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It doesn’t seem like long ago that I was writing with excitement about taking up a role on the SLA Board of Directors. Today, I’m writing with regret about stepping down.
It doesn’t seem long ago because it isn’t, really. I’ve served two years of a three year term, and stepping down a year early sticks in my throat and hurts and feels an awful lot like failure.
But it also feels like a new beginning, because it is. I’m pregnant, and we’re expecting our second child in the spring. I’m extremely excited and unbearably nervous: a baby took up all my time and effort, and a toddler takes up all my time and effort, so what on earth are you supposed to do with a baby and toddler at once?
Cope, of course. Because coping is what we do. But there comes a point when you have to admit that you can’t cope with everything, not all at once, and – what’s even harder – admit to yourself that there is no shame in this.
I haven’t quite got the hang of that second bit, yet. Because I am still ashamed. I know that I have made the right decision, to step down from the SLA Board. Those of you in SLA will know that it’s a challenging time for the association, full of great change, and a time when they particularly need leaders who can give their full and best effort and attention to SLA. I won’t be able to.
I could cope. I could stay on and do the minimum. I could put aside time for Board calls and delegate bedtimes and then get called away and have to go, because when your baby has vomited more milk than you realised could fit in their stomach all over themselves and their cot and is now cold, wet, and hungry again, you don’t wait until someone proposes an adjournment. I could agree to take on the extra work of leading implementation teams and taskforces, with the best of intentions. I could put undue pressure on my Board and association colleagues when they have to pick up the slack, because I can’t do it all.
And SLA doesn’t need me, specifically. No-one is going to cry themselves rigid because I’m not on a conference call, or run towards me at conference shouting ‘Bethan! Beeeettthhaaann!’ and then cling to my leg and refuse to let go. SLA needs good people, and it has them, on its Board and its staff and in its membership. I have every confidence that Karen Reczek (who will take up the empty Board seat in January) will serve SLA at least as well as I could have, and very probably much better.
But it’s not just about the pull between parenthood and professional involvement. I am absolutely not saying ‘I have kids, so I can’t do this.’ It’s about things that happen in your life, and knowing that when some things come in, other things have to be let go. It’s certainly not unique to having children: your life can be equally changed by illness, grief, by caring for others or yourself, by moving house or falling in love. Things happen. Things change. And you have to change with them or you risk falling apart.
While my priorities have changed, it’s not that I don’t care anymore, but my time is full, and, more importantly, my brain is full. I work on four services/projects at work now, and I have multiple SLA responsibilites, and a CILIP Chartership mentee, and family and friends and a home and a half-written probably-abandoned nanowrimoproject and so many books to read and… I care about all of these things. They all enrich my life. I want to do them all. But I can’t. I’m already finding that I’m making mistakes, underperforming not just for SLA but at work and at home. They may not be big omissions or errors (I forgot to put the bins out this week), but they’re there, and they matter. An email I forgot to send has hurt someone, and that failure is going to stay with me for a long time.
[Please don’t think that I’m putting all of this down to SLA vs Life. I have a list of ‘things that I cannot possibly do all of and stay sane’. It includes (but is absolutely not limited to):
- Be brilliant at my job
- Be an amazing mother
- Cook delicious and healthy food
- Keep a beautifully clean and tidy house
- Be top of my fitbit friends league chart
- Be professionally involved and up-to-date with everything in the library, archive & HE sectors
- Learn to do something really cool, like crafting maybe? Or become an expert in something interesting to talk to people about at parties. That I don’t go to. But I’d be really fascinating if I did.
Most days? I don’t even manage one of these.]
So if stepping down is the right thing to do, why the guilt? Why the shame? Because, of course, I feel like I should be able to do it all. I feel – don’t laugh, please – that I’m letting feminism down by stepping back from a professional post because of domestic concerns. I compare myself with people who I know are hugely overworked, and who I tell that they should do less and take breaks because they need time for self-care if they’re not going to burn out – and I think ‘but they can do it, so I should be able to!’. I compare myself to Victorian working-class women, the kind of people you find in Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels – you know, 12 hours in the factory then home to look after seven kids, one of them a cripple, while making beautiful lace to sell and teaching themselves natural history. I am fully aware of what a ridiculous person this makes me.
