Report on NLPN Summer Event

I attended the recent Manchester New Library Professional Network (NLPN) Summer Event held in July in Manchester. This was my first NLPN event and I was thrilled to finally be able to make one! In their usual innovative fashion, NLPN shook up the traditional conference format. The event featured two speakers and then presentations from members on topics of their own choice. The aim was to give members an outlet to get presentation experience and I think this idea was very well received.

The theme for the day was employability and interviews. The first speaker was David Stewart, the NHS Director of Health Libraries North West. He was fantastic, down to earth, current and incredibly funny (I particularly remember his impression of a “vellum stroker” librarian and demonstration of appropriate men’s tie length….). He also brought a wealth of experience as a senior figure in librarianship who’d done loads of interviews and shortlisting/interviewing. Some points that stood out from his talk were:

  • Think about yourself and your career. What kind of job or sector are interested in? Are you mobile? Are you ambitious? That last one really got me thinking!
  • Register to do CILIP Chartership, even if you’re not planning to start straight away, as this can make an impact on an employer.
  • Each application must be crafted, yes crafted, from the person specification. If you don’t meet all the criteria, say how this job will give you that experience.
  • When it comes to interviews, it’s all about planning and preparation. Visit the organisation before, both to show your face and to find out where you’re actually going to avoid getting flustered and lost on the day. Be early in case another candidate doesn’t show. Proper preparation means you arrive as confident and calm as possible.
  • The loo’s, yes the loo’s are an important part of the interview. It’s your own handy dressing room!
  • We brainstormed an extensive “interview pack” list of what to bring to your interview including umbrella, charged phone, make-up, interview letter, originals and copies of documents like qualifications and IDs…
  • Be yourself (and friendly and interested) in non-interview scenarios such as tours. Watch out for using “We” when you mean “I”. When asked if you’ve got any questions, your backup one should be to ask about professional development opportunities.

Next were the three presentations from NLPN members. Evelyn Webster, a law librarian at Pinsent Masons LLP, talked about the process of moving her library. The moving process seemed to offer many possibilities (chance to weed stock, planning/customising/optimising new space) but also some challenges (unpacking when you didn’t pack yourself, figuring out where things will go when you’re moving to smaller space). Next was Helen Gaffney and Nicola Grayson, from University of Manchester, who talked about building a new learning development service. This was a really interesting look at how librarians are making a positive impact on students by training them up on various learning essentials. Finally Emily Wheeler, a library student, gave an inspiring talk on how she set up a Library Society at Sheffield University. Not only was this an experience that benefitted the university and raised the profile of libraries amongst students, it also gave Emily evidence of soft skills employers are after such as teamwork and project management. A highlight of her experience was protesting against library closures in Sheffield and getting the Students’ Union to approve a policy statement supporting libraries.

The final presentation was from Neil Donohue, Learning and Teaching Services Manager at Leicester University, on the interview presentation. Having never done a formal interview presentation, this was a new one for me (I’ve done a short presentation on a book to children as part of an interview before). His talk was structured around the different questions you might be given to present about, keeping in mind that the panel is looking beyond your answer to what skills and attributes you’ll bring to the job:

  • Action Question- “If appointed what would you do in the 1st, 3rd, 6th and 12th months to engage more students and staff in the library?” Key things to include were your vision, realism and a plan.
  • Scenario Question- “Feedback from a lecturer: ‘The library has nothing to offer my students’. What strategies and types of information would you use to change this attitude?” Key points were advocacy, knowledge and practical examples.
  • Knowledge Question- “Do students need libraries in the digital age?” Key points were showing knowledge, understanding and advocacy.

Neil also talked about practical aspects of presenting like deciding your key messages, less is more when it comes to slides, practice out loud in front of someone, and ask to see the room in advance. Also before you spend 90 hours on your slides, check what the weighting is and balance your prep for interview, presentation, etc accordingly.

Getting out on a very wet Saturday morning for this was definitely worth it and I even got to see all the costumed Comic Con folks! Manchester Comic Con was the same day, kudos to the Gandalf I saw.

Check out the excellent Storify of the day here


I have been job hunting since about February 2013 in the fields of music and library and information science and archives.  The strange title number sequence is a shorthand of my journey so far:  0 job offers, 5 interviews (with 1 interview invite I had to decline due to a change in circumstances), 26 applications.  This post will share what I’ve learned.

Look about you, because there are lots of resources and information available online.  I’ve found many, many useful blogs, websites and information from professional associations.  Disadvantages being that it can tend toward information overload and it’s quite time-intensive to keep up with everything!  Some of the most useful advice for new professionals came from this  blog post by The Wikiman (more on that later).  Other useful blogs: Off the Record, Manchester NLPN and various other librarian blogs.  My memberships in professional associations (CILIP, IAML-UK&Irl) have been great ways to network and see what’s happening by attending their events; next I want to join SLA.

Pay attention to the negative space.  What I mean is not necessarily looking for things that aren’t there but for things that you may not have been looking for or didn’t know you needed to know…For example, a skills test I did (ok, kind of bombed) during an interview process was helpful because it highlighted some gaps in my knowledge.  Similarly another conversation with a potential employer resulted in learning information I didn’t know I needed to know about working abroad and archiving vs. librarianship.

Importance of remaining proactive, persistent and indefatigable.  Let’s face it, it’s tough handling rejection after rejection, but the only way to get anywhere is to be proactive and persistent in keeping up the hunt.  I’ve also done a lot of speculative emailing to try and get voluntary work (even this proved difficult since I often struggled to get any response), but my work at WYAS and M&S Company Archive is a result of speculative emails.  I’m learning to be indefatigable because, as someone close to me says, it takes work to get work!

In a related vein, I’ve been thinking about two suggestions from TheWikiman’s post: 1) How can I proactively anticipate my career needs (i.e. start building the skills I’ll need in the future NOW) and 2) Where can I make things happen for myself (i.e. starting projects, writing articles, etc).  I’ve started compiling a list of skills I want to work on based on job descriptions for posts I’m excited about, and I’m thinking creatively about where I can make things happen.  Currently natural ways to do this include writing research-based blogs about my voluntary work projects and creative thinking regarding my new role as Bursaries Administrator with the Music Libraries Trust.

Importance of social media.  Thank you PennyB for this one:  actively using social media is more important than ever to network and promote yourself in a super competitive field.  Also since none of these technologies are going away, it’s best to get on board now, especially because many institutions already are!  I’ve also seen social media related things on job applications, so I definitely want to demonstrate an active engagement with this area.  Hence I’ve starting blogging more and using Twitter; I was already actively using Facebook and LinkedIn.  It’s proven quite useful so far in terms of networking, gaining awareness of the field and promoting my contributions to a wider audience.

Basics: write a good CV and keep it updated (I’ve also written a one page biography), use an email signature, dress professionally for everything, do your homework on the places you apply and ask questions.

Sharing time, over!  Any advice or suggestions are very welcome!