On volunteering, diversity, and honesty

On Tuesday evening, I attended an event aimed at students and new professionals organised by SLA Europe. The focus was ‘career stories’, and there was a really interesting line up of speakers throughout the night. I enjoyed the event, and was impressed by everyone’s stories! One thing that jumped out at me and a couple others, though, was the emphasis many of the speakers placed on the importance of volunteering. This is something that always concerns me when it comes up, and after tweeting a bit about it this week, I wanted to get my thoughts down in a slightly longer form.

Before I go any further, though, I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way trying to take anything away from Tuesday’s speakers. I am certainly not suggesting that they should have volunteered less in their careers, or that their volunteering was anything but entirely positive for them! I do, however, have concerns about how we tend to talk about volunteering in librarianship, and how this links in with wider issues within the profession.

So here’s the elephant in the room: librarianship is not a diverse profession. We all know this, but what isn’t clear is how much meaningful action is happening to change anything about it. Here’s what won’t help improve diversity though: emphasising volunteering, which requires a huge amount of privilege. Volunteering costs, and I don’t think that is mentioned enough, if at all. It costs time, it costs energy, and in a lot of cases it costs money. Time spent volunteering is time not spent with your family, or with your hobbies, or just doing basic household work. Just take attending Tuesday’s event: I missed spending the evening with my husband before he left for a 3 day work trip; I wasn’t able to go to the gym; I bought my dinner out because I didn’t have a chance to make myself anything at home.

I don’t volunteer, but I still stay engaged with the profession when I’m not at work. I’m approaching the end of the taught content of my MA. I engage with other professionals on Twitter. I read blogs; I write this one (sometimes). I attend events where I can: I went to the CILIP Conference last year on a bursary. I visit other libraries when the opportunity arises. I spend a lot of time thinking about issues like the problem of volunteering in librarianship!

This emphasis on volunteering also brings up another myth of the profession: we should all be in this line of work for the love of it, which means it’s not work at all. Here’s the thing: I can be passionate about my profession but still think my time has value. I’ve been in conversations about unrealistic workloads where the response is that everyone should be so committed that unpaid overtime is practically a benefit, not a cost. How do we fight back against this line of thinking? How do we draw this line: yes, I will give a lot to the job, but I am not my job? I am a person first, and a librarian second.

With all this in mind, is it any wonder that hearing every speaker on Tuesday night mention and encourage volunteering made me uneasy? I would love to see more open discussions like the ones that have been happening on Twitter this week. I want new professionals to be encouraged to say no, and to look after their mental health. I want us all to be able to be honest about the times we’ve taken on too much, and encourage others to find where their line is before they cross it. I’d like to hear acknowledgement when people’s volunteering has come from a background of privilege, and honesty about what they’ve given up to fit it all in.

I don’t have any answers, but I’m hopeful that the discussion that’s been sparked this week will continue, and we start really thinking about the multitude of barriers that we are currently putting up from becoming a diverse profession.



Reflecting on failure: Rowing, perfectionism, and completing an MA

Around this time last year, I was racing at Nottingham City Regatta in a double. We had two rounds: coming top 3 (out of 5) in the heat put us in the final. The heat wasn’t great – we comfortably beat 2 crews, but were even further away from the top two. The final was horrific – we came dead last, 23 seconds behind 5th place and nearly 50 seconds behind the winners. The conditions were bad, but so was our rowing. Once we got off the water and put our boat away, we headed off in separate directions to have a good cry about the whole thing – we weren’t angry with each other, but I was certainly angry with myself. This was my first 2km regatta, and the beginning of our season leading up to Henley Women’s Regatta; was I kidding myself to think I should be competing at that level?

The next day, we came back to the same lake to race again – this time over 1km. After a rough start, we won, with 18 seconds separating us from second place. We had gone away on Saturday, let ourselves be upset, and then reminded ourselves that Sunday was a new day and a new chance.

Even with that, Saturday’s race sticks in my head as my worst race ever – and we once capsized three strokes into a race. (Pro tip: don’t joke about capsizing with your opposition while marshalling for the start, you’re setting yourself up for embarrassment!) It wasn’t just the failure, but the fact that I didn’t bring my best self, and I let the beginnings of failure early in the race stick all the way through. The same attitude on Sunday could have seen us come last again, after starting behind. Instead, we held strong in our belief, and worked our way through the opposition.

I’m a perfectionist. It’s not a healthy quality, and rowing is a sport which encourages it – you win or you lose, that’s it. Perfectionism brings with it (at least for me) a huge fear of failure. It also encourages me to sometimes not try at all; after all, if you don’t try, you haven’t really failed. I’m better than I used to be, mostly because I’m aware of it. Still, old habits have a nasty habit of rearing their head if you leave them unattended for too long.

