To explain my title, this is a broom belonging to Trigger in Only Fools and Horses. Trigger claimed he’d had the same one for 20 years, although it had gone through 17 new heads and 14 new handles. So Trigger’s broom is also a thought experiment – can something that’s had all it’s original parts replaced still be thought of as the same entity? Other examples include PG Wodehouse’s typewriter, and... the Sugarbabes. So in the same way, if I’m not any doing cataloguing, can I still be considered a cataloguer? And what if I AM cataloguing, but I’m called something else altogether? This isn’t entirely a talk about me having a minor existential crisis though - other people are also having the heads and handles of their cataloguing brooms gradually replaced. Celine kindly let me use the High Visibility Cataloguing blog to do some research into job titles, and these are the results, which I’ve turned into a word cloud.
So this is what our organisations like to call us – quite a lot of cataloguing still in there, though also a lot of management, and metadata, and bibliographical stuff (even though we’re often not dealing with books at all). I was also struck by the general vagueness in these descriptions, which might be an indication of the broadening and extending of our roles and of what's expected of us.
So here’s me as a Venn diagram. I started at the British Library for Development Studies nearly 4 years ago as a cataloguer, and ended up in the newly created role of repository coordinator earlier this year. I’m now managing a digitisation project with international partners and developing our own institutional repository. So does a role change always involve wholesale reinvention, or could I bring my cataloguing skills with me? Cataloguing for me has always been about increasing access, and full-text repositories are part of that same goal, so although my cataloguing circle in the Venn diagram did shrink, there also turned out to be overlap – I’m still using my cataloguing expertise to describe items and make them more accessible. But putting my skills into a new context did involve what you might call professional development by default, so I’ll share a few lessons about managing change and juggling roles – most of which I’ve learnt the hard way.
When faced with a new area of work, ask 4 questions. Who else is doing this, are they doing it better, can they teach me, and can they do it instead? Although you might be doing a wider range of tasks, you can’t possibly become an expert in every area. A good use of time is probably to find out who IS an expert in these areas, either in your workplace or elsewhere, and try to exploit them. We often don’t get formal training when our job changes, especially if it’s a gradual change, but there ARE lots of formal and informal networks out there which you can call on for help. And it’s even worth asking the question, should I be doing this at all? Organisations are often victims of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, and duplication of effort is depressingly common.
Be strategic about taking on new responsibilities. Don’t be passive and feel like they’re just being thrown at you (even if they are). Work out how a role change would benefit you in the short and long term and let you follow your interests. If it really wouldn’t, then don’t do it. But do be open-minded and be prepared to find a new passion - I knew nothing about open access or repositories before, but have now become slightly obsessed. Also, beware the trap of becoming the ‘go to’ person for areas of your old role that you’re no longer responsible for, and don’t be afraid to redirect people who want to collar you about them.
Much as we’re always asked to, you can’t do more with less. It’s more a question of making the less better - quality rather than quantity. So my first tip is an obvious one: say no. But not just to the things you don’t want to do, sometimes you should also say no to things you DO want to do, which is much harder. One of the things I liked about working in a small library was that I got to do a bit of everything. But for the sake of my sanity I’ve had to take some fingers out of some pies. I also blame social media for my pie-covered fingers, as my avid reading of Twitter and library blogs were giving me glimpses into so many interesting ideas and developments and events, and offering the illusion of keeping on top of it all with lists, digests and RSS feeds. But it can’t be done! A narrower focus isn’t going to make you a bad librarian, and sometimes it’s better not to know what you’re missing. So unsubscribe and unfollow – ignorance can be bliss!
You can’t manage time. You especially can’t make more of it, no matter how organised you are. What you can do is manage yourself, and other people’s expectations. A really useful approach when you’re trying to work out when and if you can deliver something is to remember the difference between effort and duration. A task may involve 7 hours’ worth of effort but if you have a full day of meetings and then a day’s leave before you can start it, you need to budget 3 days to do it, and tell other people that that’s how long it will take. Sounds obvious, but we don’t always remember to think of tasks that way and that’s how we fall behind.
I’m being a bit reductive here but cataloguing is essentially a linear process – something is not catalogued, we follow some steps, then it is. Collaborative work is subject to a lot more iterations, delays, conflicts and shades of grey – there’s no single point in my project where I can say ‘that relationship has been successfully managed’. Other people always have an agenda, and their goal for the project may not be quite the same as mine. It’s also pretty scary starting a new role from a point of knowing nothing. So a useful mindset to get into is one where you believe that nobody wants you to fail (because after all, why would they?), something that’s also known as ‘reverse paranoia’. The more reverse paranoid we can be, the more we’ll be able to develop as cataloguers, and beyond...
Transcript of "Trigger's cataloguer: professional development by default"
Trigger’s cataloguer:professional development by default Rachel Playforth Repository Coordinator British Library for Development Studies @archelina