Saturday, 29 October 2011

Visit to the London Library - A Hidden Gem In Central London

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being given a guided tour around the London Library. It was organised by the CLSIG group, which is part of CILIP (Commercial Legal and Scientific Information Group).

I have to admit, I had never even heard of the London Library, so when I heard about the planned visit, I had a little look on their website and was delighted with what I saw! The chance to have a look round such a beautiful building and collection of books was too good to miss.

 It was founded by Thomas Carlyle in 1841, as an alternative to the British Library. He wanted to create a kind of home away from home, as he found the British Library unpleasant! To this day the London Library retains that lovely homely, stately home-feel, with reading rooms filled with leather, wing-backed armchairs, floor to ceiling shelves filled with beautiful old books - a veritable haven from the hustle and bustle of central London. The first thing to start of by describing is definitely the building. Tucked away in a corner of St James's Square, from the outside it looks like a very small - but beautiful - townhouse - until you're inside, you have no idea how far back the building extends and how much storage space there is! Members of note from the past include Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens and George Eliot to name but a few.

As soon as you step inside you are hit by that unique smell of old books - there is nothing quite like it, and for a book lover such as myself, THIS is one of the reasons why I hate devices such as the Kindle - try recreating the same ambience with a bit of plastic and some microchips!!! Anyway, enough of my anti-Kindle rants. The collection at the London Library consists of more than one million books, as well as subscriptions to over 750 periodicals. There are some beautiful volumes to be seen everywhere, as well as rare books and books going back as far as the 16th century. Not only that, but there are some special collections housed there as well, such as the Montefiore collection of Jewish interest material. Journals and publications from a whole range of societies, from horse lovers to politics, are also kept there and date back 165 years.

We visited the newspaper storage room and I was amazed to see the HUGE bound volumes of The Times, going back more than 100 years. The lady giving the tour explained that when the library began, The Times was considered the only newspaper worth reading, so they will always maintain this collection.

Much of the decor of the building retains its original Victorian fixtures and fittings - it is only where they have extended that is more modern in places. We were taken up a beautiful dark wood staircase with red carpeting, and the walls lined with portraits of previous members and chairmen or benefactors. We arrived on one floor and it was quite amazing, because the floor was pretty much a metal grating, so if you looked down through the slats, you could see all the floors and shelves of books below you! Not great for high heels, but an excellent example of a Victorian attempt at air conditioning apparently! The idea being the air would circulate through the slats and so the books wouldn't get spoiled. The cataloguing system used is unique and while I can't recall the details, the tour guide did show us how it means that the books end up being in what appears to be a very random order! But I was assured there is a method to the madness, and I am sure you can pick it up quite quickly.

One of the other things that absolutely amazed me is the member services. You can take home up to 10 books at any time - obviously a huge advantage to the British Library! There are no fines or due dates - unless a title is requested by another member, you can keep them as long as you want. They also offer a postal service to members who can't make it into London, and the online services are superb: members can access JSTOR, which contains at least 1000 academic journals. Books can also be reserved online, and the catalogue can be browsed by non-members as well. Also offered by the librarians is a research service. I find it amazing that all this exists and I wasn't aware of it!

It genuinely was a privilege to be able to explore some of this truly amazing building and collection. It is a private members library, therefore there are membership fees - sadly I can't quite justify them as I don't live in London, so I don't feel I would be able to take as much as advantage as I would like of the actual building and ambience, as opposed to just the collection. The reading rooms looked incredibly inviting - lots of little nooks and crannies where you can curl up with a book - our tour guide did say that some people do fall asleep for hours at a time, they are so relaxed! There are some rooms with wi-fi and laptop access, but some reading rooms are totally silent and no laptops are allowed, so that the whir of the motors doesn't disturb people.

I really enjoyed this visit - I love learning about other types of library; I think it's important in all our roles to open our minds and think outwith our own little sector. It is fascinating what other types of role exist in the information world. All in all an evening well spent!

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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Thing 23 - Reflection: What Next?

23 Things may be over, but this blog certainly isn't!
Well, it has finally arrived - Thing 23 and the end of the program. The one thing that strikes me when I start to reflect on my experiences is how I now feel a lot more comfortable writing this blogthan I did back in May. Looking back at my first few posts, I was definitely ill at ease and not entirely sure how to 'brand' my blog. While I am by no means a seasoned blogger compared to some people, I am quite amazed by the way that I have taken to it and managed not only to keep up with the 23 Things program, but also try my hand at blogging about other experiences.

So that's my first observation, but let's move on to thinking about the actual program itself.

I would say that I got the most out of the following parts of the program:

It goes without saying that I would probably never even have considered setting up a blog if it hadn't been for hearing about the cpd23 program. I had always followed a few blogs relating specifically to law libraries, but I had never really taken it any further, and certainly never dreamed of maintaining one myself. Not only has this program spurred me on to create this blog, but it also got me interested in other blogs. Thing 2 involved getting to explore some of the oher cpd23 blogs, and this is something that I found really helpful, because it opened up a whole new world to me in terms of other kinds of library jobs that are out there. There are several blogs that I found particularly interesting and I have enjoyed following them over the last few months. It will definitely be interesting to see if other people will continue blogging going forward. I feel far more connected to the library/information community as a whole now, and feel like I am making more of an active contribution through writing this blog.

Online and real life networks
When we considered these networks over Things 6 and 7, I was very much of the opinion that LinkedIn, for example, wasn't really worth spending much time on, but I can honestly say that my attitude has changed in this respect. While I still maintain that dividing line between what I perceive as my personal life (Facebook) and my professional life (LinkedIn), I definitely see the benefits of being a bit more active on LinkedIn, because it does appear that a lot of connection can be made that at some stage may be useful when it comes to looking to change jobs. Previously I would never have accepted any requests on LinkedIn from people that I didn't already know fairly well - but now I am connected to some recruitment agency staff whom I know from the past and some I don't know yet at all - but it doesn't bother me nearly as much as it would have before. I would have been very uncomfortable before, but I think there is a lot to be said for LinkedIn and the influence it has in terms of networking and recruitment.

With regard to real life networks, I joined LIKE via LinkedIn and am hoping to attend one of their meetups in the future. Again from a networking point of view, groups like this are a great way of opening one's eyes to other sectors and meeting people involved in information provision outwith my usual legal sphere. I have also joined TFPL Connect and am attending a networking event later in the year - something that I would never have looked into, had it not been for this program. I have also taken a more active part in one of the CILIP Groups of which I am a member - CLSIG - and have already attended a couple of events organised by them.

Google Calendar
A small thing admittedly, but I didn't really have much awareness of Google calendar until we explored it as part of Thing 8. Although I don't have any use for it at work because we have to use our Outlook calendars to create events and so on, I have actually found it useful outside of work.

Thing 9 was fantastic as I had no idea Evernote existed and I was amazed at how useful it is at work, as when I am carrying out research, I always come across a number of random websites and then there are many that I can never find again. I loved the functionality of Evernote far more than Delicious, which is what I had tinkered around with in recent years. Definitely one of my favourite things to come out of the program!

Google Docs and Dropbox
Again I had heard of Google docs, but never explored it, and as for Dropbox, I had never come across it at all. I really took to both of them, but again, this would be more for personal reasons, as I explained at the time, we have a very rigid system of how we share documents in the Law Library, so there is no call for us to use anything like these programs. But I was quite impressed at how easy it was to dump documents in there, and it's definitely good to have a backup of work stored away from my actual laptop etc.

I chose Mendeley over Zotero and citeulike, because I felt out of all of them, it was the one that seemed most relevant to me in terms of my writing articles. I really loved Mendeley and in the process of writing my articles, have spent some time moving references there and organising them. All I can say is, I wish tools like this had existed when I was a student - or if they did, I wish I had known of them! I already recommended it to a friend studying for her masters in information science, as I really was impressed with how easy it enables storing references and creating bibliographies.

Jing took my breath away! It is something that I felt would provide so much value in terms of myself and the team training fee-earners in the same things several times a year. I have since shown it to my manager and she is considering if it's something we could convince IT to let us use, and if so, could any demos we make be incorporated somewhere on the relevant Intranet page. Like me, she had never heard of it - none of my managers had. I find it amazing that all these tools are out there and if it hadn't been for cpd23, I have no idea if I would have come across them....

As with Jing, I had never encountered anything like this - talk about making Powerpoint look utterly outdated! I would love to incorporate this into a presentation - I would say the only drawback is convincing my managers that this kind of look would go down well with fee-earners! But I found the functionality incredible - the graphics are jaw-dropping and you can incorporate so much information in a novel way.

Promoting yourself in job applications etc
I found this Thing helpful because it got me thinking again about the importance of keeping the CV up to date and in general, reminding me what my strengths are. This is particularly pertinent to Chartership and the work I am doing towards that goal. I quite enjoyed taking stock of what I enjoy outside of work and thinking about how that impacts upon the job I do. I was left thinking that I am definitely in the right kind of job for me, but not feeling complacent - what is right now may not be right in 12 months or 2 years etc. I think it's definitely important to keep thinking about professional development, long term goals and where we see our careers heading. Sometimes a change of sector may be desired - and it is definitely thanks to this program that I have become more aware, and have a better understanding of, the many variations of library-style jobs out there worldwide.

