Our latest feature on #uklibchat links into our recent discussion on librarians and research. Barbara Sen, currently a lecturer at the University of Sheffield, tells us of her experiences in moving from LIS practice to academia. Thank you to Barbara for sharing her experiences and tips with us.
Moving to the Dark Side: Practitioner to Academic Practice
I came into the LIS profession quite late, though I had been a library assistant when I was in my teens. I did my Masters at MMU when I was in my early forties and immediately after I graduated I managed to get three part time jobs! I was worried that being an older graduate it would be harder for me to get a permanent post but I really recommend it. You get a broad range of experience on your CV, it helps you to decide what you would like to do, and what your strengths and weaknesses are.
One of those jobs was with the Health & Safety Executive, one was as a part time Research Assistant on a project investigating flexible working, and one was teaching at MMU on the Database Design module. They all gave me valuable experience and set me off on a future path to being an academic. The down side of having so many part time jobs was that it was very tiring. Each job required different skills, and whilst I was learning so much, doing each one was exhausting, so I was pleased when after a year when a full time permanent post came along in the Health & Safety Executive.
I prefer some autonomy and found the Civil Service too restrictive so after a year I moved into the NHS managing a library service. I loved this role as there was plenty of opportunity for development within the NHS at that time, and I could shape the service how I wanted it. The health sector is very dynamic. I found health librarians, like other sectors, to be highly skilled, innovative, and always willing to push the boundaries. They love learning, and engage in research. I loved so much about my job, developing the collection, researching quite complex medical problems, and delivering training sessions to all kinds of health professionals – I really enjoyed the training aspect.
Whilst in the health service I had to write my first strategic plan for my service. I loved bringing stakeholders together, getting people involved in the planning, and setting a vision for my service for the future.
Shortly after this I saw a job advertised in CILIP Update for a part time Lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) to work on the Strategic Management module and the Collection Development module. As I had been an Acquisitions Librarian at the Health & Safety Executive, I felt that I was really well suited to this role and I thought I could probably fit it around my health service job. We had extended opening hours, so I could do more of the late and weekend shifts to make up for the time I might be teaching.
Well I got the job, and the rest is history. I loved it so much that when a full-time post became available I moved into academia full-time. LJMU at that time did not have a strong research culture, and as I started to become more involved in the academic context I realised how much I enjoyed the research aspects of the position, so I knew that would have to move to develop this side of things.
A job came up at the University of Sheffield. I didn’t get it. I didn’t even get shortlisted. I spoke to a lecturer at another LIS Department and he suggested that I needed to publish much more, so I started to do small research projects related to my work, and my teaching areas. I managed to get a few things published and I also got invited to work on a number of small projects, one consultancy, and one a Knowledge Transfer Project working with a small business. I made sure that I published the outcomes from these so they would enhance my CV. I also embarked on a PhD part-time. Then a post for a Lecturer came up again at Sheffield, and this time the subject areas were more closely aligned to my areas of expertise. To my surprise, this time, I got the job.
I have been at Sheffield now for six years. Since then, so many opportunities have come up. I love the teaching, and the research – you can’t separate them, one feeds into another, and really I think that’s how it should be. In academia we have to remain relevant to LIS practice. Most of my research has practical applications.
It is much more difficult now to get a job in academia without a PhD -my advice to anyone who is thinking of making the move is to get the PhD. There are more opportunities now to do a PhD part-time, and also by publication. Instead of the usual 100,000 word full research project, you submit a 10,000- 15,000 word report based around previously published papers that you have written.
I must say, Sheffield is the most challenging job I have ever had. The up side is that you have autonomy, and flexibility. There is always something new, and something new to explore. The down side is that I have never worked so hard or such long hours. I find myself working every evening, and every weekend. It is very rewarding especially when you see students getting on and doing well, but the job is very demanding indeed.
If you thing you want to make the transition from practitioner to academic, then start to write and get published. Every article counts. Gain some experience at training, or teaching – make sure you can cope with that. A few people I know like the idea, but then cave in when they have to stand up in front of a group of people and deliver a talk or a lecture. Develop a specialism, something you are known for, and think how you can become an expert in that. A friend of mine started a blog, and soon became widely followed on that topic because of his blog. Go to conferences, and network, great to get known and great experience, of one aspect of academic life. Get researching! We work in an evidence based profession. Publish from your Masters. Supervisors are usually very happy to publish with you at this point. Research in the work place is valid. Don’t be shy of putting work based research out into academic journals. Find opportunities to work with others on joint projects to build confidence. Explore different research methods and approaches, it will build your confidence.
