library careers

Would you recommend librarianship? The results!

So, would you? Most people have an automatic response to this question - many people will say 'yes' straightaway because they love librarianship and know it is largely misunderstood, while others will say 'no' straightaway because they've had a rough time of it.

What I'm interested in is, would you ACTUALLY recommend it to someone, who might then act on your recommendation? I was asked about entering the profession in an email recently, and my reply sounded, I realised as I re-read it, quite negative. That's because I think you have a responsibility when someone wants your advice to actually think about what you're saying! And there's a lot to be said for not-entering librarianship (by the end of the decade who knows how many worthwhile jobs there will actually be, for example) just as there is a lot to be said for entering it (it's ace). I sometimes worry that we're so busy promoting our value and the value of the profession, that we blindly tell everyone to become librarians even though they might not thank us later if they become one.

So I asked Twitter, a brief and unscientific 24hr poll. 133 responses. It started off more or less equal, with recommending just about edging ahead of not doing so - when I tweeted something to this effect, the vast majority of the subsequent votes were in favour of recommending it. So I don't know if that's because people who hadn't previously voted felt moved to 'defend' the profession, or just a coincidence.

So of the 133 respondents, 72% would recommend this profession of ours.

Pie chart showing 72% voted in favour of recommending librarianship, 28% against

Here's the split by country. This started off VERY interesting because the US had 100% of voting no, but then every single other vote from that country was yes so it ended up being a landslide in favour of recommendation... Ireland, from this miniscule sample-size, doesn't look much fun.

Chart showing that with a couple of exceptions, regional breakdown just follows the main results


So would you recommend librarianship to a friend? I'd like to hear what you think in a comment.

Some reasons I can think of why I wouldn't recommend it:

  • you can't avoid starting at the bottom (can't do the MA until you've had a year of experience, can't get a higher graded job without the MA);
  • some career paths hit the buffers very early on unless the right person happens to retire / move etc;
  • the long-term future of the profession is far from certain;
  • constantly fighting peoples' misconceptions of what we do and how valuable it is (I think the need to do this may fade over time because I'm far less fussed about it than I used to be);
  • there are far more capable librarians than there are decent posts;
  • the money isn't amazing for the first few years (I know it's very cool to not care about money but when you're having to buy new shoes for your toddler every 3 months, you do);
  • you have to fork out a fortune to do the MA but, if you think about it, the difference between librarians with the Masters and those without it is very rarely the Masters. It's a qualification that is both essential and of questionable value. .

Some reasons why I would recommend it (heavily academic-librarianship bias here):

  • it's fantastically engaging;
  • the community (if you chose to be part of it) is kind, fun, and unremittingly helpful and happy to share information and advice;
  • you get to work in a role that helps people, which is genuinely fulfilling even for a partial-cynic like me;
  • unless you're unlucky you won't be expected to work longer than the hours of your contract (so many non-librarians I know work all the hours God sends, and are incredibly jealous of the flexitime scheme I'm on);
  • libraries are supportive employers, generally;
  • you get to investigate, write about and train people on stuff you're interested in anyway, in my case;
  •  you can do academicy stuff like presenting at conferences and writing papers, without having to actually BE an academic;
  • once you get up the ladder a bit you get a lot of freedom and your time is self-directed as well as self-managed;
  • the people you work with are NICE. .

For me, my day to day environment is the most important thing. I'd rather live in a smaller house in a nicer area than a grand house further away from town. I'd rather work in a nice room with nice people who will understand if I need to go home and pick up my daughter from nursery, than have a high status job with a company car a career trajectory ending in a six-figure salary. My job is challenging but fun, it suits ME better than any profession I could imagine.

But everyone is different, and I'm already entrenched in this profession, whilst at the same time developing the skills to keep working if this profession ceases to exist - that's a very different situation from advising someone to just now start applying for entry-level library posts with a view to doing their Masters in October 2014 and maybe, just maybe, getting a job they really want in 2017ish.

Where do you stand on this? What would you add?


Everyone should read this article! Then maybe write their own...

