Online Professional Learning

When MOOCs first started appearing online I thought they were a great way for me to learn some more about things I’m interested in…literature, history, philosophy. But I never thought they would be very useful in a professional capacity.

It seems that I haven’t been paying much attention to the MOOC landscape recently, and there is suddenly a plethora of providers with some very interesing courses.

Below is a list of most interesting looking websites that have professional courses available:

open2study.com
I’ve just signed up for their Human Resources course, but they also have some courses on data, finance, teaching and business.

canvas.net
They have at least one information-related course, and some on literacy.

futurelearn.com
They have an upcoming course on managing people that I’ve signed up for.

coursera.org
Coursera is the one most people know about, and I’ve started a few courses but found them very hit-and-miss in their quality. I am currently on week 3 and enjoying thoroughly the Introduction to Communication Science course.

edx.org
The only site I’ve found that has a library specific course, with their upcoming ‘Library Advocacy Unshushed: Values, evidence, action’.

These are the best I have found so far, does any one have any other recommendations?

What’s your library trainee experience?

When I was applying for library trainee positions I remember thinking: wouldn’t it be great if there were a website, where all the trainee jobs were listed, alongside blog posts/articles by former trainees being brutally honest about their experiences, somewhere that people talked about what they did next and why.

Since I stopped being a trainee I get asked a lot about my experiences, mainly by people thinking of applying for my former job (as an Oxford trainee).   Whist I’m more than happy to give them my opinion, I always feel I’m doing them a disservice as they’re only getting my biased view.  I always try to direct them to other former trainees they should speak to, to give more balance.  Recently I came back to this idea I had many years ago, and started making a little website, nothing fancy, just links to trainee blogs that I knew about and other useful resources.

However, I’ve started to think that maybe we could make more of this, and maybe I could get other trainees involved.  My plea for help on Twitter this morning received such a great welcome that it really cemented in my mind that it could turn out to be a useful resource.

How to get involved

I’ve been working on the first version of the site which will contain many useful resources for everyone from the potential trainee to former trainees.  I know that our experiences of being a trainee were so diverse and took us all in so many different directions, that I thought it would also be useful resource for all those who come through the trainee program and think, ‘what now?’, not just those at the start of their career.

So many people I’ve spoken to have really interesting things to say: why they did or didn’t enjoy their trainee year; did it meet their expectations; the post-trainee job blues; distance learning studies; going back to university full time; job hunting; unemployment.  Judging by the response I’ve had on Twitter so far I know many people are interested in writing about these experiences.

What next?

I’m still working on the basic resources on the site, but in the meantime I want to get you involved.  Are you a potential/current/former trainee (no matter how long ago).  Do you have experiences you want to write about that will inform those currently going through the traineeship, and be good for people still trying to find their way in their post-trainee career?

I’m looking for people who are interested in writing articles, long or short, 1 or 100 of them.  I’m looking for people who have ideas about other stuff we can do with this site, ideas about what would have been useful for you to know as a trainee.  Do you have an idea for an article you’d like to read but don’t have time to write?  Let me know and we’ll see if we can convince someone to pen it.  Have you taken the “traditional” library career route and want to tell people how you did it?  Have you taken a “non-traditional” route, working outside libraries in areas trainees wouldn’t necessarily consider?  Anything and all things that you want to talk about, I want to put it online and gather it into a resource that will hopefully be useful and helpful to many.

Everyone who contributes has the chance to have their own contributors page, which will link to your articles/list your other roles on the site – a good thing to have on your CV?

I hope that many of you will consider getting involved.  So while I get on with the main body of the site, please get in touch with your email address and I can send you some more information in the next month  and we can chat about your involvement.  Leave a comment below, send me a direct message on Twitter (@medievaljenga) or email me jengallagheris[at]gmail.com

Learning to build websites

One of my planned projects this year is to design my own website to host all my blogs.  This is partly due to a frustration with WordPress not doing everything I need it to do (and placing annoying adverts on my blogs as well).  But mostly it is because I wanted to get back into doing some coding.

Things have changed a bit since I first taught myself HTML…this was back in the day when everyone suddenly thought Flash on websites was great.  I disagreed and lost the heart to continue learning.

But now I want to really get up to speed with things again so I’ve been having a look around at what I can learn online.

There are so many fun and interesting tutorials online to teach you the basics so I thought it might be a good idea to start with those to get back into it and refresh everything I already knew.

Here are a few of the best ones I’ve found:

Dash
I absolutely love this site already, and the way it teaches you with an interactive tutorial.  It reminded me how much I hadn’t forgotten from all those years ago.

w3schools.com
Much less interactive than many tutorials out there, but still comprehensive and easy to follow to learn HTML and CSS.  Also good for advancing beyond the basics.

