What is the LIS profession?

This week I participated in a workshop as part of the “Professional Practice” unit in Queensland University of Technology’s LIS course. The workshop centred on the question: What is the LIS profession? This, I believe is a very good question for anyone new to the profession so they may navigate the many possibilities and find their niche.

My task was to present for 10 minutes on how I define the LIS profession, introduce my current role and explain how it fits into the LIS sector. I’ll admit I didn’t know the answer to this straight away. This question prompted reflection. I found the task to be an opportunity to gain some clarity on what the LIS profession is to me and ended up being as much for myself as it was for the students. What you’ll find below is my answer to the questions put to me for my presentation to LIS students.

Simply put, we are in the business of information. That’s really what the LIS profession comes down to – but to what end? What is the goal for using information? For community development? Business performance and profit? For cultural engagement and enrichment? Inspiring innovation?

The goals for using information is determined by context. And this means there are a multitude of opportunities for information  professionals. The key to knowing what context a new information professional may participate in is understanding motivations, values, personal and contextual aspirations for the use of information, the industries that intrigue and align with all the above. Then the pursuit of success is about developing an understanding of the ‘laws of the land’, so to speak. Understanding the rules, customs, the ‘why’ of a context’s landscape. Some things that define a context include:

  • systems and technology
  • processes and uses
  • people
  • sources of information
  • needs for the use of information

This has been particularly true of the roles I have held over the last five or so years. In aviation, I needed to understand ATA chapters (aviation’s equivalent to Dewey), information needs of engineers, why they use the information and the systems they use to access, use and input information as part of their work processes. In the archives sector, I’ve come to understand basic archival theory, rules and goals. I’ve had to pick up the rules and theory in order to navigate the contextual landscape along the way. I’ve developed an appreciation and respect for the archives sector (within the wider cultural heritage sector) and I believe its professional goals align with mine. That is, the provision of access to government records as part of enriching cultural heritage engagement. Archives are a pillar of a democratic society.

Now, I’m not sure how much I have shared about my current role within an archival authority. But here’s an overview.

The archival authority I work in administers legislation relating to the management of public records. There are also standards which outline compliance requirements for government agencies and authorities. I am a Policy officer of a unit that aims to raise best practice record keeping capabilities across government. My role involves:

  • providing record keeping advice to government agencies and authorities
  • providing input to government-wide information management initiates where appropriate
  • keeping up to date with the latest trends and issues relating to the management of public records, as well as the advice needs of records and information practitioners, among other audiences such as CEOs
  • (currently) undertaking a project to review the Recordkeeping Policy Framework.

In brief, the Recordkeeping Policy Framework governs and promotes a consistent approach to record keeping and records management across government and is made up of policies, guidelines and other published advice. This project has called upon skills I have gained both in previous roles and the LIS course, such as conducting research (including defining research questions and coming up with appropriate methods), information architecture and user experience, analytical, communication and project management skills.

So how does my role fit within the LIS profession?

Well, in some small way, myself and my colleagues are involved in the management of information assets to ensure the memory of government is captured, retained and (eventually) made available to the community. By assisting government agencies and authorities with raising their best practice record keeping capabilities, public records can be in the best shape possible to be retained for as long as they are required, whether this be temporarily or permanently by the State. From my understanding, the ‘records continuum’ would have it that archival collections begin with the capture of records, or even the understanding of what needs to be captured. Therefore the unit I work in needs to intercept at this point, not only to assist government to capture, retain and use records for business purposes but to also determine the records of archival and cultural significance so they can be properly managed.

I very much appreciated the opportunity to share my thoughts and I hope my presentation inspired the ‘to-be’ information professionals.

What are your thoughts on what defines the LIS profession?

5 career planning posts for new information professionals

Navigating a career path and coming up with a flight plan can be difficult for those new to the information professions. There are many possibilities and even more ways to get there. My last couple of blog posts have focused on career planning for newbies. I’m by no means an expert, I only share my own experiences and tips about developing a career statement and my personal professional development plan for the next two years. Both I’ve found to be valuable exercises.

After taking a look at popular posts I’ve written here, three others on this topic may also be useful. I thought I’d bring them together for you.