Librarianship was yesterday featured in the Guardian's Beyond the Job Series. The article was entitled Beyond books: what it takes to be a 21st century librarian and was written by Emma Cragg and Katie Birkwood. Screen grab of the Guardian article on libraries

I am so happy about this article! For loads of reasons.

First of all, this is a brilliant piece. Here is a quote - I originally highlighted three paragraphs I really liked in order to copy and paste them, but realised that would basically be quoting half the article... Here is one bit I liked, but I liked all of it, and you should go read the whole thing.

"Books are only one aspect of what libraries and librarians are about. Librarianship is a people profession; a librarian's job is to connect people with the information they are seeking, whatever format that may take. At their heart, all library jobs have a central purpose: to help people access and use information, for education, for work, or for pleasure. In all library roles customer service and communication skills are important. If anyone ever thought they'd become a librarian because they liked books or reading, they would be sorely disappointed if they did not also like people too."

The article says all the things you'd want it to say, as a library professional, and all the things you'd need it to say, as someone curious about entering the field and needing to know the reality of it.

Second of all, it is in the Guardian. It will be read by thousands and thousands of people, all of whom will be educated about what librarianship consists of even if they don't go on to try and become one. It is a proper bonafide Echo Chamber escape. I believe the genesis of the idea came from this post on Emma's blog, and the comments that followed.

Thirdly, it mentions the Library Routes Project. Laura and I wanted to break this resource (which, if you're unfamiliar with it, documents librarians' roots into the profession and their routes through it) out of the echo chamber but have been unable to do so, really. I actually contacted the Guardian to propose an article about it, but didn't get a response. Emma and Katie have found just the right medium in which to mention it, and they got in lots of references to Bobbi Newman's Library Day in the Life Project too (you can see my video contribution to that project, here). Perfection! Since the article was published around 24hrs ago, the Library Routes wiki has been viewed hundreds of extra times - finally by some non-librarians, I hope.

Fourthly it mentions me! And this slide-deck:

I sought to get this slide-deck seen outside the echo chamber as much as possible, and although that certainly happened this will really add to it - in fact Emma commented that they were going to try and link to it from a Guardian article way back then, now it has finally come to fruition. It's really kind of Katie and Emma to include a link to this, so thank you to them. As a Guardian reader since literally aged 12 (yes, I know...) and someone who literally loves the paper and the institution, being mentioned by a Guardian article is definitely (literally) pretty fabulous!

So the question is, can any of us repeat this success elsewhere? Emma and Katie are presumably forbidden from reproducing their work in other publications, but there is nothing to stop the rest of us finding avenues for writing a guide to librarianship and getting it published in neutral, non-library places. Are you up for the challenge?

- thewikiman

Echolib / LISNPN / Advocacy: New Year's Round Up

A quick catch-up post for all the stuff I've not mentioned in previous posts but which has happened in the last couple of months.

The Echo Chamber

Lots of echolib stuff has been happening recently. The article I wrote a while ago for Library & Information Update has finished its embargo and so now can be made available - I've been displaying it on the Echo Chamber Netvibes page, but you can also download it in PDF format, here.

Continuing the Stealth Advocising theme from a few weeks back, I created a video version of my If you want to work in libraries... slide-deck. It has some funky hip-hoppy latin music in it that I wrote when I was about 17! Woof. Here it is - as ever, in the interests of spreading the messages far and wide, feel free to use this however you like, embed it wherever, etc etc.

The Slideshare version of this has now been viewed more than ten thousand times, so surely LOADS of those people must be outside the echo chamber, right..?

I also wrote an article for PostLib, the journal for retired librarians! I was really pleased to be asked to do this, I like to see the divide between senior and new professionals being bridged whereever possible. The resultant article is now available: Statistics, the Media and the Library Legacy (PDF) - and owes a big debt to Ian Clark [Thoughts of a Wannabe Librarian] who read it over for me and gave me his approval to use some of his ideas! It mentions the echo chamber in passing - but really the main thrust of it is to note that, if you take combined footfall and internet usage stats, public library use in the UK is actually UP over the last couple of years (quite considerably), contrary to popular reports.

