I recently read a book about portfolio careers (I’m coming to the realisation that this seems to be what suits me and what I’d like to do with my freelancing). One of the things the book talks about is the importance of knowing our ‘motivated skills’ which the authors explain as things we’re good at, enjoy and are proud of. I’ve done the StrengthsFinder before, but I liked the idea of the exercise in the book to help identify our motivated skills so I’ve been working on this as part of my freelance planning.

One of the things I found incredibly useful at the authentic leadership session at Clore was thinking back not just the last few years, but right back to my childhood to see what common themes there are throughout my life. The exercise in the book asks similar. You are encouraged to write down achievements from throughout your life, alongside the age you were when you achieved them (I’m not sure what this is designed to achieve and I didn’t like this much as there seem to be periods of time where I don’t achieve anything and then a big period of change!). Once you have your list of achievements, you’re asked to select the 7 that stand out as your proudest achievements; I chose ones spanning from age 6 to age 32 (my current age). You then map these against a series of skills, to see which seem to be common themes within your achievements. My top motivated skills came out as:

  • Motivating and leading (in 6 of my 7 chosen achievements)
  • Persistence (in 6 of my 7 chosen achievements)
  • Having high energy (in 5 of my 7 chosen achievements)
  • Communicating (in 5 of my chosen achievements)
  • Helping others (in 4 of my chosen achievements)

I had quite a few skills which were in 3 of my chosen achievements including; solving problems; managing time; teaching; organising people; managing money; being practical; and physical activities.

So what does this tell me? I’m not at all surprised to see persistence up there; some may call it stubbornness but whatever it is I am definitely the sort of person who keeps going when I’m determined to do something. I hope this will be something that will help me in my freelance work (especially when things aren’t as easy), but of course I need to make sure I’m directing that persistence in the right direction.  I’m pleasantly surprised to see motivating and leading at the top of the list too – that’s something I’d like to be able to ensure I do in my work which is largely collaborative and for the benefit of others. I hope to continue to work in this way and continue to develop these skills. I’m surprised to see having high energy so high in the list; I would like to bring more energy to my work – by my nature I’m quite an active person, and I hope I bring an element of this to my training but it’s definitely something I’d like to do more of. Communicating underpins most of my work so is definitely something I do a lot of; I’m comfortable with many forms of communication but do still need to develop in some areas (I’m not so suited to formal communication for example but have to do this sometimes). I’m relieved to see helping others in my top list, as this is what has driven my decision to go freelance. I’m really passionate about helping other people develop and definitely want to prioritise this going forward.

I found this exercise really useful to help me confirm some of the things I already felt were my strengths, as well as highlight some of the things I might not have realised as much. It’s reassuring to do this sort of exercise and end up with similar results to other exercises but to have got to them a different way. I plan to revisit this list and the exercise (and probably this blog post) periodically to remind myself of these skills, and ensure I am utilising them.

Do you know what your strengths (or motivated skills) are? Are others aware of them (e.g. colleagues, family, friends)? Do you get the opportunity to utilise them?

Given all the personal changes that have been happening in the last few months (selling our home, finding one to rent, relocating, handing in my notice, starting work as a freelancer) it’s fair to say my CILIP Fellowship progress has stalled. I had a statement drafted, but obviously this was on the basis of me working in my previous role so much of it is now out-of-date. I’m still keen to work towards Fellowship though, and have arranged to meet with my mentor tomorrow. Being the deadline driven person that I am, I therefore spent today reviewing where I’m at. I know we all go about these things differently but I thought it might be useful to share my process in case it helps others who are working towards Certification, Chartership or Fellowship.

I started out with the online PKSB tool (which is incredibly easy to use and really useful!). It only took me an hour or so to work my way through the sections of the PKSB and add ratings to the areas I think are a priority for me. This gave me a shortlist of 17 different areas I might want to focus on. Not much of a shortlist really, but much preferable to the full PKSB! I downloaded the ‘Development Report’ which exports to PDF any of the areas where your current rating is lower than your ideal rating. I printed it out (old school I know, but that was so I could go and scribble on it whilst sitting in my favourite chair in the garden as it’s lovely and sunny today!), and starred the ones I felt were highest priority for me to develop. These were predominantly things where I had the biggest gap, or things that are particularly important for me to develop at the moment.

