The Galloglass Librarian – A Future Development?

These sort of men be those that do not lightly quit the field, but bide the brunt to the death.”

(16th century account of the Galloglass)

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The problems that LIS graduates face as they step onto the conveyor-belt of job-hunting can come down to the facts that (1) there are few employment opportunities in the LIS sector out there, and (2) of the ones that are, many are unpaid internships, volunteer opportunities, JobsBridge programmes, and so on.

Unpaid opportunities may be essential these days to develop necessary experience but they are unpaid all the same and thus untenable unless you can already support yourself in some way, such as by living at home. One can hardly move to a new town for an unpaid internship, even if the alternative is more sitting-at-home.

These are common complaints amongst each new crop of LIS graduates. But this unhappy situation is unlikely to change anytime soon, with libraries and similar institutions too strapped for cash to take on employees on long-term contracts. We must either continue with the situation as it is and hope the conveyor-belt takes us to work we can or want to do, or look to alternative ways.

Among the latter could well be contracts that last for a matter of months, if not weeks. I speak from personal experience on the pros and cons of such an arrangement. While it has been rewarding, it has also been challenging (Translation: hard!), and I hope that my sharing of such experience will help others with any of their own, as well as raising its possibility to others who may not yet have considered such a thing.

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In mid-July I was offered a temporary contract working as a cataloguer for the Higher Education Academy in York. The initial offer was for six weeks, then it was for five weeks – making it from the last week of July to the 1st of August – but the basic principle remained. While York is not a huge distance from my native Dublin, it was a city I had only visited once before years ago on a weekend and barely remembered it. It would be, for practical purposes, a strange city.

The shortness of the contract was also a matter of concern in terms of accommodation – as in, would I get any? After all, landlords prefer contracts for a lengthy period of time – more money and less hassle of having to find a new tenant all the time. For cities with a large student population like York, nine months is a standard length of contract offered by landlords to take into account semester times. A month-long contract falls far short of that norm. In the end, I booked myself into a BnB of reasonable price for the first week of the contract to give myself a roof over my head while I looked for a flat for the remaining four weeks. What would hopefully work for me was how most of the students would be away at this time of year, leaving a dearth of occupied flats for me to take advantage of.

I took a flight from Dublin to Leeds Bradford Airport – no direct flights to York – and then a train to York, hoping to channel to spirit of the mercenary warriors of old, the “grim and redoubtable Galloglass with sharp, keen axes, terrible and ready for action.” After all, the legendary ‘Foreign Gael,’ of mixed Irish-Scottish heritage, were prepared to travel to wherever or whoever needed their services. With a Scottish surname like Murray, it seemed only proper to follow in the footsteps of such redoubtable go-getters, though perhaps without the keen axe. After the first week in the BnB, I was able get a flat for the month and just in time. A PhD student was looking for a sub-tenant for his room, and as no one had replied positively to my ad on SpareRoom.co.uk, it was an easy sell on my new tenant’s part.

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The cataloguing work went well. So well that it was extended for another month to the entirety of August. As my sub-landlord was due to return from his holidays, there was no possible extension on the flat and I was required to look again for another. I had more success this second time around, with several prospective flats to choose from by the end of my search.

As August went by, it was increasingly obvious that the workload would not be complete. Despite the workload being shared between a team of three, the original estimate of five weeks had proven to be a touch optimistic. I had yet to hear back from my line-managers, and I was browsing through the cheap (ha!) options for Leeds Bradford-Dublin flights when I was told in the last week of work that there was to be an extension, after all – on a fortnightly basis this time, rather than a monthly one. It seemed budget was as much an issue here as it is everywhere else. I decided to assume that the new extension would amount in time to another month all the same, and I would continue to flat-hunt on that basis. That is, if I could find one. Coming to work from a park-bench did not seem a tempting prospect, but a Galloglass librarian is one who does not lightly quit the field, instead biding the brunt onto death, so onwards again to SpareRoom.co.uk!

Renewing a contract on such a monthly basis meant finding accommodation on the same basis. Again, this is a far shorter and less reliable timeframe than what most landlords are looking for in a tenant. I was fortunate in being in a city full of students with flats and in a time of year where students were away and looking to sublet these same flats.

The disadvantages – or challenges – of short-term contract work are numerous. Moving to another place for however brief a time would also be far harder for someone with dependants and without some other arrangement in place. Short of adopting a Modest Proposal and eating said dependants, there is not much I can suggest about that.

