CILIP President Jan Parry talks Career Planning and Advocacy

On Wednesday 7th October CILIP in the Thames Valley was honoured to receive a talk from none other than CILIP President herself, Jan Parry, at RISC in Reading.

Jan started the informal presentation with a brief roundup of her career, including how she got into librarianship, and how she got out of it again but used her professional skills to great effect in a wide range of applications. Of course, she was more modest than this but her CV includes senior Whitehall civil service positions working with Secretaries of State and other ministers and more recently being a member of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s Secretariat.

Jan was not ashamed to admit that, having attained her degree in Librarianship and Information Management a little later in life after starting her career at the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate library, she discovered that she was ambitious.

She didn’t let on to anyone else – even her family – but quietly went about her duties confident that there was almost always a better way of doing something. She also believed that she was capable of discovering and implementing those improvements, and that the only way to achieve them was building a case for them using evidence and demonstrating that they were effective by collecting data and communicating them.

The key to her message to us CILIP members at various stages in our information careers was that the very same principles apply to us as individuals. We should be able to communicate what we do, and its value, easily and quickly. And for this, librarians, “you need your business head on.”

If someone asks you what you do, don’t give the passive response “I’m a librarian” or “I manage a library service.” Better to say something like, “I’m an expert in finding information from a wide range of sources, and fast.” You might not be a natural self-promoter but becoming one will help to advance your career.

Jan told an anecdote about one civil service colleague who sought out his boss every day to give an informal report on what he was doing. Some in the audience thought this might become counterproductive, but this employee apparently got a bonus every year for his efforts. Jan recommended an alternative tack for those of us who don’t want to look like the school swot (because, lets face it, how many of us actually were the school swot?). Instead, write a weekly email to your superior, copied to his/her manager, outlining your achievements and ideas that week. Do this religiously. After a year your manager will have ample material with which to perform your appraisal, you will definitely have been noticed, and – perhaps most importantly – you will have had to stretch yourself in order to have written about your progress, week-by-week.

As to what that progress might be based on, with information services forever having to justify their resources – even existence – you should find ways to gather evidence, whether it be qualitative, such as written feedback or quantitative, such as user numbers, resources accessed, costs saved, etc.. All of this should be documented and ready for if – when – your service is under review.

In short, get a career plan. Don’t wallow in the “duvet of librarianship”. There are no longer jobs for life so you need to be ready to measure, improve, and move on and up.

Inspiring stuff; and it was easy to see why Jan has been so successful.

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