… thanks to Liz Jolly, one of the speakers at today’s cpd25 event, The Future of Librarians, for this one. No, not a day about mainlining e-books or shooting up the contents of online datatabases, but a day organised around the theme of current and future challenges for academic librarians, and how Continuing Professional Development (CPD) may play a role in helping us manage these (at the least) or, alternatively ‘reinvent ourselves’ as Gill Needham suggested was necessary. Whatever we wish to call them – our end-users, customers, learners – they remain, as ever the focus for us as a profession which, ultimately, serves the public interest.
The day started with a witty and engaging talk from Mary Nixon, Librarian at Goldsmiths, and Chair of the cpd25 group. Based on recent experience of interviewing for staff, she outlined what employers are looking for, which she distilled into three areas:
- information handling (including, for example, skills in cataloguing/providing metadata for a range of materials);
- technology – confidence with
- end-users: vital here are people skills – being clear communicators, having empathy, and, increasingly, being able to deliver training/teaching in information skills.
Susie Andretta, Senior Lecturer in Information Management at London Metropolitan University, who researches into information literacy, based her presentation partly on responses participants had sent in to a couple of questions Susie had asked us prior to the event (as a fellow lecturer I recognised the strategy – make the audience come up with the answers!) about what academic libraries of the 21st century will look like, and what CPD librarians will therefore need. Key themes were:
- applying ‘traditional’ skills to new areas;
- using new technologies (e.g. Library 2.0);
- marketing and advocacy;
- information literacy education;
- managing change and promoting leadership.
Susie stressed her critique of the ‘follow the technology’ mentality we often see/hear about when discussing what librarians should be doing, yet I sensed some tension between that statement and her comment that we need to ”follow the users”, which seemed to be implying we do need to be in those social networking spaces where the so-called NetGen are hanging out. I agree with Susie’s final thoughts, namely that we can’t predict the future, but we can try and instill a sense of lifelong learning in the next generation of librarians, so they are reflexive practitioners and able to cope with whatever changes come their way.
The role of CILIP in supporting professionalism and CPD was outlined by Biddy Fisher, Vice-President of CILIP and former Head of Information Services at Sheffield Hallam University. Biddy began by picking up on an observation by Susie, namely that she had noticed a lack of confidence amongst her students, and librarians need to believe in their own professional value. Yes, we need professional confidence, but what do we mean by professionalism? Biddy identifed three key aspects: attitude, ethical and professional conduct, and principles (e.g. the 7 Nolan Principles of Public Life), and how one of CILIP’s roles, as a Professional Body is to communicate to society what we do and why we are important. She also suggested there are three aspects of taking responsibility for our professional careers: those that lie with us and induviduals, those of our educators, and those of our employers. In a typical Biddy personal touch, she gave examples from her own professional journey, suggesting she herself had been ‘recruited for attitude (and enthusiam), trained for skills, and educated for knowledge. Future issues she identified for our professional arena include: a narrowing down of the national scene and an increased focus on local networks; identification of smaller groups of service specific users; basing our professional practice on dialogue with users. As former Chair of LIRG (Library and Information Group), a group I have been a committee member of since 2001, I was also pleased to hear Biddy stress the role of research, and basing what we do on evidence.
Despite the after lunch slot, there was no chance of us snoozing through Gill Needham‘s session – Gill tried to rally us into action by suggesting we need to overcome our complacency, and address the possibility that we are in real danger of becoming invisible or obsolete. As a group, we gave the ‘right answer’ from her list of how we face these potential dangers, namely we ‘reinvent ourselves’ (rather than ignore them, retire early or retrain), and here, it can be a case of ‘CPD to the rescue’. Having presented some alternative images of how we might see ourselves (warrioirs, glamour librarians), Gill asked us to think about how we might define ourselves. Answers included: Better than Google; a roving physical search engine; like the internet, but always right. As Associate Director, Information Management and Innovation Services at the OU, Gill and some of her colleagues have already reinvented themselves many times over the years, pioneering library support services. Their latest venture has been to design a CPD module for librarians, entitled The evolving information professional: challenges in a digital world, an online module which – using profiles of four information professionals across different sectors – offers a way to explore how changes affect you, your users and your institution.
Gill was followed by Emma Hadfield, Senior Assistant Librarian at the University of Huddersfield, her first professional post following her recent Masters. Emma presented research findings based on her MA dissertation, an investigation into the potential impact of of WiL, Women in Libraries, an organisation set up in the 1980s, to support women working in academic libraries and to try to implement changes that would facilitate women breaking through the glass ceiling. Emma’s conclusions were that WiL did help to foster changed climate we now have (from 3 senior managers in the late 70s to a slight majority now – although, as Liz Jolly pointed out in response to a question I raised about proportion of women managers, rather than actual numbers, not only do we have more universities now, but women make up 75% of the library workforce). What was interesting about Emma’s other findings were the shifts in how we think about what constitues a good leader/manager, now incorporating more ‘feminine’ qualities such as emotional intelligence, developing staff and empathy – and how these are found in both male and female managers. It was great to have a personal perspective from Biddy as well, who biked down to the first meeting of WiL from East Anglia on a Saturday, as the climate then would not have seen employers giving time or money for such an activity.
The subject of leadership was further addressed by Liz Jolly, recently appointed Director of Library and Information Services at the University of Teesside, in the final presentation of the day. Liz reflected on her participation in the Future Leaders Programme, a one year course, encompassing three modules. Liz reflected that one of the most useful aspects has been learning how to learn about leading, along with learning from failure and – a top tip I shall be endeavouring to follow – the ‘Choice Line’ and where you choose to situate yourself on it (below = feel like a victim; above it, you take charge and feel empowered – one of those going up on my wall tomorrow!).
This was a well-thought out and put together day, and it certainly gave me a lot of food for thought about CPD, and skills and training needed in our profession, and how we in the education sector can help support that. A number of suggestions were made along the way about what library schools (it is still a useful shorthand) were and weren’t doing. This is often my cue for jumping up and down and saying ‘but we do do that!’, but the speakers were well informed and reflective about the role of library education, and came up with some useful ideas (which I shall be following up with my colleagues). There was a lot of stress on the academic librarian’s role as teacher (particularly of information literacy skills) – Susie already offers a CPD module to health librarians, FILE (Facilitating Information Literacy Education), and here at Brighton, we offer a module called Developing Training Programmes, one of many modules on our MSc Information Management that can be taken as a CPD course. Let’s hope that the future is bright, the future is cpd!