New job, new focus

It has long been a goal of mine to move back to the north east¹, and for quite some time I have been keeping an eye out for jobs that would make this possible. The longer the job search went on the more I came to realise that if I wanted to make the move I would need to look for opportunities beyond libraries. At first this was a daunting thought – what else was there that I could apply for, and realistically be in with a chance of getting? As time went on through it became quite liberating to think about what aspects of my previous roles in libraries I have really enjoyed and am good at, and then to try to identify alternative careers that would allow me to focus on these.

In the end, finding a job outside of libraries became my second goal. To achieve this I did a lot of work first identifying what transferable skills I have and then tailoring my applications to link my experience in libraries to the person specifications. This whole process really made me rethink how I put together applications. I think I’ve come up with a good CV and covering letter combo that is easy to adapt, and that was ultimately successful.

What I hadn’t considered was how my professional identity would change as I moved away from libraries. In a new city and new job I am meeting a lot of new people and I’m still not sure how to answer the staple small-talk question: what do you do? It was easy to tell people I was a librarian, despite the concern that many librarians have with people not knowing what that really means. Looking from the outside now, I think this concern is true of just about every job. If I wanted to explain to anyone what any member of my family did, I would need to provide more context than just their job title or a broad category, like lawyer or teacher. For example, my sister is an academic. That’s not really enough to go on is it? And who really knows what academics actually do? Does it help if I tell you she’s in the psychology department? Not really? That her research focuses on cognitive development in school-age children? You get the point.

So, what am I doing now and how am I going to describe to people what I do? Earlier this month I started a new job as Learning Resources Designer in the Centre for Global Learning and Executive Education at Durham Business School. In this role I will be:

  • coordinating the production of learning resources for modules on the centre’s online and blended programmes
  • recording and editing audio visual resources
  • ensuring design consistency and high standards of production are maintained between modules and authors
  • researching and advising on new developments and good practice in elearning

As I touched on above, you need to describe to people what you do, rather than just give them your job title or a broad category. However in some cases, your Twitter bio for example, you don’t get that luxury. In these cases I have settled, for now, on calling myself a learning technologist; but what does that really mean? Well, I’m still in the process of working that out myself! Here’s the definition from the Association of Learning Technology (ALT):

Learning technology is the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching, and assessment. Learning Technologists are people who are actively involved in managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of learning technology.

And if you want to find out a little more, my starting point was David Hopkins’ great series of blogs posts on the theme.

I don’t want to say goodbye to libraries completely, and so I will still be doing some additional activities to keep my hand in. I am attending, and delivering a nano presentation at next month’s Toon LibTeachMeet. And will be participating in the New Librarianship MOOC.

The impact all of these changes will have on this blog I would expect to be minimal. My professional interests are still broadly the same. This blog has always been used for reflection on things I’m doing, reading and contemplating. And that’s not going to change. Perhaps it will just be a change of context, of examples, or applications. We’ll see.


¹ I lived in Newcastle for four years as a student

Advice for new professionals (or anyone in the job market)

I recently signed up for Char Booth‘s webinar Librarianship as an “Avocational Vocation” – Advice for new professionals. Unfortunately due to a calendar error I didn’t make the live session, but have have just caught up on the recording. I don’t really consider myself a new professional any more, but if you read the blurb for this webinar it says it’s for “anyone interested in the future of libraries”. Well, that’s definitely me.

When I signed up I was in a precarious position career-wise having handed in my resignation with no new job to go to. I’ve therefore been thinking a lot about career paths and progression and was seeking advice anywhere I could get it. Between signing up and the actual event I found a new job. So, my perspective on the session shifted somewhat and I’ve picked up lots of good tips for starting in a new role.

First of all it was interesting to hear Char talk about her route in to librarianship, particularly as it felt like she was telling my story: graduating from university with a history degree, identifying that the research aspect of that was the most interesting and enjoyable, equating that to libraries and information, and as a result undertaking a graduate library course.

Below are the tips I picked up from the session as well as some of my own under four key themes…

Pushing boundaries

This topic came from a question posed by one of the hosts about how new professionals can find it hard to challenge traditions. Char suggested two possible routes:

  • inside the workplace; making changes through practical and scalable ideas
  • outside the workplace; through advocacy groups and contributing to the professional discourse

The key success factor for both is collaboration.

Making allies

For collaboration we need allies. Char’s tips for making allies at work, and I think this goes for in life in general are:

  • get to know your colleagues informally. Who are they? What do they enjoy? What are their personalities?
  • be nice! Manners and sincerity go a long way.
  • show yourself to be a good colleague

I would add to this to give the best of yourself. A very good friend once told me that when she first met me she thought I was an ice queen. It was hard to get to know me as I gave little of myself away. With this knowledge when I meet new people now I try to be open and give them the leads they need to get to know the best of me. This will be particularly important when starting my new job soon.

Professional writing

Something I struggle with is developing ideas into output. Here are some great tips for overcoming just that:

  • don’t let an idea go at the superficial level – dig deeper.
  • put your heart and brain into writing
  • take notes on everything you do
  • seek to add value, e.g. don’t just retweet, tell us what it means to you. This scales up to extended writing – a lot of professional literature is rehashing what has gone before.

Public speaking

When I first started working, public speaking was my worst nightmare. Everything changed when I discovered that you can’t forget what you were going to say if you don’t have a script to start with. This helps you to get to know your subject really well and to have a natural delivery style.

It’s about confidence and practice: remember you’re not just giving your audience information, you’re entertaining them. What is your presenting personality? My view – be yourself.

Char suggests you conquer your presenting fears by doing karaoke! If you’re not into that, and I’m with you there, try recording and re-recording your practice runs. I’ve written about this topic before in a post on preparing to present.

Designing for the user

On Wednesday last week I had two seemingly unconnected activities in my calendar. The first was tuning in to the webcast of Char Booth‘s keynote, The Analogue to your Digital, at the m-libraries conference. The second was sitting down to watch the first lectures of my next Coursera course, Human Computer Interaction (HCI).

I can’t believe that I didn’t realise before I was part way through the HCI video lectures that these two events were related. Essentially, they’re both about designing products for people. The introductory HCI lectures provided the theory to the practical examples, in the context of library service provision, provided by Char.

From the two events, these were the key messages I took away:

  • when designing any new tool we are facilitating a series of tasks that the user wishes to complete
  • we should focus on the real world effects and results of using technology and use this to drive design
  • we should consider our own learning curves and frustrations in learning to use new tools and technologies when designing our own
  • users are partners and should be worked with throughout the design process
  • prototypes help aid communication between user and designer
  • prototypes help to uncover issues and evolve designs

And finally whilst looking for an image to include in this post I found this, a thought I shall try to keep in mind as I progress through the HCI course and work on my own design project: