Monday, 2 December 2013

When did it become OK to be rude to each other?

This weekend I went to Library Camp at the brand new and very swish Library of Birmingham. I've been to a fair few of these unconference events in various parts of the country and it's always great to catch up with old friends, meet new contacts and put names (and Twitter handles) to faces. However, when reading over some of the tweets from the day, I began to reflect on something that has been bothering me about the profession for a while now: the fact that there is an undercurrent of passive-aggressiveness and, on occasion, downright nastiness and bullying in some librarians' tweets either to each other, or passive-aggressively aimed at something a particular person has said or done that they don't like or agree with. By no means are these tweets limited to Saturday's Library Camp, or even to the library and information profession generally as I think it's a human problem if I'm honest, but it does seem that it is now becoming acceptable to be very rude to each other via various forms of social media and internet communication and I hate it. How has this happened?

Don't get me wrong, I love Twitter and Facebook for communicating with others and (for those who 'follow' me or are 'friends' with me will know) I love a good debate. However, I like to think I stop short of making any debate into a personal attack on someone and would never dream of making personal comments towards people in a passive-aggressive or direct manner via Twitter or otherwise. I'm not perfect though, and I'm sure there are times when I've had a bit of a Facebook or Twitter rant. Perhaps this blog post is indeed a passive-aggressive rant too but, for the most part, I try to put across all of my social media exchanges in exactly the same way that I would behave in person. It just worries me that people seem to be getting ruder and ruder and the 'social' in social media is not really about being sociable at all. I'm not going to name any names or quote any tweets I've seen over the past few weeks/months, but I wonder if anyone reading this post will have seen similar tweets or perhaps even have had things passive-aggressively aimed at them? I know I have had it happen to me plenty of times, but in the words of Destiny's Child: "you know I'm not going to diss you on the internet, cause my mamma taught me better than that."

I didn't particularly enjoy Library Camp for a number of reasons. Many are to do with me and not the people who were there, plus I wasn't feeling 100% and wussed out of pitching a session, but I'm not going to go into all that in this post. I just wanted to blog about some things that do generally concern me about the profession and how people communicate with each other generally. It disheartened me to see a number of tweets from people bemoaning what someone was saying or whether someone was talking too much in a session. I wasn't in these particular sessions but I would be curious to know whether these people spoke up in the sessions and perhaps tried to create a debate or change the direction of the discussion if they were unhappy with it. Did they use the law of two feet to leave the session they were dissatisfied with? Or did they just take to Twitter to air their concerns? 

I remember being overwhelmed at my first ever 'proper' conference which was the CILIP New Professionals Day back in 2012. Since then, I've been to loads of conferences and Library Camps and met loads of fantastic librarians. I've done all the things everyone said you should be doing: networking on Twitter, having a blog, reflecting on my own professional development, starting the postgraduate qualification etc. etc. but lately I feel like there's something missing. At conferences and at Library Camps we all sit there staring into our smartphones/tablets/laptops tweeting into the ether, but for what? One reason is so that the people who aren't attending the events can read about the discussions that are taking place and I do think this is a good thing, but I also get the feeling that there is a slightly nastier undercurrent to some of these tweets that aren't necessarily for the benefit of those unable to attend the conference. What is it about Twitter and Facebook that makes us want to take to it straight away when we're outraged or disagree with something, rather than speaking directly to the person we disagree with? One of the more deplorable tweets I ever saw at a conference (again not naming names or events) was somebody making personal comments about a speaker's outfit. What has that got to do with anything and why did they feel entitled to comment? 

I find it too difficult to sit in a session at something like Library Camp and tweet, because I know I'm not giving the session my full attention if I do that. Why do we think it is a good thing to sit in a room looking at our phones rather than at the people who are speaking? Are we listening to the discussion properly? I think not. How can we really be there, in the moment when we can't even be bothered to look at the people in the room? We worry about being in an 'echo chamber' in the library and information world but in my opinion it's worse than that. We're no longer united and looking outward, using social media to advocate and generate more awareness of the challenges facing us. Instead, we are focusing inward and spending too much time bickering amongst ourselves and searching for gratification via how many people we can get to agree with our opinion on Twitter or Facebook. Perhaps this isn't a problem with just our profession, I do think it's people generally. We can hide behind the safety of phones, computers and tablets and say what we want, things which we would never say to somebody's face. It's everywhere, this hate: on Facebook, Twitter, people's blogs, comment sections on newspaper websites. Everywhere. I'm often outraged at just how hateful and rude people can be and it makes me sad. Presumably we all went to primary school and got taught to be nice to each other, presumably we don't speak to our family and friends this way, so why is it ok to be like this online? 