I managed to narrow it down to about 8 items, and then decided to map these broadly to the 3 assessment criteria for Fellowship. After a bit of jiggery pokery I have 3 items for each criteria:

Criteria 1 (Personal development)

  • Teaching and training skills (8.6)
  • File planning (1.2)
  • VLEs (8.8)

Criteria 2 (Organisational development)

  • Strategic marketing (11.1)
  • Strategic planning (10.1)
  • Financial management (10.6)

Criteria 3 (Wider professional context)

  • Knowledge sharing and collaboration (2.7)
  • Partnership development (9.5)
  • Leadership skills (9.1)

This may change of course, but it’s been a really useful exercise to help me get going again. Once I had this list I started to think about potential things I’d like to do in the area, and potential pieces of evidence I could produce to support this. Mostly these will be separate reflective pieces that will discuss the different things I have done to develop on the area, how they have helped (or not!), and what I plan to do next. It’s been useful to think about the types of activities I would like to do for each, and the types of things I already do that I would like to reflect on further for Fellowship.

I can’t believe how much clearer things are in my mind now that I’ve spent a few hours on this. It only took a maximum of 4 hours (and that’s including some snacking, chatting to my partner, chatting on Twitter, emailing, and playing word games!) and I feel so much more prepared for both my meeting with my mentor tomorrow and empowered to help me prioritise development areas to support my Fellowship. I got the same value from my Chartership and it’s why I love the CILIP Professional Registration process.  Here’s hoping I can dedicate some time to this in the next few months as I know it will be really beneficial.

It’s August 1st 2016 and it’s a very exciting day. Today marks my first day of self-employment. It’s been almost 6 years since I’ve been in a traditional librarian post, but I’ve been employed by at least one library every day since August 2005 so today is a big change for me. I blogged last time I changed jobs how strange it was to not have a library. Today I have no library, no employer, no manager, no colleagues, no office (though I do have my home office which is what I’ve been using for months anyway!). I have no organisation employing me. It’s just me and my laptop.

Many people over the last few weeks have asked me what I’m going to be doing when I’m self-employed. Mostly they’ve asked me what my business name will be and what I will call myself. Well, I’m still the same person so I’ll be calling myself Jo Alcock. I’ll need to register as a freelancer of course (for tax purposes etc.) so will probably need to have a formal business name then, but for the most part I intend to just go by my name. In terms of what I’m going to be doing, well there are some things I really want to do but I also want to remain open to opportunities. I’ll be continuing to coordinate the Knowledge for Healthcare Leadership Programme (which runs until Feb 2017), and I’ll be evaluating the pilot programme for CILIP Leadership Programme. I’m planning to develop more training workshops, particularly in supporting people in their research (e.g. Statistics for Librarians is one I’m hoping to work on developing soon). I’m also hoping to be able to make time for more of my own research, ideally working in collaboration with libraries or related organisations. I’d love to do some observational research using ethnographic techniques, and I’d also love to continue supporting libraries with other research too (including focus groups, surveys, interviews, etc.). I’d like to do more coaching in future, and I have my ILM coaching qualification which I’ve been continuing to use skills from, but I’d also like to do an additional coaching accreditation which I may look into doing later this year. Once I have that I’d like to look into doing more one-to-one coaching; both in person and virtually. For the short term though, I’ll mostly be focusing on the leadership development programmes I coordinate, the training I want to develop, and my voluntary roles of Review Editor for the New Review of Academic Librarianship and 2017 Conference Planner for SLA Leadership and Management Division.

I’m also taking some time out in the next few weeks (I worked through my leave and June/July was very travel heavy for work so I could do with a break!). I have TV, films and documentaries I want to watch; I have books I want to read; I have places I want to visit; I have things I want to experience. We might even book a holiday! Now that both myself and my partner are freelance, it should hopefully give a little more flexibility in being able to fit non-work things around our working days. It of course brings some elements of uncertainty in terms of finances and levels of work for future, but I’m surprisingly OK about that at the moment as the pros outweigh the cons at present. I’m sure there will be times where I wonder if I made the right decision, but since deciding to go freelance my overwhelming emotion about it has been one of excitement and that continues.

So what have I been up to in my first day of self-employment? I’ve updated my LinkedIn profile, changed my employment status on Facebook, done some digital tidying, done some work for the leadership programmes, and looked for potential reviewers for some reviews I have for the New Review of Academic Librarianship. I’m about to get some lunch and go for a very exciting trip to town to get some wood glue. So glamorous! 😉

Taking me back to the title of the post – am I still a librarian? By training and background yes, and I still very much feel like part of the profession. Some of the types of things I’m going to be doing are likely to have some similarities to the role of a librarian, but they’ll probably have more similarities with other professions such as training and research. I’ll still be a librarian though and will continue to revalidate my chartered status each year (as well as working towards Fellowship). I won’t be just a librarian, but then no one is ever just one thing in life so librarian is just one of the many things I am and plan to continue to be 🙂

Nine years ago today, I created Joeyanne Libraryanne, a corner of the web for me to reflect on all the things I learn and share things I’m passionate about. Over that time I’ve changed job roles, changed organisations, been fortunate to have had a whole load of incredible experiences, learned many new skills, and developed new passions. As I reflect on those things, it seems pertinent to use this opportunity and this space to share my next challenge. 

