Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Power to the people - New Professionals Information Day 2010

Yesterday I attended the New Professionals Information Day in Newcastle City Library, a day wonderfully organised by the CILIP Membership Support Unit and the Career Development Group. The most important thing I learnt, about the profession and about myself, was the central role that people play in librarianship.
The fabulous Newcastle City Library
The nucleus of the day was the keynote session with speeches from Maxine Miller and Phil Bradley and an underlying theme to both presentations was the power of the people. Maxine spoke about diversity in libraries, the trials and tribulations of a library career, and the power of individual people to stand up and say “This is me.” It was intimate, touching, and personal and, because they were very different presentations, it complemented Phil’s in an interesting way. Phil spoke about empowering library users: a subject touched upon in this piece. Librarians do not make and maintain warehouses full of dusty books: we provide information services to people and engaging with those people is the most important part of our jobs. Our role is to make available the knowledge necessary to empower people – teachers, lawyers, doctors, soldiers, researchers, the public. People and knowledge – more specifically the power that grows from the combination of those two – are the cornerstones of librarianship.

In the workshops and the seminars, the point was raised repeatedly that librarianship is a people profession. Sure, you get to work with books, write stuff if you want to, use the latest technology, but fundamentally libraries are about the people inside and outside them. Sibylla Parkhill’s session on stakeholder expectations drove home the point that libraries have a variety of interested parties: from senior management to library members; from library staff to outside agents. Librarians have to able to interact and communicate with all these people of different levels.

And it’s not just the people we deal with in our work environments: there are also our professional contacts and the people we meet on the journey. For me, these are people that make this such a valuable profession. Events like yesterday are vital for removing the blinkers: working in my tiny library makes me forget that there are other people like me out there; people with the same concerns, the same ideas, and thankfully in many cases the same sense of humour. Maybe it’s because I’ve been working in the profession longer or maybe – heaven forefend! – I’m actually becoming an adult but I felt a lot more comfortable interacting with other new professionals than at the New Professionals Conference in July (fun though it was). In fact, I got so involved with other people and networking that I actually gave up my precious first class train seat to sit and talk libraries with a group of other new professionals on the train home (first class was only £1 extra so it’s no great loss).
A room of blurry new professionals
Overall, the day represented a development in my understanding of the profession and myself. It’s a lot clearer to me now what modern librarianship is about and particularly what we as new professionals can make it. The books, the technology, the creativity, and even the information are all subservient to the people who suffuse this noble profession. A year ago, I would have told you that I wanted to be a librarian to get away from people: to live a quiet life surrounded by books and computers and logical organisation. I was wrong. That’s not what librarianship is and – though it’s a surprise to me – that’s not who I am either. I want to work with people and I want to help people access information. NPID2010 helped me to acknowledge that.


Postscript: On a personal note, the strangest thing about the whole day was people knowing who I was before I introduced myself: from Twitter, from my Guardian piece or because I have a more extensive online presence now. I found it to be a very unusual but not unpleasant sensation.

What other people thought:

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