Of course, that isn’t all of it. There’s the fear of laziness, too. The voice that tells me that I should be working all the time, that time spent on things for my recreation and relaxation is wasted, unjustifiably self-indulgent. Pregnancy actually makes this one a bit easier (‘but baby needs me to sit on the settee with a stack of biscuits and a Margery Allingham!’), but although I do my best to remind myself that my physical and mental heal and weal are not luxuries, it’s a constant battle to make it stick. I am trying to teach myself this: you do not have to come last.
And: you do not have to be defined by your duties. And: do not be ashamed of joy, of seeking it and making the most of it.
Earlier this week, I presented at the very enjoyable SLA Europe event New Professionals and Marketing Your Library Service: Marketing Yourself, Marketing Your Service. It was lovely to present at an SLA Europe event, especially one up North! And a great chance to see old friends, and meet some new ones.
Ned Potter spoke (ably and interestingly as always) about marketing your service, and especially how new professionals can get involved. His presentation is available online, and well worth taking a look at. Laura Woods has also done a great Storify of the tweets from the event.
For once, I can’t point you to a copy of my slides, or my script. I went out on a creaky, precarious limb, and off the cuff. Yes, I improvised. I was sans script, sans slides, sans everything. And it was terrifying.
I knew that the venue was going to be quite informal, and so I wanted to do something a bit less formal than my traditional ‘script & powerpoint’ show. My colleague Lisa Jeskins suggested a method she’d successfully used in a training session, where she put keywords on coloured card, distributed them to the audience, and let them drive what she was going to talk about next.
As I had 9 points under three main headings, I decided that this could work well for me, too. So, a bit of font abuse later, I had lovely cards for people to wave at me. I knew pretty much what I wanted to say for each section – but ‘pretty much’ is still a big leap of faith from my usual approach, which has every last pause, umm and err scripted.
I made it even more of a challenge for myself by not dictating in which order I’d take the points, or even the topics. I was totally at the mercy of the audience. If they held up ‘congruent’, and I had to talk for about 3 minutes on ‘being congruent’, no matter how well (or otherwise) that followed on from the point before, or resonated with the point after.
It was tough – not only not knowing exactly what I was going to say, but not knowing what order I’d be saying it in! Not being able to structure an argument that flowed from one point to another. Not being able to make a general point early on and then plan on referring back to it. Switching without warning from motive to medium to message and back again. It was also tough to get the timing right – not just coming in under the total time, but trying to give each point reasonably equal weighting within that time.
But tough is good. I’m getting quite practised at presentations, but they’re all the same sort sort of presentations – write a script, put together some pretty slides, practice, and deliver. That’s not to say I’m perfect at those kind of presentations (far from it!), but it’s good to try a new method, have a new challenge. Knowing I can deliver a presentation without a script and slides is a pretty good feeling – and who knows when I might have to do it again?
And I think it’s good for me to let go of control occasionally. I don’t just get worried by not knowing in advance what I’m going to say, but also by not knowing now what I did say. Oh, I can remember some of it, but a lot of it has passed into the sort of adrenaline-fuelled haze that has you waking up at 2am in a panic of ‘did I really say…?!?’. But that’s ok. No-one else there will remember every word I said, so why do I need to? I like to carefully plan my presentations so that every word counts, but no-one actually takes in every word you say. Listening is hard work! And some things will get missed – that’s natural. So why worry that not all of my sentences were beautifully crafted, my examples perfectly apt, or my metaphors understatedly elegant? It’s not a speech. It’s not going down in the history books. As long as people took away the main points I wanted to make, and enjoyed themselves, then that’s just fine.