Things that I would like to work on more going forward
Getting Involved
I have already started to feel more involved in the wider community, as well as even just the legal community, over the last few months by writing this blog and interacting with others through it, or at the various events I have attended. I have also started to write for a couple of publications within the community. However, I am more than aware that this is just a starting point - again like blogging, it's still fairly new to me and it's something that I know I need to work on continuously.

Attending/presenting at events
While I have attended a number of events in the last 12 months, presenting at one is not something that had ever crossed my mind until we came to Thing 16. I think it is definitely something I would need to feel very confident about, if I were to propose to speak at any event - but at the same time, I am grateful to the program for opening this idea up to me and making it seem like it is something any of us can do.

It's hard to sum up how I feel about the end of the cpd23 program - happy that I managed to complete it successfully, a bit sad that's it come to an end, as I have almost got used to checking the blog to see what's coming up etc and then thinking about how I shall explore it and blog about it! On the whole I have got a great deal out of the program and I am delighted that I took part. It's made me so much more aware of the library community and all the different roles out there - and it's an amazing opportunity to be able to interact with people from all over the world, and read about their experiences. It has definitely also made me realise that while I thought I was quite on the pulse when it comes to technology/Web 2.0 etc, there was actually a great deal out there I had never come across - and probably is a great deal more yet to be discovered! So I am definitely a lot more curious as a result, and eager to ensure that I stay as connected as I feel right now thanks to cpd23.

There is no doubt that I want to keep this blog going, therefore I just want to thank anyone who has been following me, and hope all my followers will stay with me going forward as I keep you up to date with the latest happenings in the Extraordinary Law Library....

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Saturday, 8 October 2011

CLSIG Time Management seminar - Susie Kay

While I have been in the workplace now for over eight years and feel pretty confident when it comes to organising my workload, I decided to attend this seminar nonetheless simply because the preview explained that there is more to being organised than just being able to manage your time. I was quite intrigued by this, as although I am generally very good at keeping to deadlines and prioritising tasks, my physical environment can sometimes become a bit chaotic, and when that happens, I am aware that I have a tendency to start jumping from one thing to the next, desperately hunting for a scrap of paper that was there one minute, but seemingly gone the next. I felt confident that this seminar would be very helpful and applicable to my working life in general.

The first area we looked at was our physical environment. Susie showed us a picture of the most untidy desk you could ever imagine, with papers piled high all over the place and the computer barely visible among the debris. We discussed the sort of impression that a desk of this ilk would create to internal clients. If you don’t present an in-control and organised image, then people will have less faith in your abilities. Similarly if you are scrabbling around for a particular piece of paper, and then you can’t find it – that too is unreliable and irresponsible and simply puts people off working with you or asking for help. One point that she also made which I felt was very important is that from a damage control point of view, a grossly disorganised and messy desk, that uses a filing system that may make sense to you only, is from a business continuance perspective highly risky. If you were suddenly unable to come into work, would someone else be able to easily pick up where you left off? It’s a valid point and one that I am always aware of, having worked in a previous job with a woman whose methods were unintelligible and I was left in a huge mess when she was suddenly taken unwell – I had no clue of where to start with some of her work. It is vitally important to be organised both externally and internally. Procedures for your role should be well documented too. All too often have I been put in the position whereby a boss of mine keeps all their knowledge in their head, then they are on holiday and I am left with a red face because I don’t know how they manage a particular task because they have never told me, nor have they written it down anywhere! I strongly believe that part of being a true professional is transparency – making sure that your deputies know how to fill in for you effectively.

We then moved onto efficient email management. Again, this is something that I am very aware I don’t always practice, so it is something that I shall definitely try and heed going forward! Suzie advised that as a rule of thumb, you should really only handle an email once, as opposed to opening it, reading it, then thinking you will leave it until later to deal with and marking it unread again! I am aware that I am guilty of this on occasion. We decided the best thing to do is to open the email, action whatever needs to be done, then remove it from your inbox, either by deleting it completely, or filing it. Don’t go through the process of reading it several times over, and just leaving it in your inbox.

I do think it’s important to keep as clean an inbox as possible, therefore over the last few years, I have tried my hardest to remove items from my inbox as soon as they have been dealt with and the matter is ‘closed’. I only keep emails in the inbox that are still being worked on or due to be worked on. When I first started working, I did not do this at all! My inbox literally had about 3000 items at one point. I suppose it’s working in law firms that has made me a lot more aware of filing emails, because as well as running my own personal filing system within my inbox, we have a firm-wide file management system that asks you if you want to file your message just before you send it. In our team we file all of the work we do in folders by practice area, so that we can find it again easily if need be, or search these folders to find out if anyone has worked on a particular topic or matter before. Again it’s of the utmost importance to maintain an organised and tidy inbox, and email system in general – and I am glad that Susie reiterated this.

