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When I spoke in Chicago, I suggested a reflective exercise – before you do anything, make a list of what you think/expect/hope to get out of it. Afterwards, make another list of what you did get out of it. Did you get what you wanted? If your after list was your before list – if you’d have known that you’d get these things – would you still have done it? And what was your unexpected learning?

Unexpected learning can be one of professional involvement’s great gifts. Here are some of the things I didn’t expect to learn in Chicago.

Success is what you make it

During conference, I did a book signing (of the New Professional’s Toolkit). Three people came.

How did you read that sentence? What tone of voice did you hear me using? Resigned, depressed, self-deprecating? I mean, three people? That’s not very many, is it?

Let’s try again:

During conference, I did a book signing (of the New Professional’s Toolkit). THREE PEOPLE CAME!!!!! #zomg #awesome #iloveyouguys

That’s what I hear in my head when I say it. I mean, three people! Three people not only bought my book – TO READ – but cared enough to come and get it signed! One of them said she’d been looking forward to the book coming out since she’d heard me mention it in a talk at the 2011 SLA Conference.

After she’d gone, I may have had a little cry.

Would it have been ace to have queues of eager fans stretching right around the hall? Well, maybe (or not – the store only had 10 copies). But I really couldn’t have felt better about it than I do. The triumph was just doing a book signing. ‘Be an author’ has been one of my ambitions for as long as I can remember, and it finally, really came home to me there, sat behind that table, that I’d done it (with a lot of help from my friends). I was published, and I didn’t give a damn how many people came to get their book signed – I’d already achieved more than I’d ever thought possible just by being there. I could have happily sat there for hours.

So, umm, yeah. That.

I hate being on panels

There. I’ve said it. I hate being on panels. I hate not being able to prepare what I’m going to say (oh, you can in a general way, but you can’t script – it’s hard to script in a way that fits the more informal discursive nature of a panel, and a pre-prepared script can’t take into account the ebb and flow of the discussion – oh, and you can guarantee someone else will nick your best points). I hate feeling like the dead weight, surrounded by supremely talented and eloquent people. I hate having to try to be intelligent, profound, and quotable off-the-cuff. I hate microphones.

But I’ll keep doing them if asked (and reassure myself that I can’t be that bad, if people keep asking me). Why? Because they’re fabulous preparation for job interviews. If you can get through a panel without facially betraying how much you’re mentally berating yourself for being a blazing idiot who has no idea when to shut up, then you’re standing yourself in good stead for facing an interview panel. If you can face 50 people and manage to come up with something (vaguely) coherent when asked about problem-solving, you can definitely do it with 5.

Admittedly, I’m not sure where ‘not accidentally strangling fellow panel members with a microphone cord’ fits into the interview scenario, but I’m sure it’s a valuable life skill.

Back yourself up

You know how you’ll be talking to someone while trying to sneak a look at their name badge, only to find out the lanyard’s twisted, and you can just see the blank back? And then you lose all chance of pretending you remembered their name from 2 years ago, and either have to admit defeat and ask or keep the conversation as non-commital as possible?

Well, take some of that burden off your fellow networkees:

back of my SLA Chicago badge

Ok, full disclosure:  I didn’t actually think of this until the last day of the conference, but I’ll definitely be doing it at conferences from now on!

Immersion is key

Simon Barron‘s third blog post about SLA Chicago deals well with the feeling of total immersion you get from SLA conferences – exacerbated for the non-US contingent by literally being in a foreign country. I’ve felt like that at every previous conference, but not this time. As my hotel room was the same price whether one or two of us were sleeping in it, my husband came out with me, in preparation for a post-conference holiday.

And… it didn’t really work. I’d warned him that he wouldn’t see much of me while conference was on, and I’d mentally blocked out ‘conference’ and ‘holiday’ – but still, that one outside attachment kept me from being completely enfolded in the SLA bubble. I felt like a bit of an outsider – sure,  I’ll come along to the open house, but only till 9 because I want to dash off for dinner…

It meant I found it hard to be entirely ‘professional Bethan’ – ‘holidaying Beth’ kept trying to creep in, and remind me that there was a world outside SLA. This might seem to be a good thing (for balance and whatnot), but it actually just made it harder to feel involved and to really feel in the conference vibe. I was disconnected from the tribe.

I don’t think I’d realised how much I relied on conference to catch up with my SLA posse until this year. Not only did I have the clash of interests, I also missed some good friends and colleagues who couldn’t be there, and I think my conference experience was definitely the poorer for it. (Not that I didn’t have a fab time with the people who *were* there, but you know…) So that’s made me more determined to get along to some more SLA Europe events in person. I really believe that one of the rewards for involvement in a professional association is contact with the brilliant people you meet and work with, and that you owe it to yourself to make the most of that – so that obviously means I’ve earned more drinks with the SLA Europe folks, and deserve to put some effort into cashing (gin-ing?) that in.

So would I still have gone to Chicago if these (along with realising I need to think more about learning outcomes and learning how to edit down a presentation on the fly) had been my projected learning outcomes? For personal development, definitely! But my ‘want to learn new skills’ nerve is still twitching, and I wish I’d put a bit more effort into making sure I scratched that itch, too.

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Chicago! SLA Conference! How to encapsulate them? Well, I’ve been struggling to write this blog post, and my report for the John Campbell Trust (who kindly part-funded my trip). I thought I just wasn’t in writing mojo mode at the moment – then sat down and rattled off a post for the Archives Hub on XML and Excel. So what was the difference?  I had something concrete to share about how to actually do something. So I threw away my half-written reflectivey-rambles, and decided to concentrate on Things I Have Learned.

Learning/teaching

The first? That my focus at the moment is very much on learning and teaching. I like them. I came away from conference feeling a bit dissatisfied with the sessions I’d attended, and thinking that I hadn’t really learned anything. On reflection, this was untrue – I learned a lot, but rather than new skills or techniques, I learned things to tweak or enhance my existing skills and techniques. Still very valuable, but didn’t have as much as an impact on me as learning something totally new. I wanted to be able to walk away saying ‘hey, now I know how to…!’.

So that’s a good guide for me to choosing my future conferences, events, and conference sessions. If I’m craving concrete learning, then I’m not going to be satisfied with a speculative discussion panel, no matter how awesome it is. It sounds like SLA2013 is going to be more focussed on learning, too, which I think bodes well. One thing which was mentioned by fellow SLA Europe attendees Geraldine Clement-Stoneham and Sara Batts was the need for better session abstracts, telling you more about what kind of level the session would be at – is it a general introduction, or full of jargon for advanced practitioners? I do agree – I’d like to see learning outcomes mentioned in the abstract or description for each session.

This desire for learning is shaping what I want to teach, too. I want to share practical tips on how to actually do things. This might be why the blog’s been a bit sparse recently – I haven’t felt like I have any to share! But I need to remember that actually I do know how to do quite a lot of stuff, so maybe expect a few more ‘how-to’ style blog posts in the future. (or not – it could just be inherent laziness!)

This applies to my presenting, too. I’m not sure I want to talk any more about ‘the future of the profession’ – at least, not in generic and abstract terms. I want people to feel motivated and inspired, sure, but I also want them to go away with action points. One of the best pieces of feedback I got from my presentation in Chicago was someone telling me that they could actually go away and do the things I’d suggested – they were practical and implementable.

So if I’m going to demand learning outcomes from other people, I’m going to need to start using them myself. Not just for presentations, but for articles, blog posts, and maybe even tweets. I probably won’t be explicit about them, but it will be good for me to think about what people will get out of the work I’m doing. This should help make me more focussed and generally Do Better Stuff. [EDIT It occurs to me, slightly belatedly, that this exactly fits with the marketing principle of ‘benefits, not features’.]

You can’t prepare for the unexpected

As mentioned in my last post, I recently presented – on purpose – without a script. One of my reflections was:

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?

Well, I had to do it again! Sort-of, anyway. I’d been asked to deliver a 30 minute presentation on ‘How to parlay your SLA experience into a new job, a promotion – even your LinkedIn profile’, about how to make the most of your SLA experience, and demonstrate what you’ve got out of it. So I dutifully prepared a set of slides and a 25 minute script – only to discover (while sitting in the audience) that there had been a misunderstanding about timings, and the first speaker was speaking for 45 minutes, not 30.

