Peripheral Vision: the non-traditional things we do to help our library users


Below is a Storify of responses I got, when I asked on Twitter what 'non-traditional' library services they offered their users. I'm interested in the ways Library's plug gaps and address their communities' needs, even if what this entails is either only distantly related, or entirely unrelated, to the core library offering. This appearing in places our users don't expect - in their peripheral vision - is often really important in building relationships, and establishing the importance and usefulness of library staff. It opens doors.

People asked me to share what I found, so here we go:

Why don't English conferences make you feel like this?

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Back in 2006 when I got my first position in a library, in a job-emergency and with no intention of staying in the profession, one of the many many things I didn't expect librarianship to involve was exciting foreign travel. But so far it's taken me to Philly, to Latvia, to South Africa, and next year to Vancouver.

In part 3 of my posts about Cape Town (part 1, including a presentation on professional brand, can be read here; part 2 about the trip itself can be read here) I wanted to discuss something that the LIASA 2013 conference made me think about: English conferences have something missing. They don't seem to make people feel inspired and uplifted like other conferences do. Why is that?

NB: I originally, erronously, entitled this post 'Why don't UK conferences make you feel like this?' - but one thing which came out of the Twitter discussion I had about this subject while in SA is that there are plenty of people who've been inspired by conferences in Ireland, Wales and Scotland; this is borne out by the Storify embedded below. Apologies, rest of the UK...

English reserve

LIASA in Cape Town was on a pretty large scale - several hundred librarians from several countries. Here's how it made me feel: excited, uplifted and optimistic. This is exactly what I want from a conference: you come together with your peers, you share ideas, you go away not just with practical ideas to apply to your job, but feeling inspired about librarianship. This is how I felt after SLA2011 in the USA, too. Interestingly, this is how I felt after the New Professionals Conferences I've been to, and this is how, judging from the Twitter reaction to them, people feel after attending LibCamps. But this is not how I've felt after, for example, Umbrella, or LILAC, or various JISC-related things I attended as part of a previous job, or smaller events I've been to organised by ARLG or CDG. That's not to say these events weren't good events, or weren't useful to me - they were mostly both of those things (LILAC particularly). They just didn't send me home beaming on the train / plane with optimism and uplift.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that English reserve and cynicism is what stops some events reaching the heights I'm describing. The events I've been inspired by have either been on foreign shores where English reserve and cynicism aren't applicable, or for New Professionals conferences where the delegates haven't been around long enough to become cynical or reserved. People seem to get very inspired by unconferences such as Mashlib and Libcamp, and Radical Libcamp - and by definition unconferences should be populated by a self-selecting group of engaged and non-cynical (about the profession, at least) delegates. So basically in situations where the English reserve and cynicism can't get a proper foothold, the conference can flourish and leave everyone feeling reinvigorated - is it that simple?

Now, I'm aware not everyone agrees with me on this. Colleagues of mine, my boss for example, have been to English conferences and come away inspired, so maybe I'm either a: going to the wrong conferences, or b: approaching them in the wrong way? If you have time to leave a comment, I'd be interested in your thoughts.

What's the most inspiring library event you've ever been to? Storify time

Finally, I conducted a brief and unscientific poll on Twitter this morning, so you can get some other perspectives on peoples' most inspiring library events. Thank you to all who took part and RT'd my request for input. I was going to total up the 'traditional UK conferences versus other types' votes, but the waters are murky there as there's plenty of responses from people not in the UK in the first place. So I've attempted to categorise the answers but I'll let you draw your own conclusions. If nothing else, make a note of these as events to try and attend in the future (be sure to press the 'read next page' button at the bottom - there's loads of good stuff here)...


This will automatically update here as I add things to the Storify. (Storify is great, by the way.)

Do you really need to market yourself? Community-verus-local impact

I think there's a danger that being in the twitter bubble or the biblioblogosphere can really mess up our understanding of exactly what is and what isn't necessary to succeed in librarianship. There's an interesting post on the ever-excellent Hack Library School blog, about New Librarianship (or, as some more cynical people are calling it, 'librarianship'...) which I think relates to this issue. I'm going to quote a chunk of it here:

New Librarians and people-who-work-in-libraries are two very different things. The latter is a job; there’s nothing wrong with that, and I believe very strongly that libraries need passionate, good people to help fulfill their purpose.

