SLA New Professionals Event

On Tuesday this week I attended the Career Stories and Advice for Students and New Professionals event run by SLA Europe. I hadn’t been to anything like this before so I was really excited to see what would be said, what advice would be given, and who I’d get to talk to.This was an evening event held at UCL. I was really glad it was a free, after work event, making it possible for me to attend! The lecture theatre we were in was lovely and felt like a great setting for an evening of hearing from librarians.

I really enjoyed all the talks; there were 9 speakers in total, and these included new professionals as well as more experienced SLA members, and a talk from a recruiter about job seeking and application advice. Hearing about other people’s careers is fascinating – especially coming from people who didn’t necessarily know they wanted to be a librarian before starting out!

The speakers were from a range of sectors – mostly corporate and higher education, as these are some of the big areas of SLA itself – and it was interesting to hear about the work people do within, for instance, law firms specialising in shipping!

There was some great advice given throughout the evening – including everything from using social media in making connections and job hunting, to making allies within the profession. The most important thing that I took away from the event was the advice to say yes to things, try new experiences and through yourself into opportunities. As I’m heading off to library school in September, I’ll definitely try to remember this!

However, there is a downside that comes with all this. A lot of the advice being given out (especially when it comes to getting enough experience to get promotions and management roles) was related to volunteering. Obviously a lot of librarians are already aware of the risks of volunteering in public libraries and the harm that it could do to jobs, but this was more related to taking on roles in professional organisations and committees (and at times this did feel like the event was just trying to promote membership of SLA…).

Don’t get me wrong – I completely understand how these roles can be beneficial, and aren’t taking away someone’s job, as is the risk with public library volunteering. But I still find the advice to ‘do as much voluntary work as you can’ can be quite harmful to the profession. It assumes a workforce who have lots of time/money to be able to do this – and alienates anyone who doesn’t. This could result in the library and information sector losing out on workers with caring responsibilities or family commitments, for example, as well as people from less privileged backgrounds. We hear so much about how the vast majority of librarians are white and middle class as it is…

Away from work, I volunteer within Girlguiding. Not only do I enjoy it, but the experience working with young people was helped get me my current role. But this year I took on too much within Guiding and I really struggled. I was stressed and anxious all the time; my mental health suffered. I don’t want to have to go through this all again in the future to secure myself a job. Whilst I can see myself taking on a voluntary role in a professional sector at some point, should it come up and fit around my schedule, I am not willing to sacrifice the rest of my life and my health to it…

Luckily, it seems others agree. I’ve seen quite a few people who went to the event – and others who didn’t – discussing this online since the event, and it’s great to see the recognition that librarians also need lives away from work. Hopefully discussions around this will continue in the future.

Aside from the volunteering point, however, I really enjoyed myself at the SLA Europe event. I haven’t really done much networking in the past so it was lovely to talk to people – some of whom I’ve spoken to on Twitter in the past, and others who I’ll start following in the future! I did leave at the end without hanging around to chat, though – I’ll have to work on my nerves about networking in the future. A lot of the advice from the speakers – particularly about job searching, believing in yourself and dreaming big – was great and I’ll definitely bear it in mind in the future.

Thanks to SLA Europe for organising the event, and to everyone who attended for making it a lovely evening.

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