As everyone knows, finishing a session late is one of the most heinous of conference sins. No matter how interesting or engaging you might be, you need to finish that session on time – one session running over can throw off people’s timetables for the while day. Time, at a conference, is a very valuable commodity!

So I found myself having to condense a 25 minute presentation into about 17 minutes – doesn’t sound like much of a drop, but it meant I had to lose about a third. And I had to lose it while still delivering the learning, the message and – importantly – the experience. How did I do it? (apart from ‘by being fuelled with panic’?)

1) Speed up – but don’t gabble. Good delivery is important to a presentation, and when you start learning to present you’re usually told to sloooooow it right down. Speak too fast, and people won’t take in what you’re saying – and they won’t enjoy the presentation experience, either. Building a rapport with your audience takes a bit of time. It takes pauses where you make eye contact and gauge people’s reactions. If you’re short on time, this is one of the things you can strip down. Speed up your talking a bit (if you’re tripping over words, you’ve speeded up too much), and reduce some of the pauses. Make eye contact while speaking – don’t wait for pauses. Don’t leave as much impact room. This will reduce the overall experience and impact of your presentation, but means you can cut off a couple of minutes without losing any content.

2) Measure once, cut twice. Think about topic and audience. Is there a whole section you can cut? Or do you need to cut little bits from each section? Thinking about what’s on your slides can be a good guide – if you thought it important enough to put on a slide, then it’s probably important enough to keep in. But if it’s on a slide then the audience can read it – so you don’t have to! I never agree with reading out slides, but I do quite often direct people to information on the slides. This experience made me realise that that’s a waste of time, too. If you put something on a slide, people will read it.* They don’t need to be told to read it. They probably don’t need to be told how it relates to your presentation (unless you’ve put up something totally obscure, like a slide that just says ‘48%’ – and even then, your audience will be able to make the leap between the question you’ve posed that requires a percentage for an answer and the figure on your slide. If they don’t they can ask you afterwards – once the clock has stopped ticking.)

I cut most of my material from the start of my presentation, mainly because I was panicking that I wouldn’t get to the end! This meant that by the time I was about two-thirds of the way through my content, I’d made up most of the time I needed, so I could ease back a bit and enjoy delivering the final section. But all through, I cut down on verbosity (it’s just possible that you may have noticed this as a tiny failing of mine). No-one was there for my deathless prose, and hopefully I’ll take that learning forward to future presentations.

This advice really comes down to: decide what your audience is there for. Are they there for the experience of hearing you speak? If so, cut down on your content, and give them the show they came for. If they’re there for your content, cut down on the show, and deliver as much of the learning as you can.

And remember – this post is panic recollected in tranquillity. I’m retro-advising based on what I think I did; or this post would have been a series of ‘Oh crap, 12 minutes. Well, I think I can cut that next example. And that paragraph can probably be condensed into a sentence. Oh crap, 11 minutes…’

Blog posts that go on too long can be just as rude as running-over at a conference session, so I’m going to follow the cool kids, and split my reflections into sections. Expect one or maybe two more blog posts on learning from the Chicago experience.

*Yes, I know this potentially creates problems for people with accessibility issues. I’d suggest that any information that is absolutely vital to your presentation be included in what you say – and if some of it needs to go on your slides too, then that’s ok. You could even consider making 2 slide decks: a more minimal one for accompanying the presentation, and a more explicit one for posting online afterwards.

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.

Wow! Nearly a month between blog posts! And this one’s going to be a bit of a cop-out… An update on the things I’ve been doing that have kept me from blogging 🙂

Voices for the Library
The VftL campaign has been steadily gaining momentum! As we’re losing two of our members to CILIP council in the new year (congrats Katy and Phil!), we’ve been having a think about how we can sustainably take the campaign forward, without losing our agility, or burning-out any of the team… With this in mind, we’re having our first in-person board meeting in Jan. While we failed abjectly to find a date that everyone could make, we are going to have most of the team there, and I can’t emphasise enough how utterly fab it’s going to be to have people together! While we’ve done fantastic jobs (yes, I’m biased!) working together online, a face-to-face sit-down-and-have-a-good-chat-then-go-to-the-pub is going to be really constructive and energising – and, knowing the VftL crowd, an awful lot of fun too 🙂

SLA Europe
We’ve recently announced the calls for two SLA Europe awards: the Early Career Conference Awards (ECCAs), and the European Information Professional award (IP). There’s still pots of time to get your applications/nominations in for these, and I’d really recommend you do so! Having won an ECCA in 2009, I can wax lyrical about the brilliant opportunities it gave me – if it wasn’t for the ECCA, my career would have been very different! (and probably a lot more boring).

