Information professionals wear many hats. As our roles continue to evolve and diversify we are expected to take on new responsibilities that may fall outside of our traditional job descriptions. This requires learning new skills to ensure we are equipped to navigate changes in the job market. While professional development is important the array of new skills required to be an information professional can at times be dizzying. We are required to have exceptional information, digital and data literacy. To remain ahead of the curb technologically. To be educators, project managers, web developers, metadata specialists, digital marketers. The lists goes on.
We may be lifelong learners but we can’t spend a lifetime learning. There are only so many hours in the day. Rather than trying to learn everything all at once, it may be more important to be selective about the skills you invest in. By devoting your time and energy to one particular area you can make a real impact in your professional development. But how to know which skills to invest in?
The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) offers a series of skills audit templates that can help emerging information professionals identify the skills they require to excel in a specific field. These include a data specialisation, government specialisation, health specialisation, research specialisation, and schools specialisation. Each template has a rubric that allows information professionals to assess their proficiency. A full list of the skills audit templates can be found here on the ALIA professional development resources page.
These templates may not be a silver bullet to the task of lifelong learning but they can point you in the right direction and make sure you are learning the skills that will get you noticed in that next job interview.
Study visits can be a really exciting part of a library course, but they can also be hard work. Here’s ten tips to help you get the most out of your study visits.
- Be prepared. Work out what needs doing at home while you’re away, especially if you have family to care for. Your study visits might involve being away from home for days or even if you’re local there could be some really long hours. Make sure you have reliable care for any kids you might have, make sure the pets will get fed while you’re away. Plan well to make sure they are taken care of in advance. Also, know what the procedure is at your institution if something goes wrong and you can’t make it on the day.
- Plan your outfits. Comfy shoes are a must as you’ll do a lot of walking. Personally, between the four days of study visits, including getting to and from the city and my after hours commitments I clocked up 57,000 steps! The same goes for your outfits. Check the weather in the lead up, especially if you’ll be in a different city to where you live.
- Take notes. You’ll likely need to write some sort of report after the study visits, so take lots of notes to help you remember who said what at each library.
- Take photos. Photos are also a great way to jog your memory later about what you’ve seen. Make sure you get permission first and be cautious about posting on social media. Some of our sites allowed us to take photos on the provision that they did not go on social media. Any photos you take should not have any library patrons or fellow students in them.
- Do your research. If, like me, you have to write a researched essay, incorporating what you saw on study visits, do your research before the visits if you can. It will give you things to look out for, maybe prompt some questions to ask your hosts and help your essay in the end.
- Check out transport. Check out your public transport options ahead of time or use the discussion forums or Facebook groups to meet up with a travel buddy if you’re anxious about getting to the right places. Know when the public transport options are good or when you might be better off bringing the car or booking an Uber. Remember you can use travel time to chill – read a book, listen to a podcast, or write some reflections about your experience.
- Take time off. If you can afford a little more time off work, give yourself an extra day to recover from the visits. A study visit can involve long days in an unfamiliar city with lots of information to absorb – it’s tiring.
- Enjoy the experience – Plan to have some fun while you’re on study visits. Organise to meet fellow students for meals, or look at exhibitions at the venues or in nearby locations. Most study visits will have an attached Students and New Grads group event – join us for a chat!
- Expect the unexpected. Serendipity is important for library users but it’s important for us as well. Be ready to embrace opportunities. Be willing to meet new people and chat to people you don’t know.
- Know thyself. Know what you need to help you get through the week. Are you someone who needs regular fresh air and sunshine? Try to have your lunch in a park or an outdoor cafe. Like to process what you see by chatting? Organise to debrief afterwards at the pub or on transport between venues with other students. Need time alone? Stick your headphones on and scurry off after a visit to get some alone time. Know what you need and make firm plans to get what you need.
I want to straight-up start by saying I am a person who is sick of reading books and blog posts about life hacks and how to achieve your goals from single, straight, affluent, white, American men. As a married, Australian middle-class woman with five kids, most of those suggestions are unattainable at best.
This will not be a blog post like that.