So much is missing when we can only communicate via the written word. We have no sense of tone or body language so people can easily hide behind their words and protest that they were 'only joking' or 'didn't mean it that way' if they are confronted about something they've said online. The thing that baffles me the most is that we have so much more control over what we're saying online than we do in real-time conversations. If anything, we have time to reflect and not just blurt things out, which is why it shocks me that there is so much anger and hate out there on the web. 

I'm definitely not saying anything new here, I'm fairly sure that psychologists and sociologists have been studying human interaction online for years, but I just wanted to reflect and blog about some of the genuine concerns I have. The way I've seen some librarians conduct themselves online appalls me. If that's the way they speak to other professionals online, how on Earth do they speak to their colleagues or library users? I certainly wouldn't want to go into their library.

I'd love to see a Library Camp where tweeting in a session was seen as rude. Where participants were encouraged to engage with those in the room rather than people elsewhere. Call me old fashioned, but if I ever pitch a session at another Library Camp in future I would like to see if it is possible for people to go for 45 minutes without looking at their smart phone. We need to remember that we are all people first, above all else, and we are letting technology ruin our relationships with each other. There are so many good things about the LIS profession and Twitter, such as #uklibchat which is a collaborative effort by some excellent librarians and the chats often create healthy and interesting debates. Similarly, I have met so many great people via Twitter and I really appreciate that they are out there for advice and tips and just general chit chat. However, I do sometimes feel that a lot of the good things about Twitter and Facebook are overshadowed by the negative things and lately, it's really been getting me down. I write this post to serve as a warning, just as much to myself as anyone else, than I do not let technology get in the way of me actually behaving like a decent human being. I wish others would heed this advice too.

Friday, 18 October 2013

But how hard can it be to write a CV?!

On Wednesday I went to a workshop organised by North East CILIP on CV writing, ran by Donald Lickley from Sue Hill Recruitment. The event took place at Northumbria University.

My current boss suggested the event to me (are they trying to get rid of me already?! Joking...) and since it was free and work would pay for the train travel I thought why not? I realised once I moved back up North and began job hunting in earnest that my CV was in a total mess. I'd gotten so adept at application forms and working on how to make them perfect that I'd neglected my CV for a long time. It's very rare that organisations ask for CVs these days, but when I did come across a job that asked for a CV I was completely stuck as to how I would tailor it to their requirements in the advertisement.

When I ran my session at Library Camp North East, somebody said that they use a skills based CV rather than a career based CV and I really wanted to know how I would go about making one of these. Donald's session was very informative and worthwhile and I'm glad I attended. Despite taking loads of advice from my uni careers office and taking advantage of examples and templates they had, Donald's session made me realise that I was making a lot of common mistakes that people make on CVs. For example, particularly in the library profession, we tend to focus a lot on the day-to-day processes at work and our CVs can end up looking like quite a mundane list of small jobs we do, rather than selling our skills to a potential employer.

With a skills based CV, it is easier to tailor your CV to a job application because you can link your skills and experience to a particular person specification. This obviously means that you may have to edit your CV considerably every time you apply for a job that asks for a CV, but from a personal perspective I would much rather do this and send off an excellent application rather than run the risk of not getting shortlisted because my CV is too generic. Another advantage of a skills-based CV is that your chronological list of jobs is kept very short and comes underneath the section where you list all of your skills. One of the reasons I thought my CV was messy is because up to now, there are three periods in my life when I have had two jobs at the same time. This made my CV quite lengthy and anybody just glancing at it and not paying any attention to the dates could make the assumption that I am a job-hopper or cannot hold down a job for very long.

The way you structure your information on a skills based CV would look something like this:

  • Name and contact information at the top
  • Short, personal profile. Think of it as an 'abstract' of the rest of the information on your CV. About 4-5 lines to keep it concise. I really struggle with writing these and find it's best to write it at the end once you have completed your CV.
  • Skills - if I were tailoring this to a particular specification for a particular job, I would probably borrow the terminology and headings from the employer's specification to make it as easy as possible for them to read. Be sure to give names of specific software/systems you use but avoid 'in house' jargon that only your workplace uses. Also, be aware that some of the people involved in the shortlisting process (such as HR professionals) may have no idea about libraries or about the particular skills you have so try not to assume that the employer will know all of the terminology you use.
  • Career/employment history - short, bullet points just detailing the organisation and your job title. It's recommended that you only list the jobs from the last 5-10 years of your career. Your skills section will be the part that proves you are right for the job, you don't have to say that you worked in a sweet shop when you were 16! (Unless you're only 18 and that is the last job you had, in which case carry on!)
  • Education/qualifications - most recent first. If you're a graduate or postgraduate there is no real reason to list all of your A Levels or GCSEs unless specified on the job advert. E.g. certain places may need you to prove you have a C or above in GCSE Maths and English. If anything like this is specified in the person spec, put it down!
  • Further information/hobbies/interests - Be careful with this section: only mention things that might be relevant to the job. E.g. perhaps you are involved in the running of a local choir/theatre group/morris dancing group etc. so have experience of managing the finances or something that has given you skills and experience that fit the job description you are applying for.