A Beginner’s Guide to HTML & CSS
I really love this tutorial and its well written and understandable style.  It is so easy to follow and progress quickly…there’s even a more advanced guide once you’ve progressed though this one.

And finally….

Bento
Saving the best for last.  This site is brilliant, a handy little guide to all the things you may want to learn and where you can go to learn them.  If none of the above sites work to your learning style, you’re bound to find something else on Bento.

Im hoping Bento will assist me once I’ve gone through the beginners stages and I’m ready to get more complicated, and if it can’t help me, there’s always Ryan.

Library School Year 1

We’re almost at the end of 2013 and I am almost at the end of my first year of ‘Library School’, otherwise known as MSc Library and Information Studies.  I’m studying distance learning at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen and as proof of how busy I’ve been since I started this course, I haven’t updated this blog since then.  I thought it was about time I got back into blogging about work related things, and what better way to start then with a post about my recent studies.

Why here and now?

I decided to do distance learning for so many reasons (financial and location mainly) but I choose RGU mostly for it’s 21st century appearance.  I liked how it seemed to be different to most ‘traditional’ library courses by focusing on the technological/business/information management side of things.  I also liked how, unlike some other distance courses, it was all online and promised an interactive learning experience.

The Modules

In semester one we studied Cataloguing & Classification and Knowledge Organisation.  I was surprised to find both of these modules quite easy and I didn’t feel that I learnt very much except how to write business reports.  The cataloguing part was just the principles and we weren’t able to do any original cataloguing. Interesting, but I learnt more on my one day ‘introduction to cataloguing’ course at work.  Also, having just taken part in a reclassification project at work, I found the classification half of the module too easy.  This was just my experience, as I know many people who didn’t have any training/experience of Cat/Class in their library work prior to starting the course.  Having said that, I was surprised that many people on the course not only haven’t worked in a library before, but also hadn’t worked in any information role.

I guess it is difficult to aim a course at people from such a wide variety of backgrounds, but the fact that this course doesn’t seem to have the requirement of ‘a year’s experience at least’ as most other courses do, could be part of the problem.

The modules in the second semester which we are just coming to the end of, have been Information  Studies and The Digital Age.  These have been much more interesting, especially The Digital Age.  During these modules I have been able to see the biggest difference between how to offer good content to distance learning students and how not to.  Our lecturer for The Digital Age uploaded PDFs of each weeks topic at the beginning of term, allowing those who wanted to get a head start to do so.  He then released weekly a Prezi, with audio commentary along with additional readings and sometimes videos.  I’ve been able to read the forums and have a look at some of the really good ideas these topics are generating, even if I can get involved very much due to time constraints this semester.

Last semester we had lecturers who uploaded their topic PDFs each week, and barely engaged with the class at all.  There was very little dialogue or guidance and no additional material. One lecturer even told she she wasn’t going to be available to discuss the next topic as she was on holiday.

The good the bad and the ugly

On the whole I have enjoyed this course so far.  I heave learnt how to write business reports and discovered some new ideas about information/knowledge management.  Whenever I feel that I’m expecting too much from the course and demanding too much I remember how I’m paying more than the full time students so not only am I allowed to expect more, but at the very least I should expect the same service as if I was on campus, which I don’t always feel I get.

RGU is definitely heading in the right direction, and some lecturers have completely understood the needs of a distance learning student in the 21st Century.  I’m not paying £7000 to have some PDFs uploaded to moodle so I can read them and then write an assignment.  I am paying to learn valuable work-related skills, to engage with other learners, to have a learning experience.

The Future

At the moment I’m not sure if I’m going to be continuing with the course now that I’ve finished the certificate portion of it.  I don’t know how relevant this course is to my future career or how necessary it will be, so I’m reconsidering my future plans.

The problems of job searching and how not to go crazy

Last month I attended a student conference on digital preservation that was geared towards giving us advice on how to get in to a career in this area.

A theme that a few of the speakers touched on was the need to look for jobs outside the usual jobs titles.  For example, a job with the BBC digital sound archive was recently advertised under the title of “Media Manager”.  Would you see that job and think, that will require my skills I’ll look closer?

This disparity between the job titles and what the job actually involves was discussed in a number of ways, but the primary area that interested me was during the round table discussion at the end when a few points were raised about how exactly we’re supposed to find these jobs if they have such vague job titles.

It was suggested by one of the panel members that we need to read the job descriptions to find out more.  This is of course an obvious and very true statement but a number of attendees felt this was not a practical solution due to the number of jobs being advertised.

For me this all brought up the question of where people look to find jobs especially if you’re not necessarily interested in working within a traditional library setting.

I asked my Twitter followers where they searched for jobs and I am indebted to all of them (credits at the end) for their suggestions and opinions.

It seems that the best approach to job searching is not to limit yourself to looking in only one place but to employ a diverse strategy of searching in a number of places that may be of use to you.