With regard to the old chestnut of ‘time management’, Susie interestingly said that it’s not really about managing time, simply because we can’t really do so because we only have a set amount of hours in a day and that is never going to change! It is more about getting the most out of the time you have. I found this a very interesting way of looking at the matter of ‘time management’, because it is very true – we only have 24 hours in a day to deal with and so there isn’t much we can do about that – we can’t give ourselves more time! What we can do, however, is ensure that we plan our time well – and one method she suggested was using a paper or online calendar, and a big A4 day planning book. What you would do on a daily basis is have a double spread page each day, and on the left hand side you divide the page into boxes in which you make general notes throughout the day. So if you get a phonecall you can jot notes down in one of those boxes, or any other general notes you need to make throughout the day. You then use the other page to create columns where you will detail specific deadlines, tasks, priority level and so on. Then you can supplement this with the definitive deadlines in your electronic or paper diary.

I have to admit, I am a little dubious of this method, simply because it’s just not one I have ever considered before – I am not sure if I would be able to discipline myself enough to set up the double page every day and make sure that I only write in this book, AND remember to transfer deadlines to my diary as well! I am going to try and give it a go for a week and see how I feel about it. I think it’s partly just fear of the unknown making me a bit doubtful of the merits of this method.

One thing that we did discuss which I definitely do not think is so easy to do in my particular role, is learning to say ‘no’! Susie gave the example of when you are interrupted by someone who wants to ask you something, you can sometimes just politely ask if they would mind giving you just 30 minutes and then you will be with them. Similarly, she suggested shutting your office door from time to time, making it a policy of an open door most of the time, but when it’s shut, you are not to be disturbed. While both of those methods make sense in theory, I do not think they really work quite so well in our law library. Firstly, in terms of asking someone to come back in half an hour – it’s just never going to be feasible to say this to a fee-earner who needs help now! I understand that perhaps it could apply to a team member who wants your help with something, but not with our customers! The ‘closed door’ policy again doesn’t work in our library, as obviously we don’t all have offices, and if we shut the door of the library, we feel it’s quite off-putting to people who might just want to pop in and browse. This kind of saying ‘no’ doesn’t really fit with our image or the service we provide to the firm. However, at the same time, saying ‘no’ is something that we all need to learn to do, but is very difficult for me I must admit. It’s my instinct to accept everything and I sometimes find it hard to ask for help even when I feel overloaded. This is undoubtedly something that I need to work on – I am aware of it and the discussion with Susie brought the importance of that home to me.

Overall this was a very interesting session and one that is definitely relevant to me. It showed me that it doesn’t matter how long we have been in the workplace, we should always be open to new methods of organising our time, and moreover, we should always bear in mind the importance of being organised in the workplace, and the consequences for our colleagues if we aren’t. 

We followed this session with some drinks and tasty nibbles, and a chance to do some networking...which tied in nicely with putting to good use some of the skills mentioned in my recent post on networking skills!

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Thing 22 - Volunteering to get experience

Standing out from the crowd
Volunteering in order to get experience is something that I have mixed feelings about in all honesty. I really enjoyed reading Jo's post about how she volunteered after qualifying, and can completely see the benefits of it and how that experience has helped her to get where she is today. However, she mentions that she was able to continue working part time, and use the rest of the time to gain voluntary experience. Alas this was always the huge stumbling block for me personally - I simply could not afford to work anything other than full time, therefore the capacity for voluntary work is reduced to weekends only. Now I realise that lots of people are probably thinking, tough - you will just have to use these two days then! Fair enough if that's your opinion - in theory I would even agree - but in practice, when you are doing a long commute like mine on top of working at least about 2 hours extra a day, the weekend is a godsend - I need it just to try and recover as I have little energy left for anything by this time.

That having been said, I think if you can fit voluntary work experience in somewhere, it is absolutely fantastic and will never go wrong on your CV. It is a really difficult position to be in, when you want a job in a particular field, but you don't have enough  or the right experience - how do you get it, if no one will give you a chance? Sadly it's probably becoming even harder to break into new fields in this climate, as there is so much more competition for every role now. While I now have a decent amount of experience in law libraries, I have virtually no experience in any other library/information field. I volunteered in my college library at uni, and I did some voluntary work at my local library helping out with a children's reading scheme that I absolutely loved, but the latter was while I was working full time AND studying for my MSc, and so I was pretty shattered by the end of it. I would really like to do more in the children's field, because I think this kind of voluntary experience is not only useful in itself, but I believe also shows some commitment to the field you want to get into. 

