Saturday, 2 October 2010

Dragged kicking and screaming into the future...

I'm just back from the New Professionals Information Day (#npid2010) organised by the CILIP Membership Support Unit for people thinking about a LIS career, starting out in the sector, at library school, or recently graduated with their MA. The first thing I noticed was that suddenly I'm old. I graduated MA *two* whole years ago now, and a lot happens in just a few years when you're near the start of a career.

'Architecture - Futuro UFO' by watz on Flickr
'Architecture - Futuro UFO' by watz on Flickr
It was mentioned more than once during the day that no-longer-new professionals wished they'd had a day like this when starting out. I agree with that sentiment, but I'm really not sure how the me of 5 years ago (when I was just starting my first library job) would have received npid2010. Actually, I'm not event sure what the 2008-(just got an MA)-vintage, or even the start-of 2010-(should I get round to Chartership)-vintage would have thought.

The day was relentlessly forward looking, and, fundamentally, I'm a special collections aort-of person, and as such, have a tendency to want to retrench back to about 1650 when everything was much simpler... (cue consort of viols in a wistful mode). Not-so-long-ago Katie would have balked at being told that everyone (in the library) needs quite a bit of tech knowledge (Ned), that libraries aren't about books - they're about the information/knowledge held in them, and therefore about power (Phil), that there are academics crying out for 'embedded librarians' to help with impact ratings and article submission (Nicolas). I'm not sure I quite entered the library world naively believing that 'librarians spend their time just looking after shelves of books', but I've been too eager in the past to retreat to the position that 'special collections will always have nice tangible books-as-artefacts in them, so maybe I don't need to worry about the future too much'. That is a position that's easily maintained when cocooned at work fetching beautiful old books for scholarly readers.

But I am already working the future, helping to redefine how libraries do what they do: using the beauty, historical significance and human interest of our special collections to attract all sorts of people into the library, to offer them 'learning opportunities', and to demonstrate that the worth of the library is greater than its (undoubtedly significant) value to serious academics. To be fair, there's not a lot of techno-wizardry involved in that, so it doesn't look immediately 'modern'*. When Phil Bradley declaimed that this is the most exciting of times to be an information professional, rare books librarianship may not have been at the forefront of his mind, but that doesn't mean I can continue to hide myself away.  In fact, I don't really want to: brave new world, here I come!

P.S. I also enjoyed the LISNPN meet up in the evening. Thanks to WoodsieGirl for organising it.

P.P.S. Thanks to Phil Bradley for quoting "Libraries are brothels for the mind" in his keynote. I'll be using that in future...

* But I suspect that a lot of online, social media tools are as yet under-used for the promotion of special collections and the like. As I've written before, I really must find out what more adventurous institutions are doing with blogs, flickr, interactive catalogues and the like, and work out how I can get involved.


  1. *bookmarking that library-brothels article*

  2. You think you're old?! I'm one of the insanely jealous older gen librarians who was positively crying out for something like this back in the mid-90s but was told I was being ageist even to think it! Anyway, what I really wanted to say was thanks for this summary it sounded like a really useful event. Great that you're so switched on AND in Cambridge.

  3. Andy, There are a few other write-ups floating about, mostly with more detail about the sessions, if you're interested in what went on. And we'll see how switched on I can manage to stay now I'm back in the bubble.