Join research groups such as the Library and Information Research Group LIRG or the Library & Information Science Research Coalition At this point, I will also give a shameless plug for a book that I am co-editing with Maria Grant and Hannah Spring: Research, Evaluation and Audit, published by Facet. This book is designed for people who might be new to research.
#uklibchat are pleased to present the following guest post by Geraldine Clement-Stoneham. To continue discussing Open Access, join us for our next chat on February 5th, between 6:30-8:30pm.
For many years Open Access publishing was a topic of discussion reserved to a very small circle of enthusiasts. If anyone had told me only two years ago that the subject would make the front page of top newspapers, be on the news and attract so much attention that it generates a petition to the White House, I would have looked at them in disbelief. Not that I thought that open access wasn’t the right thing to promote, but I felt that much work was still needed to inform and convince people that the traditional model of disseminating scholarly knowledge needed changing.
So what has happened, and what is the hype about? What does it mean to “publish in open access”? Why is it so different?
At the beginning there were two key elements which triggered off the movement: the growth of the Internet as a fast way to communicate large amount of information at low cost; and the exponential increase in the costs of subscriptions.
These two factors, accompanied with a belief that public information, and therefore the outputs of publicly funded research, should be available to the public, lead the way to exploring new options for sharing scholarly findings.
And it is worth keeping in mind that any new model developed would need to respect two important elements: the peer review process, which provides assurance on the quality of the research; and the fact that researchers work in an economy of reputation – where acknowledgement and citation is directly linked to career prospects.
I don’t want to dwell too much about the history of open access, or the details of issues to be considered, as I’d rather focus on what has changed in the last few months. However, if you want a comprehensive summary of what open access is all about, I recommend the Wikipedia entry, itself one of the most beautiful example of what open access to knowledge can achieve. For a more in-depth account, Peter Suber’s recent book has become the reference source, and includes a compilation of many of the ideas he developed in his blog entries. (Note that the book is not in open access yet, but will be 12 months after publication, ie. Summer 2013).
However, for a more interactive experience, this short video, Open Access explained will give in you in less than 10 min a good snapshot at how absurd the current situation is. I recommend watching it!
So coming back to what happened in the last 12 months, and how the world gradually shifted to make open access such a hot topic, not only for librarians and researchers, but also for the mainstream press, research funders and governments.
The Cost of knowledge
Let’s get back to January 2012 and a blog post by Field Medallist and Cambridge mathematician, Tim Gower, in which he ponders on the high costs of Elsevier’s journals and the role that scientists themselves play in maintaining the status quo. Check out Alok Jah’s article in the Guardian for a good summary. Tim’s blog set the blogosphere on fire, and lead quickly to an online petition being set up to collect signatures of all those who, along Tim Gower, would make a public stand and refuse to work with Elsevier in the future. The Cost of Knowledge website attracted hundreds of signatures in no time, and today over 13000 researchers have committed in one way or another not to work with Elsevier.
The Research Works Act
So why did Gower pick on Elsevier in particular. Let’s face it, there are quite few large commercial publishers out there who have been increasing subscription prices steadily for years.
At the end of 2011, a new bill had been proposed in the US called the “Research Work Act”. In summary, the Bill was proposing to make the National Institute of Health open access policy illegal and stop it being extended to other publicly funded research in the States. As well as a the unveiling that Elsevier had supported financially the two politicians who were proposing the new bill, the American Publishers Association public letter explaining why the bill was a good idea had the tone of a declaration of war. The bad publicity turned out to be a big reputational risk for Elsevier, which eventually withdrew its support.
It was not the first petition, but in the days of social media, it made enough noise to be heard by many, and the fact that it was taking on a big player in the industry also attracted the interest of investors, not just in Elsevier, but other publishers too. Publications which only a few months ago would have never covered the topic suddenly were making it a big headline:
New York Times
Open Access policies in the UK
The discussion about economics has not been limited to assess the risk to the shareholders of large publishing companies, but has also considered the costs to innovation, the economy and society, not to have the results of publicly funded research available to all. Research, and the knowledge gained through research, is perceived to be a key element to economic recovery and growth. At the end of 2011, David Willetts, the Science Minister, announced that the results of publicly funded research should be free to access.
Recognising that some results were already available freely, a group of stakeholders’ representatives, chaired by Dame Janet Finch, was tasked to make recommendations on how to accelerate this change, whilst proposing sustainable solutions. The report was published in June 2012 and generated a lot of comment all around the world.
The government accepted all but one recommendation made in the Finch report.
Shortly after, the Research Councils published their new joint policy on open access to research outputs, which was informed by the Finch report and built on the existing RCUK Open access policy, first introduced in 2005. This was followed by a statement by DIFID, and HEFCE.