I realise this is different, BUT the principal is the same - when I was 14 years old I desperately wanted a Saturday job more than anything else, but I lived near a big city so there were no local shops willing to turn a blind eye to the fact I didn't have an NI number! So I had no choice to wait til I was 16 to find paid work...and in the interim, I worked in an Oxfam shop every Saturday in term time, and at least twice a week in the school holidays. It was actually fantastic experience in terms of the retail field I wanted to get a Saturday job in when I was 16, and I even made a very good friend with whom I still keep in contact. When I turned 16 I applied to loads of department stores and I got a weekend job in one 3 weeks after my birthday! So I know this is hardly a professional career, but the principal is the same - they liked the fact that I had gone out there and got some experience in dealing with the public, and it definitely made me a bit more confident once I was actually in a 'proper' shop.

All in all I would definitely say that if you can make it work financially (and sadly this can be a big barrier) - but if you can make it feasible, it's a fantastic way of showing you are committed to breaking into a particular field, and in gaining some solid experience of that field that will actually be useful when it comes to obtaining paid employment in it.

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Thing 21 - Promoting yourself in job applications and at interview

This is quite an interesting Thing really, because up until the last year or so, I wasn't maintaining my CV 
regularly unless I was jobhunting. However, given that I am in the middle of the whole Chartership process, one thing that I shall include in my portfolio is a detailed CV - therefore carrying out this kind of audit is helpful, because it has provided me with an opportunity to think about anything that should be on there that otherwise might have been overlooked.
I think this is the kind of task that everybody moans and groans at, but once it is done you definitely feel better for it! It is quite satisfying to know that all this kind of info is up to date...
My interests outside of work
One of the things I have done regularly and that I have developed a true passion for is cake making and decorating. I had always been a keen baker but wanted to take it up a level, i.e. be able to do something a bit more special for birthdays/weddings etc. Have been on a couple of courses with regard to the decorating side, because I am not naturally artistic replicating what i see in my mind onto the blank cake canvas is pretty tricky! But I continue to persevere and have been fortunate enough to get a few non-family 'commissions' (that sounds very grand; I'm not really Jane Asher!) which has been a great opportunity for me to build some confidence. Doing my best friend's wedding cake was the most challenging without a doubt (a crash course in creating three layered cakes!) but the satisfaction on the day once it was all assembled (actually, no, probably once I saw people eating it!) was like nothing else, and it's from that that I am doing the same for my own wedding next year.
Other than that, my interests are pretty ordinary - reading, TV watching (when there is something decent on - Eastenders is probably my only regular show!), meeting friends when I can (I don't live in London so the commute can make it harder than it once was, alas)...I think that's about it really. I guess the one thing that I only got back into recently is writing - not so much fictional writing, but writing for publications has always been my favourite kind, and I am in the middle of a couple of pieces at the moment which will hopefully appear in some professional journals/publications next year...I do feel quite pressurised as I am always worried that what I am writing won't be appropriate in the editor's eyes...but aside from those concerns, I truly love writing - always have done and it's not til I start doing it again that I remember why. The feeling of completing a piece and reading through it and finally feeling satisfied with it, is definitely as worthwhile as my cake decorating satisfaction!
How could I apply these kind of achievements to my working life?
This is a bit of a tricky one, as short of becoming the cake-making Law Librarian Extraordinaire, (which to be fair, if nothing else, I could perhaps use cakes as bribes to get people to sign out/return their books!), I am not sure how I can apply this kind of achievement to my working life. I suppose the best way to look at it is to consider the skills that creating the perfect cake necessitates...I think without a doubt the key skill is patience. It is not the kind of work that can be rushed because presentation is everything - spending an extra 15 minutes making that icing flawless really is worth it. I guess this is quite appropriate in my line of work, as some of the enquiries that we get asked to do are complex and piecey and require a LOT of digging around all sorts of places online, or in hard copy books....there are definitely times where it would be easy to give up and stop looking, but you need to have that sense of endeavour to fire you on to keep searching! The worst thing in the world for me would be to do a half-hearted search for something, go back to the fee-earner and tell them I can't find it...only for them to tell me they just found it using Google....
Presentation of research is also very important - there's no point in having all the facts ready for the fee-earner, but you present them in a garbled manner that doesn't make for easy reading. So again it's that kind of attention to detail that is crucial in our role.
With regard to my enjoyment of writing - again it is probably something I incorporate already into my daily job, and is partly why I enjoy my job. It all leads back to presentation - I enjoy drafting out emails and other informative documents, and it is important to make sure you explain things as clearly and concisely as possible. Information should always be presented in a logical manner to the fee-earner - some do get frustrated when they can't see at a glance the key facts/arguments. I imagine because they are often so pushed for time, they often don't actually read every word, therefore it's also important, I think, to highlight any particularly relevant parts, and also split these various parts into logical sections. The upshot is that my enjoyment of writing is something that I can incorporate into my daily working life.

