First professional post: a helpful distinction?

Over the last few years, I’ve been under the impression that as a new professional I should mainly be aiming for my first professional post. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really understand what that meant for a while back there. Progression, yes, I wanted that, but what was this name attached to it?

During my two years as an Information Assistant, I thought of myself as a professional. OK, librarian didn’t appear in my job title and the library qualification was desirable rather than essential in my job description. But I was doing plenty of things that could be classed as ‘professional.’ I had spent a year as a graduate trainee, I had the qualification – I even bought that hefty AACR2 folder – and I was on project teams and setting up new services in the library. What did I have to do to be a professional?

According to this logic, is an information professional unprofessional until they get a job in which the qualification is essential? This isn’t useful for the profession. It’s not enabling or progressive. In fact, it restricts what might be expected of information professionals early in their careers. I know very few people who went directly from library school into a ‘first professional post’ and that’s not uncommon. Of course, job roles and titles will gradually advance according to experience and knowledge. I have no problem with that. I am just against a distinction that draws a line in the sand and doesn’t seem to offer support to the next generation of LIS masterminds (yes, you).

Are there any benefits of using the phrase ‘first professional post?’ Or am I getting caught up in semantics?

From horse to human (a belated Thing 3)

I have transitioned from horse to human. Having used a photo of a lovely horse as my Twitter image for several months, I’ve decided it’s time to hang up my hooves and show my face.


This also rather belatedly fits in with Thing 3 of #cpd23 and considering my personal brand. I’ve used nataliafay for years and it seems to have followed me to my professional online persona. I use it on several social media platforms including Twitter, WordPress, Tumblr and Ravelry. If I’m using my real name, it makes sense to use a photo (thanks, Instagram) of my face. I also prefer following people with photos of themselves. As also discussed with new colleagues, it’s useful for attending events and recognising people from their Twitter photo.

Vanity check time. Googling nataliafay retrieves several reasonable results including my Twitter account and variations on that theme. However, it also retrieves: ‘IMDb: The 10 hottest man – a list by nataliafay’. I did not write this list. Aside from being gramatically incorrect, I am generally bemused by much of the user generated content on IMDb. Googling my full name, Natalia Madjarevic, retrieves more library related stuff and a now defunct blog that I can’t figure out how to remove from the Spanish directory on which it’s listed.

I wonder if having photo of my face make a difference to my social media activity? I will miss stroking the horse.

Developing a killer elevator speech

I’m in the information mafia.

That was my three second hook for this blog post.

One of the most practical sessions at SLA 2011 was Elevator Speeches: How to Develop Them with Mary Ellen Bates and Gayle Gossen. This approached the issue of marketing your role and explaining to users what you do in an interesting and contextual way. As an e-resources librarian, it’s no use saying, ‘I work with SFX, Metalib, Primo Central, Shibboleth, our LMS and lots of other very complicated things.’ It will mean nothing to my users and is likely to put them off approaching me for further help. In a profession where branding, adapting, marketing and self-promotion are crucial in remaining relevant and useful, I want to avoid alienating users at our first meeting.

I attended the session in the hope of picking up tips on explaining my role to internal and external users. I wanted to find out if this elevator speech idea could be translated into something I can do in my own work. I find myself explaining my job role not only to our academic library users but also to colleagues, professionals at networking events and friends. Sometimes these exchanges go well, other times I detect eyes glazing over or fingers reaching for the emergency button.

Although geared towards special libraries, this session featured ideas that would be useful for any information professional explaining their role to users. Firstly, Mary outlined the key features of an elevator speech:

  • It’s not a speech but a conversational ping pong
  • Opens with a three second hook
  • Tells a story in two sentences
  • Describes a problem and solves it

Rather than meeting a user and reeling off a list of key tasks, the elevator speech should be a ‘ping pong’ conversation, which hooks the listener and encourages them to find out more about your service. It’s not a verbal dump or thirty seconds of talking at someone. Say something that sparks a conversation. ‘I’m in the information mafia’ may be an extreme example. ‘I make critical information findable’ might be more appropriate.

You’re in a lift/management meeting/coffee shop and a potential user asks you, ‘What do you do?’ Mary suggests a high-impact three second hook: ‘I ensure my clients make smarter decisions.’ Not ‘I’m an information professional’ or ‘I provide high-end information services.’ How do we know our users understand exactly what an ‘information professional’ is anyway? If our job title includes the word ‘librarian’ – can we be sure this clearly explains what we do in reference to that user’s specific needs? An emphasis of the session was the importance of describing who you are and what you do in a way that adds value. Why is your service unique? How can you help them?