Another advantage of a skills-based CV is that you could even forego putting in dates that you got your qualifications so as to avoid potential age discrimination if people think you are 'too old' or perhaps even 'too young'. Of course this is not supposed to happen, and we never put our exact ages on CVs or application forms because of the equality act, but I've spoken to a few people that worry about the fact that the dates they were at school or university gives their age away. People's subconscious bias are at work when they are shortlisting and if you feel uncomfortable putting that you left school in 1978 or that you got your GCSEs in 2007 and you are worried they may think you're inexperienced because of your age, just leave the dates out. In some cases this is not always possible, particularly if you are applying for jobs that require safeguarding measures and need to know what you were doing and when, but for your CV you are well within your rights to be selective with the information you provide. If a potential employer did ask for this information further down the line though, you would have to provide it. The skills based approach may not work for everyone and you may prefer to stick to an original career based CV, but I am happy that there is another option out there that will suit my circumstances better.

Donald also advised that, with CVs, we are tempted to put full details about where we live etc. but this is not always necessary. As long as there is an email address and phone number this is sufficient for potential employers to be able to contact you. If they need a postal address they can phone you to ask for one. Again, this is not supposed to happen, but Donald mentioned that he has known of people not being shortlisted for jobs because employers have assumed that the applicant lives too far away and therefore might not be willing to travel. You would think that someone applying for a job in a different town or city from where they live would mean they are extra keen, but who knows what goes through the mind of those people shortlisting.

And that's half of the problem...if employers receive 100 CVs for one post and only have half a day to shortlist, how much attention do you think your CV is going to get? Probably less than 30 seconds according to Donald. For this reason, it has never been more crucial to fill your CV with the most relevant and up to date information about yourself and ensure that it is easy to read and that the key 'selling points' will stand out. Some further key tips:

  • Keep it concise - no more than two pages of A4. Three at an absolute push if you've had a particularly glittering career.
  • Font - use the same one throughout and don't go smaller than 10 or bigger than 12 when it comes to size. Use a font such as Arial or Times New Roman. NO COMIC SANS.
  • Format - keep it very simple and try not to mess on too much with margins or other fancy formatting in Word. It may mess up if you send it to somebody using a different version of Word or if you're on a Mac and they're on a PC. 
  • Don't include information such as date of birth, marital status or a photograph of yourself. Apparently the latter is common practice in a lot of countries in mainland Europe but it's not necessary in the UK.

It can be tempting to think: 'how hard is it to do a CV?' and up until I went to university, I would have been the same. However, since I started seeking help from various career advisers and attending CPD events through work, I've realised how crucial it is to stay up to date with things like this and ensure you're always learning from best practices when it comes to job hunting. In my lifetime the job market has never been more competitive and I always pick up at least one new tip or piece of advice when I attend sessions such as the one the other day. A big thank you to North East CILIP and Donald Lickley for running the session.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

First impressions

I'm two weeks into my new job and I'm really enjoying it so far. My first day was also my birthday and my new colleagues had bought me a cake and cards, which was very generous of them. I made sure I shared it with everyone during the afternoon tea break!

This post is going to be very short and sweet, since I only have my first impressions to go on, but I feel like I have learned a lot in a very short space of time. Currently, I'm making instructional videos that will be placed on Blackboard to teach staff at the college how to utilise all of Blackboard's features. This is part of what we call 'Blackboard Boot Camp' to give tutors the chance to train themselves up on Blackboard before the Blackboard audit later in the year. If a member of staff is not using Blackboard to even a basic standard by the time the audit takes place, they will have to undertake further training to 'upskill', since the college is placing more and more focus on e-learning and new technologies. I've learned how to use Camtasia Studio 7 to make these videos and discovered that trying to record voice narration over said videos is more stressful than you would think - especially when there's a lot of building work going on that gets picked up on the recordings! Having to listen to your own voice played back again and again is also a strange experience. I've not always been the most 'techy' of people and learning how to use new software sometimes feels a bit daunting to me, but I've really thrown myself into it. My manager and colleagues are very supportive and encouraging and I think we'll all learn from each other, especially since my role is fairly new. In a way, we're all learning as we go and nobody knows what the outcome will be in terms of the work we're doing this academic year, since it's never been done at the college before.