Updating my CV
 I have been able to add quite a lot to my CV this last year, mostly because of the work I have been doing towards Chartership, and so I have attended several events and training sessions, all of which have provided me with a lot of new and useful experience.  It's definitely important to keep a CV updated on a regular basis, as it's likely unless you make notes of new developments/courses attended etc, you will forget when you did them!

Interview tips
The CPD23 blog post this week suggested adding any interview tips we have acquired in the course of our careers. There's obviously a whole host of material out there that could explain how to excel at interviews a lot better than I can here! - but I would say the main and fundamental things that I have picked up over the years is firstly, to be yourself at interviews - do NOT create facets to your personality that don't exist, or make up skills that you definitely don't have, because you won't be able to keep them up if you get the job, AND you run the risk of being taken on for a job for which you aren't really suitable. I speak from experience - back before I made the move into law libraries, I worked in the insurance industry for a while, and I applied for a job that I KNEW I wasn't right for, but I convinced myself I could make it work because I was totally swayed by the salary! I was very young and very naive! In the end I lasted only three months in the role, and it was that disaster that preceded my move into law libraries, so at least something good came out of it!

The second thing I would say is that you should also ALWAYS trust your gut instincts (and that probably applies to everything in life actually!) - but again, I speak from experience. Twice in the past I have turned down job offers that were perfectly good jobs on paper, but when I went to the interviews, there was just something about the interviewers, or perhaps even the office itself, that I just didn't feel quite right, or comfortable with. I truly believe I have always done the right thing in turning these roles down, because a much more suitable one has always come along shortly after. And similarly with regard to the job I mentioned above that only lasted three months - I knew when I went to the second interview that it really wasn't right, that I wasn't being myself, and that the person who was going to be my boss was NOT my sort of person - but I ignored it, and look at the outcome...! So the upshot is: remember that interviews are as much a learning process for you as they are for the interviewer - it's not just about them seeing if YOU are suitable - it's also about you getting a feel for your future boss, the company, the culture etc.

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Sunday, 2 October 2011

Uh-oh...not MORE talk about networking...?

Sorry, in fact, no why am I even apologising?! Networking is something that we are all increasingly having to do, albeit not always on a level with the movers and shakers that bring in clients to a law firm like mine, but I think many people are often surprised when I tell them that my job does actually involve a fair amount of networking these days. Don't worry - those of you who have read my Thing 7 post on networking will know that it's certainly not my favourite thing either, but the reason I make no apology for this post is because I just want to take some time to reflect upon and share some of the excellent advice I picked up in a recent training session.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend an internal training session on Networking that was primarily being run for fee-earners, but was also attended by myself and a couple of people from Marketing. It was run by the absolutely fantastic Nick Davies of the The Really Great Training Company (check out his blog here) and I have to say, despite having attended a number of seminars and sessions on 'how to network' over the last couple of years, I have never been as inspired by any other session as much as I was by this one. By the end of it, I genuinely felt that for the first time in my professional life, I had some really good tips and tricks to try out and I actually felt something approaching an albeit nervous excitement - but excitement all the same - when I thought about the next library event that I was attending, where I could possibly give this a go.

I'll just say from the outset that I think it was Nick's sense of humour and his delivery style that immediately made it easy for me to relate to him, and made me quickly see that this was not going to be your typical, bog-standard training session!

One of the first tasks we did was getting to know the person next to us, then report back to the rest of the group on what we had learned about that person. Have to admit I found this exercise really tricky - that kind of chat doesn't come easily to me - I hate asking people questions, I can never think of what to ask next because I am so stressed out I don't actually hear their answers...which made for a fun 'report' back to the group! I actually had to admit that I hadn't written any answers down and so couldn't remember more than a couple of sentences about where she lived and what she enjoyed doing! Nick was very nice about it though at least!

Making that kind of small talk is definitely the hardest thing for me. I can chat away happily if someone else asks ME questions, but I am so inept when it comes to fulfilling this role myself - or at least, that's how I perceive myself. As I mentioned earlier, I get so caught up in worrying what to say next, I don't listen to what the person is actually saying - but it's not being rude intentionally, I just nod and smile but it's not really going in! However, we talked about the importance of 'agressive' listening - listening with both your eats AND your eyes - so don't let your eyes wander as the other person is talking, because I am sure we would all agree that it's really off-putting to be talking to someone, and see them looking over your shoulder as you do so! This is definitely something I would like to work on, and I did try and put this tip into practice a week later, when I had to attend a CILIP training seminar. I got talking to a girl I knew very vaguely through a former colleague, and I really did try harder than ever to just focus ON her, not sneak glances round the room to see who else had come in, and also properly listen to what she was telling me - and as a result, I was able to ask a few pertinent questions. It may sound like a simple thing, but it is amazing how many people at these events DON'T truly listen and focus on you, yet if you can develop that skill, it is definitely one which makes you a 'good' networker.