At the end of July, I’m going to be leaving my current role to become a freelancer. This isn’t something I’ve had in a long term plan (I don’t do career plans anyway and as I reflected on in my end of year post in December, I’m more focused on living a fulfilling life in the present than worrying too much about the future). Going freelance is something I realised a few months ago that I needed to do. There’s so many things I’m passionate about, and I really want to dedicate time to them. I’m fascinated by how things (and particularly people!) work. I’m passionate about helping people develop. I want to do more research, and help others do research by giving them skills and confidence to do so. I want to develop and run more training workshops. I want to do more to support leadership development, and I want to continue to mentor and coach. I hope that by freelancing I can dedicate more time to these things, as well as having the flexibility to explore other opportunities too. 

I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing in a few weeks, but I’m so excited about what the future may hold. I’m sure I’ll continue to blog what I learn and share anything that might be of interest to others. In the meantime I’m off out to enjoy dinner at the UX Libs II Conference in Manchester (which I’m sure I’ll blog about soon!). Cheers! 

Last week I attended the 39th UKSG Conference and Exhibition, held in Bournemouth. For those who don’t know, UKSG is an organisation that brings together all stakeholders involved in provided resources to users; it was initially the UK Serials Group but has since expanded to incorporate all types of resources (largely electronic). The conferences include both librarians and publishers, as well as others such as consultants and researchers, and it’s one of the most mixed conferences I’ve attended in terms of representation from publishers and suppliers as well as librarians. It also has a number of international attendees. I have attended once UKSG Conference before (in 2013) but this time I’m more involved in the community as I support both JUSP and IRUS-UK services (Jisc-funded usage statistics services for UK institutions). I was co-presenting a breakout session so presented on two days with my co-presenters Jo Lambert (Jisc) and Graham Stone (University of Huddersfield). I used this opportunity to practice my story telling, and will reflect on this aspect more in a separate post. For now though I wanted to share some initial thoughts about the conference.

I really enjoyed the conference – even more so than I was hoping to. Although I support JUSP and IRUS-UK, my role is one of evaluation and user support so I don’t work with electronic resources or open access directly. Despite this, there was a lot I took of value from the conference. Some of it was incredibly thought-provoking (e.g. Ann Rossiter’s plenary where she outlined the reasons why publishers need to embrace open access publishing, Dave Parkes’ breakout session on the Psychogeography of Libraries, and Emma Mulqueeny’s plenary on those born in 1997 or later); some of it was useful to me in my current role (e.g. Hugh Murphy’s breakout on metrics in academic libraries); and some of it got me thinking about things I’d love to do more of in future (e.g. Donna Lanclos’ plenary on ethnographic approaches, Dr Sarah Pittaway’s plenary on student engagement, and Sarah Roughley and Sarah Bull’s breakout session on market research in libraries). I also really enjoyed visiting the exhibition stands, catching up with professional contacts, and meeting new people.

Whilst I was there, I made daily video reflections. I’d watched Jess Haigh’s videos from LILAC Conference and really enjoyed them so decided I’d like to give it a go. My videoing definitely needs some refinement (one thing for sure is that I need to make shorter videos so they’re not such a hassle to upload and easier to watch!), but I enjoyed reflecting in this way. I even managed to do this whilst taking time out for fresh air on days 2 and 3 (the gorgeous weather helped!) and I particularly enjoyed doing that – I didn’t even mind the fact that I got some very strange looks from those who saw me (I did attract some video bombing on the pier!). I tend to take time out at conferences to reflect anyway, so recording it just made me think things through a little more comprehensively which was useful. I hope it might be of interest to some people who weren’t able to attend too. If you’re interested, here are my videos…

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Overall, I was really impressed with the UKSG Conference. The event was extremely well organised; there was plenty of time between sessions and in the breaks and lunches which always helps. I had some fascinating conversations and am sure many of them will continue long after the conference. I’m planning to think about ways I can take forward some of the things I found particularly interesting (largely around research in libraries and enabling others to do research in libraries), and will be looking out for opportunities to get involved. I’d also like to attend UKSG in future and will definitely look out for ways to support the event. I enjoyed presenting a breakout session so will definitely consider this conference in future if I have things I think attendees would be interesting in learning about.

