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February 14, 2012 / bethan

My first month: Laura Williams, Assistant Media Librarian at ITV

What’s it really like to start work as a new professional? In this series of guest blog posts, we’ll hear from new professionals about their first month in a new job. What have they learned? How have they fitted in? What’s been the best (and the worst!) thing?

This post comes from Laura Williams, Assistant Media Librarian at ITV. If you’d like to contribute the story of your first month, get in touch!

I completed my librarianship MA at the University of Sheffield in September 2011 and started working as an assistant media librarian at ITV upon completing the course. The first month of my first job after library school has been exciting, hectic, interesting and stressful.

My Role

The archive collection totals about two million assets; programmes, including news and sport content from the organisation are held on tape or film in physical archives in various locations across the country. As a media librarian I manage the content placed in the archive after the programmes initial broadcast. My role is to respond to enquiries about the collection, fulfilling requests from within the organisation and external customers for content. Our content is requested for reuse in new programmes which are being produced or for repeat broadcast. I am also involved in several projects including one to clean up the metadata in our database and weeding the collection.

Day to day, my job is extremely varied. One of the aspects of my job I love most is arriving in the morning not knowing what the day will involve. I might be dealing with returns and shelving items, or fulfilling requests for material or responding to enquiries about the collection. Enquiry work is diverse; requests to search our collection for material span extremely wide range of subjects, in my first month I’ve searched for footage of zombies, care homes and sofas.

New Skills and Knowledge

Knowledge gained at library school to be put into practice whilst skills gained in previous roles are being developed further. In previous jobs my roles have been primarily focused on customer service, working on enquiry desks and user education however this role places greater focus on collection management. I have been working on projects which have required in depth knowledge and understanding of metadata. I’ve been able to build upon the theoretical understandings gained at library school and build practical experience. My job didn’t require a library qualification but it has most definitely proved useful. The theoretical knowledge gained at library school has allowed me to learn the practical elements of the job quicker and bring a higher level of understanding to the role.

A Steep Learning Curve

With any new job one of the biggest learning curves is often learning sector specific jargon. My knowledge of television production was non-existent so I’ve been required to develop knowledge quickly in order to fully carry out my role. The collection I work with is comprised of thousands of programmes stored on different formats. Parts of the collection can be sent out to other locations though many items have restrictions on where they can be used and how. I’ve need to learn how to identify different formats, what they are, where they can go and how they can be used.

The majority of my work involves use of our media asset management and workflow management software. Whilst the system has some similarity with library management systems I have used in the past, there has still been lots of learn. Getting to grips with the software has been a steep and fast paced learning curve. Becoming familiar with the technology quickly has been important as almost all the work I do involves the system; everything from finding tapes on the shelves, to shipping materials to other sites and cleansing metadata.

A Few Surprises

I didn’t know what to expect when I started the job but there have been some good surprises. One thing I’ve done which I didn’t expect has been watch lots of television. As with the majority of library and information jobs, possessing a good working knowledge of the collection is an advantage. I can now watch lots of television without guilt, in the knowledge that it could come in useful at work. A part of the collection I am responsible is the programme archive of a popular long running soap opera. I’ve made an effort to learn about the programme, gaining knowledge of key storylines which has proved useful for enquiry work. Knowing the collection is important; for example I’ve been asked to provide copies of episodes to be used in an advert, the customer asked me to choose the episodes so knowledge of the programme proved useful when deciding what to give to the customer. I love my job because knowing that the work I do contributes to getting the programmes we watch to our television screens and computers is exciting.

January 17, 2012 / bethan

My first month: Simon Barron, E-resources Co-ordinator at Durham University Library

What’s it really like to start work as a new professional? In this series of guest blog posts, we’ll hear from new professionals about their first month in a new job. What have they learned? How have they fitted in? What’s been the best (and the worst!) thing?

The first post comes from Simon Barron, E-resources Co-ordinator at Durham University Library. If you’d like to contribute the story of your first month, get in touch!

Three months ago, I started at my second professional post in librarianship. Starting a new job is always a challenging experience: it’s the perfect trauma cocktail of learning new things, meeting new people, and settling into a new place. With dissertation deadlines passed and the new year fast approaching, many new professionals will be in the same position – starting in a first post or starting a new job. This blog post is about what I’ve learned while doing this new job and what I wish I’d known a month ago.