Below is a look at different approaches to searching for jobs and the pros and cons of each way.  It is important to note that some ways work very well for some people but it might not work for you, so job searching is all about getting the best out of these resources for yourself.

Specific company search.

You know you want to work for the British Library or Oxford University so you can just search their websites, right?  Well, of course you can do that, but you would be severely limiting yourself to only a few jobs. And your chances of getting (or finding new) employment would be restricted.  If you know you can only apply for jobs in one area (for example, London) then you can search the websites of all universities in London.  Of which there are a lot!  This is time consuming but not impossible.  But what about all the other places you could work.  Companies? Schools? Colleges? Charities?  You could do a search of a select few of these, but how many law firms will hire information specialists?  (Lots, by the way). Can you really search all of their websites?

Doing a company specific search alone only works if you only want to work for a handful of companies.  If this is your ideal, then that is fine.  But I think for the majority of job searchers it would fall short of being totally adequate.

It is important to keep in mind that some companies only advertise on their own websites and a lot of universities don’t advertise junior posts (i.e library assistant/shelver positions) anywhere else. Picking a few company websites to directly get job listings from (preferably by rss or signing up to email alerts to save you time) is a useful addition to your job search techniques.

Tips: If you know which geographical area you’re looking in you could find the biggest companies and search them.  You could also add companies that you know don’t advertise elsewhere (or that have limited jobs appearing on other sites), for example, The British Library, BBC, etc…

Sector specific aggregators

Lisjobnet is the most useful website if you want to work in a library.  Although it says it is also for information jobs I have not found it particularly useful for any jobs outside the traditional areas.  It does seem very focused on library work and also for middle to higher positions.  I have many times found library assistant posts on other websites that are not on here.  There is also a similar problem with jobs.ac.uk.  Obviously this site is focused entirely on jobs within academic institutions and you can browse specifically in the sector you want.  However, I have also found jobs that required information researching/management skills which were in other categories.  Both of these sites have the bonus that you can sign up for email alerts which saves a lot of the bother of having to go and physically search the site yourself.  However, as already mentioned, they do seem limited in their scope.

Jobsforinfopros is useful for jobs in the wider sector, though it does just seem to aggregate from employment agencies and is very London focused.  Additionally, their service to sign up for email alerts requires you to a fill out a form which insists on only a few geographic areas being picked and on you stipulating a wage.  It you want complete flexibility in your search and aren’t that picky then this is completely useless.

Tips: see below ‘General jobs sites’

General jobs sites

These type of sites cause me the greatest headache.  If a job that requires a library/information/archive qualification (or just experience) isn’t within a traditional setting sometimes the employer might not advertise it on a specialist website there but they might advertise on (for example) monster, totaljobs, Indeed etc… The problem with this is then searching for jobs.  What exactly do you search for?  You can’t possibly view every job on there, there are thousands.  If you try to limit your search by keywords what keywords do you choose?  Library? Archive? Information?  You will probably find all of these so vague that they come up with 1000s of results.  And as already mentioned above, many jobs now don’t feature key words in their title, so you need to search for key words in the job description.

I personally don’t find these searches targeted enough.  In one search for “library assistant” I came up with 1869 results only 5 of which seemed to be what I was looking for, I’m not even sure how the rest ended up there as they weren’t relevant at all.

The best of these generic search sites I have found is Indeed.co.uk.  It also comes highly recommended by my Twitter followers.  It draws in jobs from a variety of sources and doesn’t seem to be dependent on companies adding the jobs to the site themselves (as Monster does).  I found that setting up email alerts for quite a few different search terms the best way to use the site.

Tips: If you’re not finding many jobs in one category try looking around in others for anything of interest. Set up email alerts if you can so you don’t have to do much legwork to get the latest jobs.  If you’re doing a key word search try not to stick to just one term, ‘librarian’ may come up with fewer results then ‘library’.  Searching for generic terms such as ‘information’ may come up with a few information assistant roles but may also come up with thousands of irrelevant posts in which you can miss the few good ones, so sometimes being specific works better.  If you’re looking at a sector specific site which lists a vague job title, click on it and have a quick scan at the description, it might not be what you think it is.

Social Media

There are a few Twitter accounts that list jobs such as @uklibraryjobs but I don’t know of any companies who tweet their own job vacancies (on an account dedicated to vacancies only).  As an avid Tweeter I do need to remind myself constently that most people are not on Twitter, and even when companies are not all of them use it in the most productive way.  I would not recommend relying on Twitter for finding jobs.  Like all of the suggestions above it can be another way to search for jobs without really trying as they will pop up in your feed amongst gin and knitting discussions (I’m not being stereotypical, this is what my timeline looks like today).

I have no knowledge of any companies using Facebook to advertise vacancies so I did some quick investing whilst writing this blog post [pause to go off to Facebook and work out what to say next] and I can find nothing.  Anyone any the wiser please let me know.