A book!
I’ve been talking to Facet publishing recently about the possibility of producing something for them for their 2012 catalogue. It’s all a bit at the ‘eek!’ stage at the moment, but watch this space for updates 😀

Mimas
Yes, I do have a day job as well ;p It’s so easy to get caught up in all the other professional stuff I’m doing outside work, and to forget that I have a fantastic job, which I love doing! Some really exciting stuff going on at the moment, too. I’m learning all about linked data for the LOCAH project, and am just about to start converting the diagram of the proposed Copac linked data structure into a proper specification. This makes my head hurt a lot of the time, but fortunately we’ve got a good team on the project, who are helping me through. Discussion appears to be one of the key things in working this stuff out – I can sit and stare at it for hours without getting anywhere (except tied up in knots), and then make loads of progress on the basis of a short discussion. I’m really pleased to be involved in the project, and hopefully at some points the moments of revelation will come to equal the moments of *headdesk*.

We’re also finalising the new libraries load list for Copac for 2011, and there are some corkers on there. We try to have libraries at all stages of the loading process, so we can keep the work flowing nicely, which means I’m always talking to libraries to arrange loads, processing data, and preparing information pages. I do content development for the Archives Hub as well as Copac, so at any given point I’m likely to be elbow-deep in MARC, EAD – or both!

When I’m not wading through data, they occasionally let me leave the office. I was down in London for the Online conference, working on the Mimas stand, trying to attend some floor sessions, handing out VftL flyers (thanks Credo!), doing fun things with SLA colleagues, networking, smiling, and drinking wine. The conference was a bit quieter than last year, but I’m still very glad I took a long weekend to recover.

ooh, and although I haven’t been blogging here, I did do a guest post for the utterly-fab Librarians with lives blog. I’m finding all of the tips for fitting CPD into an overstretched time-budget really useful 🙂 Now I just need to figure out how to fit more blogging in too!

This is a bit of a cheeky/cheaty library day in the life post, as it’s not actually about where I am and what I did today: it’s about where I’m not, and what I’m not doing.

I’m not in St Louis, for the SLA Leadership Summit. I haven’t just come out of the ‘Moving forward with Alignment’ session. I’m not currently networking with other delegates while eating lunch and waiting for Jim Kane’s keynote. I won’t be visiting Busch Stadium with a host of new contacts, colleagues, and even friends.

I wasn’t there, earlier today, to hear the fantastic news that SLA Europe is the Chapter with the highest % growth, and with the highest number of new members. I don’t have a slight headache from last night’s networking cocktail party. I won’t get to hear the hands-on experience panel of the First Five Years Advisory Committee talk about how to encourage new professionals into leadership.

I’m not there to hear the announcement that I’ve been named an SLA Rising Star for 2010 (this worries me slightly, actually, as I can’t quite shake the feeling that it’s all a big joke. This award comes with an invitation to attend Leadership – I would never have thought about attending otherwise, but now I feel that I’m missing something…) I wasn’t there to meet the other Rising Stars! What are they like? When do I get to know them? When can we start collaborating??

I’m not there to experience an SLA conference with only one thing on the schedule at any given time! I can watch the #slaleads tweets – which is great! – but I wish I was there to add to them.

So that’s what I didn’t do today. The Leadership Summit goes on until Saturday, but don’t worry, you won’t get two more posts whining about what I’m missing! I know we can’t always take all the opportunities that come our way, and that dwelling on missed ones won’t shoe no chickens, but I think everyone’s allowed an occasional reflection on what might have been 🙂

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]

Well, having left it very late, and prompted by woodsiegirl’s great post, and Neil’s rather pointed comment, here’s my decision on the proposed SLA name change.

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.

So, I’m back from working the Mimas stand at the Online conference. I’ve done some conference stand work before, but on a much smaller scale, and Online was a shock to the system – on many levels!

