Our thanks to Alana Farrell for writing this review of the Graduate Open Day. Alana is studying for her MSc in Information Science in City University. In her spare time, she writes for her blog about Rediscovering Culture. You can also find her on LinkedIn.
On Tuesday the 10th of April, a group of new professionals and LIS (Library and Information Science) students made their way to CILIP HQ for the Graduate Open Day. Organised by BIALL, SLA Europe and CLSIG, the day promised to be packed full of interesting speakers with lots of experience, as well as opportunities to meet those, who like myself, are new. It absolutely delivered on that promise and this post will detail some of the highlights of the day for me, as well as some of the interesting points made by the speakers which will be relevant for any new professional/student.
The morning opened up with Sandra Smythe from Mishcon de Reya, a law firm with offices in London and New York. Sandra focused on what it is like to be an information professional in a law firm. The list of responsibilities was surprisingly varied, ranging from legal research, business research and cataloguing responsibilities, to training, enterprise search and document automation. A very interesting part of Sandra’s presentation detailed the type of organisational culture that a recruit will find in commercial law firms and how it may differ from other organisations, such as academic libraries. Her last piece of advice was a sound one, to get to know other law librarians and perhaps do the BIALL legal information course if new to law.
The next speaker was Richard Nelsson from The Guardian. I personally had no idea that newspapers had libraries and it was fascinating to hear all about them. Richard amused us all with images of information professionals cutting out clippings from newspapers, and the big warehouses that they used to be stored them. It certainly looked labour-intensive! It seems however even though clipping no longer happens on such a scale, the teams are as busy as ever, conducting research, drafting fact-sheets, maintaining the digital archives and of course, checking older cuttings. The team also gets involved with the Guardian data blog, which is fascinating for anyone who is interested in data visualisation. Interestingly, they are also content creators, taking responsibility for the birthday section of the paper as well as the ‘From the Archive’ blog. As there is a push for information professionals to become content creators it seems that the team at the Guardian are indeed ahead of the curve.
The final speaker of the morning was Jacky Berry from the British Medical Association. Jacky’s talk focused on making your service central to the operation of your organisation, a very important task. Before tackling this issue she showed a number of slides showing the stereotypes of librarians which had us all nodding our heads and laughing. Jacky then took us through her experiences working in management positions, from the sad tales of downsizing and digital transformation, to the happier stories of successes and library transformations. Overall Jacky’s talk made me excited to get out into the world of work after my Masters has ended and hopefully have a varied and busy career.
After a coffee and biscuit break to refuel, we went back to talks. This time it was Simon Barron from the University of London talking about what it was like to be a digital librarian. For any fans of open source technology this was a real treat as Simon took us through his work on transforming his library to take advantage what is available. This gives the library more power to mould the technology to what they want to do, rather than vice versa. Simon’s links of the open source philosophy with the philosophy behind LIS was also very interesting. The link was quite clear but was something I had not considered before, and will now try to remember. For those of us nervous about possibly moving into this area Simon moved to put us at ease by explaining that he his background was in philosophy, not IT, and with a bit of hard work and patience, we can also be digital professionals.
The next part of the day was really special: a behind the scenes tour of the Weiner Library. I had not known about this library before registering for the day, so went to the tour with no idea about what might be waiting for us. Located in a beautiful house on Russell Square, it is one of the most extensive archives and libraries on the Nazi-era and the Holocaust in the world. Founded in 1933 by Alfred Weiner, a World War One veteran, it managed to document Nazi activities and collect and preserve ephemera from that era. Often, it must be said, in great danger to their personal safety. As part of the tour we visited the exhibition space which currently has a display on show all about The Kitchener Camp Rescue. We also had an opportunity to visit the storerooms where we learned about the lives of Ludwig Neumann and Alice Fink. It was fascinating and poignant seeing some of the documents such as the colouring book, the tea packets with hidden messages and the Red Cross communication documents. It is incredible to think such stories and documents survived and that we can learn from them today. Finally we visited the reading room which was really lovely; bright, airy and overlooking the green. The library is open to the public and I would recommend it for anyone doing research or who is interested in this area.
After lunch we were back to business with Donald Lickley from Sue Hill-TFPL Recruitment, and the focus was on getting jobs. Firstly, Donald had good news for all us LIS graduates: prospects are on the up and employers are looking to recruit again. With that in mind it was time to listen to how we could snare one of these positions. Donald took us through looking at our motivations, our skills, willingness to travel, where we were looking for jobs, what the jobs are called, applications, our reputations and interviews. Finally Donald asked us to consider where we want to go with our careers and encouraged us to seek and take opportunities. This was all sage advice and something all of us new entrants will be drawing from over the coming months.
We returned to law with the next speaker, Emily Allbon, a law librarian in City University and founder of Law Bore, a website dedicated to legal learning and careers. Emily gave us insight into the work of an academic librarian such as being an academic liaison, creating library guides, assisting staff and students, organising training, moving the new library and much more. Her presentation also advocated becoming more involved with university life and creating a niche for yourself. Emily gave us examples of where she did this, Law Bore being one, along with mooting, lecturing and writing papers and presenting at conferences. With many graduates in the audience working in academic libraries and many more hoping to, Emily’s talk was very topical and gave much inspiration for future job prospects.
Our penultimate speaker of the day was Katherine Schopflin from the MDU. Katherine is a Knowledge Manager, a position that I had heard of before and about which I had hoped to learn more. Katherine explained that what she does is look at how organisations deal with their information in terms of the creation, communication, use and storage. Change management and engaging with people were also central to the position which I learned is about problem solving and using information as a strategic resource. It was interesting to learn that the work is project-based and it was great to hear that it is a way to have a great, lasting, positive impact on the organisations that you work it. Katherine was very clear about needed to have a few years experience before tackling this type of role. It is definitely something for graduates to consider in their later careers.
Marie Cannon was the last speaker of the day. Marie works in Trowers and Hamlins, an international law firm, and is also a new professional working towards Chartership. Marie spoke about Twitter and blogging (two subjects close to my heart) and gave advice about how to use them it for career planning. In particular she pointed us to #UKlibchat and #SLAtalk. Another very helpful tip from Marie was to use CPD 23 as a way to reflect on what we have achieved and learned through our work. Marie summed by the recommending that anyone who is eligible to, should apply for awards and bursaries to attend conferences. As she put it, someone has to win and they are of great benefit when learning, and meeting new people.
At the end the speakers came together in a panel to answer questions and reflect on some of the points which had been raised during the day. Emphasis was placed on information literacy and transferable skills. The need to get out and make people aware of your information service was also discussed, along with the best way to gain confidence and networking skills. A lot of useful advice came out of this session such as work on communication skills, apply for jobs that you are interested in and not just that you tick all the boxes for, and that you do not necessarily need domain knowledge for subject specific roles in places such as law firms.
I felt the day was really helpful and interesting. I am glad I attended at this stage of my career and I picked up a number of points which will be useful for my the stage of job applications and career planning. It was also wonderful to meet other people at a similar stages in their careers and hear about how the careers of others developed. For any new professionals who could not come along this year I would say to keep an eye out for next year’s one as it was well worth attending. Finally a big thanks to BIALL, SLA Europe and CLSIG for putting the day together and all the speakers for their talks.