Linkedin could be such a useful site….jobs directly related to courses you have listed or key skills tagged could be shown to you in a coherently ordered manner.  Except, it doesn’t work like that.  A lot of American companies use it and I think it could become useful if more UK companies were to get on board with it.  I don’t think they will as people don’t seem to use it for job search, so it’s a vicious circle.

With all these social media opinions I’m really only using my own experience so I may have completely missed the boat on something…please use the comments to let me know of anything I’ve forgotten or that I’m just plain wrong about.

Tips: It’s worth following any companies on Twitter you particularly like the idea of working for, they may tweet job posts but you’ll also keep up to date with the latest news from them.  You don’t need to have a twitter account to look at accounts advertising jobs, though it will save you time if you get an account and follow them all, then there’ll all appear in a nice easy list without you having to click on each one individually.

Employment agencies

These are a great source of sector specific jobs though you need to use them slightly differently to how you would a straightforward job advert.  Although they will feature job adverts on site it is important to alo register yourself with the agency (get in touch and send them your CV) as a lot of their jobs will be sent directly to their clients before being put online.

I think there is a perception that a lot of agency jobs are temporary and require immediate starts.  Whilst this is true of a lot of agencies, they do all differ, and most of them also have permanent jobs too.

Tips:  I’ll repeat as mentioned about, don’t just rely on searching agencies websites, most of their jobs don’t end up there.  Register with them and if you don’t feel like they’re sending you many job openings speak to them directly as they may have misunderstood what type of position you’re looking for.

Word of mouth/networking

This is something I always forget about but was mentioned to me on Twitter this morning.  If people know you’re on the look out for a job they are quite likely to send your way anything they see that may be suitable for you.  I find this works very well on twitter, as people will tend to re-tweet or post jobs they see that are interesting which alerts me to these vacancies.

Networking cannot be underestimated for its usefulness in job searching.  If you’re at a conference/training event make sure you speak to people who work in a sector you’re interested in, if they remember you they may be the person you apply for a job with in the future (every little helps). It was suggested to me today that a good estimate is something in the region of 40% of jobs are never advertised, that is worth keeping in mind if you’re ever shy about approaching people. Even if a new job doesn’t come out of networking you are still learning a valuable amount about the sector and this research makes you a stronger candidate and more able to help others in the same position as you.

I will squeeze mailing lists into the section as well.  Quite often jobs will be posted on mailing lists by the people advertising vacancies (or people working in those places).  It’s a good idea to sign up to general and more specific mailing lists for areas you’re interested in working.

Tips: Keep an eye on what people are saying on Social Media, they may mention when there’s jobs going where they work and will also pass on any interesting posts they see whilst doing their own job search.  Keep an ear out for people talking about new projects getting started as it might be worth approaching project managers (or getting an introduction) to be in mind should any new vacancies open up.  If you’re interested in a small sector area, get in touch with people who currently do it, ask for advice, they may know of positions available, or keep you in mind if ones open up in the future.

Suggestions to employers

There is only so much the bedraggled job searcher can do without searching for jobs 24 hours a day and reading every job description on every website.  I have thought of a few ways that employers can make things easier so that the right people see the right jobs and employers get the best people applying.  These may be impractical for employers, but I live in an idealised world in my head where I assume employers want to hire the best people, silly me!

-       Try making your job descriptions less generic.  If you really want to call the post Senior Media Manger how about adding an (archives) or (library) in brackets after the title?

-       If your job requires specific skills/qualifications why not post it on websites that are dedicated to such people (ie lisjobnet).  Given that is the most viewed job site for people with an LIS qualification (judging by my unscientific pole on Twitter today) why not increase your chances that the right candidate will see if by also posting it there. This is particularly useful if your company is not in a sector that people would traditionally think to look at.

-       Add an RSS feed to your website vacancies page.  People are more likely to look at individual companies websites if they have a way to easily get at the information.

-       Have a twitter account just for your job vacancies.  Same reason as the above for RSS feeds.  Also, people will re-tweet your vacancies to a wider audience.

-       If UK companies would start using Linkedin more, especially to advertise jobs, it would be a practical useful resource, instead of being mostly useless.

So what does this all mean?

I’m afraid there isn’t one website/resource that you will find your perfect job on.  I haven’t even covered looking in newspapers/magazines, using members only sections of professional associations websites, looking at government (local/central) websites, job fairs, career services….the list is endless.  Most importantly for job seekers is to be alert to others working in the sector (and in parallel sectors too).  They may not tell you directly about a great job you can apply for immediately, but they may alert you to a company you’d never considered working for, a person you should get in touch with, a website you should be reading.  The possibilities are endless!  The key is to find the resources that work for the sector you want to work in and to tailor your searches to suit your needs. 