My authentic leadership journey

A little over a year ago, as part of my Clore Leadership Short Course, I had the luxury of spending a little over 24 hours reflecting on myself, my strengths, and how to lead authentically. It was tough but transformational. We’d been set some homework to complete in our rooms the night before the workshop, and I suddenly regressed back to a 15 year old version of myself panicking about making it as perfect as I could. After about 4hrs of thinking, planning, and drawing, I came up with my lifeline.

My lifeline

My lifeline

The next day I shared this with two of my group, who were incredibly generous with their time and listened to my story, asking interesting questions to encourage me to reflect more on the common themes which bring together the things I’m good at, things I’m interested in, achievements I’m proud of and people who have been influential during my life. This was a brilliant exercise for me and really helped me identify some common strands to what drives me. After some more reflection thanks to group exercises on our motivators, I managed to bring it all together to identify my three core guiding principles which I then presented back to my group. I’ve continued to develop in various ways since the day I spent thinking about these, but my values remain the same – and I imagine they will do, as they’re core to who I am. They have been present through all areas of my life since childhood.

My guiding principles

So what are my authentic values?

1. Understanding how things, and people, work

I’ve always been incredibly inquisitive (to the point of frustration for some people!). I love learning how things work; Chemistry and Physics were two of my favourite subjects at school, though I loved most subjects as I just love learning. This has continued into adulthood; personal and professional development is something I’ve always been very engaged with.

2. Sharing my learning with others

I’ve wanted to share my learning with others from a very young age – in reception I apparently used to help other children read (I learnt to read quite early thanks to my parents). I’m fortunate that I’ve always enjoyed Maths, but appreciate many people don’t, so have often helped my friends understand some of the Maths and particularly Statistics needed in courses (I did this a lot during my undergraduate Sports Science degree). One of my favourite parts of the jobs I’ve had in libraries has always been teaching, and of course I have always enjoyed blogging (I currently have four blogs).

3. Showing appreciation for the wonderful people I come into contact with

Appreciation comes in many different parts of my life, and although I’m not great at showing this verbally (but am getting better, again thanks to Clore), I like to do small things to show my appreciation. I enjoy making things for people to thank them; this is one of my favourite things to do in terms of crafts. I also love getting gifts and surprises for people and spend a long time planning these.

Your guiding principles

Of course, the fact that one of my guiding principles is to share my learning means it makes sense for me to share this learning about my authentic values to help others learn more about their own guiding principles. I’ve discussed it with some people in person, and have included some aspects in workshops, but thought it would also be useful to share my experience in a blog post. I’d love to encourage others to do a similar reflective exercise as it was so useful for me.

I was delighted to be contacted by the Leadership and Management Division of SLA who were keen for me to run a workshop for them at the SLA Conference this year. The proposal I put forward was successful so I’ll be delivering the following workshop in Philadelphia in June:

Leading with Authenticity: Understanding Your Strengths and Utilizing Them (Sat 11th June, 1-5pm, Philadelphia)

I’m really looking forward to the session, and hope it will start a similar process for attendees as my experience at Clore did for me. If you’re coming to SLA this year and are interested in authenticity I’d love to see you there.

I’ll also be talking about my own leadership journey, my guiding principles, and my experience coordinating the CILIP Leadership Programme in the following session:

Reflections on Leadership: LMD Afternoon Tea with Jo Alcock (Tue 14th June, 2-3.30pm, Philadelphia)

If you’re not coming to SLA Conference but would like to learn more about authenticity, please get in touch as I really do love to share my learning 🙂


Bill George – Discover Your True North (and the accompanying Fieldbook which has reflective exercises similar to the ones I did at Clore)

Last week I attended a UKSG workshop called ‘Make Yourself Heard’ which was for anyone wanting to improve their public speaking skills. Public speaking is something I do quite a lot of in my day job, and although I enjoy it and I’m generally a lot more comfortable with it than I used to be, I can still get very nervous. I’d hoped the workshop might give me some tips on how to better prepare and how to manage my nerves.

Speaking at CILIP Conference 2015

Speaking at CILIP Conference 2015 (I was unusually nervous at this one)

Within the first few minutes I realised I was going to really enjoy the workshop (always a good thing to realise!). The facilitators introduced the day and explained how we were going to learn, and I was immediately taken back to my time at Clore – we were assured that the space was a safe space to explore our feelings about public speaking, and that we would be encouraged to go outside of our comfort zone but not as far as our panic zone. We were also asked to respect confidentiality, to listen to others and pay everyone the respect they deserve (including giving our full attention). This might sound obvious, but I really like it when a day begins in this way as I find it really helps set the scene. It’s something I always do with focus groups, but I’m planning to make sure I do this in my workshops in future.