And we made sure they got our main points! In a fit of pure genius (or pure evil, depending on which side of the mic you were on…) we introduced battledeck-summarising!
Taking its inspiration from battledecks, Ned and I each produced 18 slides with words and pictures illustrating our main points, and asked for two brave volunteers to come and fight it out! Katie P. (@boundtounravel) and Laura Williams (@theatregrad) courageously stepped forward, and did a fab job! Laura summarised many of my points better than I’d said them in the first place, and proved she’d be an excellent ‘Catchphrase‘ contestant…
Here’s what Laura was faced with:
I hope Laura and Katie had as much fun doing the battledecks as we did watching them! It really rounded off a good, fun evening – and I’m glad I got in the spirit of things, and bared my scriptless soul.
Last Thursday (Jan 12th) I gave a webinar for the SLA Leadership & Management Division Professional Development Series, on Alternative Careers. The slides are on slideshare, and (if you have 50 minutes to spare), the recording is up on Vimeo.
This was the first time I’d ever given a webinar, and I was nervous! More so as the bookings mounted up. Anything to do with careers and employability is a hot-topic at the moment, and I was stunned as numbers mounted from 30 to 60 to 90 – finally finishing up at over 300. 300!!!
Fortunately, I didn’t have to actually present to that many people – the webinar limit was set at 100, so I’m doing a repeat on 2nd Feb, and some people agreed to just watch the recording. You may be wondering ‘Why should size matter? It’s not like you can see your audience!’. Well, that’s true – but it’s a number of people taking time out of their busy days to pay attention to you, and whether you can see them or not, that’s pretty daunting…
I expected to find the webinar more nerve-wracking than giving a live presentation. The audience is there, but you can’t feed off them. There’s no-one to make eye contact with, no way of telling if anyone’s laughing at your jokes. You can’t watch them and judge the pace and level, can’t tell if anyone is actually listening! It’s just your voice, ringing loud and strange in your ears, your reflection in the darkened window. It’s like being alone, but without the freedom to stop for 5 minutes and go make a cup of tea. Overall, a most peculiar experience – and I enjoyed it! I still got the buzz from presenting, I just didn’t have anyone to share it with…
So, in no particular order, here are some things I learned about doing webinars.
Hardware: I used a headphone/mic set, which I’ve used before for Skype calls etc, and found fine. On reflection, I’d have preferred just using a mic and my computer speakers. It’s speaking that’s important, not listening, and I found the headphones very restrictive. It was hard to forget that I had them on, and they made my voice sound very odd. For Feb 2nd I think I’ll try to source a standalone mic (it’s at 7pm UK time, so no-one to disturb in the office!)
Software: Hope from LMD was very organised in setting up a practice session so we could make sure that everything worked on my machine, and that they could hear me and see my slides. She made sure that I signed on a good half hour before the webinar was due to start, so we could deal with any last minute problems. Did something go wrong 5 minutes before the start? Of course it did! But Hope managed to sort it out, and we started just a couple of minutes late. Did I start panicking? Maybe just a little…
Presenting: as usual, I wrote and practised a script. Even though I knew I would be able to just read the script (no-one to make eye contact with!), I thought practice was still very important. As well as making sure that I’d got my timings right, it helped to make sure that everything made sense out load, and that the flow and word choice were ok.
I wanted to read the script off my kindle, but didn’t have my cable with me, and sending via email didn’t come through in time, so I went proper old-school, and printed it out. I’d originally thought I’d be able to read it on my second screen (audience view was limited to slides on main screen), but realised I’d have to use that for the webinar software.
Despite not having a physical audience, I found myself gesticulating while I spoke. In many ways this made me feel rather silly (and I really really hoped the cleaners wouldn’t come in half-way through), but it also made me more comfortable, and helped me to settle down and put more feeling into my voice. I think that the more I actually performed it on this end, the better it would be for the attendees. (No-one’s said I sounded mad, so I think it worked).