Key resources

Here is a list of all the different sites/resources I have mentioned above.  Please leave comments about any more you find useful and indeed and more tactics for finding jobs that you would recommend.

Tips for staying sane:  Where you can, follow websites via RSS feeds so you can aggregate everything into one easy to manage place, or set up email alerts so the vacancies come to you.

Websites: (Links with * are ones specifically recommended to me as good places for library/info jobs)

*http://www.lisjobnet.com/
*http://www.jobsforinfopros.com/
*http://www.suehill.com/ – Sue Hill Recruitment
*http://www.jobs.ac.uk
http://www.jobs.nhs.uk/
*http://www.glenrecruitment.co.uk/
https://www.gov.uk/jobsearch
http://www.totaljobs.com/
*http://web.jinfo.com/jobs/search/
*http://www.indeed.co.uk/
http://www.monster.co.uk/
http://www.jobsgopublic.com/
http://jobs.guardian.co.uk/
http://www.timewisejobs.co.uk/ – for part time jobs

Twitter accounts:

https://twitter.com/UKLibraryJobs
https://twitter.com/LibJobsLondon
https://twitter.com/jobsforinfopros
https://twitter.com/LISJOBNET
https://twitter.com/tmj_GBR_library – this account hasn’t tweeted anything yet but does seem to be new so I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

Other ways to find jobs:

Jisc mailing lists – http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/

Thank you to all the following people for answering my appeal for help on Twitter today, your suggestions should have made it to the above post I hope.

Thanks @booleanberry @LibraryPatrick @Girlinthe @HelenMaryH @RareLibrarian1 @ellekaypea @wiley9000 @ErikaDelbecque

My school library experience

School libraries are being talked about a lot recently, from news reports about library closures to twitter chat about school librarian jobs being advertised with minimum wage offers.  Although there is a longer blog post in my mind about the value of school libraries, and them being staffed by suitably paid librarians, I wanted to write first about my experiences of school libraries, specifically related to applying for a job in one.

Last year, whilst applying for traineeships and library assistant jobs, a position caught my eye that I applied for and was interviewed for.  The role was that of ‘Library Assistant’ in a secondary school library.  The wages weren’t fantastic (in the region of £15,000 I seem to remember) but for an assistant role that seemed okay and so I applied.

The job description was suitably vague as I’ve found many jobs sometimes are and focused on ‘issuing out books, keeping order in the library’.  To my mind this seemed like a very basic entry level job – perfect for me really.

I was invited for interview and as with most school interviews, all candidates spent the day together doing various tasks, which gave me a great opportunity to talk to the other people being interviewed for the post.

There were no candidates who had any previous library experience but I didn’t think this was that unusual given the entry level nature described in the job description.  My fellow interviewees included a business woman who had taken time off to have children and was looking for a nice easy job to fit around her children; a former businessman who had also been in the army and had taken early redundancy;  a young secretary who wanted to work in a school (perhaps as a teacher at some point) though wasn’t sure of her career direction as yet.

Chatting to my fellow interviewees I felt confident that I had a good chance of getting the job.  I had tried my best to understand the profession and where it was heading by networking with those currently in the profession, and I was committed to furthering my career by doing a postgraduate qualification in the future.  I went in to my interview feeling optimistic.  I left the interview thinking there was no way they would give me the job, and even if they did, I wouldn’t take it.

I was interviewed by the school principal, one of the school governors, and the head of school libraries at the council.  The first indication that this was not exactly what I had thought it was going to be was when I mentioned the school librarian.  Looking back I should have noticed that there was no mention of a librarian in the job description, but there was no mention of who I would be answerable to in this position so it didn’t seem odd. And no, there was no librarian there on the day, but maybe it was her day off, maybe she was sick….surely the school must have a librarian?  I barely managed to conceal my shock that as a library assistant I would be the one and only person working in the school library at all times.

I very quickly made sense of it.  I suppose the council has librarians who do work for the schools?  Well the woman from the council interviewing me made decisions about what books the libraries had (not a qualified librarian) and the school principal made decisions about what to spend the rest of the library budget on (not a qualified librarian)  the school governors agreed to any budget spending or changes to the library space (I checked…none of them qualified librarians).

The interview moved on to the duties of the library assistant.  Yes, there was the usual checking in and out of books…but some pupils did shelving and library tidying.  So what else did the job involve?  They admitted their job description was a bit vague, but this was because the previous librarian had retired and they were changing to job from what she did to what they wanted the new person to do….

….No, it didn’t pass me by either “so you had a librarian, and you’re replacing her with a library assistant?”

“Yes….but they’re the same thing really”

Except perhaps calling a librarian a library assistant allows you to pay them less?  I kept my opinion to myself and the interview moved on.  The role of the library assistant would be to transform the library into the learning hub of the school, to facilitate study sessions and teach information literacy, to make decisions on collection management….