We were introduced to the content, and at that point I realised that what I actually wanted to get out of the day wasn’t tips for managing my nerves, it was actually something much more fundamental. My learning goal was therefore:

To learn how to integrate my authentic drivers into my public speaking.

Quite a big ask, but I can happily say it definitely delivered!

Throughout the day we were encouraged to reflect on our experiences, pay attention to how we feel about upcoming speaking engagements, and think about how we could approach them differently. One learning point for me was when we looked at the different perspectives we have on public speaking. We were given a scenario of preparing for an important presentation on a topic we hadn’t spoken about before but knew about with 3 weeks notice, and I viewed this one positively (I chose the statement that said “A great opportunity to grow and learn”) but when we were given a scenario to share something that was a life affirming experience for us and we were really passionate about I chose the statement “The thought alone makes me feel nervous/anxious”. This wasn’t a common thing in my group and the facilitators encouraged me to unpick that a little more. I think it’s linked to my reluctance to ‘hold the space’ which I experience in both work contexts and social contexts. I’m more comfortable sharing factual information as I can see a clear benefit to sharing that with people, but I’m less comfortable sharing personal experiences as it feels very indulgent and I’m not always sure people will be interested. I’m aware this is an issue I need to overcome and I’m working on that (I feel like I’ve already made some progress on this front since the workshop last week but have a lot more work to do!). 

Our facilitators also shared with us four cornerstones and seven habits of effective public speaking, and we watched some videos of good (and poor) public speaking to help us consider what makes something effective and how this varies  depending on the context and the speaker. I found this really useful for helping me consider my learning goal of working out what feels authentic to me rather than following certain generic rules. Formal public speaking doesn’t feel natural or enjoyable for me but I realised there are things I can do to make these type of situations more appropriate for me (not standing behind a lecturn for example, or wearing an oufit I’m more comfortable in). These small things will, I think, help me focus more on the content of the message I’m delivering which should be better for both myself and my audience. 

We also got the opportunity to practice our public speaking skills at the end of the day and got some really useful feedback from the facilitators. I was very pleased with my feedback – I was told I came across confidently and that my body talk was good (I remember once learning that this was a bad habit but I’m glad that’s not necessarily the case!). The facilitators commented that I presented well when I didn’t refer to my notes which I was pleased to hear as this also felt far more natural to me. I was encouraged to slow down (there’s that point about holding the space again!) and to incorporate stories and jokes into my presentations more. 

The main thing I took from the session is that I should do my public speaking the way that feels natural to me, and integrate all I’ve learnt about being authentic into my public speaking (both formal and informal). For me that includes making sure I am focusing on talking about things I’ve learnt and found interesting and sharing this with others in a language that is easy for them to understand (which will mean adapting the message depending on who I am talking to). Another commonality with this training and what I learnt at Clore was also the importance of story telling so I’m going to try to include this in my public speaking more – whether this is my own story, or using stories about others (e.g. people who have used the service I’m speaking about) to explain things more easily.

I found the workshop incredibly helpful, and it came at just the right time. I have quite a few public speaking engagements in the next few weeks and months so will be practicing doing these in slightly different ways to see what works best for me.  I’m presenting later today and plan not to use my slides (other than a few key ones with screenshots or quotes). I’m planning to include story telling and will see if I can add a joke or two (this might be a bit more tricky given the topic is usage statistics!). If anything goes particularly well, or particularly badly, over the next few weeks of experimentation I’ll share in a later blog post. Wish me luck!

Just over a year ago I completed my Clore Leadership Short Course; a 2 week residential leadership development course. I wrote a blog post summarizing some of my main learning points but said that I thought I’d probably be reflecting on my experience for along time to come. So have I? ABSOLUTELY!

I commented at the time that I came out of Clore a different person to who I was when I started. In a way this was true, but I think I’ll always be evolving – those two weeks just had a dramatic impact so I felt totally different. However since then I have continued to develop, and as I wrote in a recent tweet:

I feel like Clore was a catalyst to beginning a different kind of learning journey. It’s one that crosses all areas of my life; professional and personal. It’s one that challenges me to reflect on a very regular basis to try to understand more about myself – my needs, my motivators, my strengths, my preferences, and my desires. I’m learning all the time, and I love it.