I have to admit, there were moments when I forgot the audience was there!
Questions: as organiser, Hope had arranged that she’d keep an eye on questions, and would feed them through to me at the end. The trouble was, I hadn’t warned the audience! I should have told them at the start to ask questions as they thought of them, and I’d answer them at then end. As it was, I think people were taken by surprise, and didn’t have time to type anything out (attendees all muted). I’d put my contact details on the first and last slides, and invited people to contact me if they had any questions, which a couple did. I’m really pleased they did! Not only could I help them out, but it means (I think) that I came across as friendly and approachable.
I’d also asked for feedback and got some lovely responses, in chat, through twitter and email. I’d told the audience that it was my first webinar, and they were really supportive.
Content: because a lot of the content was based on what I do, I’d gone through one of those ‘but it’s all so obvious!’ crises. My lovely colleagues soothed me, and reassured me that it would be fine, and they were right! I tried to use as many real-world examples as possible, and had 3 fantastic volunteers (Jo, Soulla, and Wendy) who let me use them as case studies. I knew that my audience would be mainly US-based, so while my case studies were all from the UK, I tried to find examples of jobs from the US to show to the audience, too.
I also tried to use neutral language, without any UK slang or jargon. I realised afterwards that I’d used ‘CV’ instead of ‘resume’, but I think it’s a common enough term that it shouldn’t be an issue. I also (in a moment of unscripted excitement) started the phrase ‘honest-to-god’, realised I had no idea if that was offensive to anyone, and managed to change it to ‘honest-to-bob’. I *think* I got away with it… I have no idea if ‘honest-to-bob’ is offensive either (maybe to people called ‘Bob’?). but I rather like it.
One thing I’d meant to do was follow the Guardian’s style guide and not use relative times – eg say ‘Wednesday’ instead of ‘yesterday’. In practice, I totally forgot! I’ll try again for the 2nd, but I think it was more important in the recorded version, which could be seen by anybody, at any time. As I’m not reporting breaking world events it’s not really that important – just a minor bit of style I’d have liked to have got right.
Overall, it was a really good experience – made so, mainly, by the feedback from people who said that it would help them in their career search. It’s a really wonderful feeling to know that you’ve helped give someone that bit of confidence to expand their search and apply for jobs they might not have thought of before. I don’t think I said anything revolutionary, but sometimes all it takes is someone saying ‘You can do it!’! I’m proud that LMD gave me the chance to be that person.
I have a confession to make: I’m not looking forward to judging the entries for this year’s SLA Europe ECCAs. In fact, I’m starting to wish that I hadn’t put so much effort into promoting them; hadn’t encouraged so many people to apply. Why? It’s not because I’m jealous of younger (and probably prettier) librarians muscling in on my territory. It’s not that I want New Orleans all to myself. It’s not because other people’s achievements will send me scurrying away to weep into my cardigan. No, it’s because I’m on the judging panel. I have to help make this decision. And frankly that scares the bejeebers out of me.
Let me make this clear: I am on the judging panel. I do not make the choices myself. And if we are tied, there is Someone Else who will make the final decision. But I’m still scared.
Part of that fear is because I’m still a fairly new professional; still rather unsure of my professional footing; still astounded that anyone thinks I should be allowed to have a say in these things. But the hard parts are the price of the fun parts. I got to swan around telling everyone how fantastic the ECCAs were and how everyone should apply and now they are and I have to deal with making the hard choices.
And they will be hard choices. The applications we’ve had so far have been of a fantastic standard, and we expect many more before the deadline. We do have objective criteria to judge on – don’t worry, your chance doesn’t rest purely on my whims! – but I don’t know how good I’ll be at applying them. I’ve never done anything like this before: never judged; never interviewed; never had to give marks for anything (except to 5-year-olds for maths, and that’s a whole different kettle of poo). How do I know I can be objective? I know some of the people who are applying. Even with their names taken off, I know where they work/study, papers they’ve written, presentations they’ve given. Just how difficult is it going to be to discard all I know about them, about their talent and what they’d get out of the award, what they’d give to SLA in turn, to forget all that and just judge by what’s on the paper in front of me? I know that’s what I have to do. I’m just saying it’s not going to be easy.
