Yesterday I attended the CILIP event for new professionals (even though I am probably neither new nor professional). It was a great opportunity to visit the CILIP headquarters, and also to catch up with my full-time LIS friends who had already finished the course.
It began with the keynote speech from Barbara Band, Head of Library and Resources at Emmbrook School and CILIP vice-president. She is a very inspiring figure, clearly passionate about libraries and their future. She impressed me immediately by referring to her children – a personal element can make a speech much more engaging. She made the important observation that the starting point of any library or resource centre must reflect the vision and mission of the organisation you are working for – otherwise you make yourself irrelevant. Also, she raised the issue that school libraries face the double challenge of changes to librarianship, but also changes to the education system as well, so school librarians have to be really on the ball! Altogether, she painted a really positive image of working as a school librarian, and persuaded me that it could be a career worth following. A final point she raised was that of career development, and how to fit it in to busy lives. It’s cheering to hear that contributions to forums and blog-posts count as well as attending conferences. That experienced professionals are sympathetic to the restrictions faced by upcoming professionals (such as childcare and inflexible employees) is very encouraging.
Next up was Laura Williams, Media Logistics Coordinator, who spoke about her experiences of working for ITV as essentially, a TV Librarian. I have to admit, it had never occurred to me that such a job existed, but it sounded fascinating. I was surprised that so much television content is still in physical tape format, I had imaged lots of complicated file transfers – but, as Laura explained, much of the material borrowed are tapes sealed in jiffy-bags and transported in a van. She gave an excellent overview of the positive and negatives of her job. Working in television is fast-paced and competitive – everyone wants to climb up the ladder, regardless what type of position it is. However, as a non-traditional role, you quickly become a specialist in the field.
Following on from Laura was Nick Stopforth, Head of Libraries and Information, Doncaster Council. In his talk, he outlined the problems facing public libraries and emphasised the necessity to keep up to date with digital advances. At the heart of his speech were the core values of libraries – the user, and how we need to constantly meet their needs in a challenging world. He made an excellent point – that whether we like it or not ‘the world has changed, and we have to change with it’. Librarians have never been great marketeers, but now we have to be. With government services increasingly moving to online only access, libraries can provide this access and also facilitate the teaching of digital skills. He also emphasized the mutually beneficial relationship between publishers and libraries, believing that libraries can become a ‘shop-window’ for publishing companies. One point Nick did raise that I wasn’t totally comfortable with was his belief that libraries should use user data to track user habits in order to deliver a more personal experience. I may be a bit Luddite, but it irritates me when amazon etc make recommendations for me based on previous purchases, and would not want my library behaving in the same way. However, in this changing world, we do need to market, collaborate, negotiate, develop and above all, communicate.
After a very tasty (and filling!) lunch of hot burritos, I attended the talk by Chris Billing on working in a Prison Library. It was an interesting insight into a hidden world. She gave some statistics to start – there are 132 prisons in the UK (only 11 are female), and every prison is required by law to have a library, offering access for at least 30 minutes each week for every prisoner. One thing that makes prison libraries different from other libraries is that their funding comes from NOMS (National Offender Management Service) and that money is ring-fenced for the library, no one else can take a cut of it. The underlying message from Chris was role of the library to reduce re-offending. By offering their services, they aim to educate prisoners and empower them. A great range of schemes are run, including the six-book challenge and Storybook Dads, all designed to build confidence and open up new avenues. Storybook Dad is a great idea, where a prisoner records onto CD a reading of a children’s story, which is then sent to his family for them to listen to. Chris played a recording from a prisoner, which was an incredibly emotional moment and certainly brought a lump to my throat. If anyone is any doubt of the social inportance of libraries, I dare them to listen to that and fail to be moved. However, as Chris emphasised, you must never lose sight of the fact that you are working with prisoners and must always remain professional. Mobile phones are not allowed on the premises, and staff must not mention personal details, such as family or possessions, as prisoners are always listening. Pointers like that reminded us just what a different environment this is. However, it sounded like a tremendously rewarding experience, and helping prisoners to empower themselves through books and education is such a worthy cause.
Unfortunately I could not stay for the last talk (childcare issues as usual), but I really learned a lot from the day. It gave me plenty to think about, and a fascinating insight in just how different library jobs can be. What was really inspiring though, was how much the speakers clearly love their profession, and as a library student, knowing that people in the information sector are striving onwards really made me feel positive for the future.