Students, inductions and self supported study

Once term starts again, I'll be delivering library inductions to students and working shifts in the LRC a few times a week. It's going to be busy and manic in September and October but I think I'm going to really enjoy the varied nature of the role. I'll also be working alongside another colleague to liaise with tutors and create online courses for Blackboard. The college wants at least 10% of Level 3 courses to be delivered solely online as part of a Self Supported Study (S3) initiative, so that students have to work through that particular module/topic independently of tutor-led classroom sessions and all of the content will be delivered through Blackboard. Being a distance learner myself, I think I'm going to find this part of my role very interesting and after reading the reports from the pilot online courses that were ran last year, I'm looking forward to seeing what the student response will be once they are completing these online courses 'for real'. I'll be blogging more about this side of my role once the work is underway and I have more to say.

Views of Middlesbrough College, taken by me!

The future of this blog

When I first moved back 'up north' I wasn't sure how long it would take me to find work, let alone a library related job, so I'd decided that the overall focus of my blog would be around job hunting and keeping my hand in all things library and information related if I didn't manage to get a job in that field straight away. The job at the college came up at exactly the right time, as well as my weekend job at the University of York, so I've been lucky that I have no gaps in my work experience. I am still going to keep blogging around the themes of job hunting and employment issues, studying towards a professional qualification and generally being a new professional. I'll also blog about e-learning and various aspects of my role at Middlesbrough College and also my opinions and experiences of the wider library and information profession. Watch this space!

Monday, 29 July 2013

New job!

It's been a while, and lots has happened. I've got a NEW JOB which I'm starting later this week. I'm going to be working as a LRC Digital Facilitator at Middlesbrough College and I can't wait to start. The role is fairly new and I'll be working with their VLE (Blackboard) and helping college tutors make the most of the resources available. I will still keep up my blog, since I am technically 'trying to be a librarian'. I'll still be studying towards my MSc and I'll be learning so many new things in my new job so I think I will benefit from being able to blog about my library related adventures.

For the purpose of this blog post, I thought I would blog about the interview for my new role. The most stressful interview experience I've ever been through!

The interview

The brief for the interview was to prepare a 10 minute presentation to demonstrate how I would utilise a VLE and other e-resources to deliver a course entirely online. The subject matter could be anything we wanted, so I decided to imagine that I was creating an online history module for an Access course and the topic was Britain in the 1980s. For those who know me well, this is my favourite period of history and the period I focused on for my undergraduate dissertation, so I already had an awareness of a lot of the e-resources that were out there containing material for this topic.

After I'd gotten over the initial panic of realising that I would have to deliver this presentation to actual people (I'd never had to do anything like that for an interview before) I got to work trying to learn as much as I could about VLEs. As always, the library community on Twitter was an invaluable resource for me and I was able to exchange emails with a few people who already work with VLEs who gave me some excellent advice and tips. I was directed to a website called CourseSites where I could sign up for free and create my own Blackboard modules and see what facilities were available on Blackboard. This was great, as I was able to create 'pretend' course information and then use screenshots in my presentation. I was able to use my experience from studying myself (particularly my distance learning course) and asked around people I knew who had completed Access courses to ask about their experience of VLEs and what could have been done better by their college.

I also got a lot of help from a friend of mine who teaches in FE and she helped me put my presentation in the context of an FE environment and link to the current learning objectives that FE colleges are looking for from their course content. Since I've never worked in an FE college before, I found this so helpful and I think having knowledge of what they expect from tutors really helped me sell myself in the interview.

I decided to use Prezi rather than PowerPoint to deliver my presentation as I HATE PowerPoint. I'd never used Prezi before, so having only a week to learn how to use it and prepare all the content was somewhat ambitious, but I figured that a job that is all about e-learning and new technologies involves learning about new stuff all the time. Some people advised me not to take on too much with trying to learn a new technology in such a short space of time, but after looking at various tutorials about Prezi made by people such as Ned Potter, and having seen Prezi in action several times, I knew it was the best tool to use for my presentation. I kept it simple, and actually found it fairly easy to use, which I think is the key with Prezi. Even a simple one is much more effective than a PowerPoint presentation in my opinion. For those who are interested, here is my Prezi!

One of the Padlet images in the presentation is taken from the following Prezi, I hope this is OK and I won't get in trouble! As you can see, copyright law is not my strong point. 