In October I started work as E-resources Co-ordinator at Durham University Library. I left my cosy, comfortable first professional post, I left my cosy, comfortable first flat that I’d lived in on my own, and I moved to the completely unfamiliar North-East of England. On the evening before I started, I re-read the job description so I had a rough of what was expected of me and I did some research into the library itself by poking around the OPAC, the website, and Wikipedia. The week before I’d been to Library Camp in Birmingham and attended some sessions on cataloguing and digital repositories to refresh what I learned in library school. I felt prepared and I felt excited.

Basically, this job involves maintaining the electronic resources of the university library – electronic journals, ebooks, electronic databases. I’d always wanted a position involving cataloguing (particularly digital resources) and so I was delighted to discover just how much cataloguing the job involves. Delighted and intimidated as I began to realise how much I didn’t know about real library cataloguing. The evening after my first day, I scrabbled through my library school notes for information on metadata, MARC, AACR2, and all the other cataloguing concepts that I was aware of and that I must have been taught but which, at some point in the year between now and library school, must have snuck out of my head. Suddenly I actually need to edit catalogue fields, put full stops and commas in the right place, and decipher the arcane numerology of the MARC system. It was a steep learning curve.

I was also struck by the wealth of new technologies that I needed to use. Quite different from the desk-and-shelf general library work of my first post, this is a computer-based role managing an ethereal digital collection and navigating dense webs of hyperlinks. I knew it was a ‘techie’ kind of role and my previous experience working in IT support stood me in good stead but learning about so many new technologies so quickly was still a challenge. As well as the new OPAC and library management software, I need to work with the electronic resource management system, adjust URL resolvers, enable Shibboleth authentication, and configure the library’s proxy server. And journal subscription spreadsheets are some of the most intricate and byzantine that I’ve ever seen. Good general advice for dealing with new technology is to mess about and explore: there’s probably nothing you can do to completely break something (although on my second day, my manager pointed out a button in the LMS that I should never ever press under any circumstances: it’s a good idea to avoid these kinds of buttons!).

One of the things I’ve learned over the past month is the importance of communication: within and outside the institution. Although communication was important in my previous job in an Army library, it was also restricted and often difficult to send and receive information from inside the camp. In my new role, I need to keep abreast of e-resource developments and to liaise with publishers and suppliers to ensure we have access to everything we’re paying for. As well as subscribing to half-a-dozen JISC mailing lists and a host of new RSS feeds to keep in touch with other people doing the same work as me, I’ve been picking up and talking to new Twitter contacts to share information (and indeed, frustration). A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that we couldn’t access any of the journals of a major publisher. It was only because I was following their Twitter account that I was able to discover that it was an outage problem with them and not an access problem with us.

Taking on a new job, I’ve also communicated with my ‘network’ more and relied on them for support. We were told in library school about the importance of a professional network and keeping in contact with the people around us and I’ll admit, I only half-believed it. But being in an unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar (but lovely!) people, I’ve relied on the people I know to support me and keep me going. This includes my friends from library school, my regular bunch of library folk on Twitter and Facebook, and my email contacts. As well as general friendly banter, they’ve given me advice and tips about how to survive in the cold, unforgiving North-East (apparently ‘shy bairns get nowt’).

It’s been a month and so far I’ve survived my new job without incident. I’ve met new people and I’m learning new things about library technologies, about e-resources, and about how big libraries work. Though I do feel like I’ve been thrown in at the deep end, I think I would have drowned without the background that I received at library school. My Masters degree wasn’t perfect and there’s loads that I’ve had to pick up on the job but it provided a background. Even if I’ve had to fill in the foreground myself, that background to librarianship has kept me from embarrassing myself – for at least my first month!

January 9, 2012 / bethan

Logistics: or, holding it all together

A few people have asked me how I organised this whole book thing. The most honest answer is probably ‘accidentally’, but some thought did go into it! Here are a few things I did/learned about getting together 70,000 words from 50+ people.

