Interns – the new slaves?

Don’t have enough money to pay staff? Why not get an intern in to do the work for free? These words are probably spoken more times in meetings than anyone would expect. It is a sad fact of today’s job market that there is a surplus of people with the right qualifications for most jobs and many of these  people will have the willing and necessary means to take an unpaid position in the hopes of this being their foot in the door to a full time, fully paid job. Some people say fair enough, if people will do it for free, why stop them, why deny them the opportunity? But what about those who simply cannot afford to have any kind of period where they are not paid, let alone having to fork out travel expenses as well. If you’re a single parent living on your own, the inability for you to be able to work for free for a couple of months could be the difference between you getting the job, and the person who has all their bills paid for them getting it, regardless of who has more talent.

 The BBC recently reported that a lot of unpaid internships were breaking minimum wage law, the government has pretty clear guidelines on what can take place during an unpaid internship, but I am still surprised at the number of adverts I see that completely flout this legislation. One of the problems seems to be that the emphasis is on the intern to claim for minimum wage where they are entitled to it rather than on the government to enforce the law. And in the real world there is no way someone who is trying to get a break into an industry is going to go around claiming that they are owed minimum wage.

Don ‘t get me wrong I am not completely against internships in any shape or form, in fact my organisation is offering internship placements for the first time this week. But the key difference between a “good” internship and a “bad” one has got to be expectations, both the employer’s and the intern’s. Short internships of say one or two weeks which offer the opportunity to observe and experience what a workplace is all about can only be a good thing. However, if an intern is expected to work unpaid for a company for several months on a vague assurance that there could be a job at the end of it for them then this is an unacceptable method of recruitment,  not to mention an illegal and exploitative practice. I have no idea what the answer to this problem is, but it is definately something that has been under the radar for too long and even if we can’t stop it from happening we can at least raise awareness of the issues involved and hopefully prevent any organisations from unitentionally exploiting their interns.

Felicity Cross

New Professional Support Officer (Scottish Division)

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CILIP Manifesto and Task and Finish Groups

I was nominated to be on the committee that wrote the CILIP Manifesto by the then CDG President, Maria Cotera. The committee (called a Task and Finish Group in CILIP-ese) also contained CDG members Emma Illingworth and Sarah Ison, along with 4 other CILIP members, 1 CILIP trustee, Biddy Fisher (then vice President, now President of CILIP) and Guy Daines (CILIP’s professional advisor); the group was chaired by Peter Beauchamp.  The manifesto was published last week and I thought it worth recording my thoughts on the process of writing it and being involved in a Task and Finish Group (also my thoughts on the overall product at the end.)

The inital meeting of the group was the most interesting and the most challenging in that we had to start from nothing and begin to construct the whole thing – aims, format, content, publication strategy.  Although the headline aim of the project was to influence political parties in the run up to the general election, and ideally get some library related promises included in their manifestos, it was also agreed that a secondary, and very important aim, should be to produce a document which sums up the ambitions of the profession, and which can be widely quoted as indicative of what we as a professional group aspire to do. It was agreed that the list of our ‘wants’ should demonstrate the value that the profession has to offer – it should not be a list of demands that would each cost the government large quantities of money. Rather, the priorities should show how, if the government were to agree to them, our profession could enhance services provided by the government and assist in the achievement of other strategic aims.

It was agreed that we should end up with a short list of aims that we could tick off if and when they were achieved. As we started suggesting ideas, it became apparent that a lot of the ideas were really values.  We decided that a statement of the profession’s values would also add to the document’s impact, particularly in respect of its secondary aim. We left that meeting having each been assigned a general area to write-up into a punchy aim, and we would also each write some background information and collect a bibliography of useful sources.

Monica Anderton and I were given the area of information management to explore.  I interpreted this area to involve mainly talk of information assurance, and in particularly how the role of information professionals in guaranteeing good information management had been demonstrated as crucial by the data loss scandals of 2008 (e.g. when HMRC lost several million people’s child benefit details). The document I wrote focussed on this idea almost exclusively, and so had to be quite radically altered when it became clear that the other dimension of this aim was to be the role that government could play in advancing good practice of info management to the private sector, and also the extent to which government could learn from the private sector. Our part of the document went through about four drafts.

All the material was compiled before our second meeting by Guy and Peter. The format for this meeting was far more rigid, and we went through each of the bullet points in detail. The info management bullet point still required more work, so Monica and I were tasked with refining it further. We also had to search for further material for our bibliography because it did not yet reflect the private sector dimension of the priority. After re-submitting our refined documents, they were then re-compiled by Guy and Peter. We got to comment on drafts of the final product and we got to see advance electronic copies of what the actual document would look like.