Entering another country in the first place can be another challenge. Luckily for me here, Ireland and the UK have the Common Travel Area between them, meaning I could enter the former without problem, history having a certain cyclical nature given the number of Irish seasonal workers from Ireland in the 19th century Yorkshire agricultural industry (thank you, Yorkshire Museum!). With countries that enforce entry requirements such as the USA and Canada (the traditional retreats for the unemployed Irish in days gone past), such temporary contracts would be harder.

Yorkshire-Museum

For how much longer my work at the HEA will continue I cannot say. It may be a matter of weeks more or longer. That uncertainty is something I cannot do much. Nonetheless, I have already gained from the whole experience, not just in wages – not to mention getting to walk to work on York’s medieval walls in the morning – but in working with Grails, an application framework I had previously been unacquainted with, and a new ‘sharp, keen axe’ I can now claim to know for future job applications.

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                            Daniel Murray

Join the CDG Committee

Following on from a great CV Event, we are delighted to announce that the 2013 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Career Development Group of the LAI will take place near the end of October. We will be announcing more details on speakers and times at a later date so keep a good watch on our Twitter feed and blog. In the meantime, we are calling on members to get your nomination forms in and join the CDG Committee.

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The AGM is a valuable opportunity to learn about the work that the Committee has been undertaking on your behalf over the last twelve months, and to hear reports from each of the Committee Officers. We hope as manny people as possible can attend as this is both an AGM and a networking event so looking forward to seeing you there!

CDG Committee 2013-2014

In accordance with the CDG’s established Rules & Procedures, the term of the current committee comes to an end in October 2013. Expressions of interest are now being sought from Career Development Group members to become Committee Members for the 2013-2014 term. Closing date for expressions of interest is 5pm October 1st 2013.

The Secretary of the CDG will provide details about the level of commitment required and the election process; if after takling with the Secretary you wish to be considered for Committee membership, nomination forms will be made available via email. The closing date for nomination forms is 5pm 15th of October 2013

The Career Development Group Committee is an active and dynamic group. If you are energetic and committed to the continued career development of information professionals we invite you to consider putting yourself forward for the Committee. You will be actively involved in developing a proactive approach to employment in libraries through the discussion of issues such as career development, CV and interview tips, alternative funding models for job creation, non-traditional work opportunities. This will be done through formal and informal events, talks and joint training with other LAI groups and committees. For an idea of what we do, check out our Open DayLibrary Camp and our CV Talk and Workshop.

The Committee meets approximately 10-12 times each year, the time of meetings to be decided by the new Committee. Each nominee will require a proposer and a seconder. The nominee must be a current member of the Career Development Group, the proposer and seconder must be current members of the Library Association of Ireland. Expressions of interest may be made directly to the current CDG Committee. Looking forward to hearing from you all!

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and on Facebook. For more information on the CDG’s Rules and Procedures, click here

CV and cover letter talk and workshop recap

For our third event, we decided to get back to basics. This seemed particularly relevant with students finishing their exams, as well as the sense that there were at least some jobs being offered, albeit mainly contract work. How to inspire those new to the profession as well as those currently eyeing these jobs? It can be soul destroying to see jobs being advertised but not getting called to an interview. The first thing people have to do is to work on their CV and their cover letter. So the LAICDG decided to organise an event to help these people to get past the first hurdle: getting yourself noticed amongst the slush pile.

What we wanted in this event was for the attendees to be able to hear from people who had been on both sides of the fence, i.e, people who had spent time looking for jobs as well as people who had been on interviewing panels. We were very impressed by the quality of the speakers who gave up their valuable time and were so informative and very entertaining as well. We managed to get a space in the beautiful Rathmines Public Library, which is a wonderful example of a library at the centre of a community as well having some fabulously helpful staff.

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Jane Burns, the wonderfully inspiring information professional from the Royal College of Surgeons was the first of our speakers. Jane wanted to give a behind the scenes look at the selection and interviewing process as well as providing some helpful hints that those applying can utilise. They may seem obvious, but there were many nodding heads when Jane went through this list. Examples include trying to find out exactly who you’re sending your application to, the right title of the role that you’re applying for, and the importance of reading through the entire job spec. Jane emphasised that there are clues in seemingly irrelevant parts of the description. Understanding the role is essential as it helps you to know what the employer wants and whether you can actually do the job. This can be helpful as it can determine what jobs you should actually apply for. Jane noted that rejection can, of course, be somewhat soul-destroying, so applying for realistic jobs is very important.