1. Building a career path with Lego

A career, professional ‘self’ or identity can be put together by connecting ‘Lego’ blocks (knowledge and skills). Over time, a structure or a completed picture forms that is unique to each professional. This is what differentiates one professional to another.

So, take your career statement, then identify possible sectors you could pursue to fulfil your “mission”, then the skills and knowledge you might need. If you have an opportunity to be mentored, awesome. Do it. They can help put your building blocks together by being a sounding board. A mentor can also help guide you through all the ‘cool stuff’ that comes up and filter the ‘nice to knows’ from the ‘I need to focus on this right now’.

2. Audit your Personal Learning Environment

You’ve started your library course or you’re maybe looking to learning more about another sector. What resources and tools will you need for your learning? Perhaps you’ve signed up for Twitter, trying Feedly, signed up for another web-based tool which seemed useful a few months back? It’s time to think about the combination of tools that will be most effective for you. It’s time to tidy up all these things to help streamline your information feeds. I’m due to have a review of my PLE myself. The methodology isn’t perfect, but this post’s key message is to ensure you regularly check your collection of tools so they continue to work for you, not against you. I know my needs and ways of thinking and doing stuff changes over time. This may be true for you.

3. 10 must-reads for PLNs

Among the most valuable things you can do as a new information professional (I’ve found, at least) is to start thinking about your personal learning network (PLN). A PLN is the human component of your PLE. In 2011, I undertook an independent research project looking into the theory of connectivisim and developing a personal learning network. I presented my findings at the 5th New Librarians’ Symposium. My paper is available online, if you’re up for a sticky beak. :)

During this project, I came across some great starting points for developing an understanding of PLNs and how they might contribute to your professional development and establishing connections in the information professions. There are probably more up to date resources available since this post, but these will surely provide the basics, as well as identify some key authors in this space.

I hope these posts about career planning and professional development help those just starting out in the information professions, or indeed anyone seeking for a bit of (re)direction.

Make your mark. Develop a career statement.

Following my last blog post about how a personal professional development plan can assist LIS newbies with discussing career aspirations, I got to thinking about another valuable activity (completed as part of my Masters ePortfolio) that has assisted me with gaining a sense of direction. So while I’m on the subject on career and professional development planning, I’ll share with you the “career statement”.

I share this experience as a LIS newbie professional, a testament of how important and valuable developing a career statement can be for future reflection and planning. I’m by no means an expert on the subject. I recommend this exercise to students and newbie info pros just starting out, as well as any more established professionals seeking clarity or to explore alternatives.

Over four years ago now, I was faced with this task of developing a career statement in the study guide for the Professional Practice unit of my Masters course. I’ll admit the task appeared daunting, and like the personal professional development plan, I tried to seek out all the resources I could to gain a clear idea of what this statement might look like and say. Turns out there is no magic formula to develop a career statement. Completing the task itself is the only way. Probably my most used resource was “The Personal Development Handbook” which allowed me to explore my values and strengths, among other things. And even still, this book didn’t see me arrive at my career statement ‘tah dah!’

Whether you start with the personal professional development, goal setting or the career statement, I don’t think it really matters. I started with defining what I really valued and the sort of things I’m seeking in a career, and goal setting. I brainstormed possible sectors I could find myself working, my professional interests and what I feel I’m good at. I went back to the roots of why I’m in this profession in the first place and the joys I had from an early age from learning, reading, seeking new and interesting information and facts and curiosity. From here, the career statement evolved. My career statement has two distinct parts:

  • what will I do, provide, give
  • to what end, what outcome/s, what difference do I aim to make in the world, the profession, the community, whatever.

There is no set format for how a career statement should look. I thought of a career statement as essentially like a mission statement for a company. You could do a video of yourself, a presentation, a painting, a collage, a poem or even in the humble written form. I’ve temporarily decided on the written format, but perhaps one day I’ll explore my creative side with it.

Here are some questions I asked myself to get you started.

  1. What interests or draws you into the LIS profession?
  2. What gives you joy?
  3. What is your mission? What contribution do you seek to make?
  4. What would you like to see as fruits of your labour?

