Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Former Librarian #24

This week we welcome Carrie as the 24th Former Librarian to the blog.  I'm particularly excited about this interview as her role as a Funeral Director is not one of the more obvious routes out of librarianship!

Name: Carrie Weekes

Current role: Independent undertaker at A Natural Undertaking

Former roles: I started at Birmingham University library, moved to Further Education and ended up at Birmingham Central Reference Library as a Business Information Specialist. Before taking up my current role, I was working in the voluntary sector as a communications and information specialist, helping businesses and organisations.

What led you to move on from libraries? I worked for a local council and felt there was no opportunity for movement. I wanted to develop new services around IT and the Internet, and this proved impossible. It was impossible to get decisions made. There was a lack of imagination and they did not take advantage of the brilliant resources known as librarians. Librarianship is a creative job at heart, although no one thinks it is. I thought, “I can take these skills and put them to work in a different way”.

What do you do in your current role? I’m an undertaker, so I look after the dead and help the living arrange funerals which are personal and meaningful. I set up my own business with a friend two years ago, because the funeral business itself had become formulaic, dominated by big, inflexible companies that were often not giving people the funerals they deserved. People are more interesting than the funerals they’re allowed to buy, and we wanted to offer more choices. But underpinning it all is good quality information – giving the consumer good quality information.

What library skills do you use in your current role? If someone says, “Can I do this?” I find out for them. I find that people say, “Is this a stupid idea?” – but it’s the same thing as the old library adage that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. I go all out to find the answer, as I did as a reference librarian. I know where to find out whether something is legal, or good practice. I know where to find good quality suppliers. I know which networks and professional organisations will give me the information I need. People skills learned in libraries are also important. There’s no question anyone can ask me that I’m scared of, because I’ve worked in a public library!

Do you think that your library skills helped you to get this position? I had helped people to do business plans (in my last library position and in my interstitial position before I set up on my own), but you still rely there on knowing what the best quality documents are for the task. Even on the Internet, I look for their provenance and background. My business partner, Fran, had also run her own business before. In general terms, although we overlap, too, I’m a reader and researcher and she’s task-orientated. I also don’t rely just on social networks: I still have subscriptions to trade journals and academic, peer-reviewed journals, and know how to search and refer to government regulations. In our strategic planning, it’s important to read and keep up to date, giving ourselves continuous professional development. We are a member of the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors, which included a rigorous application process, and we have access to their materials. We had to provide full policies and procedures for that. If my policies are up to date and I remain aware and understand the sources and what’s recommended, then I can be creative within that framework.

What other skills have you had to acquire since leaving the library profession in order to enable you to carry out your work? I trained with a funeral director to acquire the specific skills to do the work. I had to brush up my driving skills for negotiating tricky situations like attending the local coroner’s office, involving reversing in a straight line. I have developed my abilities in community development (these grew out of my work outside libraries, but I also did study community librarianship at Library School) and have set up Brumyodo (Brum You Only Die Once), a voluntary collective forming a loose network run by a committee which is all about helping people in Birmingham talk about death and dying. I’ve learned how to run pop-up shops, death discos, and we’ve made a film which we’re piloting into GP surgeries, all done to help people be aware of the choices they have.

Do you maintain any professional memberships or are there new ones which are more appropriate? I’m no longer a member of any library associations. I’m a member of the Society for Allied and Independent Funeral Directors and the Good Funeral Guild, as well as being a member of several networks.

Do you have any future plans/aspirations? We’re looking at moving into premises, which will require lots of good research and gathering information. I also look forward to continuing my public education work, teaming up with the Birmingham Museums and Art Galleries for some exciting new projects.

Anything else that you’d like to tell us? I’ve recently done a panel talk at the Cheltenham Literary Festival with Barbra Chalmers called It’s Your Funeral. We also recently won the Modern Funeral Director of the Year 2016 award.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Former Librarians #23

This week's Former Librarian is a Continuous Improvement Advisor who works on projects to improve processes alongside writing guidance documentation.  She feels that she uses many of the skills that she acquired as a librarian and mentions some advice given to her from another former librarian which certainly rings true with me: ‘Your library skills are valued outside of the libraries more than they are within libraries right now’

Name: Anon

Current role: Continuous Improvement Advisor

Former role: Information Officer in a specialist library. I was responsible for managing small-scale digitisation projects. I’ve had a range of roles in libraries, starting off as a library assistant in a public library, moving to academic, medical and specialist libraries.

What led you to move on from libraries: Ten years ago, the library I worked in had 30 FTE dedicated library and information staff. When I left, it was just 1FTE. The service had gradually been cut, merged, moved around and changed names so often that it were no longer recognised as a library service. All previous progression routes ceased to exist or moved outside of the library. I got to the point where I accepted that I’d gone as far as I could in my current role. I wanted to continue working for the same organisation, so started looking around for opportunities to move sideways in to a role that would still make use of my skills.

What do you do in your current role? I work in a Continuous Improvement team. We support the organisation to get better at what it does. The role is quite broad, so as well as managing projects to improve processes, I also support colleagues to plan, write and publish accessible guidance documentation.

What library skills do you use in your current role? My working knowledge of records management, knowledge management and information management have all helped. I’m currently supporting a project to create new ways of managing and sharing organisational knowledge. An understanding of metadata, taxonomies, information architecture and user experience have all proved to be valuable. I design and lead workshops to teach people how to write accessible documentation and usually manage to sneak some knowledge of metadata in there as well (No point writing a document if no one can find it afterwards). Working on Continuous Improvement projects needs an understanding of research, information gathering, data analysis, data visualisation and facilitation skills. Mostly it’s about bringing people together to share knowledge and using data to work out how to make things better.

Do you think that your library skills helped you to get this position? Yes, but I don’t think they are necessarily acknowledged as ‘library skills’. I spent most of the job interview talking about metadata. That technical knowledge, combined with my experience in designing and leading practical workshops were what secured the position, along with case studies of how I’d used data to adapt or improve the library service. You only need to scan through the list of knowledge, skills and experience I use in my current role to see how aligned it is with library and information work: enquiry skills, resource description, customer service, data analysis, stakeholder engagement and influencing.

What other skills have you had to acquire since leaving the library profession in order to enable you to carry out your work? Not so much skills as knowledge. I’ve had to learn about Quality Management, ISO 9001 and a few other related British Standards. I’ve also started the journey to become a Lean Six Sigma ‘Green Belt’ practioner.

Do you maintain any professional memberships or are there new ones which are more appropriate? Yes. I’m still a member of Cilip. I’m looking forward to getting involved in their new ‘Knowledge Management’ group - I see links between Quality Management and Knowledge Management. My organisation recognises and pays for CQI membership, and I chose to maintain Cilip membership myself. Cilip have really evolved since Nick Poole became CEO and I’m happy to continue to support them as they advocate for libraries and librarians.

Do you have any future plans/aspirations? I’d like to return to libraries at some point. I miss that sense of doing something that felt like it made a difference. There’s one thing missing from my current role that was central to every role I’ve had in libraries: ethics. Right now, returning to libraries isn’t possible. I live in an area that used to be ripe for library and information positions, but local opportunities are diminishing, especially in the public library sector where it looks like the remaining service is about to be handed over to volunteers. Moving isn’t an option, so I’m remembering advice I heard from another former librarian: ‘Your library skills are valued outside of the libraries more than they are within libraries right now’. There are plenty of jobs available in this organisation, so I’m not going to limit myself to just one role.