The session was Nick was absolutely packed with other example scenarios and how best to deal with them - I genuinely got so much out of it. One thing we did as a group was to establish what skills make a 'good' networker - obviously I mentioned being able to genuinely listen to people above, but we also decided that making people feel comfortable and at ease is another key characteristic. If you are able to be versatile and adapt yourself to talking to people of different levels in a firm, say, then this goes a long way. Another aspect we focused on was that a good networker is someone who knows how to terminate a conversation in a polite but firm manner. So for example, if you have been talking to someone for some time and you simply want to move on, Nick advised NOT to use the age-old excuse of saying you need to use the bathroom or get another drink, because there is the risk that they will do the same - which can be a little disconcerting - and also means you aren't able to move on as you won't have extricated yourself from the conversation at all. It also doesn't work because often, you end up having to sneak back into the room so as you don't get caught up talking to that person again - which is far from professional. No, one of the best ways is simply to say something like how much you have enjoyed talking with that person, but that there are a few others you need to catch up with, so you better get on and do so. That way, you have terminated the situation in a polite way with no awkwardness should you bump into each other later on again....

I think that particular point is undoubtedly another one that I have always struggled with - I feel terribly rude if I terminate a conversation with someone I have just met at an event, and consequently I have occasionally felt very awkward, as though we should be moving on but don't quite know how to get out of the conversation! I have to admit, I think I have definitely used the old drink top-up or buffet visit as an excuse before, but it's something I'll try to avoid in future! I have been lucky in that I have never been followed to the buffet table, but it would definitely be pretty awkward if that did happen, when all you want to do is move on from that person!

We talked a bit about how to actually get started talking to people at events, and one thing we focused on was how you can use the refreshments table as a chance to get talking to someone! If you are over there, say pouring a cup of coffee, and someone comes up beside you, you could ask them if they want coffee, and if they say yes, then give them yours and pour another a cup - or the same with the milk, if they have already poured the coffee! Doing something for someone else in this way is quite clever, because it's almost human nature for that person then to feel gratitude to you, and want to repay you - and the way in which they do repay you is with their time - and bingo! You have made your first contact!

Another thing that came up that I REALLY struggle with in every walk of life, not just at networking events, but even just being introduced to a new joiner in our firm, is remembering names. Several of us admitted that we simply cannot remember names 10 seconds after being told them. Nick explained that it's not so much not being able to remember; in fact the name almost gets lost in all the other things we are picking up on that person in those crucial first few seconds of meeting. So we are shaking a person's hand and thinking about the handshake, taking in their outward appearance, thinking about who is with them....the list goes on and so it's no wonder we simply don't take in the name! The best tip Nick could give us here is say the name back to them immediately, and then use it in the next few minutes of conversation if possible. So on being introduced to someone, rather than just saying 'pleased to meet you', add in their name to the end of that sentence. I think this is a fantastic way of consolidating names in your head, and I did put it into practice when I met a couple of our new trainees for the first time. It's definitely a tip that is transferrable to so many situations, and one that I find very helpful to bear in mind.

Another skill of a good networker is 'connecting', so introducing people you know to people you have just met, or vice versa. This is another way of moving on from a situation - if you introduce the person you have been talking to, to someone else you know, then you can gracefully remove yourself from the situation. Similarly, it can be useful to ask the person you have been talking to if they know anyone else, and  if so, perhaps they could introduce you to that person. Basically, the best networkers are those who excel in bringing other people together, as much as being able to just get talking to others themselves. I have to admit this prospect does intimidate me a little bit; I have never considered myself as the sort of person who could facilitate this kind of networking , but after talking about it in this way, it made me feel that perhaps I could.

Overall I found this session extremely helpful - we covered a lot of territory and as I mentioned earlier, it was one of the few training sessions I have ever been to where I came away feeling very enthusiastic about the subject, and that I had really been able to get a lot out of it. I think the main thing that Nick instilled in me was that we all have the potential to be 'good' networkers, and while it might not be something that we ever think, 'yay! A chance to network!' - we can get to the point where we are not filled with utter dread/nerves/apprehension at the prospect, and end up so worked up that we get little out of it, and can only focus on making our escape as soon as possible. This was proven when I managed to put a bit of it into practice at the CILIP seminar recently, and I hope to keep these skills in mind going forward at other events.

All in all it was a morning very well spent indeed.