The week after my Clore course, my partner and I put our house on the market. Due to some unfortunate circumstances (poor estate agent choice and the fact the house was a leasehold property) it took longer than we’d hoped to sell. I found the whole process incredibly stressful, and learnt a lot about myself and the way I cope with things. Mixed in with that we had mental health issues, financial worries, counselling, and psychotherapy. I didn’t find any of it easy, but I learnt so much about myself and my partner. During this period I was holding onto the hope that moving would help with some of these problems. We moved in December, and fortunately it has helped enormously so far. It’s thrown up new things though, most challenging of which is managing a more active social life and understanding how that impacts other areas of life (and how an increase in socialising affects me and my energy levels – I’ve had some form of socialising every day for the last 11 days and I’m exhausted!).

Throughout all the challenges over the last year, I’ve been using many of the skills and techniques I learnt and practiced at Clore including coaching, effective listening, solving problems creatively, giving feedback, and receiving feedback. I’ve always been reflective by my nature (hence blogging as part of my process) but this last year I’ve allowed myself time and space to reflect more regularly, and it’s been incredibly useful.

One of the big themes from Clore for me was authenticity. I absolutely loved the session we had on authentic leadership – I had a number of lightbulb moments that day, and what I reflected on and shared with my group has stuck with me and still guides me in terms of the way I do things now. It’s something I find incredibly useful to remind myself of on a regular basis, as it helps me stay true to myself and harnesses my strengths. I was delighted to be able to put this into practice in a recent training course on public speaking, and plan to blog about this soon.

I’m a big advocate of authentic leadership, and have encouraged the Library Leadership Reading Group I co-ordinate to include readings on this. I’ve also facilitated a leadership workshop which incorporated elements of reflection on authentic leadership, and am building on this to deliver a full workshop on this topic for SLA Conference in Philadelphia later this year. Please do consider signing up if you’re coming to the SLA Conference – more information is available in the programme.

Clore also introduced me to a group of amazing people. We bonded whilst we were on the course, and got to know each other very well over the two weeks. We helped each other through the more difficult parts of the course, and celebrated with each other in the good times. Since then, we’ve continued to support each other. I feel very fortunate to have met each and every one of my group as they have all taught me something and been a great sense of support. Some in particular have had a huge impact on my life and I’m sure will continue to do so for many years to come. Last October I went to Blackpool to our first reunion, and we have other reunions planned. I love spending time with them – they’re all excellent listeners and ask such effective questions that always get me thinking.

With some of my Clore group in Blackpool

With some of my Clore group in Blackpool

Fortunately, I also get the opportunity to have a ‘Clore top up’ every few months as my group organised Action Learning Set training after our course, and have now established a number of regional Action Learning Sets (which are open to anyone who has completed a Clore Short Course, Clore Emerging Leaders Course, or Clore Fellowship). Mine met for the first time a few weeks ago and have our next one scheduled. These work really well, particularly because we’ve all had similar training and practice in coaching.

So, yes, what I learnt at Clore has had a huge impact on my life and will be with me for many years to come. As I use the techniques and approaches I learnt there more, they become a more integral part of my life, but they’re things I can always improve on and intend to continue to practice where I can.

In case you can’t tell by the gushing, I can’t recommend the Clore Leadership Short Course highly enough. If you work in the cultural sector and are interested in learning more about yourself and your leadership (in all areas of your life) I would encourage you to apply. More information is available on the Clore Leadership Programme website so keep an eye out on there for future opportunities.

On the last day of the year for the past few years now I’ve blogged a review of my achievements during the year. 2015 however has been quite a different year and I want to mark it in a different way. There have been some great times this year, but unfortunately there have been some not so great times, and through the good and bad I have learnt some key lessons that span across all areas of my life. I wanted to document these, both for myself to aid my reflection, and for others in case these may also apply to you. So here’s the main lessons I learnt this year:

Quality not quantity

It’s a common cliche (in fact many of these lessons may be, sorry!), but there’s definite truth in this for me. By this I mean quality of everything – items, experiences, and people.

I read a number of books that struck a chord with me this year, including Stuffocation: Living More With Less and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. I used to be a bit of a hoarder but a project I managed in 2009 taught me the value in decluttering. I managed a special collection that needed attention and following a huge weeding process found that users thanked me for buying new stock though actually it had been there for a year or two but was previously difficult to spot amongst all the other material. The books I read this year, and my experience in preparing to moving house, cemented this lesson for me and I now have a lot less stuff and feel so much better for it. I can now focus on enjoying what I have and not feel crippled by decisions from having too many options.

