Event Review by Nigel Dickinson: SLA Career Stories 27th June 2017
Our thanks to Nigel Dickinson, who kindly accepted an offer to review the Careers Stories Evening. Nigel is Sales Director at Armadillo Business Information having previously spent 30 years at Dun & Bradstreet and been Managing Director of Key Note. He is a regular attendee of SLA and has participated in formal and informal capacities in various trade organisations over the years. As a fellow graduate of Keele University he is probably one of those students in the bar that Neil Infield sought to avoid by working in the library.
The promotion for the evening reminded us that to thrive in recent years, information professionals have had to continuously adapt whilst promoting the value of their traditional function.
We gathered at the British Library, refreshed by the first rain of the summer, to hear career stories of four information professionals drawn from different industry sectors.
Sally Connor, Strategic Analyst, EY
Sally is currently embracing the challenge of navigating her way around the large dynamic business that is EY.
On graduating she realised that her first ambition of running an art gallery was no longer the priority and a passion for research led to her becoming an Information Assistant at the Ministry of Justice. Sally realised that whilst industries will come and go, there was always going to be a market for research and analysis to help businesses invest their money. Positions at all big four consultancies have followed. However, Sally is at pains to point out, she is not a banker!
Over the years roles and responsibilities became more strategic. One game changing role came when embedded in the team, rather than sitting in a separate research function- an initiative championed by the Partner. A greater appreciation of both clients’ goals and those of the business, led to her being a crucial advisor to senior management.
It is vital to always scan the horizon and prepare for the coming trends. For example, think about how you are going to be prepared for 5 years time with blockchain, robotics and AI on their way. Having encountere
d a conservative approach to innovation and change at one employer Sally determined to leave and would encourage others to always consider doing so. And don’t be afraid to interview potential employers to check they will be a good fit for you as well as vice versa.
A graduate of Keele University, Neil started his information career working in their library. (It was either that or the bar.) After studying computer scien
ce he discovered he wanted to do something else! A cataloguing job at South Bank Polytechnic followed and then an information course at Polytechnic of North London, with jobs in various libraries during all the holidays.
First employer after second graduation was the Institute of Petroleum. Despite glorious offices on New Cavendish Street including ceiling murals Neil perceived little chance of advancement. He moved to Hermes Investment Management where he had a very supportive Chief Executive, managed a team of seven and spent 16 happy years. A major triumph was developing and launching their intranet, despite his boss telling him not to do it.
Redundancy – something everyone should be prepared for – came along with a new regime, giving Neil the opportunity to work with careers consultants to discover what he really wanted to do. He realised that he wanted to continue what he loved – being an information professional.
During his time at the BL new skills have been unearthed, training as a business advisor and helping the laun
ch of many new businesses. Look out for Amelia Rope chocolate, the Morpher folding helmet, the Kikka Digga and Keep Me Jewellery.
Tips for career success (or how to minimise the risk of failure):
- Never stop learning
- Get involved in extra-curricular activities e.g. SLA
- Overcome shyness
- Embrace social media
- Be ambitious for yourself and your team e.g. enter industry awards.
- Get connected e.g. LinkedIn. You never know where that next opportunity will come from.
- Learn to manage upwards
- Feel the fear and do it anyway – public speaking!
Half time followed with refreshments provided courtesy of the SLA.
Virginia Malone, Head of Library Services, University of Greenwich
Superficially Virginia has had the same employer for almost 30 years. That does not do justice to her sheer number and variety of roles.
Arriving from the Lake District to work for Inner London Education Authority Virginia was posted to Woolwich College of Further Education. Early in her career in 1984 she discovered an aptitude for team management as site Librarian in Charlton. Coupled with a desire to move into Higher Education it led to her first position at Thames Polytechnic, later University of Greenwich, as Reader Services Librarian, Avery Hill in 1988.
Subsequently discovering a new site was to open Virginia petitioned to run it, becoming Site Librarian at Deptford in 1990.
Further positions and locations followed including the relocation of the University to the historic Old Royal Naval College. Virginia developed expertise in managing and moving libraries as they were gradually consolidated from 13 to 3.
The next post resulted from volunteering to manage the library at Medway, a collaboration between Greenwich, Kent and Canterbury Christ Church Universities. The newly created Drill Hall library, (184 metres – the longest in Europe), was a 30 mile commute! Yet six happy years followed as Manager.
A return home followed. The university had acquired a new library site in central Greenwich in Stockwell Street and Virginia spent three years working with architects and planning for the 2014 opening. The library featured landscaping, roof gardens and the most modern facilities, all conforming with World Heritage Site guidelines. It was on the 2015 RIBA awards shortlist.
Further successes came: Head of Library Services in 2014; creation of Connecting People to Knowledge 2015 strategic plan; consolidation of three university Library Management Systems into one shared system.
Throughout her career Virginia has exemplified one key lesson she would share: let people know when you are ready for a change, otherwise those great new opportunities will go elsewhere!
Cerys Hearsey, Principal & Lead Consultant, Post*shift
Cerys accepted that she never had a career plan. She did have early affinities for information, sleeping on piles of books as a child, and for change, moving around the world for her first 17 years, attending 12 schools.
Graduating in 2003 Cerys decided against archaeology and returned to education at library school at Birmingham also undertaking a Masters in Artificial Intelligence.
Cerys has fond memories of her first job in the Foreign Office library, positioned beneath the famous stuffed snake!
Cerys’s belief was formed that it is not enough to be focused purely on a single discipline, a love of information is applicable to any practical application. She also discovered she loves working with people who dream big, know how to have fun and get sh*t done.
Time was spent working with an early mentor Judi Vernau, building taxonomies, and then as a Department for International Development researcher.
After that Cerys validated her own skills using capability mapping against potential roles. This led to a great role at Headshift, “a bunch of amazing individuals led by Lee Bryant”, followed by the disappointing experience of seeing it acquired and effectively shut down through consolidation. This piqued an interest in corporate culture and behaviours, leading Cerys to build a knowledge base to help change the way people work.
Subsequently approached by Lee and Liz Wilson to join their new business Post*Shift, Cerys started working with businesses to discover how to leverage the digital world to create new revenue streams. Her knowledge base fitted right in! She has enjoyed, for instance, working with clients such as Bosch and Schlumberger to improve engineering processes and deter sharks from eating oil exploration equipment!
Her experience leads Cerys to emphasise the importance of mentors in career development, and to have no regrets.
Some common themes had emerged….
- Studying one discipline at graduate level can lead to embracing information as a whole and a change in direction
- The benefits of anticipating and embracing change
- An appreciation of information management can be leveraged and applied to anything
What do you feel are essential careers skills?
- Basic programming (Cerys)
- People skills, awareness to assess what opportunities exist in the future or wider world (Virginia)
- Understanding the role of technology (Neil)
What is your next career move?
- Semi retirement but putting those business start up experiences to the test (Neil)
- Depends on whether the university wants to move libraries around again (Virginia)
- No idea (Cerys)
We retired to the pub to review our own careers following an entertaining and thought-provoking evening. Thank you to all our contributors.