but that's only because no one under the age of 23 knows what it is. Maybe this would suggest that the profession as a whole ought to have better coverage at careers fairs for teenagers and students but actually, of all the problems we're facing right now, recruitment isn't one of them.

Having a big long list of stories to read is at best interesting and at worst reassuring. Yes, if you're considering a career in librarianship it probably is helpful to know that there are other people who didn't think of doing it until they were a bit older and it hasn't done them any harm, thank you very much.  But ... and this is where I don my crown of cynicism: would any group of professionals other than librarians bother with this kind of thing? That's only partly rhetorical--I genuinely don't know. But I wouldn't read an accountant's report on why he or she chose to become an accountant. Or a firefighter's. Or a cage fighter's.

So this means that it strikes me as just another bit of echo-chambery navel-gazing, maybe symptomatic of this obsession we all seem to have with Being Reflective and maybe a teensy smidgeon self-congratulatory, though very much accidentally so. And while of course there's precisely not a single thing wrong with this, it means that I'm not quite sure I see the point of trying to make it escape the echo chamber. For one thing, in terms of guidance for new librarians, there are significantly better resources (such as this by Ned) which are more instructive and give concrete advice. I'm not massively sure we should be kidding ourselves, if we are, that stuff like this would generate much interest outside the library community, and probably even less so outside the members of the library community who don't currently value social media more than they value oxygen, cheese on toast or the West Wing.

Laying my cards on the table, I think this sort of thing is a little bit of a distraction, and there's a point at which that distraction becomes a little bit harmful. That point is--dare I say it--when it leaves the echo chamber. What worries me about some of the recent things we've collectively been doing--not so much Library Roots/Routes as things like This is what a librarian looks like--is that it's a reaction to the librarian stereotype which, in essence, validates and reinforces it. It's a "look how wacky I am" or "look at all the weird cool hobbies I've got" or "look at the degree I did and what not" sort of statement. I'm really COOL and STILL a librarian! That's not only a bit of a rhetological fallacy but also vaguely redundant. Don't get me wrong--I'm not suggesting that the stereotype doesn't exist or that it isn't harmful or that it doesn't require a response--but I wish our collective response was one which focused on how exceptionally good we are at our jobs rather than the fact that we once had a bit-part in Saved by the Bell or that our hobby is baby elephant juggling and that we are therefore categorically ZANY.

I'm not for a single second denigrating projects like these per se. At the very least, they engender and galvanise a happy sense of community among us info pro folk and I'm completely in favour of that. I don't think we should be fooled into thinking they're of interest or entertainment to that many people who aren't already in bed with librarianship, nor do I think that those who cling dearly to the stereotype will experience epiphany when they see a photo of a librarian wearing a silly hat. BUT the big question is this: is this really the way we want to stamp on the echo chamber's toys?

Now I might be ENTIRELY wrong about this. Maybe at this very second Jimmy McGovern is perusing the posts in order to make a six-part series for the BBC. Jimmy, if you're reading this, bagsy being played by the Winslet.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Under pressure (also known as #cpd23 Thing 19: Integrating the Things)

If studying at Aber taught me anything--and for argument's sake let's presume I learnt other stuff too--it's that I'm not all too bad at Getting Things Done. Or more accurately, Getting Things Done Within A Time Limit. The time limit's key, actually. I worked out that I naturally make whatever I have to do fit the time in which I have to do it. Which is great, if I'm in an exam. It's brilliant if the thing I have to do needs to be done by tomorrow, or yesterday, or in the next nine-and-a-half minutes. It's significantly LESS great, though, if there isn't a pressing need to do something. It's significantly LESS brilliant if I'm doing something which perhaps, say, prides itself on its lack of deadlines. Like Aber. Like cpd23, for that matter. And with this, the reason why I'm still only on Thing 19 stands out as much as a giraffe wearing a fez and moonboots would if he suddenly showed up in your office and asked to borrow the latest copy of Der Spiegel.

It's NOT, as you're currently thinking, that the lack of pressure or deadlines just encourages me to put things off. Not at all. Nada. OK, a little bit. Obviously the decision to watch Game of Thrones is MUCH easier if there's no immediate need to choose not to. But, really, what's more dangerous is the IRREPRESSIBLE URGE TO TINKER. I'm not a perfectionist (a fact you're probably all too aware of if you're reading this drivel) but without any particular ticking clock I feel free and, indeed, obligated, to faff about leisurely with a piece of work until it more closely reflects a slightly less borked version of imago Dei (in my very dodgy opinion). I am encouraged to mollycoddle the precious collection development essay until it is WORTHY OF ALL THE AWARDS. Or not, as the case may be, because a) I'm not Doris Lessing and b) it's a collection development essay.

So Aber, with its practically-deadline-free philosophy, was basically the Last Temptation of Murph. I have, however, FINISHED (celebrate good times come on), which would seem to suggest that I found some way around yon predicament. Well, yes, I did and it relied on the same sort of mental brainwashing that is akin to my unwavering belief that Bolton Wanderers is the best football team in The Universe. I made up deadlines and I convinced myself that they were real and important and the single thing standing between me and a place as a tribute in the Hunger Games or some other unthinkable dystopian catastrophe. And now, a promise. I'm going to apply this making-up-deadlines stuff to cpd23 in the vain hope that, at some stage, I'll actually bloomin' finish. So here goes, and you're my witness: I'll finish by 1st May. Deal? That gives me...26 days, and as there are only five (and now near four) posts to go, it'll be dead easy.

Actually, understanding this pattern of productivity is quite useful for Thing 19, which is all about integrating professional development into our working routines. It means, for example, that I now know that while I can set myself all the valorous yet intangible goals that my little heart desires, unless there's some kind of acme style ticking bomb attached to them, chances are they won't be achieved any time soon. And certainly NOT if there's an episode of Eastenders-with-Direwolves to be watched.

It explains, for example, why I don't do the Things that I don't do. It isn't that I see no value in them, but I just don't see enough value to allocate some real time to it. Take blogging. Without some invocation of The Fear, whether self-applied or not, I don't naturally get round to it. And it means that if I'm ever going to blog regularly, and integrate blogging into my routine, there's going to have to be some kind of timetable, and some kind of threat that my secret secret stash of chocolate will be nicked. Take heart, though, I have no inention of doing this, and my secret secret stash of chocolate is so well hidden your threats are meaningless. It's probably also why the reflective thinking stuff makes me wince more than the incy-wincy spider--it goes on too long and isn't naturally goal-oriented enough. It's like a Bolton Wanderers football game.

It also explains why the Things I do like and use regularly are short and quick and offer immediate returns
(yo Twitter, are your ears burning?) Same with Google Reader. They're like having the radio on in the background. You listen when it's This Charming Man and you zone out when they play Blur songs. And you switch off when you realise that Richard Madeley is the presenter.

Anyway, so Bowie and Queen might have been just a leeetle bit wrong about this. Sometimes pressure is good. It may be the terror of knowing what this world is about, but without it I'd still be writing a business plan.

PS I'm back! I'm NOT ACTUALLY DEAD. Did you miss me?!

PPS My blog has had a makeover because the old template was having some issues. I don't particularly like it though. What do you think?