….all sounding very much to me like the job of a librarian, but the interview continues…

I spoke passionately about my commitment to the profession and furthering my knowledge by taking a postgraduate qualification by distance learning.  The principal made a comment showing a lack of knowledge of library qualifications…and then the head of school libraries for the council said to me:

“I don’t think you need to go overboard with postgraduate qualifications…you can do an NVQ when you’re here if you want though.”

—–

This is just a small example of my own personal experiences, but I think of it every time I see a job in a school library advertised.  Yes this was only one school but that is part of a very large council who have as their head of school libraries someone who has never worked in a library, is not a qualified librarian and places no value on qualified staff.  That says a lot to me about the opinion that particular council has of qualified library staff.  It would be erroneous of me to jump to conclusions and apply the attitude of this council to all UK councils, but there are many stories like this out there.  What I would like to hear are the contrasting stories.  Does anyone work in a school library which supports its library staff and stands by the need to fully qualified staff paid at a wage commensurate with others who have that experience/qualifications

—–

I received a call later that evening telling me I had not made the final shortlisting and had in fact been one of the first cut out…I immediately asked for feedback and was told that they felt I would have difficulties earning respect from the school pupils and they were looking for someone who could keep the library a quiet and orderly place.  I later discovered they gave the job to the former army man.

My Future, My Profession

There are about 20 half or mostly written blog posts waiting in my drafts folder after what has been a hectic last three months, but I’ve decided to shove them all to one side for a moment to write this blog post about my future and my current thoughts on the information profession.

I’m not writing this from any level of great insight, just from my own experiences as a current graduate trainee.

Before I started my traineeship I was already questioning the value/need to do a postgraduate qualification and trying to justify the phenomenal economic cost of this in terms of the value to my career it will have.

When I first started looking for library jobs a few years ago there were a few trends I noticed and mostly it was that the higher up the career tree you went the less the job descriptions asked for a postgraduate qualification and chartership.  The lower down the tree you were it was even less likely you’d need these qualifications, so it was all those positions in the middle the required the postgrad qualification.

I’ve talked in the past about the possibility of effectively blagging your way through the middle grades with a combination of experience gained on the job and CPD courses undertaken (at your own cost as a lot of employers won’t consider paying for them now).

A few things have prompted me to rethink this and to write this blog post.  In preparation for another post (coming soon I hope!) I took a look at lots of person specifications for jobs I am about 5-10 years off thinking about applying for.  Academic liaison librarians (subject librarian), head of digital assets,  librarian in charge of sixth form and so on.  Without exception every single one of the them required at minimum a postgraduate LIS qualification (some specifically asked for the MA/MSc, others more general implying a diploma would be acceptable).  Some went further to say is was essential you also had chartership.

It could just be a coincidence that the week I choose to look at these jobs they all specify postgrad LIS (and chartership in some cases) but I think it is more likely that trends have changed and now the majority of jobs past the entry level are asking for this level of qualification.

So what am I complaining about?  Well, not about what I’ve just mentioned.  I guess it was vain hope that I could get away without the expense of doing the postgrad course, but it looks like times are changing and the requirement to have this qualification is not necessarily in itself a bad thing.  It is for another braver blogger then me (and some have already ventured there) to dissect the value of the content of LIS postgrad courses in their application to real jobs.

The issue that concern me are wages in the sector, the cost of the courses and lack of funding, the lack of support from employers.

Please sir, can I have some more wages?

Currently three months in to my traineeship I am absolutely loving my time here.  I am learning a lot, the libraries are so varied and interesting and I would be happy to stay here for a bit longer while I progress in my career.  But I wont be.  The reason being the wages.  I don’t want to signal my university out as I know they are not the exception so I will say that there are a number of universities around the country that also have comparable wages for its library staff.  Having said that, I have looked at my own situation and there is no way I can afford to live by myself on the wages of a library assistant here, especially as I will be funding my way through a distance learning masters degree as well.  There is a similar problem if I wanted to take a job in a public library (jobs are available, but the majority part time and many minimum wage or just above) or a school library (fewer staff being taken on and most part time and low paid).

If the jobs I am going to be applying for are going to require, not just degree level educated candidates, but postgraduate degree educated, then the wages need to be commensurate with this and so many universities currently are not.  The posts available to new professionals who may be newly qualified (or on their way to being) do not justify the high costs of doing the course in my opinion.

A Masters degree in exchange for your life savings and first born child please

We all know that costs for courses are going up and that funding is being reduced.  There is talk from government sources that a student loan for postgraduate study is going to be introduced (possibly from 2015 though still all rumor at the moment) so let’s be realistic for a moment.  Courses differ in their prices from averages of £4000 to £9000 and as of 2013/2014 the AHRC will no longer be funding masters degrees.  This leaves us with a situation where the majority of students (if not all) will be funding their courses themselves.  If we leave aside anyone who is lucky enough to have family who can help them out with the costs, or anyone who was sensible enough to have worked and saved for years (though I know no one in this category I am sure they must exist somewhere) is it possible for a student to study a full time course with tuition fees of £9000 with no funding?

