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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

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ISC 19. Career Development in a Non-traditional Library Role: Some Personal Reflections

Paul Catherall

Asked recently to write a short article on my own career experiences, I was a little perplexed, what interest could my career history be to the aspiring ranks of library and information professionals? Therein lies the answer, because whilst I possess a library and information qualification, and am chartered with CILIP, I am at times uncertain how far my 'library and information' credentials apply to my present role.

I first started working in a library context when I was around 16, undertaking trainee work with a local library. I renewed this interest when I entered Higher Education at NEWI (the North East Wales Institute), Wrexham in 1997, working as an assistant in the academic library, whilst obtaining a bachelors degree in English literature with media studies.

In 1999 I undertook a Masters degree in library and information management (from John Moores University, Liverpool), followed in 2000 by my appointment as a 'Web developer' at NEWI under the 'Academic Services' department of the library. This role involved a broad mixture of e-learning, content management, user training and conventional Web development.

My senior line manager, a LIS professional, encouraged my Continuing Professional Development, including CILIP Chartership (called the Library Association back then) in 2001-2, and later Associateship of the Institute of Learning and Teaching in 2002-3.

With the merger of the Library Association with the Institute of Information Scientists in 2002, I felt that I should continue to remain a member of CILIP, since this body clearly represented my role.

Now, in 2004, I find myself performing largely the same role but under a 'Technical Services' department with a different outlook on the role of Information Services and staffing policies. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the changes, which has impacted on some personal development opportunities, has been the shift away from CILIP.

I have no qualms about this, in fact, my determination to continue my own CPD programme has spurred me on to new activities, including some part-time lecturing, a publication with the LIS publisher, Chandos, several articles and (hopefully!) the commencement of a PhD in Information Science this September.

I have also recently become involved externally with CILIP for the first time since chartering, providing advice and practical help developing the CDG Web pages for accessibility.

The CILIP Web site, Update journal and group publications also provide useful resources for maintaining current awareness of the information sector.

Additionally, I have found that voicing the need for CPD at every opportunity, e.g. internal conferences, staff meetings, eventually produce results if the message is consistent and reasonable.

I feel the role of CILIP in the workplace, for regulating status, pay and CPD is becoming more tentative as new management models replace traditional library managers, reducing the affinity of senior staff with the information profession.

Managers in modern information services are increasingly likely to have an MBA or other specialist expertise such as IT, rather than a library qualification.

Despite the obvious diffusion of the information sector, following the advent of digital resources, I am still convinced library and information management expertise is essential for the organisation and delivery of modern information services. Just look at the disorganisation of the World Wide Web for proof that digital content is useless without information structures.

Diversification and maintenance of essential skills is the key to proving the relevance of information management in this changing climate, including developments in government legislation, standards organisations, technology and sector developments; there is a constant demand to provide modern information services in the context of issues such as accessibility, copyright, freedom of information and data protection to name a few.

So my experience, briefly summarised has been that of a LIS graduate meeting the IT-focused demands of the modern academic library.

My own experience has informed me of the need for innovation and adaptability in achieving personal development, and in particular not to rely on traditional sources of career development in a sector increasingly characterised by changing values and priorities.

Paul Catherall is the author of 'Delivering E-Learning for Information Services in Higher Education', Chandos Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1 84334 088 7 (pbk), 1 84334 095 X

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