Is it time for a new space for information professionals?

This post is a collaboration between @ijclark and myself, and is essentially a very rough outline of something that has been variously discussed between Ian, @ellyob and me. It is rough but we think it might be worth taking forward as an idea and we were hoping others could pitch in and help develop it, potentially bringing it to fruition. Ultimately, we need your input to help refine this idea and, perhaps, to help us get it off the ground. This information is also cross posted on Ian’s Infoism blog.


The Why


As a librarian who worked in a commercial law firm, I was very sensitive to the fact that any public statements of opinion made by me, on any topic, could be interpreted by my employer or clients as a breach of my employment contract. This was especially true if they could be seen to contradicted my firm’s stance on certain sectors or were overtly political. This meant that I had to be careful not to involve myself online with any contentious issues, and had to restrict myself to commenting only on library sector issues which couldn’t possibly reflect badly on the aims of, or be misinterpreted by my employer or their clients. I also couldn’t comment on the working practices I personally experienced, or any challenges I felt I was encountering in my career, as again this could be seen to reflect on my employer negatively, and could threaten my continued employment with them.

Unsurprisingly enough though, I did actually have opinions, on all sorts of things! Things I wanted to talk about, processes and systems I encountered that were not working well, or in areas where I felt there were developments that would have an impact on my work and approach to it.

To tackle this desire to speak when I had no place to put my words safely, I have previously blogged anonymously. I have done this as a representative of my local professional group, the Scottish Law Librarians Group, on an international legal information professional group blog (On Firmer Ground) and as a guest on Ian Clark’s Infoism blog. I found the opportunity to be able to speak about professional issues “safely” liberating, and allowed me to speak more freely without fear of repercussions from my employers. I believe I’ll also continue to need a “safe place” for me to discuss issues in, as my own blog is linked to my LinkedIn profile, and thus my workplace (and any discussion of it) is identifiable.

However, as far as I know, there isn’t really a “neutral” space available to me. When I say neutral, I mean somewhere that isn’t controlled by a specific body (e.g. CILIP, SLA or any other information professional group in the UK), somewhere that it would be possible to discuss any professional issues, without feeling that it had implications relating to membership of professional bodies. I feel that there is a need for a place to speak freely, one not controlled by any specific interests, or with a feeling that it could only be used by people to say the profession is perfect!

I initially suggested Ian’s Infoism blog, as I had previously been allowed to post material there, and Ian was interested in the idea of creating a forum, and was happy to give up his blog for the benefit of the profession. However, it’s been mentioned that as a long-standing blog with a defined purpose, it could be seen as not fulfilling the neutral element, which is understandable: it was initially proposed as a shortcut, a way to get a platform that was already established and had a large number of readers, but for the purposes of transparency and neutrality, it’s clear that a new site would be more appropriate.

Below, Ian explains his perspective on this and we have both outlined roughly what we think this could look like. We hope this kicks off some discussion and we’d certainly love to hear people’s thoughts on whether this is an idea worth pursuing and, if so, how we go about pursuing it.

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In the past year I have twice been approached to host guest blogs on my site about generally information based issues that touch on our professional expertise.  Whilst I am obviously quite chuffed that my site is seen as a suitable place to post such content, it has prompted me to wonder if perhaps this suggests the need for a place to host such content.  There seem to be very few websites out there where librarians and information professionals can share their thoughts on such issues where perhaps their blog isn’t an appropriate place, or doesn’t afford them the protections they perhaps require to enable public comment on particular areas.


I’ve recently got to talking about this idea with both @jaffne and @ellyob, who have both suggested an interest in something along these lines (although in what form we are not really sure at present!). I know others have also discussed this with me and think this might be something of possible interest across the profession and beyond, I guess the question is what would this look like and how do we go from here? I am particularly keen on something that is outward looking and expansive, that would tackle issues that are of interest to non-librarians. I feel strongly about this because I think reaching out in this way can go some way to addressing concerns about the profession being considered unnecessary and obsolete. And if not, well, maybe it’s worth a try?


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The How (by @ijclark and @jaffne)


So, how should a proposed UK information professionals blog or website be structured, and run?


Name


If this is to be run as a group site, then a name should be decided among the group. This would be something to be decided on as a first step, as it would allow the creation of all associated materials. A decision on a name could be made by first canvassing suggestions from interested parties, via publicity on blog posts and Twitter, and then running a poll to choose the most popular option.