When I started my MA, I was determined to battle my perfectionism. I wanted the piece of paper, but the marks didn’t much matter. I got a 2.2 in my undergrad (turns out, not trying does mean you can still fail), and while it bothers me personally, it hasn’t hurt me professionally. Having the MA would be enough, balancing it with full time work would be enough.

…And then I started, and I started doing well. The thought of aiming for a distinction had never even crossed my mind, but suddenly I was there. I was determined to ignore it, because it was so precarious, and I didn’t want or need it, but it kept happening. Through my first year, through the first semester of my second year, just clinging on to the edges of a distinction.

Can you see where this is going?

Here’s what’s not failure: getting a mark of 60 in any assignment when you are balancing a full-time job with a long commute, competitive rowing, and a demanding MA.

Funny how not failure can feel an awful lot like failure sometimes though, isn’t it?

So now I’m trying to find that attitude that I found the day after Nottingham City Regatta – I’m not kidding myself to think I can be working at this level, and a new day means a fresh start. I might not be there just yet, but knowing where you want to go is half the battle, right?


Time for a revival, or where am I and how did I get here?

I set up this blog with great intentions — why not try to squeeze in some extra CPD, in addition to my full time job and distance learning MA? Who could have ever predicted that I might not keep up the momentum?

Well, me, probably, had I taken the time to think about it. I am very good at finding lots of enthusiasm to take things on, and in that enthusiasm I have great faith in my ability to juggle any number of competing priorities, without letting a single ball drop. However, it turns out that I am in fact only human, and have limits. Ask me sometime about how well it went when I decided to try to take on the role of women’s captain at my rowing club alongside starting my MA, working full-time and job hunting (spoiler alert: I’m not women’s captain anymore).

So, why am I reviving this blog now? Canny readers may notice the lack of mention of any ‘things’ in the title, so it’s not for the original purpose. Instead, I’m going to be a little bit more general. One of my MA modules at the moment is focused on personal and professional development. I’m pretty sure I’ve done quite a bit of that in the past couple of years! What I’m less good at, however, and what I will be assessed on, is reflecting on this development. So in an effort to get a bit of practice in and order my thoughts, enter this blog.

For now, I’ll just finish this off with some background — my answer to the question ‘where am I and how did I get here?’, one of the first things we were asked to consider in our PPD module. I sketched out a brief timeline of my career so far, including notes on what prompted each change. (This may or may not turn out to be readable, but hopefully enough to get the idea!) I’ll discuss some of the specifics in a little more detail in a future post.


Copyright, images, and Thing 3

books-21849_1920Life has been getting in the way recently, as it tends to do, and I haven’t quite managed to get around to sitting down to work through Thing 3. It’s an important one though, as copyright awareness is a really important part of virtually all LIS jobs. I would say I have a middling grasp on copyright; I find it a really interesting area (and I have a husband who is very interested in intellectual property issues), which helps. That said, when it comes to finding images I am all too likely to resort to a Google image search! Alternatively I take the safe way out, and stick to photos I’ve taken (or taken by my husband).

Reading through Thing 3 has inspired me to also think about where I want this blog to sit, and I’m planning on adding a CC license to the sidebar once I’ve finished this post…

I have used Flickr in the past for finding images, and have generally found it quite simple to search and find images with appropriate permissions for my reuse. In the spirit of trying new things and learning, I’ve been trying out Pixabay instead, which I have never used (or heard of) before! The image at the start of this post was found through the creative search ‘library’. I love the tunnel of books, stretching out into the unknown!

Now, when I tried to branch out into the other obvious search for me, ‘rowing’, I must admit I became a little bit uncomfortable. In among plenty of stock photos of nice little wooden row boats, the only photos of what I would consider rowing show novices who probably wouldn’t be keen to know photos of them are out in the open for all to see – so I won’t be using those in this post. Instead, I will close with my old standby – a photo I took myself. This has the distinct advantage of meaning I know the photographer would be happy for me to use the photo – and the addition of a CC license means others will know what they can do with it too!

IMG_2798 Creative Commons License
This photo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Starting out: Thing 2

I have been flirting with the idea of setting up a blog for quite some time, but have never quite managed it. There are all the usual excuses: where will I find the time, what would I write about, who would want to read it anyway? I’m not sure I have answers to any of those questions, but here I am anyway!

I’ve decided to participate in Rudai 23, because I just don’t have quite enough demands on my time already! Mostly I’m hoping it will help me to continue to engage with other library and information professionals, but also get me doing new things – like this blog!

What this blog will ultimately be remains to be seen. I’ve left it open to involve both of my passions: libraries and rowing. I’ll admit that discussing both may make me rather niche, but I can’t be the only rowing librarian out there! For now, it’s here to help me work through 23 Things…