Did I really need this many nail polishes?

Did I really need this many nail polishes?

I’ve also begun to echo this focus on quality in other areas of my life and am appreciating it (e.g. a smaller number of current projects, focusing on things I’m really passionate about rather than spreading myself too much with too many things going on).

Focus on fulfilment in the short term, not striving for happiness in the long term

For as long as I can remember I’ve dedicated a lot of energy on working out what makes me happy and planning to do more of that or similar things in future. That seems like a fairly reasonable thing, however thanks to some conversations with a therapist and lots of personal reflection (and shared reflections thanks to my amazingly supportive partner and some fabulous friends), I’ve realised it doesn’t work for me. Two small changes to the approach have made a huge difference to my life. The first is the change from happiness to fulfilment – yes, it might just be semantics to some, but for me it makes a big difference. The second is the change from long term to shorter term, which is still a work in progress and something I think I’ll always struggle with as a natural planner, but definitely something I have benefited from and hope to incorporate more. The Power of Now was an interesting read on this topic (though some of the book really irked me!). In the past I have done things because I planned to, rather than because I wanted to. By the time it came round to doing them however, I may not actually have wanted to; I never really considered it as it was on the plan so of course needs to be done! I realise this makes me sound a little crazy but fortunately Claire did a much better job of explaining this in her blog post on A New Chapter where she says:

People change and adapt over time and what you really want today might not be what you want in a year

This year I’ve been more open to this and have been making more decisions based on the present situation.

Previously I have also been guilty of focusing so much on saving for the future (financially as well as in other aspects) and not focusing on what’s happening in the present or trying to enjoy the process of getting to the elusive future happiness.

Learning to focus on the present, and leading a fulfilling life now rather than punishing myself or denying myself of things because of the past or the future, has been transformational for me. This blog post is one example; I’m not following my usual structure of my annual reflection because ‘that’s what I’ve always done’ isn’t an acceptable reason to do something for me anymore. It’s also massively changed my approach to personal finance which is a good thing but is taking some getting used to!

It’s OK to be vulnerable, and to share any struggles

I’ve always had a lot of respect for people who are authentic and not afraid to show their weaknesses, but I don’t feel like I was fully doing that myself. Because of this people sometimes seemed to have an inaccurate perception of me which I found a little unsettling. For example, I speak in public quite a bit through my work, and I enjoy it. I also find it absolutely exhausting, and am usually a bag of nerves before I start to speak. I’ve developed coping mechanisms over time and sometimes the nerves and tiredness aren’t as much of an issue, but I think they’ll always be there to some extent.

When I spoke at the CILIP Conference earlier this year I was really nervous

When I spoke at the CILIP Conference earlier this year I was really nervous

I haven’t consciously tried to hide these things, but because people tend to just see the bit during the public speaking, and I’ve been told I come across as competent and confident, I don’t think people realise how hard public speaking can be for me. I’m not after the sympathy (please put away any mocking violins you have in your mind!), and I fully intend to continue speaking in public as the pros massively outweigh the cons, but I’be realised I need to share the things I struggle with more. Partly it’s about being fully honest (by not hiding anything), partly it’s about showing I’m human and have weaknesses, partly it’s about developing a more emotional connection with others, and partly it’s about setting an example so others don’t feel afraid to accept and share their struggles. Also sometimes others can help out which is always a bonus (some of my closest friends know to give me time to myself before and after public speaking for example, and that helps me a lot).

Have more fun

Unfortunately it took a therapist, a fair bit of money, a few worksheets, some soul searching, and some tricky conversations to make me realise that I need to have more fun in my life. Fortunately since then I’ve had a lot more fun (seeing family and friends more, trying new things, going on holiday) and am much kinder too myself too.

Post zipwire at Center Parcs in September

Post zipwire at Center Parcs in September

And on that note, I’m going to end this blog post there. I hope you all learnt something from your experiences in 2015 (please feel free to share in the comments if you’d like to), and I hope you have a fabulous 2016. Cheers! ????

Do librarians struggle with work-life balance?

Work-life balance is a hot topic in all fields of work at the moment it seems, including librarianship. Many people I chat to outside of the profession are bewildered about this – don’t librarians just deal with enquiries and switch off when they’re not at the library? Well maybe some do, but none I know.