1) Generous timelines. I started contacting potential contributors in Jan 2011, and asked them to get me a first draft of their contributions by April. Given that the book was due to the publishers at the end of November, this may seem unnecessarily early, but I wanted to make sure that a) I had enough time to read the contributions and ask for revisions (as/if required) b) there was enough time to find alternatives if something went wrong c) I gave people plenty of chances to miss their deadlines.

I got my first contribution in in January (the very same day I asked for it!), and my last in November. I was still finding new contributors in October… Some contributors got their contributions in way before deadline. Others had to ask for extensions, or drop out due to changing circumstances or other commitments. I expected all of this to happen, and I’m really glad I planned in the extra time. It was frustrating occasionally, especially if I had some time blocked out to work on the book, and didn’t have the contributions for the bit I wanted to work on, but I never got annoyed with contributors. They were doing me a favour, and as long as I had time to spare, I was willing to let them take all the time they needed. I know just how easy it is for other things to get in the way (for instance, I promised to start blogging regularly here… 2 months ago), and I’m always willing to be as flexible as possible with deadlines.

2) Backup, backup, backup! My book mainly lived in the cloud, with the working copy in my Dropbox. I found Dropbox absolutely invaluable for this project, and am now an enthusiastic convert. Access to all of my documents, with changelogs, and undelete capabilities? From any computer – even offline? And my phone? Wonderful! Simply saving into the Dropbox folder is much easier than remembering to upload each version to a remote store, too.

There was also a working copy on the wiki that Jaffne set up to monitor my progress. This was partly so she could keep an eye on what I was doing, and offer comment and advice, but also to have a back-up copy – again, with changelogs and revision comparisons. I uploaded a new copy of each chapter to the wiki after any changes – sometimes even when I just changed a word or two! I was determined that it be an accurate reflection.

I also kept backup copies – on my work drive, in my gmail, on my external harddisk, my phone, and my kindle – usually zipped up, and named with the date. I was definitely working on the LOCKSSS principle… I never actually (rather, haven’t to date!) needed one of the backups, but knowing that they were there really helped me to manage my stress levels.

3) I like stats. While most of my progress was recorded on the wiki, I also had a massive google docs spreadsheet, containing details of what was in each chapter; who was contributing and what; dates of communication with contributors; things I needed to remember; and the all-important word count. (Also a note of the council’s number for reporting flytipping. I’m not sure I can remember why, but I’m fairly certain it’s not directly relevant.)

Word count! Obsessed as I was with the book, I was possibly even more so with the word count. It was a concrete measure of progress, and I updated it religiously. Seeing those figures changed really helped me too feel that I’d accomplished something – even when I was in editing mode, and the count was going down!

I had a target for each chapter, and the whole book. The word limit was 70,000, so I aimed for 66,500, and um… came in at nearly 72,000. I’m pleased I aimed low! As you can see, nearly every chapter came in over the proposed word count – some quite significantly. This is the word count after I went through with a) a fine-tooth comb and b) a big hefty axe. I cut around 6000 words in total, including having to seriously cut some case studies. This was the worst part! I hated having to chop down what people had so carefully and generously written for me, but I just had too much great stuff to fit in. But they’re not going to be wasted! Full versions of the case studies I had to condense will appear on the website.

Things I hadn’t taken into account when planning out my word count? References! They take up more words than you’d expect – a single reference can add anything from 20-100 words, so 10-15 references per chapter can add significantly to your total. I also hadn’t budgeted for a glossary. It only came in at 151 words, but at a time when I was so desperate for words I was going through replacing ‘in order to’ with just ‘to’, and shedding adjectives all over the place, 151 words feels like quite a significant extra.

4) Work every day. This was the only way I managed to keep on top of the work and my sanity! I didn’t work on the book every day for the whole 12 months, but for the last 2 months it became a vital part of my day. I aimed to do 1-2 hours a day weekdays, and 3-5 a day at weekends, and managed this most days. But I had to trick myself into it! I’d promise myself ‘Just 15 minutes – get a little bit done so you feel ok that you’ve done something*’. Once the 15 minutes was up, I was usually be deep enough in that an hour would be up before I realised. By breaking it down into these chuncks, the huge project gradually came to feel manageable – so much so that when I finished the manuscript, I sat back, blinked, and thought ‘Is that it??’.

