Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of attending the CILIP London Student and New Professionals Social in the Brass Monkey pub on Vauxhall Bridge Road. The organiser of the social, Amy, said it was the first of its kind put together by CILIP London, and the committee were not sure how many people would turn out for it. The number of attendees far exceeded expectations, with around 25 new professionals in attendance. This seems to show just how eager we all are to get to know our peers and to explore this career path more broadly. 

Unlike other events organised by CILIP that I have attended, this evening had no timetable of talks or structured workshops. This was a chance for us all to get to know one another informally. Not being a social butterfly however, I came prepared with some questions that would get conversation rolling with new people:

  • Where are you in your career at the moment?
  • Where are/did you study or train to be an information professional?
  • What attracted you to this career path?
  • Where would you like to end up working?

Naturally, I didn’t ask these questions so formally, and I interspersed them into conversation about the food and how busy London can be, but it was helpful to have these questions in reserve. Also, knowing that I would be writing this up for LISNPN, I wanted to find out as much about my fellow new professionals as possible! (Preparing questions like this is a good idea for any LIS event you attend)

Over the course of the evening, I spoke to a wide range of people from a variety of backgrounds and working in several different information environments. A highlight was speaking to a contingent of librarians from the Wiener library, the world’s oldest Holocaust archive. They explained how their role extends far beyond just helping academics. Their collection and research helps survivors and their descendants find information about lost loved ones, they assist in retracing locations where family may have been interned, and provide a safe space for this horrendous element of history to be discussed openly. All information provision is important to society, but I think this library is one of the most obvious examples of the amazing work we can do in our profession.

I also spoke to an information assistant from the Royal College of Surgeons library, another library whose importance is immediately apparent. The librarian I spoke to explained who their library caters for, academics and practising surgeons alike, and some of the weird and wonderful resources in their collection, stretching back as far as some of the first medical texts from the Middle Ages. One of the questions put to people working in health libraries, and other industry-based information centres was, “What subject knowledge did you need to get that job?” The answer I heard almost every time was “none”. It became clear through speaking to other information professionals that libraries of all persuasions require library skills, not necessarily knowledge of the subject matter a library holds. It sounds as though an interest in the subject is appreciated, but no more is required.

This evening also gave students and attendees considering LIS degrees an opportunity to chat about LIS courses. Discussions focussed on the modules on offer at each institution, the benefits and disadvantages of distance learning, and which modules graduates have found most useful in their professional life. University prospectuses and school rankings often do not provide enough information to make an informed decision on where to study and this is where speaking to people who have taken the course, or who are also considering taking courses is really helpful.

(We have a Courses channel on our Slack forum where you can go to discuss your experiences of Librarianship and Information Studies degrees. You can also check out our recent blog post on doing another degree.)

It was really positive to see that some attendees were transitioning from other careers into the information profession. One person had been in legal copywriting for several years and was making the move into legal librarianship. Another attendee had worked in the civil service and trade unions prior to landing on librarianship as a career. A third person I spoke to had studied conservation, but found that conservation jobs were thin on the ground and realised librarianship could provide similar work but with more opportunities. These conversations were really encouraging, they show that our profession is alive and well and clearly attracting people in from other lines of work. On the other hand, some people were dismayed at how hard it is to find a job and ace an interview. Having an evening like this though, to share application tips and interview experiences, can be really invaluable and I hope that those attendees who are endeavouring to find work are closer now to getting a position!

(We have blogposts about getting in to information work and we also have a careers forum on Slack where people share advice on applications, interviews and career moves. Be sure to check out NLPN, SLIP, FLIP and other networks for this advice too!)

This was such a useful event, to encourage professionals from a variety of library environments to get together and share their experiences. The only shame was that it only drew in people from the South East! My hope now is that this sort of informal gathering will be replicated in other areas of the country.

Does anyone already run informal socials for librarians and information professionals? If so, let us know on Twitter or FB, we would love to share out dates and locations so more people can get involved!

Perhaps you could set up a gathering of new professionals in your area! LISNPN would be happy to help you spread the word 🙂

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay

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