Posted on September 11, 2011.
By Lyndsay Rees-Jones, Europe Chapter, Knowledge Management and Leadership & Management Divisions
Since 2008 I have talked to a significant number of future librarians. I ran the Membership Support unit for CILIP with my colleague Kathy Ennis until restructuring closed the unit in October 2010. We visited LIS students at UK Universities and ran 2-3 hour professionalism sessions. Our aim was to help them short-cut our collective 50yr+ career journeys, passing on advice and experience that had proved its worth. Key points to take away were:
- Don’t undervalue what you know.
- Banish the words just and easy from your professional vocabulary.
- Reflect. Reflect. Reflect. Remember when you have learned something new, and acknowledge the difference it has made to you.
- Use our professional language with pride. Don’t dumb down.
- Consider the sort of professional that you want to be, and remember that our skills have value in every sector and every country.
So in the spirit of being Future Ready, here is a bit of personal reflection based on my career so far….
Cash’s (UK) Ltd – weaving company – particularly famous for their name tapes (think school uniforms). Unable to find a library post straight after graduating I became a management trainee. Brilliant fun, being responsible for weaving clothing labels and patches. I learned that the workplace can be a bitchy environment, as well as a political one. that I was good at representing the business at trade fares. That I was able to manage a big workload.
GEC Electrical Projects (which became subsumed into the Alstom giant as Cegelec Projects and what remains is now called Converteam ). My first professional post was as the solo Librarian and Information Office for four companies on a site with roughly 6000 employees. I learned that there was such a thing as a solo professional, and that it was a tremendously challenging yet exhilarating role. That I loved being totally in control: if I got it right it was all down to me; whereas if I got it wrong that was usually only because I felt less than professionally perfect, whereas the client was perfectly happy. That I was a good organiser, efficient and effective researcher, and that my information skills earned me respect from the engineers, accountants, surveyors, developers etc that were my clients. Gaining my Chartership added to my status.
Trioka Contracts Ltd – developed, set up and ran (part-time) a service for a contract interior design company. What fun I had playing with carpet samples, lighting catalogues and tiles. I learned that I needn’t be too precious about cataloguing and classifications. Up until this point I had been something of a perfectionist, adept at using UDC/Dewey, and suddenly it was obvious that this was overkill and I could create my own scheme! That my skills were valued and produced real business benefit.
National Grid Co Plc – I took over running the library and information service for the electrical transmitting utility, immediately following its relocation to Coventry from London. I inherited one member of staff (non-professional) giving us the grand total of 2 people to meet information needs previously managed by 5 full timers. What fun! I learned that thinking differently is a vital skill and having no baggage is a real bonus. That there is such a thing as internal consultancy. That you can be upwardly bullied, and there are people who can help and advise. That it was crucial that I was “out and about,” as a visual manifestation of the LIS service. That KM was growing in importance.
Library Association – which became CILIP in 2002 (after unifying with the Institute of Information Scientists). During my 13+ years at the UK professional body, I was variously a Professional Advisor, Special Libraries and Information Services; Workplace and Solo Advisor; Workforce Development Advisor; and Senior Advisor. Membership Support Unit. I learned that membership organisations are complex entities. That activists are important people who need adequate support. That there is real hope for the profession in the hands of the next generation. That I was a good advisor, who was at my best when sharing my own experiences.
Overall lessons learned so far…Some of the lessons were uncomfortable or painful to learn – it’s not nice being bullied by a subordinate for instance! Other lessons were real eureka moments that provided me with insight into things such as office politics and organisational insecurity. These in turn helped me adapt my delivery and communication styles, so that I could be more effective and face less antagonism or blocks. If I had indeed learnt these during my initial library studies, would I have been as effective? Or was experiencing the lessons first hand, crucial to my personal and professional development?
I suspect that the real answer is a half-way house. I hadn’t know there was such a thing as a solo professional when I graduated, and yet spent my practitioner career being one. Thankfully I accidentally found this route, as it enabled me to discover my professional persona. It also ensured that I developed skills right across the board (from shelf-dusting and inter-library loans, to strategic planning and budget management), so made me much more effective as a professional advisor. I had actually “been there and done that” more often than not. My next steps are to develop my business (Real Time Release ©) as a creative transitioner – supporting people as they move towards a more rewarding life. By reflecting on my experience to date, I think I’ve got lots to offer.
Lyndsay Rees-Jones is the Owner of Real-Time-Release. She is has been an active member of SLA Europe for many years, and is currently serving as the Awards Chair.