On the day, I was so nervous and had actually been ill for a couple of days beforehand, which didn't help. On my arrival at the college, I accidentally got taken to be interviewed for an A Level teaching position (argh!) but once that was cleared up, I was taken to the right place to deliver my presentation to the panel. This was then followed by an interview and the rest is history!

A new start

So after a long month of waiting for my DBS clearance and sorting out all of the documentation etc. I will be starting my job this week. I can't wait to start and I think I'm going to really enjoy working at the college. It'll be interesting to work in a different type of institution to what I'm used to and will be an excellent addition to my CV. I'm looking forward to getting stuck in.

I will blog more about my new role once I've settled in. In the meantime, I would like to thank everyone on Twitter who got in touch before my interview and gave me loads of good advice. I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am for all of the great contacts I've made over the years and for anyone out there who is still job hunting, take advantage of the great resource out there in the Twittersphere. Those librarians love helping people, including each other!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Library Camp North East #libcampne. Saturday 15th June 2013

For those who have never attended a Library Camp before the premise is very simple. Rather than a structured timetable of events/speakers, the day is planned very informally with participants either pitching sessions in advance on a wiki or simply turning up with their ideas on the day and pitching a session ‘on the fly’. If things go to plan and enough sessions are pitched, organisers then draw up a mock timetable for the day – which usually means attendees can go to around five 45 minute sessions with a lunch break in between. Libcampne was held at Northumbria University in Newcastle.

The wiki for Library Camp North East can be found here, which has the full timetable of the sessions that ran on the day:

I attended the sessions on marketing and promotion via social media, the CILIP rebranding and image session and after lunch the supporting students and staff in shared services and the crowdsourcing solutions to big issues. I also ran the session on job hunting and creative CPD to tie in with the theme of my current blog on job hunting.

I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions I attended. The amount of attendees at libcampne meant that discussion groups weren’t too big and, for the most part, discussion could flow freely in the sessions with very little facilitation or need for structure. From other library camps I have attended in the past, sessions that have had big groups in attendance have become problematic and the discussion ends up being dominated by a few people and often ends up running away on a tangent. There was a good mix of people from different sectors and working in different roles at libcampne which meant that there was the opportunity to share opinions and ideas with people we might not necessarily meet in our day-to-day working lives. I was particularly interested in listening to people’s stories of how they tackle issues such as plagiarism in schools and how the librarians are trying to teach children from as young as year 7 about the importance of citing sources and using credible information in coursework. It was also refreshing to learn about various networks between librarians in the North East, both formal and informal. Librarians working in small teams or even alone in schools or health libraries are able to contact others in their sector for support and advice.

Job hunting and creative CPD

The session I ran on job hunting and creative CPD proved very useful and fostered some interesting discussion. I was also pleased that those who chose to attend ranged from those working at assistant level through to senior management, so we were able to get a diverse range of opinions from those applying for jobs and from those who have experience in recruiting. Below is a quick summary of what I felt to be particularly useful parts of the discussion. 

A big question that I wanted answering was HOW managers recruit and shortlist from large volumes of applicants when everyone has similar qualifications, similar experience and writes a good application meeting all of the essential criteria. One suggestion was that, rather than judge on the essential criteria, managers sort through applications by looking at the desirable criteria with the assumption that everyone meets the essential criteria at this first stage. It was suggested that some people fall down at the application stage because they fail to mention anything about the desirable criteria, therefore their applications simply don’t get considered. Another suggestion was having a competency based CV which is arranged around your skills and abilities rather than a chronological list of your previous employment. I think this is an excellent idea, as it is a great way to tailor your CV to particular jobs and also allow your application to stand out and look different to others. The discussion also reached the conclusion that a competency based CV is ideal for those who are looking to move sectors and draw particular attention to their transferable skills.

Many people in the discussion also highlighted the importance of being able to draw examples from other aspects of your life – perhaps a hobby or some volunteer work – that shows that you have gained skills from outside the workplace. A positive attitude is also crucial, particularly at the interview stage, and it is important to not say anything negative about your current/previous employer. This advice could also be used even if you are not job hunting but are attending conferences or events like Library Camp. You never know whether any of the people attending could end up being your future boss or future colleagues and it is important to create the right impression and have the right attitude. However, since Library Camps are full of people who like to attend networking events in their spare time I am perhaps preaching to the converted.