Aim


Then the site needs an aim. So often, it seems that information professional blogs end up navel gazing and focussing only on insular issues, complaining to librarians about librarians, or people not understanding librarians, so that’s something we’d like to avoid if possible. Where possible, content should be written keeping in mind an audience beyond libraries and the profession. Of course, we want to be able to write about the profession and its issues, but it would be a far more useful blog if it focussed on how the skills of the information profession impact more widely on society, and issues arising around that topic. So, posts could cover everything from how we can aid information gathering, in all its guises, to our understanding of a range of concerns about the information society. However, rather than just focusing on instructional, ‘how to’ type posts, we’d rather focus on outward looking content that demonstrates relevance, how skills and knowledge can support other professions and/or sectors and the broader impact our profession has, or can have, on society in general.



Structure


For our purposes, the format of a group blog with editors managing the upload of materials would be sensible. It would allow contributors who wished to remain anonymous to send materials to the editors to be posted on their behalf (as long as the material was within certain guidelines, as listed below), or materials could be posted by the editors with an introductory block of text, crediting the author. It would also allow an element of risk management, as allowing materials to be posted without some measure of vetting could open the group to the risk of being held liable for the comments and activities of users. Content should be tagged consistently by subject area, and relevant content tags could be agreed upon by crowdsourcing suggestions.



Acceptable Use policy and post management


The site would need acceptable content guidelines for materials to be posted, the core probable guidelines are listed below, although as with most other management of the site, they would need to be decided and agreed upon by the editors prior to the blog launching.


Core acceptable content guidelines:


  • Nothing libelous
  • Nothing slanderous
  • Anonymity does not allow ad hominem attacks   


Materials submitted for publication on the blog which did not meet the requirements of these basic guidelines would be rejected: either entirely, or returned to the author for amendment before resubmission.


Rules would also apply for those commenting on posts, in order to maintain a professional and respectful atmosphere on the site. Those breaching the principles outlined above for content would be deleted, and/or blocked from further comment if they were seen to be deliberately inflammatory without foundation. It would need to be decided whether comments would require approval before publication, or whether they could be posted without checking.


Editors would need to understand that some of the posts they would be responsible for managing may propose viewpoints which they personally do not agree with. However, the editors must remain neutral, and maintain the blog as a place to share ALL viewpoints, within the guidelines outlined above.


Management of the blog


If the above approach to the site structure is used, it would need a team of editors to manage the site. Despite the use of the word “editors”, they would not be responsible for actual editing of the submitted content. The editors would upload the posts/content, monitor the comments to ensure they were not breaching any of the stated guidelines, and possibly write content, if they felt they had relevant material to contribute. It would be best if the editorial team came from as varied backgrounds as possible, in order to be able to give input and the benefit of experience from a variety of working situations. A team of at least 6 voluntary editors would provide a balance of workload, and the required spread of experience to effectively oversee the site. Core site management reference materials would need to be hosted centrally in a space where all editors could access them, most likely in cloud storage such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or if the materials are more extensive, on a wiki. This would need to be decided based on the needs of the initial editorial team.


A public call would be needed for volunteers in the information profession to become editors, with @ijclark and @jaffne as a core team initially.The timescale of commitment to the editorial role would be flexible, dependent on the editors personal needs.



Hosting


It would be preferable to host the site on a named domain, this would ensure it has a more professional appearance than ‘just another blog’. A WordPress.org installation would be preferable as it is easy to manage and maintain. However, hosting fees would also need to be taken into consideration. How would this be accounted for? It is not a substantial sum of money that needs to be paid on a monthly basis, but it will need to be paid nonetheless. Would this be covered by the editors, donations…how would we approach this? Again, this is something that can be decided once we have a group of volunteers in place to take this forwards. And obviously the URL would be determined by whatever name was given to the website, so that would need to be established first before proceeding.



Conclusion

So what do you think? Is this something that would be of interest? Would you be interested in getting involved? Where do we go from here? Add your comments below and let us know what you think! You can also contact us via email (ukinfoprofs@gmail.com) or tweet at @ijclark.

From a conference to an unconference

So, between Thursday 13th June and Saturday 15th June, I attended the annual BIALL conference in Glasgow, thanks to the help of a generous bursary from BIALL. Now, due to funding restrictions with my previous employer, I’d not been able to attend this event since 2008. As this is the main professional event for the UK legal information sector, I always felt frustrated that I was missing out on being somewhere where important developments were being discussed, and that I wasn’t getting to make the connections with people that I should.