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Saturday, 1 October 2011

Thing 20: The Library Routes Project

There's so much more to us than being stern custodians!

So having already blogged about my journey into librarianship in Thing 10, I took Laura's advice in this week's Thing 20 post, and decided to browse the Library Routes wiki and see how my experiences compared to other people's. The one thing that struck me most was that several people echo my own sentiments in Thing 10; namely, that the reason they didn't start off as a librarian was because beyond the common perception of the public librarian, they had no concept of librarianship in any other setting - academic perhaps after university, but certainly not in a commercial setting.

It's the one thing that I find pretty sad about our profession to be honest - that in this day and age, we still can't seem to escape from the crusty old stereotype of the strict, reprimanding and boring public librarian who shhhshes you if you so much as turn a page noisily. And the reason I find this so pathetic is that most of the people who still retain that stereotype have clearly never entered their local library in the last decade, because if they have, they would realise that most libraries are now a world away from even the library of my own childhood. When I go into my local library (which I do, regularly - I'd be lost without it and cannot understand why, if you like reading, you would rather pay money for a supply of books you will never read again, when you could just borrow them. Oh and PLEASE don't mention the Kindle to me - really, this will never be the forum for me to articulate my utter loathing of this and any similar device. So just leave it, okay. You will not win this one!)

ANYWAY - as I was saying before I interrupted myself, when I go into my local library now, the one thing that has struck me over the last few years is how they are far more than just a place to go to borrow books - there's obviously CDs and DVDs, which is nothing new nowadays, but there is access to the internet, there's amazing resources for children - lovely soft play areas for them to snuggle down in cushions and read or be read to; there's also an array of classes for babies of four months and upwards....there's even a group for teenagers focusing on ghost stories at the moment - I imagine, in a bid to make reading that bit more 'cool'...But my point is, the stern dictatorian no longer exists - or at least not as much anyway. Libraries are no longer deadly silent because there is so much going on. Okay, admittedly you shouldn't have your phone on loud and start having a conversation - come on, there has to be some limits. But the face of libraries in the public domain has changed so much in recent years that I think it's a great shame that more people don't accept this and MOVE ON. Maybe then librarianship wouldn't be a profession that young people are too embarrassed to admit they're interested in.

Even more frustrating is the perception of librarians being...well, shall we say not educated beyond GCSE level. I admit I have no idea what the criteria are for those working in public libraries, but in the academic and commercial environments, to my knowledge, a diploma or Master's degree in library an/or  information science/studies - or some hybrid of these disciplines - is necessary. There's also Chartership. Yet librarianship as a profession isnt anywhere nearly as highly regarded as a lawyer/doctor/dentist/accountant and so on. Even a teacher would probably be looked more favourably upon. (Before you start on me for that as well, I don't mean that in an insulting way to teachers! My brother is a teacher, I have nothing against them at all - all I am saying is that I am probably more qualified than a lot of teachers as I have an MSc - but sadly the general perception of us as librarians seems to be that we are lucky to have more than a few GCSEs to our names)...

Indeed this is mentioned in Woodsiegirl's Library Routes post -
 she mentions how at a conference, one speaker told the story of how a careers advisor had 'advised' against librarianship because 'you only need 5 GCSE's'! Shocking ignorance and such a waste - I have no doubt that if I had been told a lot earlier on in life that you could be a 'librarian' in a commercial law firm, I would most likely not have wasted my four years at uni studying for a modern languages degree. (well okay maybe not wasted, I loved my time at uni per se, but I didn't enjoy my studies by the end, and I have never used my linguistic skills since, so forgive me if I am a little bitter!)

One thing that has also become apparent from reading people's Library Routes posts - and indeed I think is mentioned in this week's cpd23 post, is that very often, unless people have a relative or family friend working in libraries, they don't ever start off their working lives with a dream of becoming a librarian - again because they probably just don't have any awareness of the options open to them. But fellow blogger the Running Librarian writes that he knew he would like to work in libraries from a fairly early age, and believes that this was influenced by his mother's work as a librarian. So the only consolation I have at the moment is that you never know, I might become an inspiration to my own son/daughter/niece etc and they might just consider a career in libraries thanks to me!

I realise that this has been something of an angry post, so I think I am going to leave it there, as I don't feel it's right to rant quite so much on a beautiful sunny morning in October!! However, that having been said I don't regret any of the above, because it's a topic I do feel very strongly about, and the perceptions of librarianship are something I would dearly love to see change - even within my own family at times, who, frankly by now really should know better!

Been really interesting to read through other people's experiences and how they came to be in the particular area of librarianship that they are in today, so if you haven't already done so, I definitely advise having a little browse through the Library Routes wiki posts - particularly interesting to compare your experiences with those in the same field....go on, get noseying around!

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