Library Society: A big idea


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Presentation for Manchester New Library Professionals Network's employability event, 20/07/2014. Setting up a Library Society at university was an idea I had in Autumn 2013, and I worked hard to make it happen. The challenges I faced helped me develop transferable skills including negotiation, leadership and teamwork, communication and many more.

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  • Today I’m going to tell you about Library Society at the University of Sheffield, which I set up during my MA Librarianship course in 2013.
  • Think about all the “soft skills” you often see on job specs: Innovation, Negotiation, Networking, Communication, Teamwork, and so on. During the past year I’ve been able to develop all those skills (and more) by setting up and running a university society. This presentation is the story of why, and how, I did it.
  • A couple of years ago, I was a graduate trainee at MMU here in Manchester. As a graduate trainee, I visited some amazing libraries and special collections in Manchester, and got to hang out with a group of really nice fellow trainees.

    After my trainee year I went to Sheffield to study on the MA Librarianship course. Once I got to Sheffield, I was surprised to find there wasn’t much happening on the social side of things – if I wanted to see cool libraries with my friends, I needed to organise it myself.

    You may also have heard about the situation for public libraries in Sheffield – last year the council was threatening to give over half of the libraries to volunteers, or if nobody stepped forward to run them, they were going to shut them down completely. This was something that a lot of us on the course felt strongly about, so I wanted to have an official way of organising some support for local libraries.
  • For me, one of the best things about the library world is the “community” feel. I think it’s really important to make connections with your peers so you’ve got a good support network and also so you’ve got someone to go to the pub with! I thought setting up a society would help us make connections, hopefully not just within the course but also with other students and with other library campaigners in the city.

    I decided that I had enough good reasons to start a society – so I told my coursemates and we got started.
  • The road to becoming an approved society is full of obstacles. After holding an initial meeting to gauge interest and deciding to go ahead with my application, the society got stopped before it had even properly started as the Union were reluctant to give us a go. I had to use all my powers of persuasion to convince them that this was going to be a society that was viable and that wouldn’t just fizzle out after a few months.

    Luckily, they believed me and approved the society! Now we just needed a committee – and some members. This turned out to be easier said than done – and as you’ll see, it gave me a lesson in marketing.
  • Our first event was a meet and greet in the Union – cunningly advertised with free cake! I managed to drum up a bit of interest by inviting members of related societies (Book Soc and Poetry Soc, for example) and of course the tables groaning under the weight of all the cake and mince pies helped attract passers-by.

    Over the course of the next few months we slowly built up a membership base and went on trips to Manchester and York. We also held social events in cafes and pubs which were always well attended.

    Of course, running a society means running committee meetings – which was a new experience for me! I learned an awful lot about chairing meetings, delegating responsibilities and generally making sure things got done. I have to admit, it was hard at times to organise everyone, but in general we did a great job and achieved a lot.
  • One of the biggest things we got involved with was the local library campaign – we attended protests at the Town Hall and met with local campaigners to support them when it turned out they’d have to volunteer if they wanted to keep their library.

    I met with the SU President as well as Union Officers and the Student Voice department, all of whom helped me do something I never thought would be possible – we got the Union to make it an official Union policy to support local libraries. This opens up all sorts of funding opportunities for the Library Society and gives us a chance to really try to make a difference in the community.
  • Our biggest idea was to hold an event at the Union which would be a day of celebration of all the great things libraries do. We had loads of great ideas lined up to help make this happen, but in the end we had to concede defeat, because we simply didn’t have enough time. It turns out planning an event for the same time as all your assignment deadlines isn’t the wisest idea!

    Although I was really disappointed not to pull this event off, I think it was the right decision to make. I got some great contacts and some good advice during the event planning, and I’ve been able to pass on all this knowledge to the new committee so they can work towards making a really successful event next year.
  • What I’m most proud of is managing to keep the society going for a second year. This is when I learned my big marketing lesson. When it came to finding a new committee for next year, we obviously needed to look outside the Masters course, because hardly any of the students in my year would be returning in September. Most of our other members were international or final-year students, so we were facing quite a challenge.

    To try and get members from other faculties, I did something we hadn’t tried before, and got their departments to email them directly, as well as sending out messages to other societies. We got a great response from students who said “I’ve never heard of this society before” – teaching me that I had missed a trick back in November when I was trying to drum up interest. It’s really important to try out all avenues of inquiry and target students in places they’re much more likely to see your message – such as an email from their own department. Lesson learned!
  • Setting up and running Library Society has given me the opportunity to develop loads of skills. Some of them I already had but needed to improve, and some of them were things I’ve never done before – and wasn’t even sure I could do. Creating a Union Policy and going to demonstrations at the Town Hall really pushed me out of my comfort zone and showed me what I could achieve.

    I think what’s important is that I didn’t just do all this to be able to write these words on my CV and in job applications – I did them because I wanted to connect people and to celebrate and fight for libraries. And I definitely think I’ve achieved that!
  • What I’ve learned from my experience is that everything they say about committees is true… but equally, having a team is great! Committees can achieve lots by working together and being creative and supportive.

    I also learned that you can’t do everything! This applies both on a personal level and as a team. It’s important to delegate responsibilities so you don’t get burnt out trying to achieve three people’s work on your own. This unfortunately is something I learned quite late!
  • Finally, the key thing I wanted to share with you is that you can do more than you think. People really want to help you do exciting things – you just have to be brave enough to try. I’ve learned I need to find contacts, use those contacts, and sometimes be a little bit cheeky – the results can be really rewarding.
  • Library Society: A big idea

    1. 1. LIBRARY SOCIETY: A BIG IDEA Emily Wheeler @heliotropia
    2. 2. SOFT SKILLS CC- Here’s how I improved mine…
    3. 3. HOW IT ALL BEGAN From graduate trainee to student Public libraries under threat
    5. 5. SOWING THE SEED C Getting approved is tricky… …Getting members is too!
    6. 6. UP AND RUNNING CC Trips and socials …and committee meetings
    7. 7. COMMUNITY ACTION And an SU Policy
    9. 9. GOING THE DISTANCE CC-BY-ND We made it to a second year!
    10. 10. Networking Public speaking Negotiation Management Innovation and creativity Event planning Advocacy Social media Communication Organisation CC-BY-SA Teamwork
    11. 11. AT THE END OF THE DAY CC Committees vs. teams You can’t do everything!
    12. 12. JUMP IN 9 CC-BY-NC You can do more than you think.