Describing a problem and solving it is another key technique when crafting an elevator speech and explaining how you add value to an organisation. For example, ‘You know how frustrating it is when [insert problem here]? I [insert key task here] to solve that problem and make it easier for you.’ By identifying a problem and explaining how you provide key solutions, the elevator speech is a 30 second interactive advert for your service. It makes the listener want to know more and act on it.

Mary and Gayle suggest practising your elevator speech but avoiding the dangerous territory of reeling it off to your users. It should sound natural and reflect your personality. Another tip was to leave the listener with a next step in order to follow up your conversation. This could be emailing you for help, attending a drop-in session or arranging a time to discuss further. Either way, you don’t have to tell them everything you do in that first exchange. You can add that to the pitch at a later date.

The SLA alignment project was also discussed during this session. This project involves investigating and developing the alignment and relevancy of information services to that of their organisation. This might consist of an academic library setting goals in relation to the strategic plan of their institution. Laura Woods also discusses the alignment project here. In the elevator speech session, Gayle and Mary referred to the results of the research conducted for the alignment project. The Alignment Survey Executive Summary emphasises the difference in perception between what we, the information providers, think users need and what users say they need. So when you’re pitching your service to a potential user during an elevator speech, think about how this is useful for them. They probably don’t care you’re an AACR2 and Library of Congress Subject Headings expert. It’s probably much more useful to explain how intuitive it is to search and browse the library catalogue.

I start a new job in two weeks. I need to develop my new elevator speech and a killer three second hook!

How do you explain your role to your users? Would you use an elevator speech?

Image: This car up that car down by billsoPHOTO on Flickr.

Getting out of the reflective practice rut

Over the last 18 months, I’ve been stuck in a bit of a ‘reflective practice’ rut. Although I’ve been lucky enough to have an employer that values continuing professional development, I just wasn’t doing much with the stuff I learned at events or courses.  I’d attend a useful CILIP event or cpd25 course and often use some of the skills I picked up in my day-to-day work. But in terms of reflecting upon new ideas and putting them down in writing, it just didn’t happen.

Then I went to a humongous international library conference. KABOOM.

In January, I applied for the Early Career Conference Award as a way to escape my reflective practice drought. I already followed some past ECCA winners on Twitter and was impressed with the work they were doing at a relatively early stage in their LIS careers. It was exactly what I needed. At SLA 2011, I had the opportunity to meet lots of engaging info pros and listen to knowledgeable speakers. More on that here.

So, I came back from the conference and realised that if I want to follow cpd23 and reflect on my professional activities, I should probably set up a proper blog. Before I left, I had a Tumblelog and a Twitter account. I find Twitter ridiculously useful. Not only did I see the advert for my new job on Twitter, but I’ve made connections with information professionals I didn’t expect to make when I joined in 2007. My Tumblr account is a mixture of images and short posts. It looks pretty but useful it was not. See Meimaimaggio‘s Dot’s & Loops for a good account of Tumblr and the difficulties with blogging.

Sometimes I feel like a library intruder. I didn’t plan to be here and have been drifting for a while. But you did the same thing, right guys?


Image: Typiewriter! by etharooni on Flickr.

Can Academic Libraries learn from Corporate Libraries?

In the 2011-12 academic year, many UK undergraduate students will be shelling out around £9000 in tuition fees. As a result, Academic libraries must provide a service worthy of such an increased personal investment. But as academic library budgets continue to fall, how do we provide a really brilliant service with less money?

At the SLA 2011 Conference I wanted to hear how Corporate Libraries in the US are coping in the difficult financial environment. This was more a hope than an aim – I wasn’t sure if it would translate into tangible ideas that I could take back to my work as an academic librarian. However, there were several sessions that, although delivered from the perspective of a corporate library, offered ideas which could be useful for academic libraries.

The Corporate Library in Turbulent Times session was hosted by the Business & Finance Division. Jim Matarazzo and Toby Pearlstein discussed survival skills for corporate libraries. A key message from the session was the importance of demonstrating the value and worth of a service on a regular basis. US corporate libraries are therefore evaluating, SWOT-analysing and benchmarking their services in order to demonstrate their worth and avoid catching the dreaded outsource-express.

As the majority of corporate libraries are based within an organisation, information professionals in this type of role must also develop a wider knowledge of that sector. Academic libraries can do their own version of this. Does your institution have a particular research focus or a new programme? Develop and exploit this – talk to key academics and ask exactly how you can further improve that strength.

Another strong message of this session was marketing your service from the top. The speakers emphasised the importance of recruiting a champion for your service at a senior level. If these people are advocating information services, it’s more likely this message will trickle down throughout the organisation. In the case of academic libraries, if the Principal or a Head of Faculty is on your side, attracting more library advocates will be much easier in the future. In additon, both academic and corporate libraries are fighting to pay for resources – be it databases or staff – with other departments within their organisations. It’s vital that the library is a visible service to those who control the budgets.

