Library Routes Interview

Woodsiegirl and I have had quite a few approaches from people writing about the Library Routes Project, asking us for our thoughts on it and plans for where it is going. A lot of them are for regional or organisation-based publications which not everyone would get to see normally, so we plan on putting them altogether on a web-page sometime as there are lots of great pieces. In the meantime, Joseph Hughes from the University of Essex has very kindly allowed me to use the interview we did for the publication he edits (called, intriguingly, The Goose...) on this blog, on the grounds that the two readerships probably don't overlap too much! The questions are very insightful, so for anyone interested in Library Routes I thought I'd share it here. Cheers Joe! Could you give us a brief biography about yourself and your current position? I’ve worked in the academic library sector for just over four years now, at the University of Leeds. I started in Customer Services, eventually worked my way up to become Digitisation Coordinator, and now work on a JISC-funded project called LIFE-SHARE, looking at digital preservation and curation. I’ve never thought of myself as a techie person but it turns out digitisation is actually very interesting…

Why was the Library Routes Project (LRP) set up? Were there clear objectives from the outset or was it more of a whim that has developed? It was definitely a whim – it was a case of, let’s actually do something rather than wonder what might happen if we did, and then we did do something, and then it took off. Someone blogged on their own root, someone else said ‘we should all do this!’ and I set up a wiki and said, ‘let’s make it a formal movement and try and get lots of people involved’. It went from whim to fully-fledged project in about an hour, it was ace.

You were clearly at the forefront of LRP but who else was involved? (Directly or merely as inspiration)It’s very much a joint effort between myself and Laura (who blogs as Woodsiegirl) – we planned it together, we approach people to ask them to contribute, and we tidy up the wiki when peoples’ edits make the table go wrong! Jennifer Findlay (who, like Laura, is a law librarian) was the person who originally said ‘maybe we should all blog our roots / routes!’ so she definitely gets the nod for inspiration.

Have you noticed any patterns or recurring themes in why/how people got into the profession? The amazing thing is that we haven’t, really. It is extraordinary that some 115 entries to the wiki later and we’re still yet to see many people with the same roots. One theme does seem to be careers advisers – a well-placed word from a careers advisor at a relatively early age often seems to result in a Eureka moment where the person realised that actually the information profession suits them perfectly. The careers advisor who doesn’t suggest this often sends the person off on a wild vocational goose-chase that can sometimes take decades to eventually lead them to the realisation that they wanted to be librarians all along.

Do you hope that the project might break some of the traditional stereotypes of Librarianship, for both the profession and the professionals? (E.g. the strict dowdy Librarian.) I would love it if it did that, yes. Some of the participants to this project do conform to some of the stereotypes – many profess to have loved organising books as a child and that sort of thing… but I don’t have a problem with that side of the clichés – it’s when librarians deliver bad service to their patrons / customers because they are so strict or humourless or inflexible that the stereotypes really harm the profession. The LRP myth-busts to a certain extent because it showcases how diverse the careers in librarianship can be – the vast majority of participants appear not to have been able to imagine, when they first started, the job they are now in. That element of career adventure is definitely not part of the traditional stereotypes, so it’s good to bring it to the fore.

For the Project to really break the stereotypes it needs to be viewed by those outside the profession, rather than those who already have a lot of familiarity with the reality of the modern library - which is something Laura and I are working on.

Do you think careers services and other such organisations have a correct view of Librarianship? Is there a need to re-educate these facilities so a more contemporary and representative view of the profession is put across? That’s a good question, I’m not sure. I’d hazard a guess that the majority of professionals aren’t quite correctly portrayed by careers services as they (careers services) can only know so much about so many different aspects of the job market; the onus is on the professions to update and inform the careers service of the current state of play. I’m not sure what current mechanisms there are for that, it may be something I’ll go away and look into after this interview… [edit - blog readers, any suggestions here?]

Have the respondents been drawn mostly from the Blogging community or have there been a wider range of participants? The majority are from the blogging community as they are more likely to know about it in the first place – but a gratifying amount of people have created articles on the wiki itself and linked to those, if they don’t have a blog of their own. A quick look at the website today reveals just over 15% of people participating are not from the blogging community; I’ll take that, that’s pretty good.

The LRP seems at the moment to be known mostly only to those Librarians who are heavily involved with the online community. Has there been much promotion of the site through more traditional means or are there plans to do so? We have promoted via traditional means: Laura wrote an article for CILIP’s main paper, Gazette, which goes out to 20,000 people or something like that – we’ve also been mentioned a couple of times in Update which reaches the same audience, and various regional divisions of the Career Development Group have run features in their quarterly magazines. But mainly the promotion has just been self-replicating as people have blogged their roots and linked to the wiki, and the biggest impact has come when the very influential online people have participated, which spread the word to their followers and subscribers.

It would be great to get more people from outside the online community involved, but much harder for all the reasons you’d imagine: unfamiliarity with or mistrust of the (wiki) medium, not knowing about it unless we tell them directly, or perhaps they’re the type of person that isn’t involved with the online community because they are too busy so don’t have time for this either!

I am speaking at a couple of conferences in the next few months – I’ll definitely be trying to reach new audiences by trying to crowbar in a few references there…

Are there any other Library community-based projects that are planning? Wow this is a very well researched interview! Yes there is – I’m creating a New Professionals Network (or LISNPN) as part of my role as a New Professionals Support Officer for CILIP. I’m in the Yorkshire & Humberside branch, so the idea is to trial it up North and then if it works successfully, open it out across the UK (possibly launching it at the New Professionals Conference in Sheffield on July 5th). It will be aimed at people who have started in the profession fairly recently, but there won’t be any particularly strict criteria. It’ll start as a website with news pages, tutorials and discussion forums, but may extend to organising get-togethers or events in the future. There will be details emerging there shortly, hopefully [via this blog, among other places].

Do you think that Libraries need to make better use of internet resources? Particularly popular social sites such as Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, etc…Very possibly, but I am hugely wary of the tail wagging the dog in those circumstances. It’s hard to be truly clued up on the best internet resources – you need to go where your patrons are, or choose somewhere and direct them to it, and that’s a hard balance to strike. Whenever anyone mentions a Library MySpace account a little part of me dies. But yeah, as long as you’ve identified a reason for embracing an emerging technological trend (rather than setting up an account and then casting around for a way to involve your library) then generally speaking a lot of libraries would benefit from using social sites. The New York Public Library has 17,000 followers on Twitter – it allows them to communicate important (or entertaining) information quickly and easily in a way which doesn’t put the impetus on the patron to go and check the library website or whatever. That’s terrific.

Have you any aspirations for the LRP or are you happy with its current state and how it is evolving? We are relatively happy now – it’s grown to the extent that it’ll remain a useful resource for many years, whatever happens. But we’d like to expose it to a wider and not-exclusively-library audience, and perhaps introduce some multimedia entries to the wiki – audio, video and so on. If someone makes a video on why they became a librarian, and shows real passion for it, then they can stick it on youtube where any number of people might pick it up and embed it and be inspired to make their own and run with it – that sort of thing has a lot of potential to escape the confines of the world of library blogs and blogging, and reach new people. As long as they link to it from the project homepage, we’ll be happy!

- thewikiman