Winning one of the ECCAs last year has made an incredible difference to my professional life. How do I deny others that chance? How do I say ‘no, sorry, not you’? I know that I should be thinking of it as giving 2 people an amazing opportunity, but right now I can’t stop thinking of the others who don’t get it.
That said, it’s not just me. I have wonderful colleagues on the panel who I trust to steer us through to the right, albeit difficult, decision. And there always has to be a first time, I guess. (you see? I’m so distraught I can’t think of anything better than that really lame cliche. It’s taking its toll!)
If you’re thinking of applying for the ECCAs please, please, PLEASE don’t let my whining put you off! I’m having a ‘poor little me’ moment, but really I want the judging panel to have a very difficult job. I want us to be overwhelmed with incredible applicants. I want to give two fantastic people a fantastic chance. And I want everyone who applies to know that, simply by applying, they’ve done a brilliant thing. They’ve stepped forward and asked to be counted. They’ve shown commitment to the profession, and to their personal development. I wish we could send everyone to conference, but as that would require the help of some whimsical millionaire with a passion for effective and professional information provision, you might just have to settle for the promise that I’ll buy all unsuccessful applicants a pint. Scant comfort, but tasty beer 🙂
[ps I spent ages trying to get a heavy metal quote into the title somehow. I really wanted a variant on ‘Fear of the Dark’ but the best I could come up with was ‘Fear of the Quark. Rest assured, if I ever have occasion to blog about particle physics, that will be my title :D]
I’m voting yes.
In a way, I’m glad I’ve waited, because time has given me a great example, which illustrates exactly why I think we need to change. I was corresponding with a senior UK information professional, on official SLA Europe business, and they commented:
‘I am assuming we are working to the usual UK definition of a special/workplace library and not including academic libraries, which sometimes seem to be counted as ‘special libraries’ in the US.’
If the term ‘special libraries’ is handicapping our communication within our own profession, what is it doing to our wider communication and relevance? If information professionals have no consensus about what ‘special libraries’ are, how can we possibly unite effectively as part of a ‘special libraries association”?
I agree completely with woodsiegirl when she says that:
‘Maybe “Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals” will require as much explanation to non-members and non-information professionals as SLA did, but at least they won’t have to work their way past a set of inaccurate assumptions to begin with. ASKP is a blank slate.’
And it’s not as if explaining what we do – without the word ‘librarian’ – is a new thing. The first line of the SLA General Industry FAQs answers the question ‘what is a special librarian?’ thus:
‘Special librarians are information professionals dedicated to putting knowledge to work to attain the goals of their organizations.’
Does that definition also work for ‘what is a strategic knowledge professional?’ I think so. This is what we already are. This is what we already do. What we need to do now is to take the chance on the new vocabulary.
I’ve had recent experience of how a redefined vocabulary can really help you to explain the worth of what you do. Mimas has recently undergone a rebrand, and working the stand at Online last week was my first chance to talk about Mimas using the new vocabulary to describe who we are and what we do. We’re no longer talking about ourselves as a National Data Centre who run some services. Now we’re an organisation of experts who provide quality services to support world-class research and education. The difference was amazing. I felt much more confident talking to people. I felt that I didn’t need to be nervous, or worry that I wouldn’t be able to do us justice. I had been given the vocabulary to communicate on a wider professional level, and there was something in it that resonated with everyone I talked to, from all sectors.
This is what the alignment process is doing for SLA. They’re giving us that vocabulary to talk about our worth and value, but that vocabulary is of no use if we continue to say ‘well, it just means librarian really’. We need to commit to using the tools that the SLA alignment team have given us – and what better way to do that than to accept the biggest vocabulary change of all? No-one is asking you to not be a librarian anymore. They are asking you to use the available resources for the betterment of the profession. And when I think about it like that, well, there’s really no choice. I’m voting for change.