Well of course it’s possible, it’s called bank loans and not eating as much food so you can spend it on tuition instead.  It is achievable and for someone who really wants to progress in their career it is necessary.  But there are a number of things that concern me about this situation.

For those of us like me who are taking the distance learning option it means it will take us longer to qualify (three years as opposed to the one for full time students) but we can earn whilst studying.  Unfortunately we can’t earn much because the jobs for unqualified library staff are all quite low, what would be nice is if we could apply for jobs that required the qualification and our employers gave us recognition for doing the course.

Yes, wouldn’t it be nice if they paid for it as well, but not even going that far, just supporting us with recognition that we are taking the qualification and this shows our commitment to the profession.

An impossible vision for the future

I think there is a real danger that people are being put off the profession by little correlation between the costs of undertaking the postgraduate qualification and the wages paid by the jobs that require it (most importantly in jobs for new professionals who will still be feeling the effects of the financial sacrifice).

I would love to see more jobs for new professionals requiring you to either have the qualification or be working towards it.  I’ve occasionally seen this but really not enough.

I would also love to see more employers realising that if they want good staff they are going to have to make a commitment to the professional development of their staff, and this may include funding (or part funding) staff through the masters degree.

As with other professional qualifications perhaps we need to have an option where you can get a postgraduate degree ‘on the job’ through a combination of traditional study methods, CPD, and portfolio.   CILIP does, after all, offer certification/chartership as an alternative route – why offer this when employers don’t seem to want it?  Why not change the qualifications and work with universities to create a full postgraduate professional qualification that doesn’t require a remortgage or a dip in wages to undertake?

Speedy Things

I’m quite far behind on 23Things as I’ve been very busy getting things sorted for my move and finishing my current job.  This post is going to go at shocking speed through several things as a round up.

 

Thing 11 about mentoring is going to have its very own post as I have more to say on this.

 

Thing 12: Putting the Social into Social Networks

Recently I’ve been quite bad at being social online, because I’ve had so many things distracting me out there in the real world.  In order to get a lot from social media you need to give a lot, and recently I’ve been reading tweets but not really responding.  One thing I have done recently is set up a different Twitter account where I can just talk about running – I worried about this for a long time as I always said I wouldn’t do it and I think having a different account has actually distracted me from my main account, but I think I’m getting better at juggling the two.  Hopefully I can get more involved in online conversations when I have a bit more time (probably September by this rate!)

 

Thing 13:  This thing was about using online storage such as Google Drive/Dropbox and Wikis.

This was a difficult one for me because it isn’t something that I have any use for currently.  Perhaps this will change as I change jobs, and perhaps if I return to studying it will be useful, so I had a play around with the suggested tools.  I found dropbox most useful and easy to use so I will probably stick to this should I need to.  Wikis are interesting because they contain so much useful information and are an easy way to share and collaborate.  I do have a bit of an aversion to them because they look so clumsy so I’m on the look out for nicer ways to present wikis.

 

Thing 14:  Reference management

Reference management is also something I currently have no use for myself but may be useful for me in the future.  I can imagine knowledge of these tools would be very useful if library users need help with them, it would be good to know which of these tools are most popular with students (if any).  When I wrote my MA dissertation I used a similar tool (can’t remember the name of it now) and my experience of it was that it was quite hard to get out of the habit to just having all references in a word document, but I found it easier to use once I got the hang of it.

 

Thing 15: Attending/presenting/organising conferences/events/seminars

I hope to get much more involved with events when I relocate for my new job, and well into the future as well.  Attending events of all kinds are a great way, not only to meet people, but to connect with new ideas and explore these with colleagues.  I hope I can attend as many events as possible, funds and time off work permitting but as far as participation is concerned I’m not sure how much opportunity I will have at this early stage of my career.  Organising conferences is something I used to do for work, so I’d hope that I’d be quite good at this by now!  I’d really like to get involved as part of an organising team.

 

 

So much confusion! Career planning & Thing 10

This Thing was always bound to be something that I had a lot to say about.  As you probably know if you follow my blog already I am currently working in an information role but I’m starting a graduate library traineeship in September.  This is something I am greatly looking forward to and I have been working towards for a long time, so I’ve given a lot of thought to my career and the many paths that it can take.

There are so few jobs about that it seems only sensible to have a plan of what direction I’m going to go in.  I’m looking forward to seeing how these plans change as I find opportunities I’d never even considered and find jobs that had never occurred  to me, but a starting plan is needed.  But just what should that plan be?