The Task and Finish process is the main way that individual ideas get acted upon by CILIP – they are the main way that activists get to influence the day-to-day running of CILIP, so it was very interesting to see how they worked from the inside. My observations on the process are below:

  • Although this is a process that is run by the members of CILIP, the CILIP administration still plays a large part in it.  Perhaps it was the nature of this group, but Guy Daines’ input was considerable, both as secretary to the meetings and as the person responsible for pulling the thing together (although Peter clearly played a significant role in this part of the process). This was not a major problem in my view since he is a professional expert on LIS matter, and so his views were extremely valuable. But it did come as a surprise to see the extent of his influence in a member-led activity.
  • It’s important not to get precious over your own content. This applies to all group working, but particularly when working with complete strangers, and when you have had very little face-to-face time to thrash out ideas, so have do not have an opportunity gain a feeling of ownership over the outcome of negotiations.
  • When the brief for a project is so vague, it is key to get a sense of purpose early on, which then informs subsequent work. I think as a group we got distracted by the secondary aim (which I still think is arguably more important), and when I began to reflect on both aims, I found it difficult to combine them into a useful formulation of the info management priority.
  • For me, one of the key benefits of being part of this thing was  meeting the other people involved. Emma and Sarah are great to work with (I had already met them at the 2009 NP conference, but never worked closely with them) and Maria is always an inspiring colleague, but it was good to see Guy doing his thing (Professional Advisor to CILIP is a role I had no idea about before this), and to learn from Peter’s chairing skills. Biddy Fisher is a calm and effective presence – it is a genuine pleasure to work with her.

My thoughts on the actual finished product are mixed. Considering the well documented complexity of defining the library and information profession, let alone finding a series of aims that unite all members of it, I think the content of the Manifesto is quite successful. It covers a wide range of topics, and although there are obvious omissions (e.g. open access), what is included are widely held aims that speak for a large portion of LIS professionals.  The actual publication its self is more disappointing. I think the enormous ‘SIX’ on the front is distracting, and although I appreciate the difficulty of distilling complex ideas, there is still a great deal of text inside. I also think that perhaps the project should have been brought forward several months (if you accept that the main purpose was actually to influence the contents of Party manifestos), since the Parties will have finished taking submissions on policy for their manifestos some time ago.

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Good proposals

Now that the New Professionals Conference 2010 has been officially advertised, I think its legitimate to give you my thoughts on the process and on what made the proposals we selected the ones we selected.

First I’m going to outline some of the qualities that the ones we selected had in common, and then I’m going to make some points about proposals in general.

The proposals we selected all said something quite clear.  Having read them, it was easy to scrawl what they were saying in a few words at the top of the page.  This is not to say that more complicated proposals were frowned on, but just that even if they were complicated (and at least one of the ones we chose was relatively complicated), the salient points were easy to draw out.

The selected ones all adhered to the themes of the conference quite strictly. It has to be said that when a proposal started to be overly interpretive with the phrases that we had used in the call for papers, I was put off. Unlike in the 2009 conference, what we were looking for in papers this year was quite clearly set out. Obviously the call for papers was not overly prescriptive, but it was easier to spot off topic papers and, interestingly, we did get quite a few.

All the papers we chose had a healthy mix of the universal and the specific. Either a point about employability in general was made and then something that the writer had personal experience was mentioned. Or a subjective observation was made, which was then shown to be more objective. This point is relevant to applying for jobs as well, where employers often (always?) look for someone who knows about the job in general, but can also demonstrate that they have the personal skills to make them relevant to it.

Another very important factor linking all the ones we selected that I had not initially even considered, but which became apparent as the process went on, was the overall tone.  Without exception, the selected papers were generally positive. Challenges were viewed as opportunities, set-backs as ways to learn and change for the better, problems as spurs to ingenuity.  I refuse to use those wordle things, but if I did I’m sure the lexical set of the selected papers would be more Lester and less McNulty, more Homer and less Old Gil, more Obama and less McCain.

General tips (I must add that this only comes from my very limited experience of applying for things and from choosing papers for this conference):

  • Use a few short paragraphs. Long blocks of text can be frightening, as @therealwikiman pointed out. Also bullet points don’t add a great deal that you can’t say in short paras (ignore the bullet point).
  • References don’t add a great deal either, particularly for a conference like this where the approach is not particularly academic – obviously writing up accepted proposals is a different matter.
  • Don’t include a biography in the actual proposal.  Biographies are very useful to have, but put them separately, either in the body of an email, or at the end of the proposal, clearly delineated from it.
  • Use words from the call for papers blurb – obvious, but a startling number of proposals we received did not mention ‘new professionals’ at all.

Anymore tips from people who have written proposals would be very interesting. The wikiman and Lex Rigby  have already posted their thoughts on the proposal process.

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New professionals conference

Belatedly, I’d like to plug the 2010 new professionals conference.  A good account of last years conference can be found here.

Its a great opportunity to practise your application, paper writing and presentation skills.  Presenting at an event like this is a boon to any CV, and the opportunities to meet professionals at similar stages of their career are unrivalled at this particular event. 

Below is the call for papers.

