Tag Archives: volunteering

Pros and Cons of sitting on Committees

As a tangent on a CILIP Chartership reflection I started writing this list. Did you know that CILIP has 1700 volunteers doing 55,000 hours of work a year? Here’s my reasons for and against why you should join them!

Pros

1) You get to meet a lot of people…

In my various roles I’ve attended small local events and big national ones and I’ve met loads of people and had lots of different conversations with them. I’m a people person, I love doing this! Usually the conversation is library/work related (especially for conferences and workshops etc) but sometimes it isn’t and I enjoy this networking opportunity. I don’t always feel like I make the most of them all the time but sometimes I do, like when I organised a look around the new library in Telford: I met the person I needed to arrange it with at the CILIP AGM a few months beforehand!

2) …from lots of different sectors of librarianship.

Naturally some events are going to attract a specific type of librarian (for example the Librarians as Teachers events I’ve organised mostly attract academic and FE/HE librarians) but some are open to everyone and with a bit confidence you can find out about their sector. Most of what I know about Law Librarians came from a conversation with one at a CILIP AGM.

3) Visit other libraries

Maybe you’re like me and you just like seeing what other libraries look like, and maybe you want new ideas for layouts/displays/seating arrangements, but because most of our events are hosted in other libraries you get a chance to explore a wide range of them when attending and hosting events. Some events are even put on with this express purpose (see 1 above!)

4) Learn a range of skills

Want experience handling money? Be a treasurer (or start small and run the account for an event!) Want experience with Social Media? With event organising? Chairing a meeting? Join a committee! You can start small, chair one meeting when the Committee Chair can’t make it. Organise a small one-off networking event. Run the Social Media account(s) for a day because you’re at the conference anyway. Committee work is a great way to pick up new skills, brush up rusty ones or just do something for the love of it!

5) Improve your juggling skills!

I learnt this one the hard way, but juggling non-work commitments on top of work ones takes a little getting used to! Thankfully most of the tasks on a committee are flexible, and don’t take up too much time in one go.

Cons

1) Attending meetings

I always feel like this is the biggest hurdle for some people joining committees, and as one of the biggest commitments to the committee I can see why. Some bosses are less flexible about their staff attending on ‘work’ time, combine this with travel or childcare issues and sometimes I wonder why we bother trying to have physical meetings at all! But modern technology makes it easier to be on the committee even when you can’t attend meetings in person. The West Midlands committee have enough Academic Librarians on it to have been able to set up a JiscMail mailing list just for committee members (other emailing systems are available!), and we have a lot of discussion on it some weeks! We’ve also experimented with Skype meetings. When we have physical meetings we alternate the time of our meetings between daytime and evening so that everyone can attend at least two out of four meetings a year, and our travel expenses are paid by the committee, so you don’t need to shell out for these either!

2) Not having enough time

Some people genuinely don’t have a lot of time spare, I understand that (and some weeks I am that!) but it doesn’t mean you can’t contribute! A lot of roles lend themselves to job sharing (the previous CSO in the West Midlands was job shared) or even be a committee member ‘without portfolio’: which is just the posh term for being a committee member without a designated job/officer role. It means you can pick up tasks and odd jobs when you can, and still have a say in what goes on with the committee regarding bigger issues and events.

TLDR

TLDR: Join a CILIP committee! You’ll get more out of it than you expect!
I have genuinely loved working on CILIP Committees, yes it’s hard work, but in my experience all the most rewarding tasks are! They are also fun! I enjoy meeting people from all walks of life (and library sectors!) and while organising events can be hard work, it’s always great to see them go off as planned and to hear how much people appreciate it.

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The Advantages of Temping

I spotted this article on the the Sue Hill Recruitment blog (they often discuss some interesting topics!) about getting a foot in the door at an organisation by taking on a temporary role.

I wanted to add my thoughts; I know without a doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am now without taking a chance on a part-time temporary job.

My only previous experience in libraries was as a volunteer, in my school library as a Student Library Assistant and a couple of months in my local branch library after I finished University.

I was working in a shop in 2009 after being made redundant from my previous job, and I was employed on a nil-hours contract (which are being discussed a lot lately, but I had a good boss which made a big difference!) I don’t think I would have taken the chance otherwise; I certainly wouldn’t have left my previous full time permanent job for a part-time temporary one! (I actually did both jobs, between the two I had full time work).

As I neared the end of my temporary contract one of my full time colleagues left for greener pastures and I applied for her job, thinking it was worth a chance if only because there wasn’t additional hours available in the shop! I got it – and I was thrilled. I hadn’t decided at that point if Libraries were a long term plan for me, but I had a full time permanent job and with a lot more security than nil-hours contracts offer!

I loved my job and the more I invested in my CPD the more I knew I was on the right track for me, and I started working towards my ACLIP Certification, intending eventually to do my Chartership. Twelve months later a position came up at my NHS Trust’s other site as a Senior Library Assistant and again I thought it was worth a chance, after all I had an extra 12 months experience on my CV! I got that as well, and even better someone who was working on a part-time maternity leave contract got my full time permanent position, so it was a win-win for both of us!