Another issue that came up as part of the discussion was: how do you let your employer know you are job hunting? I am currently in the lucky position of only having a weekend job, therefore I have not been shy about the fact that I am looking for additional work and have enlisted the help of many through Facebook and Twitter and through my blog. It’s been great to have this freedom because many people have sent me links to vacancies that I may not have noticed and I’ve found through my job hunting that I also come across vacancies that I think may be suitable for friends or family who are also looking, so you end up with a network of people looking out for each other and helping with job searches. As part of my session at libcampne we discussed how this might be more difficult for those currently in full-time work who do not want their boss/colleagues to know they are looking elsewhere. One way of approaching things is to perhaps organise a meeting with your manager and explain that you are interested in furthering your career and building on your current skills and experience. If you have a supportive manager, they may be able to help organise work shadowing within your organisation or perhaps even secondment opportunities. Managers taking part in the discussion emphasised the importance of ALWAYS remaining positive and reflecting on what you want out of your career or your current role before asking for further opportunities. In some cases you may find that a workplace is just not right for you and it becomes necessary to leave or you may just want a complete change and a new challenge, but many people in the session believed that supportive and encouraging management meant that they were more likely to be happy in their jobs.

I also wanted to find out how those in the group found their current jobs or where they look if they are job hunting. Local papers seemed to be a popular option, particularly for charities, smaller companies or jobs in schools, and also the guardian jobs site: Corepeople was also mentioned for those looking for agency work, as this particular agency is based in Durham: NRG is also a good site for agency/temporary work in the North East: There was a sense that other popular agency sites for information professionals are very South East orientated and were not particularly useful for the local area. Others which I have also been looking at extensively are , and keeping an eye on all of the North East university websites and local councils and colleges. Many organisations are saving money by only advertising on their own websites so it is beneficial to sign up to job alerts in they have that facility.

Overall, I was very pleased with the outcome of my session and the discussions I took part in throughout the day. While some of the issues raised seemed like common sense or were not particularly new or groundbreaking ideas, I don’t think that this is the point of a Library Camp. By far, the best part of the whole experience is the opportunity to network and meet other like-minded professionals. Personally, I was very grateful for the opportunity to meet so many great people who all share the same enthusiasm for their profession. Having relocated from London very recently, the concentration of professionals in such a big city makes you feel like it is the only place in the world for professional networking but that feeling couldn’t be more wrong. For me, libcampne was a big success because the attendees were all positive and shared enthusiasm and ideas throughout the day. Considering it was the first Library Camp based in the North East, I would like to say a big thank you to the organisers for making it an enjoyable and worthwhile day. The people in the Library and Information profession are by far the most important thing about it and I can safely say that, despite its smaller numbers, the North East is full of driven and ambitious professionals and I’m proud to be a part of the area.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Pace and Purpose, the National Careers Service and the importance of using your Uni Careers Service.

From anecdotes I'd heard from others, I was anticipating that the job centre's 'Pace and Purpose: Individual Skills Programme' was going to be The Worst Thing Ever. On the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience - although some aspects did seem slightly pointless.

There were only five of us on the course and from the outset you could tell that everyone was hating the fact that they'd been forced to attend and we were all acting a bit defensively. We were a bit of a random bunch: me, a 19yr old girl who had A Levels and had worked in a bank and done a number of other temporary jobs, a personal trainer who had a degree in nutrition, an older guy (probably late 50s) who had been a machine operator for 23 years before being made redundant and a woman who had no formal education as she'd never finished school but had successfully ran her own business (shops selling baby clothes, accessories etc.) before the recession until times got tough and she stopped to take care of her autistic son. Our tutor was a really nice guy and he empathised that none of us really wanted to be there, we all had other stuff we could be doing and we just had to jump through the hoops and tick the boxes that the job centre wanted so we could happily go on our way. He understood what it was like to be in our position; he'd worked as a quantity surveyor for 30 years before being made redundant and had retrained to teach adult literacy, maths and IT. The saddest part was that he was actually going to be made redundant as the company he worked for had ran out of funding for all the tutors. I hope they don't end up sending him on the course! The group immediately relaxed a bit once we realised that he was on our side.

Probably the most pointless part of the course - for someone educated beyond GCSE - were the literacy and maths tests. I understand that these need to be done as some people tell a few white lies to the job centre and imply that their maths and literacy are better than they are, but if people can prove they have GCSEs or A Levels or a degree, it seems like a waste of resources to make EVERYONE do them. But, as Dave the tutor said, we must jump through the job centre's hoops! We then had to update our CVs, so we had one to fit the template that the job centre likes, and spend what seemed to be an endless amount of time filling in booklets and forms to prove that we could successfully fill in an application form, do a covering letter and think about our skills and short and long-term career goals. There was a lot of duplication of information and the idea of filling in an application form by hand is ludicrous in this day and age, but apparently the job centre likes a lot of paperwork. However, I'm being slightly cynical here as someone who is IT literate. The older guy on our course had never used a computer in his life, so part of these exercises were great for him as Dave the tutor helped him type up his application form and covering letter so that he now has saved templates to use if he needed to apply for jobs online. In a way, I feel lucky that I'm confident with applying for stuff online and I do 99% of my job hunting on the internet. I can imagine that having limited IT skills would greatly affect your confidence and make you feel that you had no chance.