Laura and I will present a new version of the Echo Chamber presentation in Cambridge in a couple of days, to an audience of 200 or so people - the biggest we've spoken to yet, so we're really excited about that.


There's also a couple of articles I wrote about LISNPN, the New Professionals Network, available elsewhere. They're both on CILIP platforms but both are freely available to all - Moving forward together opens Library  Information Gazette in digital form, and The LIS New Professionals Network takes you to CILIP's Information & Advice blog.

Look out for a BIG competition on LISNPN later this month, with a library-related-prize worth literally hundreds of pounds and well worth winning.

Library Routes Project

Remember Library Routes? It's still going! And there's plenty of great entries that have come in in recent months - there's now over 150 contributions from Information Professionals about how they got into librarianship, and their path through the profession. Check it out if you haven't already, or if you've not done so for a while. The project homepage has more than 25,000 views now, so maybe some of those will be from people outside the Echo Chamber too.

Gazette Profile

I was really pleased that Debby Raven featured me in the last but one edition of Gazette, following up on the Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals post. You can read the interview, again via the Digital Gazette magazine platform, here. Incidentally the permanent, to-be-added-to, and containing the wisdom of the people who've commented on the original, version of the Essential Careers Advice post is here on its own page of the blog - check it out and tell if there's anything that needs adding to it. What do you know now that you wish you'd known earlier?

All of these articles are available together on the Papers & Presentations page of my website.

And finally...

I created a hectoring advocacy poster a few weeks back - it's deliberately harsh and provocative, but I do think there is an underlying truth to it.

Poster that says there's no such thing as abstaining from library advocacy


- thewikiman

Libraries & Stealth Advocising!

I'm afraid this post has a bit of a 'here's what I did, how cool is that' feel to it, but it's sort of unavoidable if I'm to share what I learned...

Stealth Advocising: creating material for library advocacy, but packaging it in something of intrinsic awesomeness so that non-librarians will be interested in it anyway - thereby extending its reach and escaping the echo chamber. Stealth advocising is the Trojan Horse of library advocacy.

The Background

Recently I've been thinking about the 'libraries and the echo chamber' problem a lot. (What a surprise!) Coincidentally, I also read that Lorcan Dempsey thinks the 'found flickr' style of slide-deck (which is what I normally do - I know it as 'zen-style slide-decks': full-slide images, one point per slide, the image being a visual metaphor of some kind for that point) is dead or dying. Then I saw NoteandPoint, a site devoted entirely to showcasing lovely presentations. The slide decks on there were sooo far ahead of what I normally do, it really made me think.

The Concept

All of this came together with me thinking a: I need to experiment with a different style of slides, to keep ahead of, or at least up with, the game, b: I've been meaning to contextualise my 'essential advice for new professionals blog post' into a slide deck for ages because it would be easier to digest and disseminate that way and c: wouldn't it be cool to make a deck so attractive it gets onto NoteandPoint because of its aesthetics, and then surreptitiously rights public misconceptions about librarianship at the same time! It's stealth advo-cising! Subliminal advocising, even! Because people will be viewing the presentation as a sort of cool object of PowerPoint beauty, without realising they're actually absorbing library advocacy! W00t!

This idea could apply to a lot of things. Make something which is cool enough of itself for people to want to share it, and it just happens to be about libraries too. What would result, if it worked, would be huge reach beyond your normal sphere, and people beyond the echo chamber learning about libraries. A good example of this in the past was when LibraryMan and David Lee King's Library 101 video got onto BoingBoing - that took more resources to create than most of us could realistically aspire to, but ANYONE can make a slide-deck.