Calling all New Library & Information Professionals. Have you joined the profession, either through work or study, in the last 5 years? If so, why not submit a proposal for the 2nd New Professionals Conference on the theme

Proving your worth in challenging times: forum and debate from a New Professionals perspective

Proposal abstracts (no longer than 300 words) must be submitted by 5pm on Friday 26th February 2010 to Chris Rhodes rhodesc@parliament.uk, who you can also contact for further details

The conference is organised by the CILIP Career Development Group in Partnership with the Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield

The conference will be held at the University of Sheffield on Monday 5th July 2010

The best paper, as voted for by delegates attending the Conference will win £100 and a bottle of Sue Hill Fizz, generously sponsored by Sue Hill Recruitment. The paper will be published in Impact, the Journal of the Career Development Group.

For more information on themes and deadlines, please visit cilip.org.uk/cdg

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SLA Early Careers Conference Awards

SLA Europe invites applications for an all-expenses paid trip to the 2010 SLA Conference, which will take place 13th-16th June in New Orleans, USA.  Those eligible to apply are current European library and information science students and new professionals (working in the field for less than five years). 

SLA Europe is offering two Awards jointly with two SLA Divisions:  Business & Finance; and Leadership & Management. The Awards will cover all expenses, including Conference registration, hotel accommodation, economy return airfare to New Orleans and meals. The deadline for applications is 31 January 2010, and winners will be notified in February. For full details on eligibility rules and the application procedure, please visit http://www.sla-europe.org/awards/early_career/early_career_a.html.

Annie Richens, who won the award last year and went to Washington on the same bursary, said of her experience:

The SLA Europe conference award is a fantastic experience, and one that I would recommend to anyone in the early stages of their professional career. It is an unparalleled opportunity to attend a large and professional conference, with speakers who challenge, inspire and entertain (in 2009, keynote speaker Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, Steve Denning, author of The Secret Language of Leadership and a tongue-in-cheek session from the editor of The Onion spring to mind). The experience opened my eyes to the diversity of roles which library and information skills can be applied to – and reminded me exactly why this career is such a wonderful one to have chosen!

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Twitiquette

This post was prompted by the news that Conservative MP Nadine Dorries and Labour MP Kerry McCarthy (both frequent  twitteres) have both broken out in a spate of blocking people on Twitter.  Is it acceptable to cease to communicate with people in the onlineosphere, or is it tantamount to not accepting that your views can be challenged?

Firstly, I think its clear that if a stranger started talking to you in a shop and followed you around occasionally calling you names, and constantly denying or arguing against everything you said, then you would be justified in not wanting to be their friend.  However, Twitter is not like a shop because it is there as a communication medium – you join Twitter to tweet, and to receive tweets, so you should expect a bit of back-chat.

Secondly, debate on Twitter is not really like debate elsewhere because it generally seems to happen at multiple levels of engagement, with some people taking the whole thing very seriously and other people just there to swear and make a mockery of others.  But then, I think it should be accepted that most people intelligent enough to engage with Twitter are probably intelligent enough to recognise when someone is just messing around, and so to simple ignore Tweets that are of no use to anyone.

Thirdly, an MP is just a person, and they should be allowed to engage online without having to submit themselves to barrages of un-pleasantness.  But actually, MPs take decisions that have enormous influence over us, so in fact they are not like anyone else, and if they do engage in online debate, then they should expect to excite huge interest and lots of opposing views.  Generally they have a thick skin to insults and counter-arguments, and this should extend to Twitter.

Thus, I think that it is unreasonable for MPs in particular, but for anyone else as well, to block others in online forums like Twitter or on blog posts.  As libraries engage more and more online, we as librarians will also have to accept that criticism, some of it very robust, will be directed at us.  I think we have to either enjoy the benefits of being engaged online and swallow the potential nasty side of it, or become alienated and isolated.

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Encompass

Last night I attended the launch of the Encompass positive action trainee scheme in LSE’s spectacular New Academic Building.  This project seeks to recruit and place 50 people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds in trainee LIS roles around the country.  Encompass is the result of collaboration between CILIP and PATH (Positive Action Training Highway), and currently has four London based employers signed up – Lewisham Libraries, the National Institute for Medical Research, LSE and the Houses of Parliament.

The traineeships last for three years, with trainees working and concurrently studying for an LIS masters degree part-time.  They will work for four days a week and study for one day.  In the third year of their contracts, the trainees are also given support to Charter, and are therefore given every opportunity to begin successful LIS careers.  This will raise the number of BEM LIS professionals (only 2% of CILIP members consider themselves to be from BEM backgrounds currently), and so give rise to the new perspectives and fresh ways of thinking that are the products of a more diverse and representative profession.

The scheme is also vastly beneficial to employers for a number of reasons.  It enables them to achieve strategic goals to do with equal opportunities and staff development.  It is in their fiscal interest to employ a part-time trainee.  And perhaps most importantly they have the opportunity to recruit new professionals, thus embracing all the energy and enthusiasm with which we are so intimately familiar.

I would encourage anyone reading this to raise their employer’s awareness of the Encompass scheme and the benefits it can bring to them, the profession and the individuals involved.

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