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Katie Fraser's blog and website

I'm an academic librarian, working in the UK Higher Educational sector, supporting academics and students. Prior to this, I was a researcher, working with social and learning technologies.

My interests include the application of emerging and traditional technologies, research support in libraries, learning spaces, evidence-based practice and the professional development of library and information workers.

You can find out more about more about me from the links to the left. Note that the views expressed on this website/blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other individual or organisation.

A Stealth Librarianship Manifesto: Some thoughts

February 14th, 2011

Blue skies over the library

Blue skies over the library. Maybe I should have had a shot of one of the departments here instead!

John Dupuis, author of the Confessions of a Science Librarian blog, recently wrote a fascinating post entitled A Stealth Librarian’s Manifesto (please do go and read it) talking about the need for academic librarians to insinuate their way into the communities they serve. There’s also comments on the blog about how this manifesto applies to other sectors. I was halfway through commenting on his post, when I realised that I had one of my own brewing.

The stealth librarian’s manifesto had me nodding most of the way through. We should become part of our users’ landscape. We should be integrated into research and teaching and we should be collaborative. With all these I agree. However, I baulked slightly at the separation from the information profession the manifesto encouraged in parts: “We must stop going to librarian conferences” and “We must stop joining librarian associations”? Yikes!

On reflection I think this reaction is partly about my background. As an ex-academic (at the PhD student level) and relatively new librarian (I graduated from my librarianship course just over a year ago) I’m very conscious of what I’ve learnt from the knowledge and expertise of other librarians. I’m wary of the danger of ‘going native’ – a concept from anthropological ethnographic research, where those studying a culture can come to identify with it so strongly that they become estranged from their own culture. I still think that there’s a lot I have to learn from other information professionals, and I don’t want to lose sight of the new ways of seeing the world I’ve learnt as a librarian.

However, this reservation isn’t meant to be a cutting critique of the manifesto. I can see how those who are more established librarians already feel confident within the profession, and see progress as pushing the other way and focusing more on the community they don’t yet know. There’s a perfect balance where librarians are embedded in both communities, participating in the lives of the groups that they support, yet secure of their own identity as professionals, secure of their own expertise.

I think maybe I’m getting to the stage where I’m secure enough as a librarian to start pushing the stealth angle a little harder. I’ve taken some steps towards becoming involved in the communities I serve, particularly in terms of conferences and social networks, which is where I’m comfortable. One of my next big aims in the role is to increase how embedded I am in the on-campus scientific community, where my liaison so far has been a little too reactive (as opposed to proactive) for either the manifesto or for my own preference. There’s other constraints here – I have found it more challenging to become a part of both library and departmental communities in my current part-time role – but that’s all the more reason to invest my effort in this area, and develop some stealth librarian skills.

CILIP’s New Professionals Information Day: Fear the fear and do it anyway

January 13th, 2011

Sign at CILIP HQ


One of the blog posts which has disappeared down the virtual sofa during Operation Move House is my talk at CILIP’s New Professionals Information Day (NPID)(an annual event aimed at new information professionals, students and the information-profession-curious). This ran in London in October (at CILIP HQ) and Newcastle in November (at the rather beautiful Newcastle City Library.

I was going to upload the slides for my talk after the event, but without the context of the talk they felt rather disjointed, so I thought perhaps a blog would capture it better. The two days also influenced my current professional activities to some extent, which I wanted to reflect upon: but more on that later.

I was asked to speak at this event because of my work on CILIP’s Defining Our Professional Future (DOPF) as a new professional. I was given the suggested title ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway: Working with people at all levels‘ but in the end the talk was more about how neither part of the title applied to me!

  1. Feel the Fear: I wanted to talk about how positive my experience working with senior professionals in DOPF had been. The project board was inevitably made up of people with an enthusiasm for CILIP, but who felt it could do better. I wanted to point out that working with other information professionals (senior or otherwise) seems intimidating, but it’s actually probably easier than working across disciplines, and that there’s no reason (or stigma) in getting involved even at a very early stage in your career.
  2. Do it Anyway: this talk actually persuaded me to reflect on the way I become involved in professional activities. Enthusiasm always hits me before fear: I commented in the talk that my motto is like ‘Agree to do it, and then feel the fear afterwards’. This means I get into some random situations, but nearly all of them have been positive for me, so I wanted to talk about harnessing that enthusiasm!

The conclusion of the talk was what a great experience getting involved in the wider profession had been for me, and to make it clear that CILIP can be a great option (if only one among many!) for getting involved in professionals activities.

CILIP HQ: picture of the ramp by the entrance

More CILIP HQ: note the pink CILIP logo in the window

The talk sparked some fascinating debate about CILIP from sceptics in the audience: I emphasised that I was focusing on the positives of getting involved in the Institute, but that I wasn’t a CILIP representative, and that I knew it was only one option among many.