We also had to sign up to the government's Universal Jobmatch website, which I must admit I'm not impressed with. The search facility is rubbish and there doesn't seem to be a way that you can easily narrow down your search and I actually found a vacancy still up on the site that I knew for a fact had closed some weeks before. Slightly annoying. However, I must do what I need to get all that lovely free money.

The best part of the two days was a presentation we had from someone from the National Careers Service. She was a properly qualified careers adviser and had loads of great tips for job hunting in the local area for people with all types of skills and abilities and for searching a wide variety of sectors. We also had to do some personality tests as part of this, which interested me because of the work I did for the Librarians and Personality session at Library Camp London back in March 2013. An added 'fun' part of the personality test was that it linked you to a type of animal. Mine was a Clown Fish and here is the description of this personality 'type':

Clown Fish are energetic, creative and busy fish and ENFPs usually share these qualities. Clown Fish live amongst anemone but don't feel their stings due to a clever coating on their skin. ENFPs too are often thinking of new and clever ways of doing things, preferring variety and action to peace and quiet.

I'd have much rather been a lion or panther but, then again, Finding Nemo is one of my favourite films and the description above seems pretty positive so I'm fine with being likened to a Clown Fish. I was very impressed with all the information from the National Careers Service and I've discovered that there is a weekly drop-in session held every Friday at Thornaby Methodist Church where a qualified careers adviser from the National Careers Service is on hand to give you advice on CV building, job searching, interview techniques and more. Another great bit of advice is that there is often additional help and advice available from charities such as the Five Lamps, if you're local to the Thornaby or Stockton area. They can help with funding towards courses and also help you apply for jobs or volunteering opportunities and offer financial assistance for setting up your own business. For those who aren't local to Stockton or Thornaby, it is still worth investigating your local National Careers Service branch for helpful tips and advice and possible local charities that can help with funding. They are independent from the job centre and anybody can use their services, not just people who are unemployed. The one in Middlesbrough is on Borough Road near the Army Recruitment Office.

The search continues...

This week, I'm still on the hunt for jobs and I have another application form to send off in the next few days. This is for a proper library job in a sixth form college, so it's a job I would really love to do. Fingers crossed!

Later this week, I've also booked to do a mock interview with the careers adviser I used when I was at uni. The great thing about uni careers services is that alumni can usually use them for up to 2-3 years after they graduate and I can't stress enough how current students or recent alumni should take advantage of this service while they can. I got loads of help with doing application forms and my CV while at uni and without this help I never would have secured my graduate trainee job months before I graduated - meaning the pressure for job hunting was off and I could concentrate on my academic work. If you're reading this as a current student I strongly recommend that you give you uni careers office a visit. Even if you're thinking that your CV is fine or that you don't need any help because chances are, you probably do. It's so competitive to find jobs these days, particularly if you're searching for a graduate job, and any free advice or help from experts should never be turned down.

Onwards and upwards!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Jobseeker's Agreement

For those who have never had the delightful experience of claiming jobseeker's allowance, your first meeting with your adviser involves designing a Jobseeker's Agreement which states exactly what you're going to do each week when it comes to looking for work. Mine details that I'm going to do 26 things a week. This doesn't mean applying for 26 jobs a week, but stuff like doing an online search or sending out a speculative CV counts towards these things. Not too difficult really, if you check a few job sites daily. In the past month I've applied for 12 jobs, some library related and some not. I'm at the stage where I'm still being a bit picky and going for jobs I'd actually like to do and would actually be a bit decent and not make me want to cry. I've filled all of these in my 'Looking for work' booklet which I'll have to show to my adviser on Friday and I'm hoping he'll realise that I'm perfectly capable of finding and applying for vacancies on my own and don't need any data entry or call centre job adverts sending to me. I'm not feeling too hopeful though. There is a slight chance that if I look like I'm doing too much then he'll make me do 50-60 things a week and send out loads of speculative CVs for no good reason.

