Do you align yourself with your profession, your sector, or your workplace? It’s probably a bit of all three, with the balance shifting depending on things like: the length of time in a workplace, the level of involvement in professional activities outside work, the amount of personal interest you have in your sector/workplace etc. I’ve been thinking about this lately, for no particular reason other than a growing awareness of the dynamics of work and our experience of it – helped by a recent Happiness at Work survey, and making some major personal work-life decisions around the same time.
When I first qualified as a librarian in 2006, I was proud of my academic achievement and excited about my newly-minted profession but I didn’t immediately feel like a librarian. I was working part-time in the broad area of information/learning resource provision but not in a library. I didn’t work with any other librarians, and I didn’t really hang out with any online or in real life either. My daughter was born at the end of that same year and I was on maternity leave for 6 months, which was a precious and crazy time but didn’t exactly help me feel embedded in my new profession. When I went back to work I was relieved to be going back to something familiar and flexible, and barely thought about how to progress in my ‘career’ for another couple of years. In short I was comfortable with my specific workplace and my role in it but not really engaged with the wider profession.
In 2009 I started work as a cataloguer in a ‘real’ library. It was around this time that I started getting involved in library talk on Twitter, going to more library events and generally feeling like a librarian. However, my post didn’t strictly require a library qualification, and my library was small and somewhat idiosyncratic, straddling a line between academic library, subject-specific research collection, and charity. But at this point I was so pleased to be doing actual library work and meeting actual librarians that I tended to ignore the gaps between my day to day work and the idea of ‘a librarian’ that I had begun to apply to myself. I’d characterise this period as feeling strongly aligned to my profession but in a workplace that was still somewhat adrift from it, and didn’t really fit into a defined sector.
So what about now? I’ve worked in this funny library for over 5 years now, and several more shifts have taken place. The library itself has changed and, in terms of systems and technology, aligned itself more with what other libraries are doing, but at the same time my role has become less traditionally ‘librariany’. I don’t do much cataloguing now, and the projects I’m currently working on use very few of the ‘hard’ information management skills I learned at library school. I’m managing a service that is embedded in the wider institution, meaning that I have stronger ties to this workplace as a whole than ever before. I’m also doing more international and partnership work and this has tended to align me more with what colleagues are doing (we work in international development) than with other academic librarians. But my strongest alignment is with the library specifically – we’re a great team and we do great work
I guess the perfect balance is feeling that you’re using and updating all your professional skills and contributing to your professional community, in a sector you believe in and understand, in a workplace that values you and that you like. I’m not sure I’ve cracked it completely but it’s something to aim for!
I decided NOT to make it an annual tradition to use a Cliff Richard line for the title of my December roundup/reflection post, you’ll be pleased to hear. This one is T.S. Eliot.
My digitisation/digital library project has continued to grow (2000+ full-text papers from African and Asian research institutes, thousands of downloads per month). I’ve presented about it at a conference, and had a follow-up article published in a journal. The next phase of the project has, I think, more challenging targets and involves more complicated and diverse partnerships, but so far, so good…
The institutional repository is being used a lot more (considering we have no mandate for self-deposit) after I spent the summer delivering training and raising awareness. We launched to the wider world in October and are seeing around 15,000 downloads per month. Challenges here are still around advocacy and workflow – with so many teams and departments involved in project/partnership work with their own established websites, it’s hard to convince people that archiving publications in the repository as well is anything more than duplication of effort.
I’m not sure I still feel like a cataloguer, which is a shame in a way, but I’ve found new skills and strengths (and weaknesses) to explore and worked with new people in new ways, which has been difficult and fun and eye-opening and never ever boring. (And although I love the detail and intellectual work of cataloguing, subject indexing, classification etc, I’d be lying if I said I was never bored by creating a record for a paper on econometrics that nobody will ever read…)
As my job responsibilities have increased this year I’ve struggled more with work-life balance. We’ve bought our first house and our daughter has changed schools, both of which events probably deserved more of my mental and emotional attention than they got. And I’ve been tired and ill more often that I should be. On the other hand I have got a bit better at saying no – and I’ve realised that half the time it’s not even a case of being asked outright and having to refuse, just being less quick to volunteer for things or to offer help. Obviously it would be a shame if I never again said yes, or got involved with new things, or helped my colleagues! But for now the balance needs redressing.
Some of my personal goals for next year:
1. Have a paper accepted for at least one more publication or conference (incredibly I’ve started to quite enjoy public speaking!)
2. Be more strategic (and cynical?) about my role at work and what I want/can afford to give to other people and teams. Stop being in denial about the politics involved.
3. Set aside some time every week for personal writing/publishing admin (ie getting a poetry collection together, entering competitions, submitting to magazines, keeping proper bloody records – I mean what kind of librarian am I??)
4. Be less self-critical and learn to understand that even if my work is target-driven and subject to competitive benchmarks, how I feel and what I can cope with is not.
To unpack that one a bit, I am a fairly logical and sceptical person and although I think this mindset is a healthy way to approach the external world, it can have a negative side if applied to individual emotional experience. Ie. I need to stop examining every feeling I have to check that it’s justified or ‘evidence-based’. If I’m tired or stressed there’s no benefit in conducting a mental cohort study to see what other people in the same situation are experiencing and then concluding that I shouldn’t be tired or stressed at all.
So yes, watch out 2014, I’m going to have some feelings in you and I won’t be giving myself a hard time about it. Happy Christmas!
Quick update/plug. After speaking at the annual conference of the UK Libraries & Archives Group on Africa (SCOLMA) in July, I was asked to submit a version of my paper to their journal, African Research and Documentation. This has now been published and an open access copy of my article on availability and discoverability though cataloguing, digitisation and digital repositories is available here.
