This year has been a busy one so far, much to the detriment of my blog. I’m sorry to say that it has been pushed to the bottom of the priority list whilst other commitments occupied my time. Having just spoken at the CLSIG, BIALL and SLA Europe Graduate Open Day, I thought it high time to dust off my blogging skills and put together a few notes on what I said at the event. The slides for my presentation will be hosted on the CLSIG website soon I believe. Once they are up, I’ll link to them from here.
My presentation was entitled “Library Success in About 10 Slides”. The idea was that corporate PowerPoints can be rather dull, so I tried to make as little use of the slides as possible. As one of my “about 10 slides” was the title I decided that I had better get going after this.
Slide two was a potted history of my career to date, moving from the world of a history graduate in the height of the recession through to the current day chartered librarian that I am. Along the way I stopped off to mention volunteering and gaining work experience in various institutions to help decide what area of librarianship I wanted to focus on (it turned out law was the one for me). I also included a brief mention of my Librarianship MA and the route I took into my current “fully qualified” librarian role.
Having established who I was and therefore why I was talking to a room full of graduate trainees and new professionals, slide three summarised what I was actually going to talk to the attendees about. Law libraries were pretty well represented on the day with two other corporate law librarians and one academic law librarian, so rather than a “day in the life of a law librarian”, I instead tried to pull together my opinions on the skills that a new graduate needs, how to go about getting them, and finally a few ways to then promote yourself so that employers know that you have said skills.
Slide three came with a caveat. I took time to stress that my presentation and points therein are all derived from my own personal experiences. There are many different routes into librarianship, and many different experiences to be had. Mine is but one of these, and what is right for one person may be wrong for another. As with life, take it with a pinch of salt.
Slide four aimed to make special library jobs more approachable. I have been asked in the past how I got into law librarianship, and the simple answer is, I applied for a job in a law library (I’m not being facetious, honest). The point to this is that it is not much different to applying for a job in an academic or public library setting. I’ve tried to explain myself below.
I view skill sets as having two sides – core skill sets and applied skill sets. Core skills are those that any and all librarian or information professional will have. They may be at various levels (ie basic cataloguing as opposed to advanced hardcore cataloguing), but they will be there in some form. Acquired skills are those that often you will pick up in a role; experience of database X and Y for example. Many job applications will state these acquired skills as a requirement, but do not let this put you off applying for roles. Simply identify them as an acquired skill, and strip it back to its core. Maybe you have parts of the required skill? Database use may consist of information literacy, and the ability to use advanced search techniques. State that whilst you don’t have direct experience of Database X, you have used others similar, and have good core Information Literacy skills (but do back up with examples).
There will always be core skills, and there will be those that are more specified. Once you’ve identified the core skills required, you can work to build the acquired ones, often on the job. Employers are willing to train up new employees if they have a strong ground work, so show that you do! This hopefully explained how one can then approach breaking the illustration that I included on slide 5 – a deadly circle of not having experience so can’t get a job, to, haven’t got a job so I can’t get experience.
I also touched on volunteering to build up core skills, either through work experience schemes or volunteering on committees.
At this point, attendees were asked to have a chat to one another to identify what they perceived as core skills, and what might be classed as an acquired skill. Slide 6 summarised these points as such (note, this list isn’t exhaustive or comprehensive!):
Current awareness skills
Product specific knowledge
Understanding of cost information
Slide 7, 8 and 9 provided a few quotes provided by members of the legal information sector around the world (US, Australia, UK, Europe) about the skills and attributes that they would look for in a new professional when hiring. The idea of this was to highlight that none of the skills or attributes looked for acquired skills, all were core skills and a strong base to work with.
Attributes in a New Graduate
“Enthusiasm, a fresh set of eyes, up-to-date digital skills, new ideas”
“Drive to achieve and progress”
“Open to new ways of thinking and doing things”
“A natural curiosity”
Skills in a New Graduate
“Eagerness to learn”
“Good grasp of general knowledge”
“People skills and can quickly build a rapport”
I also popped in a contentious quote from one respondent; they were looking for “cheaper labour”. Please note, this isn’t cheap, but cheaper. The recession is still biting, and it might be cheaper for an employer to hire someone with less experience and train them up rather than hire an experienced information professional at a higher salary.
Finally, slide 10 covered a few ways that you can stand out on your CV and broaden the range of that you can talk about at interviews. I briefly covered blogging, and was pleased to see many people already had blogs. Tweeting (sensibly if from a named account) was also recommended, and getting involved in things such as #uklibchat. Both are great for showing current awareness. Finally, I stressed that all graduate trainees and new entrants to the profession should ask to get involved. There is so much going on in the profession that it can be daunting, so I have found grabbing onto something and getting stuck in to work wonders. If you wait around for someone to ask you to join a committee, how will people know to approach you? Put up your hand and ask to help out. Committees are always after more help!
Similarly, applying for conference and course bursaries is a great way to help kick start your career. I’ve been lucky enough to win the SLA ECCA to travel to the SLA Annual Conference in Philadelphia, the CLIG bursary to attend the BIALL conference in Belfast, a BIALL bursary to fund the Legal Foundations Course, and am going to my second SLA conference in San Diego this year thanks a generous bursary from the SLA Legal Division. There are loads of opportunities out there, and spending a little time to apply for them really is worth while.
Finally, as it was “about” 10 slides, for numbers 11 and 12, I popped up the practice name and invited questions.