However, since 2008, lots of things have changed, especially in the way people who are effectively strangers to each other can communicate. Basically: Twitter happened.

Now, through Twitter, I feel like I have an excellent network of contacts both within my sector and outside it, and as I restrict the amount of people I follow/allow to follow me, I feel I really know them quite well. So when I need help with anything, I can ask my contacts, and get a good range of trustworthy responses. This has also meant that, when I got to the conference this year, I already “knew” (from Twitter interactions) a large number of people. Of course, meeting in person is great to allow the cementing and further development of these online relationships, but the ice was already broken on these relationships by initial online contact.

So, what was the conference useful for, beyond the development of professional relationships? It was a chance to attend talks and sessions on areas of legal activity that were of interest to me. The only problem with this was, although the talks were often good in content, the format of a conference means that you just don’t get the time to discuss topics in details. You have a speaker, who speaks, and then answers a few questions from the audience. It’s a discussion, but it’s only with one person. There’s a certain amount you can learn, but it’s only from one person, and anything that others in the audience may have to contribute is filtered out by time and format restrictions. Also, it’s a discussion being held solely with legal information professionals: a subset of a profession only talking to itself about itself isn’t particularly healthy!

Therefore, after discussions with some other attendees, I had an idea, and made a suggestion to some of the Committee members of the Scottish Law Librarians Group. I suggested that we try and create a Scots Law Unconference, to enable professionals working in Scots law to interact with each other, across all sectors, not just those working as information professionals, but academics, government staff, and legal practitioners. It’s just the beginnings of an idea at the moment, but I think that there’s a real lack of a space for people working in Scots law to have contact with people in other areas of the law, which means you can become very blinkered about what factors are impacting on not only your own work, but that of others working in law too. There’s also the problem with the standard conference format, in that it’s set up to enable one person to teach a group about their topic/experiences, rather than allow a group to discuss and learn from each other around a theme. I know there was some frustration at BIALL at the lack of an opportunity to do just that (although in one case, discussing Open Access in academia, a lunchtime discussion meeting was set up informally), so an Unconference format, with a body/group guiding the discussions themes would be more conducive to this type of sharing. As the main body for legal information professionals in Scotland, with members in various workplaces and sectors, the SLLG would be well placed to investigate the possibilities of an event like this and host it, welcoming any participants with an interest in Scots law.

It might take a bit of effort to get it off the ground, and the format might not suit everybody, but if it doesn’t work out…well, at least we tried, right? And if nobody ever tries, nothing every changes.

Now….anyone out there want to volunteer a lovely venue to the SLLG, and perhaps some nice sponsorship 😉

CILIP rebrand – an addition

Since my earlier post (multitasking lunch breaks R Us!), I’ve had some more feedback on peoples feelings about the proposed names for CILIP, and it seems that a lot of people are unhappy that the words “library” or “librarian” aren’t included in the options.

Now, it may just be because of my recent job hunting experiences, but I don’t see that the skills of an information professional are tied to the words library or librarian. If I had restricted my job search to only those sectors, I would never have found a job (there have been a grand total of 3 library roles advertised in 3 months). I have looked at roles with terms like: data, knowledge, information, management, administrator, researcher, project co-ordinator, digital, policy. Those terms are all related to dealing with information professionally, and to me, the core skills of an information professional lie in their ability to effectively manage information, in whatever format it may come in. Historically, that information was laid down in written texts, and held within libraries. The word “library” comes from the Latin for book, but these days, it’s not just books that librarians deal with. And it’s not just libraries that information professionals work in either: they can be in any setting, from industrial workplaces to working with the public. In any role, an information professional may deal with books, journals, databases, spreadsheets, intranets, websites, DVDs, memory sticks, Powerpoints, or CD…librarians are constantly working with information, in all its physical and digital formats.

To the mind of the general public though, libraries = books. And that’s a hindrance for a profession that wants to be regarded as cutting-edge experts in knowledge and information management, and the first people to go to for input on topics relating to them. It feels similar to accountants having “abacus operators” in their professional titles: yes, it’s a thing that did once describe their whole profession, but now it looks outdated, and would be laughed at if suggested as a way forward now. If this exercise is about creating a name and brand that the public will recognise, and positioning the body as the leading group for information management issues, that term “information” has to be there, and visible. And the term “library” is one that today, holds the group back. That’s why I am perfectly happy not to be in a “Library” professional body.