There are a number of reasons why you should have a career statement. Here are a few I’ve thought about:

  • looking at job advertisements and position descriptions while job hunting it can be easy to be swept up. A career statement can help you to be strategic with your search and avoid the risk of potentially heading in the wrong direction. This is not to say that an unexpected turn in direction can lead you up the career garden path. But a career statement can be a good reminder about what you seek in different positions.
  • as a newbie there is so much to learn, you might ask ‘how am I supposed to know my career direction?!’ But what you could do with your career statement is turn it into a skills shopping list. What skills and experience will you need to fulfil your mission?
  • a career statement is a call on you to commit to making the difference you wish to make. Use it however you wish or feel comfortable to make it happen.
  • finally, and this is one of the purposes for my career statement, is that it can be a useful reflection tool. I’d like to look back on my career statement in about three, five, ten years time.

Ultimately, I believe a career statement is a personal process. There are no right or wrong ways to do it or answers. It took me a long time to figure that out! A career statement is not set in stone, but I think it captures your thinking at a given time and gives you something to refer to when in need of guidance. It certainly does that for me.

Professional development planning: thoughts for LIS newbies

The New Year is both a time for reflection as well as for planning. At the moment, I’m going through a process of putting together a ‘Performance and Development Plan’ for my work role. I’m sure that on some level, others are doing the same. For a newbie to the information profession, and with all the possibilities available to our career in this profession, professional development and even career planning can be a difficult task.

Last month I had a meeting with the big, big boss at my workplace. Originally, this meeting was intended to discuss a program of work I’ve been working on with a manager. But, this meeting turned into a very important one. The discussion moved from the agenda to the ‘pink elephant in the room’ – a recent decision I have made about my current (new-ish) role. A stickler for keeping to agendas, I wasn’t prepared to discuss my professional development and career aspirations at this time. Not only was this meeting more than slightly nerve-wrecking, but the meeting was also my first face-to-face meeting with the big, big boss. I was fortunate to have a manager, who is in my corner, with me to support what I needed to say. In case I’ve lost you for a bit here, I’ll come out and say it – basically I was asked ‘What are your plans? What do you want to do?’

I’m not sure about others, but this was an incredibly tough question for me to answer. On reflection, I really appreciate the interest the big, big boss had shown in my professional development and my career. If she didn’t give a damn, she wouldn’t have asked. I’ll share with you how I handled this by letting you in on what helped me.

As part of my ePortfolio for my LIS Masters course, I had to produce a personal professional development plan. In my opinion, this was probably the most valuable task of the entire ePortfolio. This was largely given by my agonising over the task throughout the course, attempting to ensure that the plan was ‘just so’, had taken into account pretty much everything. I consulted relevant texts, blogs, templates, you name it to develop the ‘perfect’ professional development plan. As the deadline approached, quick decisions needed to be made and so I went with my gut. The decisions I have made and the things I included in the plan turned out to be the right ones for me. I’m surprisingly happy with the result. The epiphany came when I took the pressure off myself and decided that it was okay to be an early career information professional. I’m allowed to explore. I also think of my professional self as a jigsaw puzzle, looking for learning experiences and skills in order to become my own professional with an unique contribution.

Now to draw on both of these experiences – my meeting with the big, big boss and my personal professional development plan, I can advise other early career information professionals with the following:

Planning and discussing professional development as an early career information professional can be difficult. This is especially so when there are various pathways one could take. But there needs to be a clear enough path to work with. 

My approach to the discussion about career direction with the big, big boss was with honesty. I believe this was all I could do. I’m a fairly direct person, so honesty in these situations is really my strength. I mentally referred to my personal professional development plan in my response and let her know that I’m exploring career directions and that there are three I am currently contemplating. It is my goal within three to five years that I will know the path which I will specialise. I emphasised that I am an early career information professional and am open to different learning experiences. My personal professional development plan I had completed as part of my LIS Masters definitely assisted with my rationale and the composure of my thoughts on this topic. I may not have everything bedded down right now, but I have a clear enough path with which to explore the possibilities available to my career.

The result? The big, big boss appreciated my honesty. There is understanding. Together with my managers, we can now move forward to devise ways I can develop in the sector.

