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Alternative uses of the library degree
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Alternative uses of the library degree


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  • Hi. I’m Bethan, and this [2] is my job title. ‘content development officer, library & archival services, Mimas, university of Manchester.’ No, it doesn’t fit onto my business cards.

    I think Ruth’s introduction - and my job title! - might have given you enough clues to guess that I don’t work in a library. Mimas does provide Library and Archival services, but we also have services covering census data, geospatial data, economic and social data – even mobile learning for hairdressers!

    So while we do employ librarians, we also employ computer scientists, archivists, geographers, statisticians… and many more! Our tag-line is that we’re an [3] ‘organisation of experts’, which we can only be through our staff! So there’s the first thing we value: expertise [4] – and the willingness to use it! To actually be willing to stand up and say ‘yes, I am an expert in… and this is what I can do with it’

    The 2nd thing? Flexibility, [5] and a willingness to learn. I mentioned that I work for the Archives Hub. This involves knowing some stuff about archives, and in particular, EAD (Encoded Archival Description) - which is like MARC for archives. Now, I didn’t know any of this before I started working for the Hub. In the UK, librarians and archivists do different degree courses, and it’s entirely possible to come out of library school not knowing anything about archives. So, I don’t know how alternative ‘archive work’ as a use for the library degree will be to most of the audience, but it definitely counts back home!

    Flexibility is also the flexibility to look outside a traditional career path [6] – to take the chance on a job that really you might know nothing about!. Quite frankly, that’s a prerequisite of even applying for a job at Mimas – unless you’re prepared to work in a non-library environment, you probably wouldn’t even look at the job ad.

    I nearly didn’t look at the job ad. And when I did, I nearly didn’t apply. I was intimidated by the ad! I was only a lowly library-school student - I didn’t even know what some of the job description meant! And the salary – wow! I couldn’t imagine that anyone would think I was worth that much money – half as much again as some of the posts my library school classmates were applying for. So I looked at it, and thought about it, and finally, on the day of the deadline for applications, I told me to do so – I made that decision myself. [7] I decided it was a chance I just couldn’t pass up – I never thought I’d get the job, but the process of applying would be a good development activity in itself. And – I got it! My self-motivation paid off.

    As all of our services are online, technical skills [8] are counted as very important. We do have technical specialists, and it doesn’t mean that I have to know how to code – but it’s counted a definite bonus if I do, and Mimas are willing to support me if I decide I want to learn. What’s valued is an open mindset [9] , where you don’t just say ‘I don’t do that. I’m a librarian, not a programmer’, but where you embrace the challenges of working with technology. You’re expected to be able to do your own basic troubleshooting, to know about web publishing, html, css etc. I’ve needed to learn to work in a UNIX environment, to code bits of javascript, and to work with XML and XSLT transformations. There’s a also chance – if you want it! – to get involved with other technology-based projects.

    I’ve been working on a project recently to expose some of our data as linked data. I wasn’t required to actually write any of the programs, but I did help to write the specifications for those programs, which involved taking my expertise on bibliographic data, then adding to it - by learning about linked data, what it is, how it’s formed, about ontologies and vocabularies, triple stores and sparql endpoints… I see a few nods, but also some blank faces! Don’t worry –I can tell you now that everyone in this room has the necessary skill-set to learn this. I learned enough to write a 5000-word article on the LOCAH project and linked data in just a few months. There’s that willingness to learn, along with a willingness to disseminate the products of that learning.

    That dissemination comes under the last skillset: communication skills [10]. The ability and willingness to communicate effectively with users, professional peers, and stakeholders at all levels is vital for what I do. If I’m not communicating – in one way or another – I’m not working.