Most librarians I know do indeed spend some time doing customer facing duties such as answering enquiries, recommending resources, and teaching information literacy skills sessions. But in order to do any of these activities competently, there’s a lot of behind the scenes work that needs to go on. If we just take one of those examples of teaching information literacy, it’s not just a case of turning up and teaching. It’s a case of developing their own knowledge, refining their teaching skills (many librarians hold teaching qualifications and many academic librarians are Fellows of the Higher Education Academy), planning and scheduling sessions, preparing teaching materials, leading the session, and supporting learners after the session. Librarians also need to know their users and their needs, which often involves a lot of communication, research, and relationship management. These aren’t things that can be done easily or completed and then forgotten about; they’re constantly evolving. Much of the work of librarians is done digitally, including a lot of emails, so many don’t need to be physically located in the library to work (meaning they can take work home).

Then you take someone like me, who is a librarian, but not working in a traditional librarian role. I am part of an academic library, but much of my work is externally-funded project work. All of my work (both internal and external) is project-based, so it varies massively every day. Sometimes I’m working on fairly short projects of a few months, sometimes on longer term projects over multiple years. I’m always juggling at least 3 projects, usually many more. I teach research skills, both for my own organisation and on behalf of other organisations. I’m also an active supporter of continuing professional development (both for myself and enabling others) so am often involved in other voluntary responsibilities to support the profession. Although my work is all in the library and information sector, and supports librarians, it’s probably more similar to that of a researcher or project manager in other fields rather than that of a librarian.

So do librarians have the same struggles with work-life balance? Absolutely! I certainly do, and many of my professional contacts do too. It’s often a topic of conversation in groups I’m part of.

My top tips for better work-life balance

I thought I’d share a few tips and resources for those interested in improving their work-life balance.

  1. Learn to respect (and protect) your time – I used to volunteer for many extra things (in all aspects of my life) and was often expected to pick things up at short notice. I then used to worry about having lots of things to juggle and keeping them all on track. Fortunately, aside from my masters dissertation taking longer than initially planned, I coped OK, but I rarely got any rest time. I have slowly come to realise that down time is incredibly important for my physical and mental wellbeing, and the person in control of that time is me. As soon as I started respecting and valuing my time more, I found that others did too.
  2. Learn to say no when appropriate or necessary – as an extension to the previous point, I had to learn to say no to things when I simply didn’t have the time, or when it wasn’t appropriate for me to do something (or was more appropriate for someone else to). I found this incredibly difficult at first, but now find it much easier. I wrote one of my CILIP columns on this topic; the PDF is available: The Art of Saying No.
  3. Consider what works for you and your role in terms of working arrangements – I’m very fortunate to be working in a role that suits me well in terms of working arrangements. I work fairly independently and am trusted to organise my work to meet any deadlines. I have been working from home occasionally on an informal basis for a few years, and recently had a formal home working application approved. This gives me greater flexibility which is useful for my unusual role (with irregular days and some long distance travel), and also means I can balance things outside of work easier than when I commuted into an office a fair distance from home. I appreciate this is an unusual setup and wouldn’t work for every role or person, but I’d recommend spending time thinking about whether you could adapt the way you work in terms of hours or location (either formally or informally) to both help support the type of work you do and encourage a better work-life balance.
  4. Focus on one thing at a time – this is one I still struggle with to be honest (working from home doesn’t help here!). I find my mind constantly flitting between so many different tasks which isn’t productive. From a work-life balance perspective, I struggle to switch off from work in evenings, weekends, and whilst on leave. This means I’m not really making the most of the down time to help raise the ‘life’ side of the scale because I’m still thinking about the work things. To help combat this I find it helpful to use to-do lists to quickly capture any of these thoughts and get back to what I was doing; turn my email off my mobile devices when I’m on annual leave; and try not to sit in front of a computer during evenings/weekends. I also don’t tend to check my phone whilst I’m with family and friends to focus on enjoying my time with them. You may well have much better tips and techniques for this one – let me know if so 🙂
  5. Don’t compare yourself to others – I’m aware of the irony in including this one in a list of things I’m sharing with others as obviously these are things that have worked for me but they may well not work for you. The most important point I’d like to pass on though is this one. We’re all different people, with different demands on our time and different levels of acceptable stress. By all means discuss these matters with other people (I’ve learnt a lot that way hence wanting to write this post in case it helps others), but most importantly of all, listen to your own mind and body and do what feels right for you.

Do you have any tips for a better work-life balance? Please share in the comments if so.

Recommended resources:

Goodbye nine to five; hello work-life balance – Guardian

The restorative power of taking a few days out – Sali Hughes

You Really Couldn’t Have Had It All – Attempting Elegance

Work/life balance, stress reduction, learning, and having fun – INALJ

Links to resources on work-life balance – LIScareer.com