All my opinions below are based on research of roles in academic libraries, only because that’s the direction my career is starting in.  I’d be very interested in hearing opinions from other sectors though.

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When I first started exploring the world of library careers I found most of my information from the CILIP website, and the information they gave me lead me to conclude there was a tried and tested path that most people would progress in:

1) Get a job as a library assistant or do a graduate trainee year

2) Continue working in the sector and apply for the CILIP qualification of Certification or do a postgraduate masters/diploma in LIS

3) Get a professional job

4) Do Chartership.

It seemed so simple and straightforward!  How wrong I was.  When I delved more into the reality coming from people who work in the sector I was told “you pretty much have to do the postgrad course, or you wont have a career”.

I have many concerns with working out what is the best path to follow and I’d love to get opinions on all of this.

Looking at the job market and taking a broad overview (obviously there are jobs that break the trend, but I’m looking for the trends) it seems that, to get a “junior” position you need either luck or some amount of work experience (either in the sector or a similar area).  To get a lot of the higher level jobs (jobs I wouldn’t be looking at for long time) you need “extensive experience” (particularly management experience) and often a “professional qualification” (no specification of chartership vs masters – if chartership is a “professional qualification ” according to CILIP then this alone meets this requirement surely?).  Most jobs in between require “a postgraduate qualification in LIS”.  So it looks like I can get the lower jobs and the higher jobs once I have more experience, everything in between I can’t get without a postgrad qualification.  This is confusing!

My first question based on my research would have to be, if CILIP calls certification/chartership “professional qualifications” (rather than academic) is this what employers are asking for? Or when they say “professional qualification required” do they really mean a postgraduate academic qualification?

If it is the latter then surely CILIP need to push for some coherence in the sector?  Do they need to make it clearer on their literature that a postgraduate qualification is ESSENTIAL if you want to progress in an LIS career?

If I were to take my career information from CILIP I would assume that it was possible to develop in my career by combining lots of experience+certification+chartership (ECC), yet everything I hear from people already working in the sector is that this is not a viable route and it is (that word again) ESSENTIAL that you do a postgraduate course.

If we are taking the assumption that a postgraduate course is an absolute requirement to progress in an LIS career then I would be very interested to know why.  I have read many discussions about the merits of the course, and here I have to disagree with the 23Things post on the masters courses – the majority of them do not include training in cataloguing and classification.  That being said, many people have spoken about how the course quickly becomes out of date, and how many of the things taught are things you can develop yourself through individual CPD and work experience.

I am in no way implying that the masters course has no value, far from it.  I have spoken to many many people who have undertaken the course (or who are currently studying) who are enjoying it immensely and can really see the value of what they are studying.  However, what does concern me is the lack of clarity on the issue.  Is the postgraduate course essential or does the ECC route have equal value?  If the masters route is the only one truly valued then aren’t we limiting the profession only to people who have the time/money/inclination for postgraduate study?

Let’s assume the profession wants to be the kind that requires all people of a certain level to have a qualification outlying their intellectual and professional commitment to the profession.  In this case surely it would make more sense for the qualification to never be purely theoretical, rather to be based on the job you’re doing (work based learning)?  Shouldn’t all the courses on offer be assessed regularly to confirm their suitability for the profession in terms of the learning they are providing so that we know, no matter where you studied, your qualification puts you at the same level as someone from another university? Or is it just me who is having these concerns?

Essentially what bothers me is, if I don’t/am not able to do the postgraduate LIS course, am I saying goodbye to career progression?

Planning and organising Things 8 & 9

I already use Google Calendar and I think it’s great.  To be honest what I use it mostly for is keeping up to date with the Formula One calendar and for coordinating ‘things we’re doing’ with my friends/family.

To keep up with F1 I simply did a search for “Formula One Google Calendars” and found someone who had made a calendar with all the race dates in.  I just added that calendar to my account and this shows up when I view online or on my phone.  But it also means that no one else who I give access to my main calendar will view the F1 calendar (which I am sure they are incredibly happy about).

I have just set up a work calendar as well.  This calendar I intend to use for when I’ve taken days off, when I’ve worked overtime, meetings scheduled etc.  This is not really information my friends/family need but I could share it with people I work with in case they needed to know where I was at what times.  Mostly it’s for me so I don’t need to worry about missing appointments or forgetting when I need to do things.

I don’t have too many problems with Google Calendar so I’ve never had cause to search for an alternative – and I do have a google smartphone so it makes much more sense to use that.  However, the app on my phone is a bit rubbish – you can’t add or delete additional calendars, and it’s not very easy to look at so I usually default to using it on my laptop most of the time.

I’ve tried to use Evernote in the past but not really got on well with it.  Just for 23Things I tried it again….still no. I think I have too many other tools that do similar things and I’ve been using them for so long that it’s hard to switch. For the moment I can’t see much use for it but I’m interested to read people’s views on how they’ve used it.