'Pace and Purpose'

Tomorrow I have to attend my 'Pace and Purpose' Individual Skills Programme course which involves basic IT skills development, internet and website introduction (including how to set up email accounts) and sessions on CV preparation & understanding job adverts. Sigh. Something tells me I'm about to embark on the longest and most pointless two and a half days of my life. Plus, once I've done this course I feel like I will have well and truly sold my soul to the job centre and be at the mercy of my adviser as I'll have to apply for horrendous jobs via the government's 'compulsory for jobseekers' Universal Jobmatch website. I've done a bit of research, via other blogs, about this site and it has become evident that this website is probably the most pointless thing ever when it comes to job hunting. One such example is Nikki Jayne's blog post about her experience being 'on the dole' and using Universal Jobmatch. I will write up my experience of using the site in due course.

While I should be reserving judgement until I've actually attended the course, I can't help but be cynical. After hearing from friends who have been unfortunate enough to attend it in the past, I am under no illusion that it's probably going to be like being back in a year 8 IT lesson. It's a shame that the 'system' can't be more intuitive for people like me and others who are already IT literate, have no problems with making a CV and filling in application forms and just need a bit of financial assistance until they get sorted. Would it be too much to ask to have job centre staff who are trained to understand the needs of graduates or people who have been in work their whole lives? There seems to be limited understanding towards tailoring job hunting for those who have perhaps been made redundant or fancy a career change; everyone is just forced to apply for the same generic jobs via the Universal Jobmatch site or made to upload their CV to things like Monster or Reed. It makes no sense and seems to be a waste of everyone's time.

However, despite my cynicism about the next few days, I am feeling quite positive about my job hunting so far. There does seem to be jobs out there, even in the desolate wasteland that is the North East. These might not be library jobs or in the exact sector I want to work in for the rest of my life, but there are plenty of jobs that I wouldn't mind doing for the next few years until I gain more experience and get my Master's finished. I'm going to try and be as picky as I can for as long as I can.

Stand by for my write-up of my Pace and Purpose course. I'm sure it is going to be an 'interesting' experience.

Monday, 20 May 2013

A new start.


As if the title didn't give it away already, but I am trying to be a librarian. I have been since about 2007 when I got a part-time job in public libraries. I decided I loved this line of work, but needed to get myself a degree before I could do my postgraduate library qualification so enrolled to do a BA in History. I was also lucky enough to secure a part-time job in the university library, so was gaining work experience the whole time I was at uni in the field I wanted to work in. AMAZING OR WHAT?!

By the time I got to third year I was panicking about what I would do after I graduated. Full-time jobs in libraries are few and far between in Teesside (where I'm from and where I was at uni) so I knew I would have to look further afield.


So, for the past 19 months I was living and working in London. I started with a graduate trainee post at a lovely library called The London Library (I took the background image for this blog on my last day working there). After 7 months I saw a job at King's College London, working as an interlending assistant, and applied and got it, YAY! I did that job for a year but, alas, London was too expensive for me to survive on a library assistant wage and I wanted a change.

Back to THE NORTH.

So, 19 months after re-locating to the capital, I have re-located back to my home town. For those of you reading this who are London dwellers, you probably think I'm crazy to have given up my job to move back here. I probably am. But I also like to think that it was a calculated risk and things will come good...eventually.

So, currently I am studying part-time for my library and information MSc with Robert Gordon Uni and I'm enjoying the whole distance learning thing so far, despite the occasional whinge about assignments! I also have a weekend job in the library at the University of York but unfortunately it is less than 16 hours a week, which means I need some help to top up my income while I look for other jobs.

The job centre

And that quick potted history of my working life has led me to today. I made my first ever trip to the job centre to open my claim for job seeker's allowance. I still feel a bit shell shocked by the whole experience to be honest, especially when I found out I would have to attend a course on how to do a CV and fill in application forms next week. This will take two and a half days! Errr, what?! Can I not just go about my business and apply for jobs and show you which jobs I've applied for every fortnight?! Oh no, apparently not. I'll also have to do a basic numeracy and literacy test, despite them already knowing I have a degree. No wonder this country is in a recession if this is the way the 'system' wastes time and resources by applying this ridiculous 'one size fits all' approach to everyone who is looking for jobs.

Anyway...this is why I have decided to start this blog. To record my experiences of job hunting, trying to reach my career goals and living through the experience of what the 'establishment' expects of you in order for you to get free money from them. I'd love to hear from others who have had to go through the same experience and I'd also love to hear from others in the library and information profession that have had a challenging journey to get to where they wanted to be in their careers. Should I remain hopeful or give up now and get a job in Tesco?! WATCH THIS SPACE.