Instant Ideas and Collaboration
Our next #uklibchat on Tuesday 4 August 6.30-8.30pm (UK time) will be a careers surgery: an opportunity to talk about any career related issues or questions you have. We will share career stories, insights and advice. The agenda will be available a week before the chat, on Tuesday 28 July.
Our feature this month comes from Katharine Schopflin. She has had a varied career in media librarianship and knowledge management, and shares what she’s learned about careers in LIS.
Like many people, I ended in library work by accident. I got a job at the BBC, because I wanted to work at the BBC, and accidentally discovered that I had an aptitude for finding and organising information. After a few years I decided that I wanted to go to library school to increase my future job options (it wasn’t necessary for progression at the BBC in those days). I found myself studying with people with a far better knowledge of the information profession and a far clearer vision of where they wanted to be. However, on reflection, I don’t see this as a disadvantage. The world of information is changing so quickly that an open mind is one of the most useful things you can take with you on your career.
I actually had management and supervisory experience before I went to library school, but for a number of years following I was interested in jobs that stretched me professionally – in information research, cataloguing and web content management. At around this time I started to get involved with professional associations. Through my time at the (now defunct) Association of UK Media Librarians I gained excellent experience organising events, negotiating with sponsors, managing my fellow volunteers and balancing a budget. This meant that when the time came for me to interview for more senior jobs, I could give examples displaying evidence of where I had used these skills, something I couldn’t have done from my paid work.
I took voluntary redundancy from the BBC after nearly ten years, for a range of reasons. I had a huge emotional attachment to the corporation, which made it a difficult decision, but I couldn’t see my future career there, and I wanted to move on while I was still new enough to have a flexible approach to working. I moved into a knowledge and information management role, which was a challenging move, but I had a lot of moral support from my then manager. Unfortunately, the organisation had an unexpected change and I left to return to the world of the media.
After a couple of years, I realised I was ready for a move onwards and upwards. I made a big jump to a management role in a different sector. It was a new role, which made the move particularly hard as there was no pattern to follow and my presence took a lot of explaining. However, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take part in a lot of management training. You may find that generic learning opportunities are more available to you than information specialist training and they are well worth taking up. A good organisation recognises that they recruit, retain and utilise their staff better if they are well-managed. Having said which, I would recommend only trying one change a time: a new sector, a new area of work and having to establish a role from scratch aren’t the ideal circumstances to build your confidence.
My move into knowledge management from more traditional information services wasn’t something I’d planned strategically, although it was a very good move in terms of opportunities available. When you are considering a change of direction you need to think about several things: what jobs are out there? (and, if I stay where I am, will that limit what I can do next?) what do you enjoy doing? (do I want to be behind the scenes or have direct user interaction?), what can you can afford to live on (and where do you want to live)? and what skills do you need to make the change? Sometimes you need to leave something you love behind to acquire more responsibility. Sometimes the job you love may have a limited future – I was truly fulfilled as a news information researcher, but it’s a job that just doesn’t exist anymore.
Finally, job opportunities are in all types of places you don’t expect. Identify your skills and keep your LinkedIn profile and CV up to date. The next job you love may not have ‘library’ or ‘information’ in the title, but may be the best use of your information skills. I got my current job through a direct approach from the employer who found me on LinkedIn. Anything is possible!
So here are my top tips for managing your information career:
– Get involved professionally – it will give you a sense of achievement as well as good experience, especially if you’re underused in your day job
– The first redundancy is the hardest! Take the opportunity when it comes
– Keep an open mind and try not to feel outdone by people who have careers all planned out – the information world is very unpredictable
– Creating new roles is more challenging than taking on an established one
– A good manager is a rare and precious thing and can make all the difference
– Pass it on – support new professionals and any support staff you meet in your work.
Head of Content, Gorkana Media Monitoring