My personal professional development plan will now guide me through the similar, formal process for my work role. I know what I need from my current employer and understand their limitations. I may not know to the letter what would bring me the greatest satisfaction in my career, but I can identify the jigsaw puzzle pieces I will need to put it all together. For now, I’m an early career information professional. And I will permit myself to be one.

Over to you now.

To the newbie information professionals, how do you prepare to discuss your career aspirations and professional development with your employer or supervisor?

And to the managers, what initiative do you like to see in a new LIS graduate regarding their professional development? What do you expect they bring to the discussion table?

Life (recovery) after study

Guilt free.

That’s how I’ll describe the last few weeks following my final submission for my Masters degree. Or at least I remind myself that it’s okay when I’ve slept in on a Saturday morning.

To be honest, I feel sorry for my Mac. I’m sure it’s felt more than a little neglected over the last few weeks. My Mac has been here for me, my study room has been my second bedroom for the better part of the last four years. Weekend after weekend, night after night….tap, tap, tapping away, chipping away at this Masters qualification for which I’ve been all too determined to complete and to complete it well. I must say it feels great, so natural to be tapping away at the keyboard again. I felt the itch to write…something.

The last few weeks has seen me in recovery mode. I haven’t felt like doing much at all, except to just ‘be’. And it turns out that to do this isn’t so bad. I’ve had the opportunity to do ‘every day’ things with my beloved, like accompanying him to have his car cleaned. Might seem boring to some, but I loved being able to do this yesterday without having to be secretly writing a to do list or my next paragraph in the back of my mind. Cocktails? I’ve re-discovered them. The night after my final submission I had margaritas while out with work folk and it was commented that is was great to see me relaxed (finally!) And did I mention my ‘to do’ list has since included catching up with my favourite TV show? *tick* Completed.

I’m not sure how long this recovery phase will last, but I’m happy to ride it into holiday mode over the Christmas and New Year break.

I have plans for next year. I have goals. I have priorities and things to look forward. 2014 will be a cracker.

I’m looking forward to sorting my health out.

I’m looking forward to allowing my professional reading to lead me wherever it takes me. And blog about it.

I’m looking forward to submitting a few pieces for (potential) publication.

I’m looking forward to engaging more with professional conversation. I fear I’ve become too much of a hermit in this space this year.

Wow. Just wow. The graduation ceremony is this week.

I wish to thank all those who have supported me, you know who you are. Thank you to my personal learning network. But a special mention to my beloved. This is as much our achievement as it is mine. We survived.

Completing my studies isn’t just the end of a phase of my professional career. It is also the beginning of something new. I’m ready to take my next step. I’m ready to grow into the information professional I am to be.

Literature review: a note to self

Tonight I have been working on the literature review and input coded snippets of literature into my draft structure. Some literature couldn’t just be copied and pasted in as I still need to process it to come up with the words and understanding. Strategies I have put in place this time round seem, for the most part to be working so far. One example is using my research journal to write out my concerns and thinking. I feel that I have done a lot more preparation for drafting the literature review than last time. I feel more organised. I’m happy with my structure. I’ve budgeted my word count so the beast doesn’t look so daunting. I’ve mapped literature to the paragraph. I’m hoping that with this preparation, I have given myself a clearer idea of what I’m aiming to achieve with each paragraph, the point I will be making, so I won’t be writing aimlessly. I’ve tried to set it up to make the writing process less painful and more enjoyable.

My next action is to suck it up (you know, all the anxiety, doubt and mysterious sudden loss of confidence) and start in the middle where I can gain the most momentum for the rest of the literature review. I’m going to start with fleshing out the few empirical studies in my research area.

I was just wrapping up some work for the evening with a bit of a pep talk to myself in my research journal when I thought I’d share it here. My notes turned in this direction….

Keep calm, keep a clear head. You’ll get there.

Don’t worry about quality at this stage.

Write the story! Get it out!   (a bit of creative writing mindset here)

Put the ‘big girl’ shoes on.

I’ve done enough to this point to tackle each section individually.

Now stop skirting around and write!

Lose yourself, have fun learning about it!

