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!