On the other end of the spectrum, “Librarianship” isn’t a job—it’s a vocation. It’s not something you can put away at the end of the day, when you leave the building. Librarianship is an aggregation of personality, ethics, politics, education, worldview, and focus; there is a reason why librarianship requires graduate study to embark upon.

Now I have to say, I've thought very much along these lines in the past, but my position is changing somewhat. In particular, whilst agreeing with the notion that this is a vocation rather than just a job, I also want to be able to leave it at the door of the building (unless I'm specifically doing something library-related like a presentation) and I have no wish to walk into any room and turn it into a library, as is suggested later on in the post. It could be just that I've done SO much library stuff in my own time last year (because of having just written a book) but I really value switching off and I consider myself a person who is a librarian, rather than being defined or consumed by librarianship. And, I should add, I don't think I'm any the worse for it as an information professional.

Anyhow, these thoughts prompted a debate on Twitter which I put into Storyify at the prompting of several of the participants - it's too long to embed here but this a link where you can read it. It includes a lot about whether you really need to market yourself as an info pro - there are a lot of successful librarians who are very good at their jobs who have no interest in marketing themselves, don't spend time online, and focus their energies entirely on what happens within the walls of the library building they work in. I think in the Twitter bubble it's easy to imagine that all employers want cutting and thrusting info pros who're always presenting at prestigious events etc, but actually I think a lot of them would much rather have someone who put all their energy into the 9-5 role in front of them.

The key point of this post:

There are two reasons why this is a danger - firstly that we over-estimate the value that our national or international achievements will have locally (and so our careers won't progress as we expect them to as a result), and secondly that if we aren't doing stuff nationally and internationally we (wrongly) assume we aren't going to be successful in getting good jobs. In other words, being 'on' all the time - not leaving librarianship at the door - appears to become a prerequisite to progress, which is intimidating to many.

Fundamentally, I think the most important thing is to continually re-evaluate one's own situation and never assume that Method A or Method B will work across the board. So for example, if you're not employed at all then the more stuff you can do instead, like presenting and writing and so on, the better. If you're trying to get other jobs, then again it might be helpful to market yourself - but only if the type of organisation you want to work for cares about that sort of stuff. If you want to continue working in your current organisation but wish to progress, it should be possible to learn enough about your senior management to know whether they'll value your efforts to market yourself online (for example) or not. If you're a brand new just-qualified librarian, then chances are marketing yourself online and getting out there nationally will be much more important because your CV will lack job-experience, meaning you HAVE to find another way to grab people's attention. But the earlier you can start focusing what you do to the job you expect to get, the better. In my opinion.

Finally, at the risk of being narcissistic but in the interests of providing a solid example, here are some things which I consider high points in my career but which insofar as I can work out DIDN'T influence me getting my current (ideal) job:

  • Being commissioned by a publisher to write a book on marketing libraries
  • Being named a Mover & Shaker by library journal
  • Winning one of the SLA's Early Career Conference Awards awards
  • Winning a best paper prize at a conference
  • Creating the New Professionals Network .

Here are some things which insofar as I can work DID influence me getting my current job:

  • Understanding the organisation I was applying to work in
  • Having a good grasp of new technologies relating to information
  • Being able to provide evidence of  innovation, and of good communication - specifically how I'd quickly be able to develop good working relationships inside and outside the library
  • Coming over as the kind of person who could fit well into the existing team
  • And my obvious enthusiasm for and dedication to this particular role at this particular institution .

At no point in the interview did they say 'have you ever won an award - tell us about that?'. They don't care about the national stuff - in fact there's the potential for them to care about how it could impact negatively on your dedication to the role.

(That's not to say all that stuff hasn't helped my career - it has - but just that it wasn't important to securing my ideal job. Unless you're planning to go freelance, the job is the most important thing, right? It pays the bills. A lot of the presentations I've done and articles I've written were useful, however, because they allowed to demonstrate knowledge and awareness of areas my previous jobs hadn't covered.)

If you ask people online 'do you need to market yourself?' then 99% of people will say yes automatically (myself included until very recently) - but remember, Twitter is a bubble. Marketing yourself online and doing exciting things nationally is admirable, it's useful, it helps you learn and develop - but make sure you assess whether it will help you go where you specifically want to go. Find your ideal job, and work backwards from their to anticipate your ideal employer's potential needs and desires.

I realise a lot of people will disagree with me about this, but as ever I'd be interested to hear all views in the comments...

- thewikiman