More recently, The House of Lord Science & Technology Committee announced that it would be holding a hearing in relation to the UK government and RCUK open access policy.
And only last week, the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has also announced its intention to inquire into the Government’s Open Access policy.
Whilst things were moving fast in the UK, in the US the momentum lost energy with the upcoming elections. The RWA having been withdrawn, a bill was re-introduced in support of expanding the NIH mandate to other federally funded research, and the White House is still to respond to a public petition asking for the President to make an official statement.
Recently the Natinal Institute of Health announced that they would enforce more strictly their policy, but the other large funder, the National Science Foundation (NSF), still does not have any official position on open access.
In July 2012, the European Commission issued a Communication in relation to the future funding programme Horizon2020 and a recommendation to member states recommending they put in place national open access policies.
Many universities have also been active all around the world and established institutional OA mandate. The most famous outburst of 2012 will probably remain that of Harvard University, who recognised openly that they could no longer afford to subscribe to all the journals needed by their scholars, and it was time to “move prestige to open access” (see also http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/apr/24/harvard-university-journal-publishers-prices)
Whilst many have accepted that publicly funded research outputs should be freely available, there are still many questions about how this can be achieved. Any changes to the current system will have implications for all the players involved and these can be perceived as important enough to challenge openness as a principle, particularly when big financial interests are at stake.
New opportunities arise too, and new ideas. A group of mathematicians has just announced that they would create “overlay journals” on top of ArXiv (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ArXiv) to provide an alternative to traditional publishers; PeerJ is a new OA journals which offers a life-time subscription to authors to publish; eLife is a new journal paid for by funders and free for authors to publish in; Social Science Directory is a new open access “mega journal”.
Much has to change simultaneously as open access touches on issues of copyright, intellectual property, freedom of the internet, publishers business models, researchers’ career path, etc.
No doubt we will be discussing some of these during our #uklibchat and the debate is far from being over.
Whilst I was drafting this blog, the sad news came in of the death of Aaron Swartz. Aaron was not a well-known figure to most, but an influential advocate for open access and his death brings to mind the uncomfortable reality that the principle of openness some of us value cannot be taken for granted.
Geraldine Clement-Stoneham is a knowledge manager for a large medical research funder. She tweets on open access and other KM related stuff at @geraldinecs. She writes here in a personal capacity.
This blog entry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Our next chat will be on Open Access, and you can now add to the agenda here!
We are also pleased to confirm that we will be posting a guest blog discussing Open Access the week before the chat to help get you thinking!
We look forward to chatting with you then.
1) Have you any tips for getting into a library management position?
- Be “that person” who is always happy to help out, suggest new ideas, makes people see you in a new light
- Ask your employer if you can enrole in a “moving into management” course
- Show leadership whilst not in a “managerial” role – you don’t have to have a managerial role to gain experience
- Blog post on managing in libraries: http://infoism.co.uk/blog/2012/01/managing-in-public-libraries/
- It can be tricky in some roles to gain this experience, where this is the case offer to volunteer in other roles/committees
- Differentiate between leadership and management – you can gain skills in either, and they are transferrable between the two!
- You can volunteer outside the library world to gain experience! i.e. girl guides!
- Think about how you define management : http://bit.ly/SwzZoN - don’t just think of management as the person at the top, there are many steps to get there!
2) How do you get supervisory experience without ever having it before? Is it a catch 22 situation?
- Ask managers for more responsibility – flag it up in your annual review/appraisal
- Be in the right position at the right time!
- Try a job swap with a colleague
- Try writing training materials and then sharing them with your users
- Engage with CILIP’s special interest groups, or other professional organisations
- Good recruitment will spot the potential of a good manager – likewise, poor recruitment will prevent it from showing and being spotted
- Remember that being in a management position is not the be all and end all of a career – there are many other ways to a fulfilling career.
- Management courses from the CMI: http://bit.ly/OGuBv3
3) What should be the key skills of a library manager?
- Honest and trustworthly
- Being able to delegate confidently
- Give credit where it is due
- Being able to balance organisation, staff and a user’s needs
- Spot the big picture, and the small details
- Effective communication
- Risk tolerance
- Embracing change successfully
- People management
- Project management
- Awareness of professional values and ethics
4) How do you adapt from being “one of the team” to “the boss”?
- Listen to advise from others, you won’t have been the first to make the transition
- Do not try to be the world’s friend – it isn’t possible. Instead be fair and take a step back
- Accept that you will have to change how you work with people, in order for both of you to do your role
- Respect and be fair to your staff – but you do not have to become an ice queen!