I will never doubt the ability of temporary work, or voluntary work, to give you an advantage when applying for jobs, maybe you just want experience in a different library sector, or maybe you want a foot in the door at a particular library/organisation, it is very useful, and definitely worthwhile.

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Thing 22: Volunteering to gain experience

I worked as a voluntary library assistant at my local branch library in 2007, partly because I was unemployed and partly because I’d been turned down for a job at the big public library in Shrewsbury due to lack of experience. Granted this can be interpreted as anything from ‘the other candidates had more experience than me’ to ‘they don’t want you and are just being polite’, but I started volunteering to gain some experience. If nothing else it filled a time gap in my CV, so while I had yet to make up my mind regarding my chosen career path it seemed like a good idea.

Two years later when I next applied for a library job at Shrewsbury Health Library, I have no doubt in my mind that my voluntary experience made a difference to my application; I got the job. My boss potentially has other things to say about this, but my only other experience in a library was during my school years so whether it was just demonstrating a desire to work in the library sector or the experience itself I know that my voluntary work helped.

I think volunteering is an excellent way to gain experience as well as allowing people new to the profession to get to know other professionals, or even if it’s just to find out a bit more about working in a different sector to your own. I think the only problem comes when volunteers are being used to replace paid staff.

As a volunteer Brownie Guide Leader and Swimming Teacher I generally find volunteers to be less reliable – if something comes up (work commitments, childcare issues, just plain lazy) a voluntary commitment can be, and often is, dropped, where paid work cannot be (at least not as easily). Don’t get me wrong, I find that a core set of people turn up time and time again, and are extremely reliable, but a small number don’t show up and don’t have the courtesy to call and let you know either, and to me they give a bad name to the rest of us volunteers.

On the plus side I find that volunteering in these environments has given me a range of transferable skills. An obvious one is working with budgets and running an account sheet for the Brownies, which is not something I do in my current role, but is experience I will need when I take the next step. I am one of the senior Swimming Teachers at the club, which has given me supervisory experience when mentoring newly qualified volunteers and dealing with everybody’s information and allergy/medical info has made me an expert in data protection. Even better, I get to tell great stories at interviews when I explain how I helped organise a trip for 40+ Guides and Leaders to Switzerland to the World Guide Centre in 2008, or how the swimming club raised over £1000 for a local children’s charity at their last swimathon (yes I wore a Pirate costume, no there aren’t any pictures!)

For librarians I think volunteering is very useful – it shows that you are keen on working in this sector; it shows that you have identified a gap in your knowledge or experience and are working to fill that gap. I don’t think it devalues the sector as long as we don’t replace paid staff, but I think it highlights your value as an individual.

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Filed under CPD23

Thing 20: Library Routes/Roots

I generally claim that I got into Library work fairly late, but that isn’t actually true. I volunteered at my School Library from Year 9 (aged 13ish) until I finished Sixth Form (aged 18). It never occurred to me while applying to University that I could do a Librarianship course and I kind of wish I had (not that I regret the path I’ve taken, however long!)

After finishing my degree in Literature and Philosophy I was unemployed for nearly 12 months, during which time I applied for a Library Assistant job at a local library. I was turned down for the job as I didn’t have enough experience, so I started volunteering at my local branch library. It was one afternoon a week and I spent most of it shelving and shelf tidying, but I enjoyed it and it got me out of the house regularly! I stopped when I was offered a full time job – it was telemarketing but it was full time, permanent and was a ridiculously short “commute” of 5 miles.

I enjoyed quite a few aspects of the job, even if sales wasn’t my thing. I liked talking to a variety of people and because it was a (very) small company, when I volunteered to do odd jobs for the IT guy I was usually taken up on it. This combined with skills learned about various client’s databases I decided to study towards my MSc Information Technology.

In March 2009 I was made redundant – I actually consider myself quite lucky. I was still living with my parents at the time so I didn’t have to worry about Mortgage payments and a month later I had found work in a shop (it wasn’t even that long as I spent a week in Spain with my sister! I’d already paid for the holiday when I was made redundant so I decided I might as well go, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get my money back!!). I liked working in the shop, I loved dealing with people and I got to help with training new staff, preparing window displays and promoting stock. The hours were flexible enough to let me focus on my Masters and I made some good friends.

In December 2009 a part time temporary Library Assistant vacancy came up in Shrewsbury Health Library. This is another lucky break in my career – I would never have left a full time or permanent post for this, but it was a good move for me. My voluntary work meant I had enough experience to get the job and I loved it! Just as the temporary post came to an end one of the full time Library Assistants left for new pastures – I applied for, and got, the full time permanent post. My Line Manager started asking me about NVQ’s or other Library qualifications, but I was still working on my MSc so I put it off for a few months!

Last September I graduated my MSc and a few weeks later I started working towards my CILIP Certification. For those not familiar, it is a Library Assistant’s Qualification, but for people with a non-library degree it can be used as an alternative step towards CILIP Chartership.

In March this year I was promoted to Senior Library Assistant. I have taken on additional roles such as Information Literacy training and contributing towards our Library’s Social Media presence online. I love my job more every day and I honestly can’t imagine what I could possibly be doing instead!

Last week I posted off my Portfolio for my Certification application… I’m just waiting on my results, but it may be a few weeks yet. My Library Route is still in progress, but I know I’m on the right path.

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