The execution

Last week I created my slides, entitled If you want to work in libraries, here are ten things you need to know. I prioritised form just as much as function - this meant compromise, such as not saying as much as I wanted to in some slides, and dividing one slide up into 2 different ones because I only had 9 main slides. I wanted 10 because 'here's 10 things you need to know' is snappier than 9 - titles are really important. I made it short and easily digestible. I found a nice texture from Flickr (CC, of course), cropped it and re-coloured it to work as the background. And I used icons from the newly discovered icon-finder site (thanks Phil!)  to be graphics in roughly the same place each slide. The end result was a deck built for echo escapism - it is pretty, and although there are compromises on content they are necessary to help it achieve wider dissemination - less stuff, but seen by many more people, = #win. It's concise, honest, makes important points I'm always making, and will hopefully put off as many people as it entices into librarianship. No point in people entering this profession labouring under misapprehensions.

The deck

Here it is:

What happened next

All I can say is, this went waaay better than I expected! I wrote a blog post yesterday asking people, how do I get this slide-deck beyond the echo chamber? Almost exactly 24hrs later, thanks to a mixture of the suggestions people gave me on Twitter and on the blog, and just trying stuff at random, here's some of what has happened:

Screen-grab of three Prospects Tweets

Pic of a tweet

Pic of a tweet

Pic of Slideshare

Pic of an email

Pic of Slideshare

Pic of slideshare

The combined reach of those Twitter feeds alone is over 6000 followers, NONE of whom follow me and so were inaccessible to me otherwise. And all I did was just ASK them to tweet it - that's all there was to it! Why have I never done this before? The Prospects Twitter person in particular was really helpful and engaging, and got my feedback on other stuff they were doing online at Prospects, and tweeted links to my Essential Careers Advice post and my Prezi on libraries and technology.

The Slideshare featuring thing is amazing, because every time anyone goes to the homepage they can see an attractive presentation, check it out, and are fed pro-library propaganda through a straw while they do so... As they said in the email screen-grabbed above, they receive thousands of uploads each day - the only way they even know my presentation existed in order to put it as a Feature on the homepage was because it got into the Hot on Twitter section as one of the most tweeted about Slideshare decks in the world for that morning so,thank you to everyone who tweeted and re-tweeted the links! The pictures above show just the #echolib busting stuff - it was also picked up on by loads of library people too and I'm really grateful.

Another thing worth noting is that, at the moment, if I type 'I want to work in libraries' into Google, the first four entries I get are this presentation. (Same with typing in 'if you want to work in libraries'.) I know Google personalises results but even so, that's pretty good - I'd rather people got my opinions on the truth of working in libraries than some out-of-date stuff that perpetuates the misconceptions, stereotypes and so on.

The numbers

At the time of writing, just 24rs since being uploaded to Slideshare, the presentation has been viewed 2611 times, linked to via 345 times, embedded in 18 people's sites and blogs, tweeted 69 times, downloaded 13 times, shared on Facebook 48 times, liked on Facebook 66 times,  favourited 10 times on SlideShare and even received 7 votes for Slideshare's World's Best Presentation Contest 2010!


To put that in context, the next most viewed presentation I've ever submitted to Slideshare has less than 1000 views, and that's EVER - let alone in 24hrs. So stealth advocising undoubtedly increased my reach exponentially, and hopefully it enlightened many of those new viewers as to what libraries are all about.

Your turn?

So, how else can we apply the stealth-advocising principle and help libraries escape the echo chamber? Suggestions in a comment please, or better still, make it happen and post a link to it here! :)

- thewikiman

You want to work in libraries? Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals

Recently I've found myself giving out some careers advice, as part my role as a New Professionals Support Officer for CILIP, and as a follow up to the New Professionals Information Days where people have emailed me asking for guidance (and some of the below is stuff I said in my talk on technology). My career is by no means a shining example to follow, but I do know about a lot of resources or ideas which could help people just starting out in Libraries. A picture of a 'library careers' magazine

I've created a seperate page on my website which draws together the advice below, along with the advice from people in the comments too - you can view it here. The following is the original blog post:

  1. Work *really* hard. I know this is obvious, but you'll be surprised how hard you have to work if you are to get anywhere. There are enough talented, focused and hard-working individuals in this field who will be going for the good jobs, so you have to work very hard to keep up with them unless you want to stagnate - that may mean doing stuff in your own time, including unpaid work-experience in the department you want to work in (even if you already work in the library elsewhere). Librarianship is NOT a soft option - if that's what you're after, stop reading this now and go and look for an alternative career.
  2. Get focused work experience. This really good post from Library Hat reminded me of how important this is - the job market in libraries is so competitive, it's no longer enough just to have worked in libraries generally. You need experience directly relevant to the career path you want to take.
  3. Plan to do the Masters. Forget the merits or otherwise of the LIS Library Masters, forget the fact that most job descriptions will ask for it 'or significant experience'. Just bite the bullet - pretty much everyone entering the profession now who is in it for the long haul, either has or will soon acquire a Masters in Library and Information Management or similar. It is expensive and time consuming, it's of questionable value, and it won't necessarily prepare you for the proper world of working in libraries - but for now it's absolutely essential. The sooner you get it, the better. Here's a list of the places that offer it in the UK (and here's one for the US), including Distance Learning options which a lot of people are choosing now. I can understand if the prospect of doing another qualification, and all the sacrifices it entails, puts you off the profession; that's fine. But don't continue working in libraries without intending to acquire the Masters at some point if a: you plan on sticking around and b: you plan on getting anywhere. (On Twitter, @bibliopoesey asked if it matters where you do the Masters. In my opinion: not THAT much - it's a vocational degree, so that kind of hierarchical system of Universities doesn't seem so important. That said, UCL and Sheffield appear to offer a considerably better course, so go there if you can! But you're not going to be denied a job because you did it at Northumbria, or wherever. Just my view, I may be wrong.) [NB: Please see the comments section below for more on this - it may be that planning to do some kind of Post Graduate library qualification is sufficient: ie you could do a PgDip rather than a full MA/Msc, which is shorter, cheaper, and not subject to new UK laws about increased fees for those who already have a Masters.]
  4. Be prepared to start near the bottom. Because you need a Masters to get a good job, and you usually have to have worked in libraries for a minimum of one year to get onto the Masters, it's almost impossible to start anywhere other than near the bottom. That's actually a good thing - it connects you with the customers, who are what the whole thing is all about (it becomes easy to become detached from that as you move highter). Graduate Traineeships are a good way in - but as @Naldasaid pointed out, there aren't too many of them. Don't worry if you can't get onto one, just start off in Customer Services (or as a Library Assistant or whatever your organisation of choice likes to call it) and apply to do the Masters after a year anyway - just try and make as many opportunities as possible in that first year (by shadowing people, trying to get involved in committees, or doing extra-curricular stuff like serving on your local CILIP Career Development Group committee or getting an article published). You undoubtedly get a broader experience by default as a Graduate Trainee, but by the time your career is three or four years old I'd be surprised if you'd be significantly disadvantaged by not having been one. I certainly haven't been - I started off in Customer Services, and then got a better job as a Project Assistant 10 months in. Project work is great if you can get it - you can be in at the start of something, which often leads to greater responsibility and the chance to use your initiative.
  5. Proactively anticipate your career needs. It's very little use trying to acquire some kind of expertise, experience, or training, after you've seen the job you want advertised. You need to have already done it before you apply - so anticipate what you might need to know, and start learning about it even if you don't require the knowledge for your current role. This could be something as simple as going on an Advanced Excel course when you get the chance, to a more strategic process like going for a Subject Team Assistant role if you want to end up as a Subject Librarian, even if that means moving sideways. Get hold of a generic job description for the next role you want, and start ticking off all the boxes in the Essential and Desirable person specification so you can strike when the position becomes available. Then, get hold of a job description for your IDEAL job, even if you're 20 years away from being able to apply - it's never too early to know what expertise your career will need.
  6. Join a professional body. I can't emphasise enough how valuable I've found an awareness of the wider profession, and for me that awareness comes from two things - professional bodies and social media (more on which below). So join CILIP, or IFLA, or SLA, or ALA, or whatever body is most pertinent to your ambitions, and devour all the information and connections they have to offer. Most organisations have cheaper rates while you're a student or earning under a certain amount, so take advantage while you can!
