Thoughts on the 2011 New Professionals Conference

with 12 comments

If you’ve followed my posts for any particular length of time, you may have picked up that I’m relatively new to the library and information profession. So I was really pleased when my line managers said that they’d support me to attend this year’s CILIP New Professionals Conference, held on Monday 20th June. After a bit of a mad journey, which involved getting thoroughly confused with the Manchester bus system, I did finally arrive at Hulme Hall at the University of Manchester to meet other new professionals, listen to the speakers and participate in the workshops. In this post I’m going to try to pick up on what you could describe as the incidental things; the running themes, the throwaway comments and the things that were missed. And I’m going to tell you what I thought, and what I’m taking away from it.

Social and online networking was mentioned a lot

Helen Murphy talked about the cpd23 programme, which I’ll be taking part in over the coming weeks and months and involves using social media for professional development. Ka-Ming Pang and Jo Norwood suggested starting up hacklibschool-type web chats for UK LIS students, Voices for the Library representatives talked about Twitter flash mobs as activism. Yet when I looked around, there were a number of people who didn’t include Twitter names on their delegate badges. And Rachel Bickley’s survey suggested that some experienced professionals see online new professional communities as cliquey. I’m pretty pro social media as a communication and networking tool, but I think it’s important to be inclusive; you shouldn’t need to have a Twitter account to be fully involved in a professional conference.


Engagement seemed to be a key theme emerging throughout the day. Alice Halsey and Simon Barron discussed engaging with people to advocate libraries and information services and prompt change in society. Katie Birkwood and Naomi Herbert talked about special collections outreach and engaging the local community. Megan Wiley discussed engaging with colleagues – ‘don’t assume that your colleagues know what you’re doing. Tell them’. This engagement theme was linked to issues surrounding threats to library services and articulating our value as information professionals. Maybe engagement is part of the answer, and as I find the activism thing difficult, maybe that’s where I can make a contribution towards the #savelibraries cause.

The old meets the new

There was lots of talk of the old and the new. One of Rachel Bickley’s survey respondents questioned, ‘why can’t the new profs just get involved with the old profs?’. In Nicola Forgham-Healey and Franko Kowalczuk’s workshop, we were asked to think about old and new professional skills.  Katie Birkwood and Naomi Herbert discussed ‘teaching old books new tricks’. I got the sense of new professionals perhaps struggling to find their place within an old, established profession, or the traditional profession of librarianship trying desperately to grasp the new. One or the other, or maybe both. I haven’t quite decided.

Question: Why do so many new professionals end up floating into the library and information profession by accident?

When asked why they chose a career in libraries and information services, 4 of the conference speakers confirmed that they sort of ‘fell into’ the profession. Answers on a postcard please…

I really hope that CILIP types amongst the delegates were taking notes

There were some important points raised about the way CILIP caters to its new professional members, and potential members. In terms of marketing the profession to potential new professionals, why aren’t sixth formers hearing about libraries and information services as a career choice? Why does CILIP charge the same subscription rate for everyone earning above £17,501, when a new professional’s salary is so vastly different to that of a library director? And can CILIP do more to attract student members?

The speakers blew me away

Massive admiration. They were very brave to talk in front of lots of people (something I need to improve on… I’ll be blogging about it soon after my upcoming public speaking jaunt on Friday). And they had interesting opinions, they talked about diverse subjects. I learnt about some areas of information work, such as careers information and special collections outreach, that I haven’t really encountered before.

The standard routes into the library and information profession were really reinforced

Which for me was a sad thing. From what I could gather, all of the speakers at this year’s New Professionals Conference either had a CILIP accredited Masters, or were in the process of undertaking one. In a time of downturn, an MA isn’t a possibility for everyone. I would have liked to have seen more engagement with the idea of non-typical routes into the profession.

And the issue of unemployment was skirted around

The title of this year’s New Professionals Conference was Professionalism and Activism in a Time of Downturn. Although recent news on unemployment figures has been quite encouraging, it’s still a tough old job market at the moment. What happens when you’re new, and you can’t even get into the profession?

All in all, I found that there was a lot to take away from the New Professionals Conference, and I met some great like-minded people. It might not be a detailed account of all the papers I heard (as evaluating is ‘not describing’!), but these are my thoughts, for what they’re worth.


Written by missrachelsmith

June 21, 2011 at 13:20

12 Responses

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  1. I think this almost entirely echoes my thoughts on the entire day. I definitely took engagement as a key message, with in the afternoon presentations particularly, innovation being reinforced. I also thought the clique comment regarding the ‘new-old’ dichotomy was enlightening as I would imagine many new professionals may find or view more established peer networks a closed door as much as the other way round!
    All in all, a very good day with not a dud presentation to be seen.

