Librarian and Information Officer
An Bord Pleanála
What path did you take to get to your current role?
I originally qualified as a plumber before attending what is now MU to study social policy. My intention had been to gain employment in the public service in areas of either education or welfare policy. As it turns out, my first job offer was from An Bord Pleanála, the planning appeals board, and I’ve been here ever since.
After a couple of years, I noticed a need for increased records and information management within An Bord Pleanála and applied for funding to study in DBS, explaining the potential benefits to my employers. This application was approved and following completion of my MSc in Information and Library Management in 2012 I was fortunate enough to be promoted and began to work as the organisation’s librarian and information officer.
Describe a typical day
As a solo-librarian my day comprises all of the routine tasks involved in managing a small government library. I have a part-time library assistant who assists me but a lot of time is still spent with reference queries, acquisitions and cataloguing. Additionally, my role as information officer involves investigating Freedom of Information and Access to Information on the Environment requests made to An Bord Pleanála.
Additionally, as an organisation, we are currently upgrading our ICT infrastructure to allow for receipt of planning appeals and applications electronically. This will involve the design and creation of a new case management system for the organisation. As lead for the digitisation component of this project, I am working to create a structure for all data created or received by An Bord Pleanála during the handling of planning appeals and applications. This currently represents an enormous amount of my daily workload.
What traditional library skills are important to have within your role?
In a state body like An Bord Pleanála, many of the library skills learned in college are more widely applicable. Records management, dealing with information legislation such as FOI or Data Protection, and the use of statistics and evidence for analysis and decision making are all important and extremely useful.
What non-traditional library skills are important to have within your role?
Project management and advocacy for information management are two library skills which constantly recur in my role in An Bord Pleanála. As with many of the more traditional library skills, these are generally useful across the public service.
Are there any specific software packages or technologies you use on a regular basis within your role?
An Bord Pleanála currently uses a purpose built case management system which is sadly reminiscent of DOS. However, we are in the process of upgrading our entire ICT infrastructure to include an integrated case management system, geographic information system and web portal. So the future is bright.
What is the most rewarding part of your role?
Having the opportunity to practically apply what I learned in DBS in a manner which directly improves services for our own internal staff and the wider public.
What is the most challenging part of your role?
As a solo-librarian in an organisation with a lot of information management needs, I frequently find it daunting when I am expected to know the correct approach the organisation should take in important areas such as with our digitisation strategy or records management policy for example. I’m not long qualified and have no fellow information professionals to consult with internally. Unfortunately, I’m not great for networking externally either.
I try to allay my own concerns by conducting research and accessing training where I identify a knowledge deficit. This has led me to utilise standards for record keeping from ISO, guides on creating thesauri and controlled vocabulary from the DRI, seeking additional training regarding FOI, conducting research into the information search and retrieval systems of dozens of planning authorities in the Republic of Ireland and the UK, and contacting other government bodies directly to seek advice or arrange tours or demonstrations. It’s very important for me to have confidence in the approach I’m adopting or recommending for the organisation but having to constantly find my own professional direction can be a challenge.
What are the career prospects within your area of librarianship?
Opportunities are beginning to arise in the public service, albeit slowly. Although for many graduates, the ultimate goal is to obtain a professional library position, I would urge people to consider attempting to enter the public service in any administrative capacity.
There are many opportunities in the public service to directly apply the skills learned in library school and gain really valuable experience. I also believe that information professionals provide unique insight into many areas of public policy where the dissemination of information is under discussion and that without our perspective, public service information systems may not serve the public as effectively as they should.
Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing a role in your genre of librarianship?
Learn how to advocate for your profession within your organisation. Take it upon yourself to demonstrate what you can do to improve services and seek to work on projects which would benefit from your skills as an information professional. Eventually your supervisors will begin to notice and start to approach you with more opportunities.
Also, don’t give up. Being a librarian is something worth pursuing even if things are tough right now. Best of luck!