SLA Europe board member Bethan Ruddock spoke on a panel on Alternative Uses of the Library Degree at SLA 2011. Here, she shares her thoughts on what it was like to be part of the panel, and what she learned from the experience.

Back in 2010, Dee Magnoni contacted me to ask if I knew someone from SLA Europe who’d be willing to take part in this LMD/Taxonomy panel.  The person specification?  New professional, based outside US/Canada, working in a non-traditional environment.  I put my hand so far in the air that my feet nearly left the ground – but, in the interests of fairness, we decided to open the chance up to SLA Europe members.  When no-one else stepped forward (to my secret delight), I was in.

Not only was I pleased to have the chance to be speaking at all, and wear the coveted ‘speaker’ ribbon, I was also eager to talk about my work at Mimas.  It’s not something I get to talk about very often, as most of my writing and speaking is focussed on wider professional issues, but it’s profoundly important to me – and I really do love my job!

Fast-forward to 2011, and find me preparing for conference in a fairly desultory fashion, with no real idea what I’m going to do for the panel.  Fortunately, moderator Ruth Wolfish had it all under control – she gave us a set of questions of which we could answer all or some, set out the running order, requested a slidedeck and an introduction, and encouraged us to share our planned slides with the other panel members (Jean Fisher, George Plosker, and Kim Dority).  Ruth also did something rather sneaky, which I would recommend to all moderators: after telling us that we had 10 minutes max each, we found out the night before the panel that we actually had 15 minutes.  And yes, we all used them all – in fact, we finished pretty much exactly on time! Definitely a great way to make sure your speakers don’t run over.

Ruth also took us all out for dinner the night before the panel, which I found enormously useful! It was a fantastic opportunity to get to know the other panellists, to learn more about their views and ideas, and to connect with a really amazing bunch of information professionals – not to mention my chance to try Maggiano’s pound cake!

Ruth also asked us to get to the room early and circulate among the audience – chat to them, ask them why they were there, and what they were hoping to get from the session.  I found the thought of this rather terrifying, so decided to look out for people with first-timer ribbons as a) this gave me a great opening gambit and b) they were the only people in that room likely to be as nervous as I was…

I really enjoyed doing my panel slot.  Lots of speaking experience over the last year has helped to get me over the ‘nervous gibbering wreck’ stage, and I’m now starting to feel more comfortable in front of an audience.  The audience were great, too – they listened really well, and laughed in the right places!  I also found that it having spoken to some of the audience in advance did really help, by giving me a few extra familiar faces in the audience.  I’d suggest it as a tactic if you’re a bit nervous about speaking, especially if the alternative is to be stood self-consciously at the front waiting for the session to start.

Having some idea of what my fellow panellists were going to say was a huge boost too.  As we were all talking around the same questions, it’s not surprising that many of the same themes came out, but it was very reassuring to know that I wasn’t about to be flatly contradicted by the next speaker!

The questions Ruth asked us to address were:

  • What is the type of individual, with what skills that are currently successful in your Library?
  • What personality skills would you look for in an individual?
  • How important are technical skills? What specific skills?
  • In your opinion, going forward in the Library profession; what type of individual will succeed?
  • In hindsight, what would you do differently in your career to succeed? What did you do that was the most beneficial?
  • What trends do you see for the future? How will your type of Library change in the future?
  • Name 3 things that you continue to do in order to succeed? (ie. public speaking, networking, classes, SLA ……?)
  • Will Libraries exist in the future ? Public Libraries? Corporate Libraries?  How will databases or products change in the future?

We all had a slightly different take on these, and some of us (well, me) didn’t answer them all, but there was definitely some cohesion in the answers.  We all spoke about the need to be flexible, open to change, and willing to learn new skills.  The need to get involved in the profession outside your workplace was also identified as being key – unsurprising, given that the advice was coming from active SLA members.  Each panel member mentioned different technical skills, relative to our different environments, but it was clear that technical skills – or at least the willingness to acquire them! – was a must-have.  And the same message kept coming across:

You have the skills to do this!  You’re an information professional: you have learned how to learn.

Something which I don’t think was stated explicitly, but which came through very strongly, was that to work in a non-traditional/non-library environment you must have a keen sense of two things: adventure, and your own worth.  4 years ago I wouldn’t have said I had either.  Now I’m helping others to find theirs.  Whatever else librarianship may be, it’s certainly one heck of a ride.

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1 comment on “SLA 2011: Alternative Uses of the Library Degree”

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