Jane also gave practical advice on how librarians should tailor their CVs for each particular role. Again, this is something that we can forget about, especially if we’re sending our CV in to a large number of organisations. This, of course, also applies to our cover letters. A useful tip was to copy and paste the job spec in to tagxedo.com and then look at those words that are jumping out at you. Can you do what they are asking you to do?

Another useful tip was the importance of keeping your options open to alternative library careers. This helps to keep us motivated and even if the job is quite far removed from the library world, Jane suggested that there were options to keep you in the library world (like writing for the blog of the LAICDG). Jane suggested creating a table with words from the job spec on the left-hand side and writing two examples of how your own experience matches what the employer is looking for. Download Jane’s presentation here.

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Hugh Murphy, from NUIM is always a welcome presence at library events, whether as a speaker or attendee. Hugh’s talk (Interviews, Retina Scans and the Failings of Telepathy) was light-hearted and funny, but offered some valuable tips for those of us in attendance.

Hugh acknowledged the truth about interviews: they are random and the job can be given to someone who happens to impress on the day. Knowing this can give the applicant an advantage. Firstly, the basics (again, you can never overstate the basics). So, dress appropriately, be polite, be punctual (this was one he emphasised as particularly important), don’t supply any handwritten documentation, be positive, ask a (relevant) question, and be prepared to challenge the interviewer(s) if you disagree with a statement or have an alternative view. Given that interviews can be random, if you are not successful always ask for feedback. Hugh also reminded us that while the interview is random for the applicant, it will also be random for the interviewer. Download Hugh’s presentation here.

Our last speaker was Mark Cumisky, from UCD Career Development Centre. Mark started off with a story of what not to do in an interview. The moral of that story was not to lie about anything, whether your experience or your appearance, because if you are to do this, what else are you lying about?

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Mark suggested that we take his 3 Rs advice regarding both CV and cover letter: recent, relevant, and readable. Mark also stressed the importance of knowing everything possible about the role that you are applying for: what is it? Where does it fit into the organisation? Who did it previously? This knowledge should be applied to the organisation as well. What is its size, culture, history, reputation, and its pre-eminence (or lack thereof)? Mark also suggested that you should really ‘know’ about yourself too, even going so far as to ask an outside opinion regarding yourself. What are your skills, your experience, motivations, aspirations, ambitions, and your values? Going over this before the interview will help you to be aware of your answers during the interview process so that you seem prepared and relaxed. It is also important to tie in this knowledge of yourself with your knowledge of the organisation and the job.

Mark also gave some constructive suggestions for cover letters. Sometimes cover letters can terrify the applicant but also sometimes an applicant can be of the opinion that they have such a perfect cover letter that they can’t bear to alter it, regardless of the job. So, how should we write a cover letter? Tailoring, again, is the key. For the introduction, however, it is necessary to include the basics: who are you and where did you see the job advertisement? Next you should discuss what you can do for the organisation that you are applying for. So, state the relevance of your skills and include some examples. Show your enthusiasm, ambition, drive, and energy for the job that you are applying for. Next you should discuss why you are interested in working for the organisation. Here is where you show your knowledge of the profession, specifically your knowledge of the strengths and positives of the organisation within the profession in general. Download Mark’s presentation here.

After the speakers had finished, we organised the groups into loose ‘workshops’ to discuss actual sample job advertisements as well as given attendees the opportunity to discuss particular problems or issues that they had. The speakers would then rotate around the groups so everybody could get a chance to talk to each speaker. Time, as always, was a limiting factor, so the rotation didn’t work out quite as well as we had hoped, but there was always time for people to continue at the networking event that we had organised just down the road in Rody Bolands. Although some couldn’t make this part of the event, there were some interesting discussions held late into the night. Surprisingly, a lot of these discussions still revolved around libraries and job applications!Image

Overall, we were very happy with the event. A special thanks must be (re-)issued to the speakers, all of whom gave great talks mixed with humour and practical advice and were always ready with the personal touch for all of those attending. We are compiling your feedback (if you haven’t given yours yet, please do!) but overall the event seems to have been met with an enthusiastic response, which mirrors what a lot of you said on the day. We also have fond memories of the odd little toys that Jane brought as a conversation starter.Image

Don’t forget to check out the Tweet Archive of the event and, as always, keep an eye on this blog for news of future events and exciting developments in the world of the LAICDG.