Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Former Librarian #20

This week we welcome Former Librarian #20, a University equality professional, to the blog.  There's plenty of food for thought here, but I especially like her concluding remarks that:

In retrospect I could have investigated earlier opportunities to move out of libraries into other administrative/professional roles in my university. At the time I didn’t realise how transferable my skills were. It is definitely something that I would encourage other librarians to explore.

That is something that I, as a newbie former librarian, would have liked to have heard much earlier!

Name: Anonymous

Current role: University equality professional

Former role: Cataloguer at a university library

What led you to move on from libraries? Although I could do my previous role adequately, I felt that I wasn’t using all my skills. I’d become more involved in a group of colleagues involved in looking at the needs of disabled library users, and also got involved with a regional network of librarians interested in disability issues (I later became chair). Through the librarians in the network I learned about different ways of providing services to disabled students, and I pressed for the development of assistive technology facilities within the library. When these were introduced my work on assistive technology brought me into closer contact with the dyslexia advisers who supported students, and contributed to my increased understanding of dyslexia.

My university was awarded some money through HEFCE for innovative 3 year fixed term contracts for Equal Opportunity and Diversity Co-ordinators across the institution. This seemed a good opportunity to build on my interest in disability and other diversity areas. Initially I was offered the role of EODC to three of the support services directorates (including Library Services) as secondment, doing 0.5 fte of the new role, and retaining one day a week of my cataloguing role. I remained physically based in the library, but doing this non- traditional role.

It was a steep learning curve, but I really enjoyed the opportunity to develop new skills and to work closely with colleagues from across the university who were passionate about equality issues. I ended up contributing heavily to the development of my university’s first disability equality scheme. As part of that work we asked disabled staff what they would find useful, and they all said that they would welcome a single point of advice and information. I was offered this role, initially as an additional one day a week. In my new role I worked with individuals, helping to find ways to support them at work. I found this immensely rewarding and developed my own role from scratch. I am grateful to the library’s director, who allowed me to remain seconded from my substantive role for a very long time, while I took my equality roles continued through a succession of fixed-term contracts.

Initially I felt quite tentative about my abilities, but my confidence was built up by finding that I could make a difference to people. During a maternity cover role as a Disabled Student Adviser, I found that the skills and knowledge I had developed in my role were readily transferable to a student-facing role, and that I also brought a broader knowledge of the whole institution. When my current role was advertised at a nearby university, it seemed my ideal job, and I was happy to be appointed.

In retrospect I was stuck in a part-time cataloguing role for too long, but this had been a good option for combining with having children. Before working for a university library, I worked for a government department library, but this involved commuting to London, which was not viable after I’d had children. I didn’t work while my children were small.

I am still annoyed at the outcome of the introduction of the HERA job evaluation scheme at my previous organisation, which in my view failed to recognise and adequately reward the skills of librarians. The scheme awards credit for managing people or money, and little credit for specialist professional skills – something which disadvantages librarians and others in specialist roles.

What do you do in your current role? I work with disabled staff and their managers at a large research-intensive university, ensuring that they get the support they need at work. I am also working more broadly on policy development in equality areas, and on changing the whole organisation’s culture. I liaise with members of staff across the whole university. I am based in the university’s equality office, where I am the disability expert for staff issues (student support is based elsewhere). I have also been asked to lead on developing policy and guidance to support transgender staff and students at the university.

I’ve set up a network for disabled staff, and an advisory group on disability. During the Research Excellent Framework 2014, which assessed the quality of research across the country, I was heavily involved in my university’s confidential process for managing disclosures of complex personal circumstances affecting research capacity.

I’ve been awarded some funding for a research project to investigate good practice in supporting disabled staff at my institution, so I am now working with academic researchers on the project.

I am the first person to hold my role, (and few universities have such a role). I’ve been in post for four years and am continuing to develop the role. I work in a large, complex university where change often happens very slowly. I hope I am becoming more influential as I develop my contacts and knowledge of the organisation, and try to raise awareness of good practice. The challenges are huge, but it is very rewarding to be able to make a small difference to people’s lives … and it is wonderful to see people flourishing after very bad times.

What library skills do you use in your current role? The essential skills is listening carefully to people, and probing to find what they want – that bit is similar to traditional enquiry desk work. However what happens next isn’t simply a matter of pointing someone to existing resources, and may be about helping someone think about their current situation, or their behaviours, or what they really want. I sometimes feel like a mix of coach, careers expert, counsellor and parenting adviser!

I need really good interpersonal skills – more advanced than I needed as a librarian. I’m communicating with people at all levels of my organisation, and need to be able to establish rapport and trust.

I need very good writing skills – both for policy writing and for very carefully nuanced emails. I think that comes more from my English degree than my librarian background.

I developed some technical skills in using assistive technology when I was a librarian, which means that I can give informed advice about this area, although I am no longer doing individual training.

I need to be able to investigate unfamiliar topics, and find relevant literature, so the research skills I developed as a librarian continue to be used.

Do you think that your library skills helped you to get this position? Not directly, but it was a cumulative process.

What other skills have you had to acquire since leaving the library profession in order to enable you to carry out your work? I needed to develop some of the skilled used by counsellors, including listening skills; coaching skills; ability to explain legislative concepts in plain English; investigatory skills; understanding internal politics; change management; policy writing; ability to discuss sensitive subjects with people who may be very distressed, or who may be very unwell (including mental ill-health); being able to hear distressing information and still being able to work effectively. Often there are no easy answers, so I need to be able to exercise my judgement, and be able to justify my advice.

I need to be able to influence people and bring about cultural change. I did an NVQ level 4 in Management and Leadership: I don’t manage anyone directly (although I did in my second job as a librarian, 18 months after qualifying) but I advise managers on how to manage disabled members of staff.

Do you maintain any professional memberships or are there new ones which are more appropriate? I no longer maintain professional librarian memberships, and there aren’t any comparable professional organisations for equality professionals, who are far fewer in number. Many universities only have one or two equality practitioners.

Do you have any future plans/aspirations? My current role will continue to develop and change. There is more than enough to keep me going for the foreseeable future.

Anything else that you’d like to tell us? In retrospect I could have investigated earlier opportunities to move out of libraries into other administrative/professional roles in my university. At the time I didn’t realise how transferable my skills were. It is definitely something that I would encourage other librarians to explore.

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