If you came to the Mimas stand at Online (and if not, why not?), you probably saw me. You may even have been accosted by me (‘Are you familiar with Mimas?..’). If you came by on Thursday afternoon – when the tiredness was starting to outweigh the professionalism – you might have seen me doing my flamingo impression (one foot up, one foot down, try not to fall over during the transition). We spoke to 270 people in total, which is a delightfully amazing number. It was fantastic to meet so many people – some of them completely new, others who I had spoken to by email or on twitter – and get a real flavour of the diversity of the profession.

It wasn’t always easy. I messed up my spiel on numerous occasions (‘Mimas is an organisation of… umm… centre of excellence of … umm … expertise…’). I got flatfooted by questions that I really should have prepared for (‘Oh, what types of geo-spatial data do you work with?’). I shamelessly referred people to colleagues. I made Lisa talk Spanish. I knocked the end off the banner every time I tried to get into my handbag. I forgot how to type. I forgot how to speak. I let my welcoming smile turn into a hideous rictus. I only just resisted the temptation to sink to my knees on the floor of the stand, and let the world go hang.

But I didn’t. I survived the three days with my sanity largely intact. This was helped by a number of factors. One was my fantastic colleagues, who helped me when I was floundering; bought me coffee; drank beer with me; let me steal their best turns of phrase; and are still – amazingly! – speaking to me. Another was the excitement of seeing my SLA Europe colleagues, who I don’t get to meet up with as often as I’d like. We had a great breakfast, and an amazing trip to the House of Commons, thanks to Darron Chapman at tfpl, followed by a gorgeous dinner and maybe just a little wine… This also gave me the chance to reconnect with Anne Caputo, President-Elect of SLA, and an all-round Very Nice Lady, and to meet Stacey Bowers (SLA’s very glamorous and lovely Director of Business Development) and the very-tired-but-still-terrifyingly-intelligent Stephen Abram.

The main thing, though, that kept me going, was the fact that (secretly) I loved it. I’m delighted with the new Mimas brand, and was really pleased to have the chance to talk to people about it! I enjoy my work so much, and Online was a chance to be able to vent some of that enthusiasm, in an environment where people were interested and engaged. It would have been nice to attend some of the sessions, but working the stand has given me plenty of great contacts to follow up on, and a wealth of things to feed into my personal and professional development. My feet may not have forgiven me yet, but it was worth it 😉

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!

I was invited to attend this training day by my co-chair on the SLA Europe ECCA committee, Lyndsay Rees-Jones. The day was run by the CILIP Membership Support Unit for the CILIP Career Development Group (CDG) regional New Professionals Support Officers (NPSOs). I’m not an NPSO – yesterday, I wasn’t even a member of CDG – but was invited along to share experiences of working with new professionals.

What I encountered was a group of bright, friendly, and enthusiastic people, brimming with ideas. Some I had heard of through their involvement in various projects, such as the 2009 New Professionals Conference, but this was the first chance I’d had to meet them.

Maria Cotera, president of CDG, introduced the day with a clear explanation of where CDG and the regional NPSOs fit into the CILIP structure. Then Kathy Ennis of MSU, Lyndsay, and Maria spoke about previous CDG events – mainly the new professionals’ conference and the graduate day. They asked for input from people who had attended these events, and Ned Potter and Emma Illingworth gave some interesting insight about their experiences of presenting at the new professionals conference and how it has affected their career.

Kathy also mentioned the “Big Conversation” that will be starting In Jan 2010, about the future of CILIP over the next 10 years. She was very definite that new professionals should be very deeply involved in making the decisions about the future of the profession, and said that she had recommended that the leader of the Big Conversation should be under 35.

We also had a chance to brainstorm ideas for future incarnations of CILIP Graduate Day, to involve opening up the audience, and taking it on the road. This produced some excellent ideas, and showed a lot of consensus in what we, as new professionals, feel is important for new professionals.

Overall, a great day. I’ve now joined CDG (can’t believe I wasn’t a member before!), and am going to have the chance to work with them again in the future, which is very exciting 😀 I also got to meet some great new peers and do some good networking. (During which I found myself vociferously defending ASKPro – I don’t think I realised how strongly I felt about it until I was challenged!)

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