- Moving organisation makes adapting easier, as it also stops you from being viewed in your previous role and guise
- There was a difference of opinion between if a manager should muck in and help out, or sit back and guide the library’s strategy
5) Do you think managers are out of touch with issues facing the frontline staff?
- It was decided by pretty much all involved, that this will vary depending on many factors; sector, organisation and most importantly, the individual
- It was pointed out that we should think both ways – do you know about all the problems and issues your manager has to deal with? Communication both ways can help to address any gaps that are present
- Perhaps have your manager work a “floor day” to remind them of some of the problems that you face – put any problems in a constructive way that will help them to understand
6) How important is it that managers have experience of lower level jobs/delivering services in the places in which they manage?
- Perhaps it doesn’t matter as long as they are happy to listen to the views of lower level staff?
- It can give credibility – you have been “at the coalface” dealing with tricky customers and problems
- It is important for them to understand work pressures and staff values – perhaps it doesn’t matter how they come to understand them though!
- Perhaps in general it is vital, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be from the same organisation
- No one owned up to having an MBA, or transitioning in from a business background to run a service. NVQs were mentioned though and the LFHE, which can be more profitable and give better experience.
7) How do you handle difficult behaviour in your staff? Particularly where staff refuse to cooperate with each other?
- With fairness and transparency!
- Often it is case of what you’re not doing, rather than what you are
- Talk to the individuals in private and try to identify any causes of friction
- Do not demonise anyone – often problems and legitimate and solvable
- Key is communication – the difficulty is handling it correctly! You must maintain your staff’s confidence
- Try to step in before it gets to the stage that staff refuse to cooperate with each other
8) Have you ever had to manage a disaster situation such as a flood?
- Minor leaks are often solved with buckets!
- Absorbeez cushions were highly recommended for leaks, spills and minor floods
- Some problems with fire alarms, power issues, and asbestos removal were reported, but no long term disasters
- Water pipes and air-conditioning units leaking onto stock seem rather common! Mop up, replace stock, and try to keep going. One experience was retold where the library enquiry desk stayed open, but the rest of the building was closed while renovation/repairs took place
- No one had experienced a fire (thankfully)
9) How does your organisation support its managers personal and professional development?
- Investors in People Award was mentioned as a positive symbol for an organisation, and made a difference to its workforce
- Some are happy to provide time/limited funds to directly relevant courses
- First aid courses were listed as often provided by organisations
- Some support Chartership, and will pay some professional organisation’s fees
10) How do you recommend getting shy, quiet members of staff to communicate with their colleagues?
- Maybe they don’t want/need to? Happy as introverts? No point in pushing
- Do not make it an issue! There are many ways to communicate within teams – perhaps try more 1-2-1s if necessary?
Our next chat, hosted on Tuesday 2nd October, 6:30-8:30pm will discuss library management at all stages. Tips for managing successfully, how to get into a management position and much more!
To be sure that the questions you want to know the answers to are discussed, add your query to our agenda: HERE
We look forward to talking with you then!
This week’s #UKLibChat will be discussing conferences, events and networking. Now that conference season is upon us, it seems only right that we should come together to share our tips for building contacts, getting the most from conferences, and discuss any trepidations that you may have.
As always, the event agenda is now live, and can be edited via the Google Doc at this link: http://goo.gl/voTWr
We look forward to talking to you between 6:30 and 8:30 on Tuesday!
1) How did you find your current job?
A number of sources were mentioned for how people had located their current and past jobs. Personal networks were mentioned along with CILIP’s LIS Jobs Service, Jobsite.co.uk, the SLA Europe jobs board and the Library Career Centre. Several people also mentioned internal promotions or continuing in the same organisation.
Recruitment agencies were also discussed, with mixed results and opinions. Some stories were given where people had gained fixed term project work agencies, but no personal successes of long term work being secured were shared. Participants did share comments explaining that the people they had dealt with at the agencies were friendly, and had put them forward for positions though. Some felt that perhaps those more senior in the profession tended to have more luck in sourcing work via specialist LIS agencies than New Professionals.
LISNPN was also cited as a valuable network for finding out about new opportunities.
2) Has your experience and background influenced the jobs you got? (e.g. the sector you work in)
Responses to this question varied depending on the sector that people worked in. Those working in public and HE libraries said that sector specific experience had definitely helped them to secure their job. Special libraries (law etc) seemed more willing to take those without sector specific experience as it was felt that terminology can be picked up in a role.
Past contacts and acquaintances were deemed to be important – this doesn’t mean obtaining a job through nepotistic means, but using them to locate and find out about new roles and positions, asking for help preparing for interviews, and running application forms past them for proof reading.