Voting on the proposed SLA name change has now opened (and closed, and re-opened again due a problem with the e-ballot), and will be open until 9 December. I know some people have voted already, and no doubt other will be following them with alacrity.
While I don’t want to encourage anyone to miss out on their chance to vote, I’m going to suggest that you take a little time before you vote, to really think about not only how you are voting, but why. This applies equally to those who are undecided and those who are convinced about their choice. Why? Well, I don’t think anyone would deny that this is an important decision, and important decisions deserve thought. contemplation. reasoning. Even if you have, as you may well have done, given the issue a lot of thought, take the time before you vote to revisit and consolidate those thoughts.
Imagine that the voting page has, as well as ‘yes/no’ options, a text-box, with the simple question ‘why?’. Can you answer it? To your own satisfaction? In 500 words or less? If the answer is no, then I don’t think you’re ready to vote. Take some more time to explore the issues, and try to be sure of your own reasons before you hit that ‘vote’ button.
And, by that token, I don’t think I’m ready to vote yet. I’ve said before that I’m planning to vote ‘yes’, but I think I need to spend some time being sure that I have considered all angles. After all, my vote is my vote, but it doesn’t just affect me. We’re all voting for the good of all, and I think that requires rising above personal likes or dislikes.
When I’m ready to vote, I’ll try to write those 500 words, and post them here. I’d also be really pleased to hear others’ thoughts on this. And I’ll make sure I have plenty of calendar reminders about the deadline!
So, SLA have just announced their proposed name change: Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals, or ASKPro. And I like it. I think.
What I am unsure about is the word ‘strategic’. While I think it works very well in the full name, one glance at the shortened version, and I’m immediately suspicious that ‘strategic’ was added purely because they wanted a word that started with S. This then leads me to question its value – is it there because it has a real, significant meaning to SLA members, or simply to make a snappy acronym?
And ASKpro? I think I love it. I really do. But I have this tiny, nagging suspicion that it’s one of those names you think are really cool at the time, but then 5 years later, you’re still stuck calling your dog “Woofalo”, and it’s getting embarrassing in the park.
These are only my first reactions and, for reasons stated here I will probably be voting for the change. But I think I need to ponder on it for a while, read the reasoning behind it, and generally decide how I feel about having ASKpro on my CV.
Actually, that feels pretty good. ASKpro. Yeah 🙂
You may (or may not) know that the Special Libraries Association (SLA) board has just voted on a name change for the association. The proposed new name will be disclosed to members later this week, and they will then have chance to vote on whether to accept the change or not.
This is part of SLA’s Alignment Project, which is aimed at enabling members to demonstrate the value of their skills, work, and services to their stakeholders. One of the crucial points which has been consistently made is that many people do not understand what librarians do. I think that everyone in the profession has, at some point, encountered the ‘you need a master’s to stamp books?’ response. Now imagine that response coming from the person who pays your wages; who controls funding for the library/information service.
I think it’s fairly obvious that we need to learn how to communicate effectively with these stakeholders, and a change in vocabulary is a large part of that. As this post points out, it’s not about dumbing-down: it’s about talking to our users and stakeholders in language they understand. To increase understanding – isn’t that a central tenet of librarianship as a profession?
I don’t know what the new name will be, and I don’t know if I’ll like it, but I’m fairly sure that I’ll be voting for change. Why? Because I think it represents an admirable step towards meeting our users in their spaces, using their vocabulary. I think it will show that we are not a hide-bound profession, hiding in the comfort of our dusty books, but forward-thinking, and ready to embrace change. It’s true that change isn’t always successful, but SLA have done substantial research to minimise the risks of failure. And, quite frankly, I’d rather be part of an organisation that is willing to take risks for the potential benefit of all, than one which refuses to reconsider its self-image.