Losing the professionalism

So, recently, CILIP apparently sent out an email regarding a consultation on a change of brand image, and name. I say apparently, as despite being a member, I never got this email. When I went to the website to log in and check why it wasn’t sent to me, it didn’t let me log in. I tried a password reset, and that email came through, so it *can* send emails to me…but the password it sent won’t let me log in. I’m losing the will to keep trying. Overall, this is kind of symptomatic of how I feel about CILIP, and how useless its IT systems are….

Anyway, the consultation is on changing CILIP’s currently, clunky and meaningless name (picked as the best of a previous bad lot, as David McMenemy showed with this link to the 2000 consultation results ) to something more meaningful and relevant is open. If you want to take part, it’s here. I was a good girl, and pootled over yesterday to take part, and after filling in all the bumph, I got to view the glorious options.

Oh.
My.
God.

This is what they’ve given us as options:

Information UK
Information Professionals UK
Info Pro UK
The Information Association
The Knowledge People
Information Matters UK

Really? REALLY?!?! Did CILIP actually pay someone for this nonsense? It looks like they had a hard day in the office, it was late on a Friday afternoon, they managed to force out one or two vaguely OK ideas, and then threw in a few others just to bulk up the list. As someone online has already pointed out, at least one of the names is already (or was) a registered company, so probably couldn’t even be used. Info Pro UK looks like someone couldn’t even be bothered to write out words in full. The Knowledge People sounds like a spin-off from The Tomorrow People TV series. Information Matters is a statement, not an organisation name. And why the obsession with using UK in the name? Are people likely to get confused with The Knowledge People USA or Info Pro USA when they make comments on UK library matters??

And all of these options completely disregard one important aspect of the name: CILIP is a body which awards and regulates the professional qualification of a Charter. A Chartership is recognised through many professions as the mark of an advanced and skilled professional in that field. Would any other Chartership awarding body ever consider dropping that aspect from its title? Could we have The Institute of Architects of Scotland, rather than ICAS? Or The Royal Institute of Surveyors rather than RICS? It’s unlikely. Yet our own professional body is considering dropping the most visible element of its name that identifies its members as professionals. It seems like a huge step backwards to me, and so, I spent a whole 3.5 minutes thinking of other names, which include the word Chartered in them:

Chartered Information Professionals Association (CIPA)
Chartered Information Management Association (CIMA)
Institute of Chartered Information Managers (ICIM)
Chartered Information and Knowledge Management Association (CIKMA)

Look, it’s not hard, is it? If you’re a professional body, and have powers that the general public know relate to professionalism, you should really try and retain that signifier somewhere visible. Like…within your name?

Less moaning, more action

So, after initially complaining that I felt a bit cast adrift, professionally, and then through discussions with other equally drifting mid career professionals, working out what we could do for ourselves in order to actually create the network we felt we needed, the beginnings of a plan are coming together. It’s all thanks to lovely Moo (@_Moo_), also known as Lynne Meehan, and her partner. They’ve got the technical skills and resources to take the experiment a bit further, and set up an forum to see how exactly we could make this work.

If you’d like to be included as a Middler (loving that name, Lynne!), and take part in the experiment (AKA – poking about an online forum and axploring how to make things work as we go), either get in touch with Lynne directly (she’s the Lady in Charge), or leave a comment below and I’ll pass your details on to Lynne.

Lets give it a try, shall we? After all, if we don’t do it, who will?

Supporting the middle sag

Well, my last post triggered a lot of discussions: one big thing was that many people identified that they felt the same in regards to losing the momentum to push themselves, but that they didn’t really mention it formally because they felt they couldn’t give any input on how to fix the problem.

But then that’s not right – if you feel you can only speak up when you can fix a problem rather than be able to just identify that the problem exists, then that means there’s a lot of silent people out there, quietly hoping for someone else to see and fix what’s wrong.

So, while talking about this feeling of a need for some sort of support, Bethan Ruddock (@bethanar) and Celine Carty (@cjclib) and I started to try and work out what we felt we needed, and what was possible. Beth said that she was hoping to implement some sort of one-on-one mid-career support within SLA Europe, and Celine said she had been working on something for her group High Visibility Cataloguing (@hvcats). Initially, the ideas were based around providing a personal professional mentor for all career stages, not just for certain situations, like attending a conference for the first time, or when going through a process like Chartership. But then, this relationship can put quite a burden on someone, who’s almost certainly going to be fitting in this supporting around their normal life.

