CILIP Career Development Group National Conference: ‘The Practical Professional’

Today I attended the CDG National Conference in Bristol. It was a small but very well organised event, which mostly ran like clockwork. Congratulations to the organisers!

Apparently the presentations will be available from the event website at the end of the week so, rather than doing a session-by-session review,  I thought I’d focus on what for me were the main themes of the day.

Job losses, restructures, budget cuts…

There is not getting away from the fact that many librarians have been having a tough time lately. Several presenters drew on their experience to come up with their own survival guide. I’d sum up their advice like this:

  • Every challenge is an opportunity – make the most of it.
  • Be prepared: look ahead, take in the environment. How are social or economic changes likely to affect your role or your organisation?
  • Keep reviewing what you do. In terms of service, why are you doing what you do? Does it align with the users’ needs? With organisational objectives? What is the impact? From a personal point of view, be a reflective practitioner, gather evidence of your work, continue to build your CV so you have it ready if you need it. This fits in with the philosophy of the Chartership process.

Career moves from sector to sector

Clearly, career moves are no longer just the result of a desire to try something new. Instead, they have become a necessity for some colleagues forced out of their jobs by redundancy. With opportunities shrinking in some sectors, information professionals are trying out new avenues and this is what I gleaned from their advice:

  • Core skills are valuable and transferable. Review what you have and make sure you target the new sector effectively by highlighting and, if necessary, explaining relevant skills.
  • There is plenty of crossover between sectors, but also big differences, so do your research before jumping in. Be flexible but know your goals and decide how much you want to compromise.
  • Soft skills are very important. Several people mentioned that it was their non-librarian skills that got them their new job. I thought that was very interesting and matching what I have been reading / seeing in other professions (e.g., information technologyworkforce development).

Personal development is a must!

Everyone attending the CDG conference should know this already but there is no harm in saying it one more time:

  • We need to keep learning and developing, regardless of environmental conditions. Phil Bradley gave the example of someone saying they couldn’t be bothered with Google+ because it was “another thing to learn”. Ahem!… That’s what we do, isn’t it?
  • Various speakers mentioned the importance of knowing yourself, your goals, your interests, your beliefs and tailoring your development accordingly. This is often overlooked, but very sound advise – you are much more likely to succeed doing something that is already in your nature.
  • Similarly, I liked the concept of reviewing your career looking for patterns, do you gravitate towards roles that have similar tasks? If so, why?


The importance of the network, both as a source of professional advice and peer support, was also highlighted throughout the event. In an impassioned talk about the role of social media in libraries, Phil Bradley said that networks are not only becoming virtual, but also replacing websites and traditional search engines as sources of information. People are the new authority and info pros should make sure they are perceived as credible sources. I have some qualms about this premise, but they probably belong on a different post.

The event gave plenty of opportunity for networking action, particularly with lunch being followed by a speed-dating “game”. I have to be honest, this would not normally be top of my list of fun ways to spend an afternoon (I’m being polite). So I was very surprised to find the activity a) an interesting – and dare I say fun!? – way of meeting others and learning what they do, and b) the easiest “networking game” I have done for quite some time. This was helped, I think, by the feeling that I was talking to like-minded individuals – perhaps I am more of a “librarian” than I had thought! ;-)  I also noticed – and others agreed – that explaining roles got easier as we moved from one group to another and refined the information we passed on. This reinforced an idea I have been toying with for a while: I need to write down a “mini job description” that I can draw upon quickly and easily so I can answer properly when someone asks what I do!

All in all, a good day and a great chance to hear about the varied roles librarians play and all the weird and wonderful paths that lead to becoming an information professional. I didn’t hear anything completely new, but that is good news, as it goes to show how good my organisation is at engaging in staff and service development.





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