Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Former Librarians #23

This week's Former Librarian is a Continuous Improvement Advisor who works on projects to improve processes alongside writing guidance documentation.  She feels that she uses many of the skills that she acquired as a librarian and mentions some advice given to her from another former librarian which certainly rings true with me: ‘Your library skills are valued outside of the libraries more than they are within libraries right now’

Name: Anon

Current role: Continuous Improvement Advisor

Former role: Information Officer in a specialist library. I was responsible for managing small-scale digitisation projects. I’ve had a range of roles in libraries, starting off as a library assistant in a public library, moving to academic, medical and specialist libraries.

What led you to move on from libraries: Ten years ago, the library I worked in had 30 FTE dedicated library and information staff. When I left, it was just 1FTE. The service had gradually been cut, merged, moved around and changed names so often that it were no longer recognised as a library service. All previous progression routes ceased to exist or moved outside of the library. I got to the point where I accepted that I’d gone as far as I could in my current role. I wanted to continue working for the same organisation, so started looking around for opportunities to move sideways in to a role that would still make use of my skills.

What do you do in your current role? I work in a Continuous Improvement team. We support the organisation to get better at what it does. The role is quite broad, so as well as managing projects to improve processes, I also support colleagues to plan, write and publish accessible guidance documentation.

What library skills do you use in your current role? My working knowledge of records management, knowledge management and information management have all helped. I’m currently supporting a project to create new ways of managing and sharing organisational knowledge. An understanding of metadata, taxonomies, information architecture and user experience have all proved to be valuable. I design and lead workshops to teach people how to write accessible documentation and usually manage to sneak some knowledge of metadata in there as well (No point writing a document if no one can find it afterwards). Working on Continuous Improvement projects needs an understanding of research, information gathering, data analysis, data visualisation and facilitation skills. Mostly it’s about bringing people together to share knowledge and using data to work out how to make things better.

Do you think that your library skills helped you to get this position? Yes, but I don’t think they are necessarily acknowledged as ‘library skills’. I spent most of the job interview talking about metadata. That technical knowledge, combined with my experience in designing and leading practical workshops were what secured the position, along with case studies of how I’d used data to adapt or improve the library service. You only need to scan through the list of knowledge, skills and experience I use in my current role to see how aligned it is with library and information work: enquiry skills, resource description, customer service, data analysis, stakeholder engagement and influencing.

What other skills have you had to acquire since leaving the library profession in order to enable you to carry out your work? Not so much skills as knowledge. I’ve had to learn about Quality Management, ISO 9001 and a few other related British Standards. I’ve also started the journey to become a Lean Six Sigma ‘Green Belt’ practioner.

Do you maintain any professional memberships or are there new ones which are more appropriate? Yes. I’m still a member of Cilip. I’m looking forward to getting involved in their new ‘Knowledge Management’ group - I see links between Quality Management and Knowledge Management. My organisation recognises and pays for CQI membership, and I chose to maintain Cilip membership myself. Cilip have really evolved since Nick Poole became CEO and I’m happy to continue to support them as they advocate for libraries and librarians.

Do you have any future plans/aspirations? I’d like to return to libraries at some point. I miss that sense of doing something that felt like it made a difference. There’s one thing missing from my current role that was central to every role I’ve had in libraries: ethics. Right now, returning to libraries isn’t possible. I live in an area that used to be ripe for library and information positions, but local opportunities are diminishing, especially in the public library sector where it looks like the remaining service is about to be handed over to volunteers. Moving isn’t an option, so I’m remembering advice I heard from another former librarian: ‘Your library skills are valued outside of the libraries more than they are within libraries right now’. There are plenty of jobs available in this organisation, so I’m not going to limit myself to just one role.

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