This time last year we launched our institutional repository to an internal ‘audience’ of academics and research administrators, holding demos, leafleting and doling out cake all week. Since then we’ve created 6 new collections and uploaded over 350 new documents. In the second half of the year we clocked up over 18,500 downloads, thanks to Google indexing and a variety of sources (from Wikipedia to university reading lists) linking to items in the repository. Also this year we have linked repository deposit to our content management system, so items can be easily converted into entries on our main website.
BUT self-deposit rates are still low. Confusion over publisher policies and permitted versions is a barrier. Academics don’t have time. Their administrators don’t have time. Does it apply to them? What is it for? Why can’t they just list their publications on the website like before? So for Open Access Week 2013 we had another big push, with online communications, new posters and leaflets, prizes for deposit, and a big external splash led by central communications.
I was really pleased with our promotional strategy and materials, and the response from external users (see this Storify), but the proof of the advocacy is in the repository… and by Wednesday afternoon I was getting worried that I’d have to eat all the prize chocolates myself, because the deposit rate was even lower than in a normal week.
What could we learn from this? Maybe it was a timing issue – incentives are pointless unless people actually have content to contribute during the timeframe. Maybe the barriers still outweighed the allure of chocolate. Maybe I hadn’t done my job properly and despite all the training and documentation, people just didn’t know how to deposit publications.
By the end of the week, although submissions were still conspicuously lacking, I had received several emails and phone calls from people who intended to add something but needed a bit more guidance on the what and how, and the level of awareness generally seemed to have risen – so although some chocolates remain unclaimed at time of writing, I’m not calling it a complete failure (I might just extend the deadline…)
Also in Open Access Week I went to London for a conference organised by LSE and Sage, on Open Access Futures in the Humanities and Social Sciences, of which a little more over at the Impact and Learning blog…
A quick decor update for those who like that sort of thing. This is truly the low-hanging fruit of home improvement, since it’s the smallest space in the house, but I’m pleased with my progress anyway. Maybe soon I will actually sit down and write in it…
This Thursday (12th September) I’ll be on the bill at Poetry at the Crypt, a lovely event which forms part of the Seaford Live festival each year. There will be Sussex-flavoured poems from me, Peter Martin, Martin Myers, Felicity Pople and the late Pam Hughes (read by Ralph Taylor), plus open mic slots, all in the atmospheric surroundings of the Crypt Gallery. (The Crypt itself is a 13th century flint and stone undercroft, which has a church-like feel due to the vaulted ceiling but was most probably a really big wine cellar…) An exhibition of music-themed visual art is also in situ courtesy of Last Minute Artists.
Entry is by donation (proceeds to the Chestnut Tree House children’s hospice) and includes a glass of wine (not as far I know of 13th century vintage). 7.30pm start.
More details from master of ceremonies and organiser extraordinaire Tom Roper on his blog.
Some of the things I’ve had to do since taking on a more challenging role at work and trying to be more engaged with my profession have scared me. As an introvert the scary things tended to involve talking to people aka the general area of ‘public speaking’, but recently I realised that I’m not scared of that any more. I’m not sure when I lost my fear – I suppose that, like being able to run 5k, it was incremental. There wasn’t a sudden flash of brilliance where I delivered some piece of inspirational oratory and became supremely confident because of it. The confidence doesn’t come from any great faith in my ability, so where did it come from? (Nb the following points aren’t meant as lessons, just a bit of structured reflection on my own experience!)
1. Just do it/distant elephants
You can do a thing and be scared, and usually nobody else notices you’re scared, and it’s fine. ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ is a good approach for getting things done and progressing in your career, life etc, but after a while the fear is quite tiring. Finding a way to do the thing and NOT feel the fear is surely even better, in the long term. And it’s the long term that does it, really. The more times you do something, the less scary it is. Just keep doing it. I actively embrace the phenomenon of ‘distant elephants’ to make myself do things – basically accepting potentially scary opportunities that are so far in the future they seem manageable. Once the thing is upon me it’s massive and terrifying but by that time it’s too late to back out…
2. Reverse paranoia
Reverse paranoia is a state of mind where you believe that everyone is on your side. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us, but once I tricked my mind into it, a lot of my social/performance anxiety went away. Of course these people listening to me don’t want me to fail! That’s embarrassing for everyone! Of course they’ll think the best of me, not the worst! They’re not monsters! Reverse paranoia is related to battling impostor syndrome – making yourself believe that you do deserve to be where you are, that you do know what you’re talking about, that you aren’t the only one pretending in a room full of the real thing. Which brings me to…
Objectively, I’m very unlikely to be the worst speaker people have ever heard. Objectively, I probably do know more about what I’m here to talk about than the people I’m talking to (see point 4 below). And objectively, it doesn’t matter THAT much in the grand scheme of things if I screw up.
4. Knowing the subject
I know my job and my projects inside out and that means that even if people are judging my voice, my face, my hair, my shoes or my bad jokes, I won’t be faltering when it comes to the content. This applies to poetry readings as well (I suppose people might hate my poems but I don’t feel on uncertain ground reading them, because they’re mine and nobody else could have written them.)
5. Positive feedback
All the self-affirmation and deliberate reverse paranoia in the world wouldn’t be enough if I never got any positive feedback from my audience/colleagues. When I do, I don’t allow myself to second guess compliments or think ‘they’re just saying that’ (ie point 2 again.) If I’ve managed to get some information or ideas across or inspire a further discussion, then I’ve succeeded, and I’ve decided to focus on that rather than whether I had the wrong slide up or a red face or something stuck in my teeth.