Some participants stated that having a library qualification was more important than sector knowledge. On-the-job experience was deemed to be often desired but not essential.
One statement explained that experience and career background can act as a foot in the door, and something to add to your application form/CV. It can help you to provide insight and stimulate comparisons and discussion during the interview stage.
2) Did you do any volunteer work in libraries first?
Firstly, it a differentiation between volunteering in libraries as short term work experience, and full time volunteering was made. The below comments refer to volunteering as short/fixed term work experience.
Some participants had volunteered, and found that it was an excellent was way to fill in skills gaps that were needed for promotions or new roles. It also provided a good way to gain sector specific experience when paid work couldn’t be found. Volunteer positions were found to be especially useful when in the lead up to, or process of applying for library courses as well as jobs.
Some had problems finding volunteer posts, as many organisations do not have the capacity to take them on. Where work was found, most voluntary positions were 2-3 weeks in duration.
Several participants had volunteered as part of their library school course – this was a useful exercise to see some different environments and to fill in those all essential job criteria gaps. One person’s volunteering placement led to a full time position – it therefore is a possible route to paid work!
Volunteer placements were mostly obtained via advertised posts and personal connections. CILIP was mentioned as a way to obtain contacts and the following site was recommended for work shadowing http://campenumbra.blogspot.co.uk/
3) What problems have you found with writing CVs or application forms? Do you have any tips?
Use short powerful language
Try to include key skills on your CV – but ensure that these address the job criteria!
If you are missing any criteria, explain why you are still applying, why you are missing them (are you currently working towards it, or are you able to offer another skill instead?)
Check the person specification! Now check it again! Adhere to it in your application.
Applicants preferred jobs that needed a CV and cover letters to those with pre-defined forms with set questions. It is important to remember that it is still necessary to write your cover letter and CV for each job though!
Equal opportunities awareness was deemed to be very important in HE and public library interviews
Passing your CV on to a friend was deemed as a great way to get some feedback!
Why not lay out your CV to match the job criteria? By keeping the same order so it is easy to show the interviewer that you match the criteria.
4) Should you adapt your CV to fit each job role or is it better to include all your qualifications and experience in it?
All agreed that without doubt, a CV should be tailored to each job role. An exception could be made for an online CV (i.e. LinkedIn) which shows all of your career history and specialisms – this is more general.
5) What are your top interview tips to maximise your chances of getting the job?
The STAR technique was recommended – Situation, Task, Application, Result – to frame any results to questions.
One respondent said that they tried to prepare possible answers in advance, but conceded that if unsure, honesty is the best policy. If you answer questions truthfully, and you don’t get the job, then you may not have fitted in to the firm’s culture so don’t feel too bad!
It is always worth rereading your application and the job specification before the interview – try to think of a few examples you can use to illustrate how you may meet each of the criteria. If you can find a friend, then use the job specification to run a mock interview and try out a few questions.
If possible, visit the venue a few days before so you know where you need to go.
6) Are there any interview questions you’ve found hard to answer?
If you are serving one customer, the phone rings, and someone else joins the queue, what do you do?
Where do you see yourself both next year and in 5 years time?
How would you learn about an unfamiliar subject area as an academic librarian?
Explain to me what a wireless router is!
What is your management style?
7) Do you think that knowing a foreign language will improve your employment prospects? What other skills are highly prized?
Like any other skill, it can only really improve your chances of obtaining a job if it has some relevance. It can be a useful talking point though, and act as a way for you to stand out should two candidates be evenly matched. It is also essential if you would like to work abroad.
There is the chance that it can give you more jobs to apply for – often in art libraries an additional language is required to apply for the job.
People skills, project management experience, computer skills, coping with change, managing a budget, being able to learn and apply new skills and good management skills were also stated as highly prized.
8) Is unemployment a major threat for librarians?
A lack of entry level jobs, and little opportunity for progression was deemed to be a bigger problem.
Others stated concerns for being able to find jobs within their local community (or within commuting distance), and a reluctance by employers to hire replacements for staff that leave. This often leads to services being cut and roles being merged or diluted.
One participant explained that library roles were occasionally being taken over by IT workers, leaving few qualified librarians.
Concerns were raised about how library skills are seen by potential employers outside of the traditional library environment.
It was explained that continuing professional development needs to be taken on as a personal commitment, otherwise you will stagnate.
9) Shout out: useful resources have you come across when job hunting (advice, recruiting agencies etc)
10) How do Regulations and other employment laws affect the working conditions in our field?
No one was sure quite what was meant by this question, as sadly, none of the information professionals taking part in the chat moonlighted as employment lawyers. Comments are encouraged on this below if you have any thoughts though!