  7. Acclimatise to the fact that this is a people profession. As @jaffne points out, it's not a book profession, and as @Girlinthe points out, it is a people profession - we are part of the service industry, just in a sometimes-quite-intellectual way. You cannot work in this industry if you don't like people, if you can't solve problems, if you can't keep smiling. If you're painfully shy then that's something you can work with and overcome - if you just want to sit quietly surrounded by lovely old books, you are completely screwed.
  8. Acclimatise to the fact that this is a technological profession. Technology is the one thing, apart from problem-solving, that runs through every role or job that the library pays the salary of at the end of each month. Almost every single role needs a good grasp of technology (even the ones you might not think would do, like being a Convervator for Special Collections for example). Here's a guide to what technological expertise is needed in which areas of the library. If you're not comfortable with technology now, that's okay - just throw yourself into it. Fear comes from unfamiliarity, so take that away and you won't be scared anymore.
  9. Acclimatise to the fact that this a profession in transition. Change is a constant in libraries - there's been more change in the last half-century than in all of previous library history put together. Get used to change early, and plan for the future always. Part of that change means we have to be more agressive than in the past - the days of running a library like a charity are gone. They need to be run like businesses and aggressively marketed - and you need to be prepared to market yourself, build some kind of brand, and put yourself out there. (I dread to think what I'd've said to someone in 2006, on my first day of the job, if they'd've come up to me and talked about marketing and building a brand - I probably would have laughed at them, or called them a tosser. But it's the reality, and it's more fun than you might imagine. :) )
  10. Attend events. Meet people, learn stuff, make connections, understand more than just your own library world. Social Media will help you find the best events to go to, as will membership of a library body.
  11. Join LISNPN. I created a network for LIS New Professionals - it's full of events listings, how-to guides, information, and other new professionals (around 560 at the time of writing). Wherever you are from, join it - we can try and answer your questions, attend to your needs, we organise face-to-face meet-ups, and we'll connect you with the wider profession.
  12. Get yourself on Twitter. Twitter is an invaluable source of networking, links, information and support. If you're not on it, it's probably different to how you imagine it is - it's much more interactive, and much less vapid. Make time for it and you'll have so much more understanding of what's going on in the Information Profession; here's my guide on how to get started. If you want to set up a blog too, even better - here's another guide on how to do that, and on the importance of an online presence.
  13. Diversify. There is no career ladder in this industry; think of it as a career climbing wall. Sometimes there are no hand-holds directly above you - you have to go sideways or diagonally, but the most important thing is not to get stuck. Keep your eye on the job you want, and keep moving upwards in the meantime - sometimes there is no direct route from A to B so you have to diversify. One thing is for sure though - no one (or almost no one) ever went right from a Grade 3 entry level role to a Grade 7 professional role. You need to cover some of the ground in between - and library careers often don't develop in a linear fashion.
  14. Value yourself. Things have changed over the last few years, and New Professionals are increasingly recognised as being worth listening to! We have a voice, we have networks of support. Don't put up any kind of wall between 'us' and everyone else more senior - but be confident from the start that your opinion is of value.
  15. Make things happen for yourself. If you've got a good idea or a wish, don't wait for someone else to make it happen. Today, with social media and Web 2 tools, you can probably make it happen yourself. Just do it, and professional development will almost certainly follow. An example of this is the Library Routes Project, set up by me and Woodsiegirl - take a look, you may find it useful, as it documents people's routes through their library career (including how they got started). We just decided to do it because we thought it'd be useful - now it has around 150 entries from librarians all over the world, and has been viewed by over 23,000 people.
  16. Find something in librarianship that matches your existing interests. You'll be amazed at how diverse interests can be accommodated as part of your library job. Whether you're a wannabe writer (write some articles for professional publications) or a fan of 16th century textiles (work towards becoming the archivist for the 16th Century Textiles Society..) you can drag your existing interests into your job somehow. It's what helps make it a vocation rather than just a job.


Any more essential tips? Let me know and I'll add them to the permanent page.

- thewikiman