I want to tell you how you can hack your degree and make it work for you. I cannot promise you’ll get all HDs or get a job at the end, but I can tell you how to make the most of your opportunities as a student, to give you the best chance of success once you get that piece of paper to say that you are a fully qualified Librarian. (Or library technician, archivist, teacher-librarian or whatever your study is in. Use your imagination).
- Join. Join your local library/records association at the student rate while you can. ALIA has great student rates (and also offers discount rates to new graduates) as do RIMPA. Not only that, but take advantage of the benefits it gives you. Members of ALIA can sign up for mailing lists that give them articles to read for professional development, you have access to ebooks and ejournals, you hear about great events and get a discount when you go to a paid event. When you go to events you meet new people, especially in the industry you are hoping to be employed in.
- Volunteer! Volunteer for ALIA – the Students and New Grads group are always looking for new team members. You can learn great skills, network with other new professionals and students, and it looks great on your CV as you then have proven skills in social media platforms, event coordination and the like. You can also volunteer at events. Earlier this year I volunteered at ALIA Information Online 2019 and I got so much out of it. While the volunteer role is important, most of the time I was still able to listen to the keynote speakers, and participate in workshops. I learnt so much and met so many new people. NLS9 is currently calling for volunteers – they want you to volunteer a day of your time in exchange for free entry to the conference the other day. If you’re able to volunteer at a conference like this then take the opportunity.
- Jump in. Join committees and working groups. While this isn’t something that’s exclusive to being a student, you possibly have more time now as a student than you will as a full time employee, plus its something students feel like they have no place putting their hands up for. IFLA have working groups you can join from anywhere in the world. ALIA have sub-groups, working groups and conference committees. If you see a call out for volunteers to be involved in something you are interested in, put your hand up!
- Learn. Most universities have student subscriptions to online learning platforms such as Lynda. If you look at job ads in your preferred field and notice they are all asking for knowledge of or experience with budgeting, social media marketing, project management or change management, take a look at these platforms to see if there’s a course you could do that can skill you up in this area.
- Complete. Complete your assignments, but not just as an assignment. When you write that collection development policy or disaster recovery plan, treat it like a piece of work that you would do for an employer. Have it as evidence of your knowledge in this area. Treat essays as though they were articles to submit to journals, and then rework them a little and submit them to journals or blogs.
- Write. Beyond your assignments, write. Write for Incite. Write for shared blogs. Write for journals. If people read what you’ve written and like it, they’ll remember you and it may just come in handy one day.
- Connect. Join Twitter, Linked In or another social media platform and connect with librarians around the world, both in your preferred field and outside of it. Get to know what other librarians are talking about. Learn the problems with the theories and ideals we are taught in university. Join the conversation.
- Look. Look out for any free or low-cost professional development activities in your area. Look for free webinars. Attend whatever you can, and learn. You’ll meet new people and learn a lot. If you’re an ALIA member, even as a student member, you can log your PD hours on the website.
- Ask. Ask for help if you need it. Ask for recommendations of papers to read, journals to read, libraries and librarians to follow. Ask for a chat over a coffee with someone you admire. And don’t be upset if it doesn’t work out first time around. Librarians are generally generous people and if you ask a few, telling them you’re a student and would like to buy them a coffee and pick their brains for an hour, you’ll find someone willing.
- Deviate. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm. I didn’t like the remaining electives I had to choose from, so I requested permission to complete a different subject (that was in a closely allied field) and was given permission. So now, I’m studying Game Based Learning. Don’t assume you have to follow the cookie-cutter course. I can’t guarantee you’ll get permission to study a subject on pure mathematics or viticulture as a part of your librarianship degree, but if you’ve got a burning passion for something in a related area, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Maybe you can’t do all of these things. That’s ok. Just take one step.
If you’d like to hear more about this, I recommend the final episode of the podcast Beyond the Stacks, which inspired this post.
Written by Liz Parnell
The path into a GLAMR profession isn’t always straightforward and it can be daunting to return to study after a few years spent working in another industry, raising a family or experiencing all life has to offer. Here are a few simple tips around academic writing to prepare for next semester.
- Clarity over complexity: Always convey your ideas in a clear, concise way to your reader. It can be tempting in academia to write overly sophisticated sentences and get lost in theories. Ultimately, it won’t do you any favours if your writing irritates or confuses assessors. It’s your job to make their life as easy as possible by guiding your reader through your ideas and not making them work too hard to understand what you are talking about.