(* Virtuous plans to incorporate this into the rest of my life have, sadly, failed. Seems big projects > laziness > small projects.)

So, that’s how I kept (reasonably) sane and (fairly) productive through the biggest project of my career so far. What are your best tips for tackling a large project?

November 18, 2011 / bethan

The extreme oddities of the information profession

Well, we’re nearly there! According to my highly scientific* measurements, the manuscript is 82.5% done – which is a bloomin’ good job, as I’m going to be sending it to the publisher in 10 days …

[* I make it all up]

If you’ve had any kind of contact with me over the last few weeks (or if, indeed, I’ve been notable for my lack of contact), you may notice that I’m obsessed with this book. I bring it into every conversation, to the extent that I’ve started to sound like a chicken (think about it…) I told my doctor about it. And my taxi driver. I’m analysing every conversation I have for ‘should that go in the book?’ potential. Someone sends me a link to a good article or blog post; I open Endnote. I have back-ups in every place I can think of. I’m basically incapable of concentrating properly on anything else.

I never expected it to take over my life like this. I knew it would be a lot of work, but I never realised to just what extent it would worm its way into every aspect of my consciousness. And it’s not going to end once the manuscript’s in! Along with the work I’ll need to do for the rest of the publishing process, I’m going to be adding content to the website.

I’ve already got a guest blog post lined up, which will be the first in a series of posts about ‘My First Month’, following new professionals in their first month in a new role, and looking at their expectations, challenges, and funnest bits 🙂 The first post is from Simon Barron, e-resources coordinator at Durham University Library, and will be posted later this year. I have a couple more lined up to follow, and if you’d like to contribute a post about your first month, do let me know!

These posts help to reflect the unexpected challenges and pleasures of information work. No guide to the information professions can hope to capture all the strange things we’re asked to do! I’d like to know: what’s the oddest/most unexpected thing you’ve ever been asked to do as an information professional?

Responses will go on a blog post here, and (hopefully) some will go in the introduction to the book. I asked this on twitter yesterday, and got some fantastic responses, including:

‘book a scalextrix track for a client event’
‘search for any articles on the change in sound as a replacement hip joint is banged home’ (‘ding ding ding donk’, apparently…)
‘Hold a horse while the potential donor of archives examined its leg’
‘Go from 1 part of a campus to another 2 miles away on a camel’
and, possibly my favourite so far, ‘wake a tramp with a stick’

So, what’s your favourite/least favourite/downright weirdest thing you’ve been asked to do as part of your job? Let me know in the comments, or you can tweet @bethanar or @lisnewprofs. Thanks!

October 6, 2011 / bethan

Out with the old…

Gosh! It’s been a while hasn’t it? *checks corners for cobwebs*.

Rest assured that silence here has not meant no progress on the book! Due to a slight case of ‘taking on more stuff than I have time for’ (otherwise known as ‘chronic yesitis’), I haven’t managed to make much time for blogging. I’ve now built some time for updating this website into my schedule, which means I might manage to update it at least a third as often as I plan to…

So, what’s been going on? Well, quite a lot! The first big change is to the structure of the book, as you can see from the revised table of contents. Gone are my beloved ‘micro, macro, and meta’ divisions, in favour of a more straightforward 13-chapter structure.

My editor suggested the change, and, though I kicked against it a bit at first, I came to see that she was right. One of the problems was that 25 chapters was Just Too Many. My editor thought that readers might find that many chapters a bit daunting – and I had to agree! I was finding writing that many chapters daunting, too…

I was also having to be a bit contrived to get things to fit within the the ‘micro, macro, meta’ framework. In real life, of course, things don’t fit so neatly into those divisions – it’s perfectly possible for an activity to combine developing yourself, improving your service, and benefiting the profession.

The 3 Ms helped me a lot when I was planning the book – they helped me to think about what I needed to cover in different aspects of information work, and to make sure that I had a decent balance. (As it turns out, I’ve got rather too much personal/professional development material, leading to all sorts of difficult decisions – more about that in a later post). They’ve served their purpose, and done their time, and I shall retire them gratefully.

