Describe a typical week in your profession?
I’d be involved in planning with my team as to what the next six months, next week, whatever, is looking like. I contribute to our workshops as well, do some teaching on those, less of that these days but I do still like to do that. I would be also involved in liaison with other parts of the library, for example, because we’re libraries, museums, and galleries, I might be meeting with our Head of Museums and Galleries about bringing more creativity and art into some of our workshops.
We’ve done some collaboration over that that’s been really interesting. Also looking at the feedback, and how students are reacting to what we do. Students inform what we do so we collect feedback, and we act on that and incorporate that into what w do. Actually, a normal week is running all round the campus and talking to lots of really interesting people and really shaping what we do and building on that collaboration with lots of people from the university.
What advice would you give to postdocs considering a career in your profession?
I think libraries are often thought of as a book place, but actually it’s about people rather than books, and it’s people that brought me into libraries When we’re looking for employees to work in the library, actually, one of the worst things that somebody might say at an interview is, “I just love being in a room full of books all the tie.” We need people who are flexible, who are really good communicators. It’s empathy, it’s confidence and it’s got to be interested in people and enjoy working with people.
Actually, many of the professional jobs in libraries, traditionally you did need to have a masters in librarianship – like I have. Now there’s these learning development roles which are professional roles with a professional organisation, and I hope developing more of a kind of career path for those learning development roles, there’s another way into professional roles in libraries.
What skills do you look for in an employee?
What we’re looking for is employees who are good at listening, good at communicating, are able to present complex information in a way that’s easy to understand not overcomplicate things. We’re really looking for teaching skills and certainly in my team, one of the key areas is to have somebody who has fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. I know doing the foundations in learning and teaching in HE qualification, that’ll come with associate fellowship – and that’s fantastic. Having some teaching experience is a really important thing in quite a variety of roles in the library.
A key thing is that, although you’re working in a library, it’s not a book role and we’re not interested in how well-read you are. We’re interested in experience of working with people. Actually, in libraries we’re often looking for somebody who has had, at some stage in their career, some customer service kind of roles. That’s really, really useful experience – if you’re used to dealing with the public regularly in all sorts of roles.
What’s the best way for a postdoc to showcase their skills for getting a job similar to yours?
Showcasing the skills that you have in a job application, it’s really basic stuff, but it’s making sure that you read that job application really carefully and that you’re reusing some of those words, so you’re looking at the job spec and you’re drawing on that. You’re not just sending a standard application that you might send to various different employers. Also looking for somebody who’s taken the initiative to look at our website, to find our what we’re doing, and it’s surprising how many people just don’t do that.
So, at interview, and I’m thinking back to interviews that we’ve done for Learning Developer posts, we often would give a scenario or a presentation to do. So, an example of that is that we’ve asked candidates to prepare a lesson plan for a workshop and then present on that lesson plan and how it would go. That was really, really interesting, to see how the different candidates approached that. We drew more out of candidates in that way than doing a presentation on why you want this job, because what I wanted to know was how they would approach, how they would draw out participation in students in that plan and how it would be structured.
So if you’re asked to do a task in an interview, really thinking about why you might be asked to do that task and what they’d be looking for at an interview stage. Just being interested, asking questions, taking that opportunity at the end of an interview to ask a question that shows you’re interested and shows you’ve got some initiative, and thinking about mapping skill and mapping experience.
That can take some creativity if you’ve had an interesting career path, a different sort of career path. Thinking about how you can map that on a job spec, but it’s possible, and you wouldn’t necessarily be rejected because you’ve come to something on a wiggly path. Some time ago, I read about career paths being either a kind of upward trajectory with the traditional one, or I think it’s Sheryl Sandberg who talks about jungle gym, that for a career path where you go up sometimes, you come down, you go along, you go up, and you go along, and down. I think that type of career is much more common these days; that there’s different paths and different things.
But all of those parts of your career, you can draw on that experience, and showcasing that experience when you’re applying for jobs is really important.
How can postdocs learn more about your profession?
For the sector of libraries in general, there’s CILIP which is the professional organisation for librarians if somebody’s interested in a professional librarian role. If it’s learning and development that someone’s interested in, there’s the Association for Learning Development in HE, ALDinHE, and the website of ALDinHE which has got lots of information on there. There’s an annual conference as well and you can access the [signal drops 00:08:31] from that.
Also for libraries, particularly for the teaching side for the information literacy side of it, there’s the LILAC conference each year, the Information Literacy in Libraries Conference, have a look at that. For university libraries there’s SCONUL; Society for College and University Libraries [sic] I think that stands for.
So my own area is, although I come from a traditional library background, I was a subject librarian for many years, really now my role is much more learning development. It’s that kind of ALDinHE, which would be much more aligned professionally to the work that I do and that my team does.
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