- Explain terms: Following on from the previous tip, it’s always best to avoid academic jargon wherever possible. If you do have to introduce a new term explain it. For example, don’t assume your reader knows what information literacy means, provide a definition. One of the conventions of academic writing is that it should be understandable to everyone not just experts in the field. This also goes for acronyms. Always write acronyms like ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association) or IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) out in full the first time you list them.
- Read the rubric: The devil is always in the detail when it comes to assignments and assessors rely on rubrics to evaluate students’ work. Always adhere to any guidelines provided. The most exciting, original essay won’t do very well if you haven’t followed instructions. Remember that often you are being assessed on your ability to excel at a certain type of writing. A personal anecdote might be appropriate for a reflective journal but it has no place in a literature review of existing academic research.
- Plan and revise: Regardless of how confident you feel writing about a certain topic its always best to write out a quick plan for the assignment to ensure your writing flows logically. Even though you might feel like you are back in high school it will improve your writing dramatically. Always reread what you have written as well. What might have seemed like a perfectly crafted phrase when you wrote it can, on second inspection, turn out to be a nightmare sentence filled with grammatical or spelling mistakes. It’s always best to review an assignment a few hours or a day after you have finished writing so you can approach editing it with a level head.
- Have an opinion: Assessors like to know what interests you and why you are writing about a certain topic. While its crucial to adhere to the conventions of academic writing –see tip 3 – you should convey excitement and enthusiasm in your writing by choosing a topic that you will enjoy studying. It’s not always possible to choose what to write about but when you do have the opportunity make sure to take it. .
I’m Liz, I’m currently completing a Masters degree, and have five children (6-15) and one husband. Here I offer the top tips that I have found vital for succeeding in study while raising a family.
- Have support. My number one tip is to make sure you have at least your top supporter on board – your spouse, partner, parent, best friend, whoever your number one supporter in life is. I could not be studying if I didn’t have my husband’s full support; this support has meant he has helped more with the housework, accommodated his work schedule to allow me to attend events, and not gotten upset about the occasional rush out the door as he came home from work. One of the best things we did was talk in advance to set some limits. For my husband and I, they were things like a maximum number of times per week I could skip family meal times (important in our house) without either of us feeling like I was neglecting our family. For you, it might be how many hours a week they are willing to babysit your children so you can study, or negotiating for your partner to be the taxi driver for weekend sports.
- Find your “third space”. A third space is basically a space that is neither your home nor your workplace. For me, local libraries were the places I could go to get some uni work done without the distraction of children or housework. Other options can be cafes with good coffee and wifi, a friend’s house; I’ve even gone to McDonalds on a public holiday when nothing else with wifi was open.
- Recognise that you cannot do it all and will have to cut back on other things in your life. You can’t just add study into your already busy life and expect it to work. For me, I stepped back from a committee I had been a part of, my youngest child started school meaning I no longer had a preschooler to entertain in school hours and, if I’m honest, I cut back on exercise. You need to get rid of FOMO and know that your study is worthwhile.
- Plan ahead. Let people know that you won’t be as available for a while. Let work know that it’s not a great time for you to take on extra projects. Investigate whether your workplace offers study leave on top of your normal holiday and sick leave. Batch cook meals that freeze well for nights when there’s no time to cook. I knew several years in advance that I was going to study and spent time beforehand teaching my older children to cook. My three eldest children (15, 13 and 11) each cook at least once a week, meaning there’s one less thing that I have to do. Which leads to my final tip.
- Delegate. Delegation can be hard when you don’t think others will do as good a job as you, but drop your standards and accept that the kitchen floor swept by a 6 year old is better than not swept at all, and much better than not handing your assignment in on time because you want to get the housework done perfectly. Delegation is vital for getting through uni, especially crunch time when assignments are due. Ask someone to drive the kids to dance class (and return the favour in semester break). Online shopping is your friend!
Of course, everyone’s circumstances are different and the way we manage our study looks different, so please feel free to adapt, change or ignore as it suits you and your situation. And if you have any of your own tips or studying-while-parenting hacks to share, your thoughts are most welcome, so please comment below.