    Michael Cook

    June 21, 2011 at 14:08

    • Hi Michael – I agree with you on ‘innovation’ being a key theme, particularly of the afternoon papers – I think that’s an extension of and sort of encapsulates what I was thinking about the old meeting the new?
      And I thought the comments about new professional networks were interesting, in that if that’s true, and people do feel that way, it’s a worry. If you’d asked me what I thought when I started out on this whole Twitter/blogging thing, particularly as at the time, Twitter and blogging were scary new things in themselves, I might have felt a bit like that. However, I agree with Girl in the Moon’s comment (below!) and I’ve found that people welcome input and are quite happy for you to join the conversation… what’s your experience?


      June 21, 2011 at 17:20

  2. Hi Rachel,

    I really like the way you’ve drawn out some of the themes from the day in this post. I thought Rachel’s observation about perceptions of cliquey-ness were really interesting, and also worrying. It was through taking part in Cambridge 23 Things that I decided that there aren’t really ‘cliques’ just conservations that I hadn’t got involved in (how cheesey is that?!), so I’m hoping that CPD23 might help other people feel more invovled, too.

    Alice (who co-led the activism workshop) pointed out to me after our paper that the work Naomi and I did (and hope to continue doing elsewhere) counted as activism – she asked why we hadn’t mentioned it in the workshop! Even though I’ve thought of it as helping to improve people’s opinions of libraries, I hadn’t previously conceived of it as activism per se, so I think there’s plenty of scope for everyone to find something their comfortable doing.

    Girl in the Moon

    June 21, 2011 at 14:23

    • Thanks Katie – I appreciate your feedback on the theme structure of the post – I did wonder when writing it whether I shouldn’t do the normal kind of conference write-up? But I’ve found it interesting and useful thinking about the day more widely.
      I agree with you on the social media cliques/communities/conversations point; it will be interesting to see what comes out of CPD23 in that respect.
      I think that too often (and I’m totally guilty of this) activism is seen as the big, loud things – whereas actually, the engagement work we do also speaks volumes. Something to think about, definitely!


      June 21, 2011 at 17:26

  3. Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for a very informative post, I was really sad that I couldn’t make the conference so it’s great to hear some of the proceedings summarised so neatly. There are two things I’d like to say – first that I totally agree about the CILIP membership fees situation, this is currently ridiculous. Second, I’d be interested to hear what you think about people floating into the profession by accident?! Speaking as someone who did just that perhaps I’m biased, but I think very few people have a clear idea of what they want to do ‘when they grow up’, and certainly most of my friends (librarians and others) seem to have ended up in their current careers by a roundabout route. That isn’t to say that CILIP/library schools/others shouldn’t do more to promote librarianship to the schools/undergrad market, but people who come to the profession having experienced other sectors make a valuable contribution too, and because librarianship is such a wide and varied sector I think it attracts all sorts of people who are looking to use communication and people skills in a range of ways.


    Emma Davidson

    June 21, 2011 at 15:13

    • I think the promoting to Sixth Formers thing is interesting. For me, I never really considered that I could work in a library – it always seemed to be one of those jobs that Other People did, like Policeman, Doctor, Firefighter, Train Driver, etc! And going to University they focused on ‘graduate jobs’, that usually seemed to involve working for a big company in an office, in sales or business or something (I studied French and History of Art, and even Museums weren’t pushed).

      I do think a lot of people come to the profession because, as you say, they are ‘looking to use communication and people skills in a range of ways’. Also, I know a lot of people who just like providing good customer service, and a library is perhaps a more interesting and varied place to do it than, say, a shop.


      June 21, 2011 at 16:33

    • You’re very welcome, Emma!
      My opinion on the idea of people falling into the profession by accident? I like what you’ve said about people ending up where they end up via a roundabout route. That kind of sums up my philosophical stance on life – throw a few interesting things at a wall, and see what sticks. At the moment, librarianship is sticking for me, but I don’t think it’ll necessarily be forever, and I’ll probably float out of the profession too at some point or another. Librarianship strikes me as the kind of career that doesn’t really attract super-driven people with a clear vision of the future and a 10 year plan…
      I kind of think stephthorpe (see her comment above) is right. There isn’t enough advocacy of librarianship as a career to young people, as far as I can see, and I would be willing to bet that most people end up considering it because they’ve had a positive experience of libraries from a customer perspective. But in terms of people coming to the library and information profession from other sectors, having a different experience and perspective is really valuable (I have that kind of take on things, in that I was a student at the university I work for before I worked for the university library – I sometimes see things very differently from my colleagues!).