My favourite moment of the discussion was in Newcastle where, together with Maria Cotera (Past President of the Career Development Group), I persuaded Phil Bradley (who was then still running for president, and in the audience as he gave one of the NPID keynotes) to say a little bit about why he’d rejoined and become active in CILIP again: he gave a lovely speech about the importance of professional bodies and the opportunity we have to do something great with CILIP.

It was fantastic to see the enthusiasm and response for running this event in both north and south, and there was some great speakers to chat to, but it’s sobering to realise that this could be the last year that the New Professionals Information Day might not be around next year due to budget constraints.

I suppose the major long-term outcome of the event for me was, having reflected on how positive my experiences getting involved with CILIP were (in DOPF and also as a previous member of CDG Yorkshire and Humberside) led me to resolve to become active more regularly. I’m going to take over on the UC&R East Midlands committee for my institution next: unlike some of the things I’ve become involved in during my professional development, this is a stable commitment (which I think will do me good), but also I’m looking forward to helping develop some random plans on the committee once I start!

Defining Our Professional Future: Thoughts on CILIP’s KI Conversation

May 12th, 2010

As previously revealed on this blog, I’m currently acting as a project board member on CILIP’s Conversation with the Knowledge and Information Community. The process is underway and you can read more about it, and how to get involved, at Conversation through social media and regional focus groups is currently underway.

Although I’m sitting on the project board, I’m a CILIP member myself, and one who’s not 100% sold on every service it offers. I therefore wanted to take a moment out to be part of the Conversation too, remove my ‘Project Board Member’ hat and have a bit of a chat about the three questions the Conversation is currently mulling over:

  • What will the knowledge and information sector look like in 2020?
  • Where will a professional association fit into this sector?
  • How will you engage with this professional association?

The Knowledge and Information Sector in 2020

Technology is one that will come up again and again (and not just in the information sector). I’ll cover it briefly. I’m not going to guess which technologies will be relevant to information professionals in 2020. Technologies change all the time: if you think that learning to use Twitter now is going to help you in 2020 you’re sadly mistaken. However, I am certain that the information professionals in 2020 will need to be early adopters of technology, experimenters, and no longer those behind the curve in hearing about and adopting new forms of tech. Or else we’ll have gone the way of the dinosaur. End.

An issue that’s more personal to the sector is its fragmentation. I believe in 2020 the sector will be just as fragmented as it is now. It’s inevitable that information management will take place in a range of different institutions: that there will be public and private organisations (and individuals) with different needs. And its also inevitable that whether I work in a university, or a law firm, or a public library, or the health sector, or a school, or for Count Waldstein, I’ll have more shared experiences with those in similiar posts. However, I hope that in 2020 information professionals will have grown better and looking beyond these everyday sectoral  concerns to wider shared issues (information literacy, information management, information systems design).

The role of a professional organisation in the Information Sector

The role of a professional organisation is surely about bridging the gap between those sectors. About developing a shared identity for information professionals. And to do this it needs to definine its boundaries. Who is an information professional, and who isn’t? What kind of work does an information professional do? It’s comparatively easy to tell if you’re a librarian or not, which I think is why CILIP ends up full of librarians talking about librarianship.

You may have noticed that the subtitle above doesn’t say ‘the Knowledge and Information sector’ Why not? In have an MSc in Occupational Psychology, and studied knowledge management. I’ve therefore got some expertise behind this claim: knowledge and information management are the opposite of each other. Information management is all about arranging information in structures so it’s easy to find, and making it easy to convert data to knowledge. Knowledge management is all about capturing disorganised ‘soft’ human knowledge and desperately trying to convert it to data. While these two processes are related, and professionals in both sectors can learn a lot from each other, I don’t think an organisation like CILIP can simply lay claim to the Knowledge sector without a merger with a specialised Knowledge Management group. We can’t claim to be experts in everything, and our identity is strongest when we admit what we are not.

Lastly, once it’s established what an information professional is, the professional association must be clear about what a good information professional is (those undertaking continuing professional development, for example), and build its membership from these good information professionals. What’s the point in joining a professional organisation when there’s equally competent equally active professionals outside it, and those who merely passed a course inside it? It must actively improve the quality of professionals within its boundaries, for example by masterminding the cross-sector initiatives referred to above. And if it can’t offer this, why call it a professional organisation? Why not have training courses and networking sessions funded by one-off payments? Why have membership at all?

How I’ll engage with this professional association

This time I think I’ve really answered this question before I got to it. How I engage with a professional association depends on what I get back from engaging. I’d love to be able to be a member of a society where being a member is a guaranteed of quality to employers, where collectively we are improving the information sector. However, if that isn’t going to happen, I’ll just have to demonstrate my professionalism through my activities, and do my best to keep an eye on what happens in other across different sectors. I can do it on my own: I’ll join committees, and attend courses, and read the literature of a professional association if it can help me do it better.

So, your move first, professional association. How do you plan to engage with me? What do you think might make me a better information professional? If your answer is convincing enough, I’m on board.