At this point of the literature review process I’m more than happy to kick my own rear end. I know I should be writing by now, or getting it together into the one document. But I have been writing. Truly. I wrote about the empirical studies last week without even realising it. This is what I need to get going.

The last point is also true. I need to remind myself that my research project is important, super interesting and I’m super keen to find out more! So here goes.

Research progress: lessons, strategies and moving onwards

My research supervisor recently reminded me how big of a year it has been for me. I have been so ‘head down, bum up’ this year, focusing on completing this darn Masters thing, that I failed to realise this myself. Somewhere in between becoming my own professional and finding my voice in the research space, I’m currently completing my next research project.

Firstly, a bit of a catch up.

Reflecting on my experience with my last research project in evidence-based library and information practice (EBLIP), I learnt an incredible amount.

(I haven’t yet closed the door on this project as I’m polishing up a journal article for submission with my supervisor who will be co-author. Exciting stuff!)

Valuable lessons from my first research project include:

  • Research always takes longer than intended. I could put in place the most beautiful Gantt chart (and I love a good Gantt chart) but in reality, it would not be able to foresee or make allowance for all the hiccups, the hurdles, the tantrums or the times when I’ve just wanted to throw it all in. I’m behind in my schedule for this project already, but I’ve learnt that the plan I’ve put in place is flexible, it’s a guide. I’ve just gotta roll with it, allow myself to absorb, process and keep going.
  • Just friggin’ write! Oh. my. goodness. The number of times I’ve wanted to look down at myself and scream FFS, just write anything! It’s not that I didn’t want to write or complete the assessment requirements. I was afraid to. I was afraid of not doing the literature justice. Or my ideas justice. Or that my writing wouldn’t be perfect. This anxiety reflected in my writing being overly complex at times. I would also jam too many ideas into the one sentence or paragraph. I wanted to make sure I covered it all! My lesson here is writing is a form or method of processing the literature, ideas and thoughts. I’ll need to remember this when I write up my literature review very soon.
  • Keep a safe space. My research journal has assisted me to be more aware of my progress, which made execution of the research project much better than what it could’ve been. I’d recommend this strategy to anyone. The journal helps me to nut out an approach to a problem or hurdle, come up with next actions to get through a tough spot and to record notes on meetings and general progress.

Another strategy I have employed this semester is keeping a project notebook. This is in addition to my online research journal. There is just something about hand-written notes and scribbles. This is an approach I developed in my role at work where I use my notebook as a bit of a journal in itself, documenting my time, tasks, projects I’ve worked on, notes from research, etc. For research purposes, I can see how my thinking has developed over time. I have also recorded the books I’ve needed from the library, literature search strategies and anything else related to my research I jot it down. I keep a pile of scrap paper on my desk at work. When I’ve scribbled an idea, I’ve pasted this into the notebook. I have my project schedule glued in. I review it every week and I record when a task has been completed. Basically, this little notebook keeps everything together.  (Oh, and it helps when the notebook is pretty. I grabbed a pack of three A5 notebooks from Kikki K.)

So what’s the research project I’m up to this time?

Well, I’m looking into innovation in archival institutions. Publicly funded, Australian archival institutions to be precise. I want to understand what it looks like, how it’s taking place and in what areas of these organisations. I want to know what’s happening right now, what are the conditions like in these organisations for innovation to happen, and I want to explore influences associated with innovation, such as drivers and pressures. I’m seeking to capture a snapshot of current innovation efforts. I only aim to scrape the surface. I have to do all this in a semester after all.

I hope with the evidence generated by this small scale study will assist archival institutions to set reasonable objectives, further embrace innovation and communicate and negotiate expectations with their stakeholders. Archival institutions are not there to make money. They exist to serve a social purpose. Archival institutions are not there to satisfy shareholders. These organisations have a number of stakeholders who will have their own ideas of what innovation is, which may be completely different to the organisational environment, characteristics and capabilities. That is why I believe it is important to understand how innovation relates to this context.

I’m currently in the throes of doing the literature review and I await with bated breath for my ethics approval to come through. Data collection and completing the literature review are my next big tasks for this research project. And I have so much share on this topic. Stay tuned.