      June 21, 2011 at 17:43

      • I think most people end up in the profession by accident (I did myself after applying for a graduate trainee position because I needed a job, not because I wanted a career) because there is a lack of awareness of the profession. I certainly didn’t know anything about library and more broadly information work until I started working in a library. Before that point my perceptions of library work were public library staff (viewing it as the type of job not requiring much in the way of qualification) and university library staff (which seemed the more grown up version a generic ‘I have a degree’ job) Very naive but that’s because nobody ever pushed it as something that could be an interesting career. If there had been an information type careers talk I may have attended…my only library careers related encounter at university was CILIP at a careers fair but I’d already got my library job by this point.

        Earlier this year I spoke about librarianship at a careers event at my undergraduate university. Libraries were included as part of an arts. culture and heritage evening so I was sharing the spotlight with museums professionals, heritage admin staff and theatre types. Of course LIS is much more than that sector but given the audience I made a point of dropping loads of arts and culture type library possbilities in to show it isn’t just about public libraries. Unfortunately despite my best efforts I didn’t have a crowd of excited undergraduates wanting to talk to me at the end like the freelance theatre producer did. I like to hope I convinced someone to investigate further though.


        June 21, 2011 at 18:42

  4. Another one here who chose librarianship by accident! This was despite my mam telling me for years that I should be a librarian – I think I just wanted to be rebellious.

    I also really liked your themed layout. Regarding the clique perception, that’s really interesting and I know when I first started tweeting and blogging, I was really scared of saying anything in case people thought I was stupid or didn’t want to talk to me. When I did start to speak up a bit, I found everyone was really friendly and welcoming and I didn’t know what I’d been worrying about. I guess it’s a matter of trying to encourage people to take that first step.

    Laura Steel

    June 21, 2011 at 21:30

  5. Theatregrad – interesting to hear you’ve been to speak to undergraduates about information careers, and your reception there. Obviously you’re now very passionate about librarianship (I could totally tell from your presentation on Monday!) so I’m concerned that you say that ‘you may have attended’ a careers talk on librarianship and information management if you’d come across one whilst considering careers. ‘May have attended’? If a careers talk on librarianship couldn’t even have attracted you, a very enthusiastic new professional, the profession is obviously missing a trick.

    Laura – nobody wants to do what their mothers tell them to, do they?! But sometimes they just know.
    I was reading Michael Cook’s blog yesterday (http://michaelhealthlibrarian.wordpress.com/) and he said a similar thing re. being nervous about using Twitter and blogs for professional development – ‘I intended this blog to be my blog that mainly focus on me as the ‘information professional’ with possible occasional posts of a more personal nature. However, mainly due to a lack of confidence, I have (and go back through previous posts if you don’t believe me) almost exclusively tended to blog about personal things’. He’s also just written quite an interesting post about library and new professional ‘cliques’…


    June 22, 2011 at 08:52

  6. Hi Rachel,

    Sorry i’m a little late replying here but better late than never eh?

    As one of the CILIP-types you referred to in your blog I thought I should reply to say that I was careful to take note of the issues raised in relation to CILIP and the points made about subscription rates and CILIP promoting the profession have been passed on to my colleagues here at CILIP.

    I also want to add a few other things that you may or may not be aware of. On the topic of promoting the profession to schoolchildren CILIP has only recently created some promotional materials that go some way toward serving this purpose. These are available here if you want to have a look: http://bit.ly/kRascG

    Recently too I was able to make good use of these materials when I found a librarian on Twitter who answeredmy call for someone to attend a recent careers fair at a school in London. There’s an account of what happened on our blog here too: http://bit.ly/iZHOtd

    I’d also like to say that I enjoyed reading your blog post, particularly how you have picked out the key themes (like Katie said). It was a good read.

    Hope to see you in real-life at the next event.

    Richard Hawkins

    Richard Hawkins

    June 23, 2011 at 21:01

    • Only late in internet time, Richard (in the real world, 3 days later isn’t what I’d call late!).

      I thought I’d spotted you from afar amongst the delegates, as well as some other people closely involved in regional/national committees, so I hoped that some of the points raised by the speakers would be fed back.

      Thanks for pointing me towards those links – its good to know that promoting the profession to school leavers and college students is something that CILIP is starting to look at. It’s great to get Clare’s take on representing the profession to young people – from her post, she seems really enthusiastic about the experience and she’s obviously thought through the arguments for (and how to combat the arguments against!) going into an information career.

      And thanks for your complimentary words about my post – much appreciated!


      June 24, 2011 at 14:37

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