    What have I done so far that’s been most beneficial?
    Well, fantastic as my work at Mimas has been, the most beneficial thing I’ve done has been to involve myself in the profession outside the workplace. [11] This gives me opportunities that I can’t get at work to keep me developed, make me more attractive to future employers - and they help keep me future-ready, too :)

    This is something I never expected when I came out of library school – that I’d be using my skills and my abilities to help support other professionals, and develop the profession as a whole. One of the things we do need to recognise is that the work we do outside “work” – our professional engagement – is just as valid and just as important as what we do in the workplace.

    I’m on a couple of SLA committees, and I hope I don’t have to tell anyone here the value of those! I’m also involved with a campaign group in the UK called ‘voices for the library’. It’s all about standing up for trained staff within a free and open-to-all UK public library service – something that’s currently under threat.

    This has shown me the importance of having a profession-wide vision. Try to know something about what’s happening in the information professions as a whole: don’t get mentally locked-down into your own professional silo. We need professionals who can look & learn outside their comfort zone.

    I’m also editing a book (The LIS new professionals toolkit, published by Facet, due out 2012, plug plug!) and what I’ve learned from doing that would fill a book itself! Which is why I’ve started a blog about it – to describe what it’s really like for a new professional to edit their first book. And one of the most valuable things I’ve learned from doing that? That sharing failure is as valuable as sharing success.

    I do a lot of sharing [11] The past-president of CILIP, Biddy Fisher has a great term for it – professional generosity. It’s the willingness to share with others and allow them to learn from you – and to be willing to learn from them too, to be generous enough to admit that their experiences have as much value and validity as yours.

    What would I do differently? [13] Not very much! I haven’t had any major failures yet. Maybe that’s next on the list – get a failure over early in your career to learn to deal with it  One thing which would have been beneficial would have been more time spent getting actual library experience. All I have at the moment is my trainee year – I’ve been out of actual real libraries for nearly 4 years now, which means that if I do decide I want to go back and work in one, it will be tough to get a job – I have the right skills, but maybe not the right experience. I love what I do, but the longer I do it for, the smaller my chances of ever going back to traditional library work get – but the more I found out about all the other amazing exciting stuff there is to do out there!

    So what 3 things will I be doing to continue to succeed? [14]
    More of the above! I will continue to share: to write, blog and tweet, and to read and think about what others share.
    I will continue to advocate: to speak out about the value of the profession – the whole profession! - to anyone who will listen; and will encourage others to do the same.

    I will continue to learn: by carrying on saying ‘yes!’ to things, by putting myself in situations where it isn’t ‘ooh, I’d quite like to learn that one day, might be interesting’, but is ‘ok, I need to learn this now, in order to achieve…’

    To (very quickly) conclude:
    In your opinion, going forward in the Library profession; what type of individual will succeed? [15]
    Someone who is prepared to look outside and beyond the traditional
    Someone who is prepared to work outside their comfort zone
    Someone who looks for the similarities which unite the profession, not the differences that keep us apart
    Someone who is curious, generous, positive, and engaged
    Someone who knows when to say yes, and how to say no
    Someone who puts the good of the profession, our users, and society above their own ego
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
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  • 1. Alternative uses of the library degree
    Bethan Ruddock, Mimas
  • 2. Content Development Officer, Library and Archival Services, Mimas, the University of Manchester.
  • 3.
  • 4. Image used under a CC licence from
  • 5. Flexibility
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  • 6. A different path?
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  • 7. Self-starter
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  • 8. Technical skills
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  • 9. An open mind
  • 10. Communication
    Image used under a CC licence from
  • 11.
  • 12. Sharing
    Image used under a CC licence from
  • 13. What would I have done differently?
    Image used under a CC licence from
  • 14. Share
    Images used under a CC licence from,,
  • 15. Someone who…
    …is prepared to look outside and beyond the traditional
    …is prepared to work outside their comfort zone
    …looks for the similarities which unite the profession, not the differences that keep us apart
    …is curious, generous, positive, and engaged
    …knows when to say yes, and how to say no
    … puts the good of the profession, our users, and society above their own ego
    Image from
  • 16. @bethanar