What else is new? Well, most of the book, for a start! It’s now starting to take shape as a proper book – all 56,000 words of it… There’s still a lot to be done (I’m not planning on sleeping in November), but I’m starting to believe that I can actually pull this off. A lot of thanks for that must go to the lovely Jaffne, who has set up a wiki to monitor my progress, and is setting me deadlines, giving me encouragement, and generally being an all-round good sort. I also owe a HUGE thank-you to all my contributors, who have written most of those words, and provided me with some amazing material.

I’ve got some more blog posts gently percolating in my head. Expect posts in the (fairly) near future on: choosing contributors; editing case studies; motivation & time management; indexing; and various other things as they come to mind. Hopefully some of these will appear on a new version of the website – I’m planning to move to a self-hosted wordpress install, at some point before publication.

Don’t expect anything too soon, though! This weekend is going to be given over to cake-making, cocktail-drinking, and library-idea-sharing. Yes, it’s Library Camp UK! If you’re there, do come say hi 🙂

April 19, 2011 / bethan

Proposals

I’ve never proposed for a book before. Oh, I’ve met plenty I like, but none that I’d be prepared to foreswear all others for. I fear I may be counted a mere book philanderer, as it is undeniable that – no matter how much I liked it – I have never put a ring on it.

But this book is different. We will be inextricably wedded for most of this year. Like a new lover, thoughts of the book fill my days and spill over into my sleep. Like an old partner, it can exasperate as well as thrill and delight.

With any proposal (even an invited one) there is always an element of uncertainty. Not only content, but form, is important. If I said to you ‘go on, write a proposal for a book.’ – would you know how to do it? what to include? what to exclude? how long should it be? how much detail? include a synopsis? a sample chapter? promise to sign away all rights and honours in perpetuity if only – please! – they’ll say yes..?

Fortunately, Facet have anticipated this, and have guidelines available. These are slightly different from the ones I was sent (I didn’t have to submit a sample chapter at the time of proposal, for instance), but the fundamentals are the same. They’re useful as they force you to think about audience at the same time as content – not just ‘what do I want to write about?’, but ‘why do I want to write about it?’ and ‘who will read it?’.

I spent a few days thinking in general terms about the content of the book, and had a google doc filled with notes that I kept adding to. I also talked it over with colleagues (by ‘talked it over’ I mean randomly shouted chapter headings at them when they were least expecting it), and then sat down to pull the whole proposal together. The result (if you really want to see it!) is here.

So, I waited, nervous as any prospective suitor, to see how my proposal was received. I did think about finishing this blog post here, and making you wait too, but a simple comparison of that proposal and the current table of contents will reveal the answer: Readers, she said no.

Well, not ‘no’ no, obviously, or you wouldn’t be reading this. More like ‘yeeeeeesssss, but…’. Ok, if I’m being perfectly honest, ‘really valuable advice about the scope of the book that helped me look at the bigger picture, and come up with a range of chapters that will make a much better book than my very limited original vision’. This email feedback was followed by a great face-to-face meeting (we managed to squeeze in a breakfast meeting before dashing off to work our respective stands at Online 10), and I came away with the idea of ‘micro, macro, meta’ which has driven the development of the book.

I can’t pretend that it didn’t hurt – just a little! – to be told that my first proposal wasn’t good enough. Even partial rejection is always tough. And, just as no-one wants to be told that their work isn’t quite good enough or not quite right, no-one wants to be the person saying that! But this editorial process really is necessary and valuable. Looking back at my original proposal, the flaws in scope are glaringly obvious – so much so, that I was almost too ashamed of it to post a link! However, in the spirit of openness and letting people learn from my mistakes, it’s there in all its narrow-focussed glory.

So what came out of the process? Well, a much better proposal! Blogs to follow on choosing topics and contributors 🙂

April 12, 2011 / bethan

Twitter!

The Toolkit now has its own Twitter account, @lisnewprofs. I’ll be tweeting news and updates about the book, along with various random interesting things. A lot of this info will also end up on my personal Twitter (@bethanar) – @lisnewprofs is for people who want to know about the book, but don’t want to put up with my general ramblings 🙂

I created a new Gmail account to go with the Twitter account – do contact me at lisnewprofs@gmail.com with any questions or comments about the Toolkit or the website.