So, what would be more realistic than asking one person to support others? Well, maybe a group? Perhaps something along these lines:

  • A group of about 6 volunteers, which allows for a good spread on the demands of members time.
  • Making sure that they’re a mix of people – in different sectors if possible, but in different workplaces for definite.
  • Providing a secure and private chat space, with the understanding that all discussions happening in that space are entirely confidential, to ensure free communication between group members (a “what happens in Vegas” rule).
  • Having the facility to allow any member to voluntarily leave any group without having to explain or justify the decision, as people and situations change.

In this way, informal relationships across sectors could be developed, without the expectation of more demanding one-on-one support. However, as relationships naturally form, certain people will inevitably gravitate towards each other, and these may become more personally supportive relationships.

As people’s situations change, they would be likely to shift between supporting, and needing support, and back again.. A fluid system of a private professional group would be more likely to allow this switching back and forth between giving and taking more easily.

Also, being able to see how people in other sectors are working can allow you to look with a more realistic eye at your own workplace and career. Ideas about mutual issues and solutions could be exchanged – for example, if you’re not experienced in giving presentations, but one of your mentor group is, perhaps you could pick up some more detailed and tailored-to-your-specific-situation information than you would if you just put out a general “I need help” email on email lists and social media?

What do you think? Is this something that could work, or that you would take part in?

Careering along

When I look around at the activities of information professional groups, it seems that there’s a disparity. There’s quite often a lot of support and funding available for those who’re just starting out in the profession, but a desert of nothingness for those of us who’re “just getting on with it”.

If you’re a new professional, you have lots of groups to support you as you progress in your early career, various prize funds available for essay and report writing, access to bursaries for conference attendance, eligibility for awards for being new and enthusiastic. But what do you get when you’re past that bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed first 5 years (5 years seems to be the approximate cut-off point for becoming “established” and no longer new).

What happens when you’ve already received a bursary from an organisation earlier in your career and so wouldn’t be eligible for one now, meaning you’re not able to attend events or training? When you’re heavily involved in a project but not at project manager level, so will never be visible as a leader or receive recognition for that? When you’re voluntarily acting as a mentor to other professionals, but not in a formal manner? When you’re motoring along in the middle, not frantically aiming to rule the library world, but just wishing for a bit more support for your “I’m not shouting about this, overall I’m quite satisfied with my current role, but I could do with some help in a few areas” feelings. When you’re doing your day to day work, and wondering how to keep yourself motivated and interested in the wider profession?

It feels to me that I’m entering the normal-career wilderness. I would say mid-career, but I’ve got at least another 30 years of working days ahead of me, so being only 12 or so years into my career I can’t really say I’m in the middle yet! But already I’m feeling it to be much harder to summon up enthusiasm for doing things outside my own core work duties than it was five years ago. I’ve mostly stopped attending things in my own time that previously I would have gone along to, especially those further afield, as it costs me both time and money that I could be spending on myself rather than work activities. I have spent many years doing a lot of things in my spare time to enable and support others in their careers: sitting on committees, organising training and social events, writing articles, mentoring people in various ways. But I’m looking around now, and I’m wondering: who’s doing this for me? I recently revalidated – unlike the Chartership process, this doesn’t require the involvement of a mentor. So somehow, now that I’m not new and have been through an approximation of the system once, I’m meant to be perfectly happy to do this process myself, with no support or interaction from anyone else? Luckily, I organised with a great professional to informally fill this role for me, but again, that was down to me, and involved further effort on my part and theirs rather than any involvement or support that I was being given by the system.

It feels like the profession has sort of gone “well, you’re not new and shiny any more, so on you go, sort yourself out”. But I’m tired, and I just don’t have the ability to endlessly maintain my own enthusiasm in the face of constantly seeing things that I can’t be involved in because I’m “too old/too experienced”. Where’s the ethos that to be a good professional you must constantly evolve and learn? We don’t stop needing that when we stop being new professionals, but it seems that the structures that work for new professionals vaporise when you progress beyond that point.

I’m not all moany – I do get a lot of support from other information professionals on Twitter, and it’s through them that I’ve gained most of my professional involvement over the last few years, but it’s not the same as feeling that there’s some sort of formal structure to support those just getting on with it, and regularly coming up against various issues along the way. And I don’t know what the answer is to this, but I just know that, because I’m neither a “thought leader”, “acknowledged expert” or happy to do conference presentations, I feel that somehow I’m regarded as having less value the longer that I go on in this profession.