It’s useless working really hard if the user neither wants nor uses a particular service. Prioritising services that are most popular (don’t know? ask them) is an efficient way of becoming indispensable within an organisation. But how does this relate to academic libraries? Well, I frequently hear from students and academics who haven’t visited the library all year. But they’ve probably used our electronic resources or emailed us for help. Demonstrating that it’s the library who provides these services is important. If the library brand is strong, users will immediately recognise us as the source of information.

Looking at individual services highly valued by users is a key way to prioritise services and resources in academic libraries. Selena Killick’s recent Facebook survey is a good example of this – asking university students, ‘What would your ideal academic library offer?’ Top of the poll at time of writing is ‘Access to electronic resources for my research’ – comforting words for an e-resources librarian.

Of course, there are plenty of UK academic libraries who are already doing all of this. And I’m sure there are lessons corporate libraries could take from us. I found it useful to hear about the coping strategies of US corporate libraries and consider them in relation to my own role in a university library. The ‘Future Ready‘ theme of the conference highlighted how the coping strategies of various special libraries can be applicable across the profession.

Image: New York City#2 by NatalieTracy on Flickr.

SLA 2011: A first-timer reacts

This week I was a first-timer at the SLA 2011 Annual Conference in Philadelphia. I’ve been back on English soil for a few hours and here are my immediate reactions and highlights.

Firstly, I have to admit that I’m properly exhausted. In all senses of the word, the conference was conducted on a massive scale – a sprawling convention centre and a packed catalogue of sessions. Most days were 8am-midnight, with breakfast meetings (sausages and financial forecasts), back-to-back afternoon sessions and evening networking drinks.

The conference combined a good balance of big ideas sessions, which offered glimpses of inspiration, coupled with practical sessions filled with tangible content and tips to take to work on Monday morning. I left some sessions – see Abram and Salo below – giddy with energy for the profession and a little bit in awe.

A quick list of my highlights:

  • Creative Commons Vice-President Mike Linksvayer discussing copyright and open access as a ‘social responsibility’
  • Meeting information professionals – particularly SLA Europe members, SLA Fellows and other ECCA winners, @ChingfordHall, @shw34 and @theREALwikiman
  • Developing an elevator speech with Mary Ellen Bates – succinctly explaining what you do in the context of users’ needs
  • Dorothea Salo’s spotlight session on Scholarly Communication and Open Access in the 21st Century
  • Eating a pancake bigger than my head – here
  • New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s keynote speech – the world is getting flatter and more connected
  • Stephen Abram’s spotlight session: Getting Out in Front of the Curve – the ‘article-level universe’ and contemplating ‘scary’ geniuses Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs
  • A sneaky trip to Macy’s to buy the best handbag I have ever owned
  • 60 sites in 60 minutes with Gayle Lynn-Nelson and John DiGilio from the SLA Legal Division – including the awesome What’s That Bug? and collaborative search engines
  • Realising that being an information professional isn’t just about going to work every day but engaging, contributing and advocating

Thanks again to SLA Europe and the Business & Finance Division for trusting me with a plane ticket and a conference lanyard.

I’ll be blogging about specific sessions in more detail this week and for the SLA Europe blog soon.

I’m off to bed.

SLA 2011: A first-timer plans

This weekend I’ll be catching a plane to Philadelphia to attend the SLA Conference 2011. It will be a weekend of firsts – my first time in the US, first big international conference and hopefully the first time I’ll get to eat a plate of food bigger than my head (big portions, right?).
On Twitter, I’ve already seen lots of #sla2011 tweets and it’s been a useful resource for conference tips and learning how others approach planning such a huge conference. Comfortable shoes and using the online session planner seem to be high priorities. I’ve picked through the session catalogue and have an idea of my schedule but I’m ready to take the advice of the wise people from SLA Europe who say: if you’re not enjoying the session you’re in, leave and go to another. This sounds radical to someone who’s used to attending, on the whole, polite UK conferences and information days. I like it.
As a new professional, I’m looking forward to the SLA Fellows and First-Timers meet and meeting people from SLA Europe and the Business & Finance Division. ‘Crime Scene Investigation Philadelphia: Forensic Science explained’ and some Open Access sessions are also on my list of to-dos.Hopefully I’ll make some useful contacts and come back with ideas that will inspire my own work. Attending this conference is really a positive drive for my own continuing professional development and I’m grateful to SLA Europe and the B&F for making it happen.
Of course, I’ll make time to eat a Philly Steak Sandwich.
Photo: Philly’s Sandwich by Lui.C on Flickr.

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