Category Archives: Careers

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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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, 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


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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

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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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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Tina’s Library Route

My name is Tina Reynolds, I am the New Professionals Support Officer for the London & South East Divisions.
This is in response to the Library Routes wiki which I have been looking at interestedly since it started and have now decided I should actually contribute to!
I really very much fell into the idea of Librarianship from nowhere (like many other people) but once I had thought of it, it seemed so obvious I could not (and still can’t) work out why I didn’t think of it much much earlier.
I studied French and German for ‘A’ level, I also got stuck with Law (rather than politics and the four other subjects I had as preferences!) The plan was to apply to study French and German with perhaps one more language at university. Then on a whim, after having a really interesting lesson in Law, and atrocious language lessons, I decided to apply for law degrees instead.
There was then no going back, so I studied Law, enjoying the theory but being very sure that it was not the career for me. In the second year of my law degree, we had to go to the careers service and do one of those online quizzes to see what jobs would suit me. The top three which came up were interpreter, translator and librarian.
As I had no intention of going back to university for four more years after the end of the degree, I decided to look into option three: libraries. I went onto the CILIP website and looked at the graduate training opportunities page. I took the contact details for everyone in London and Cambridge and started emailing looking for work experience. I had found that I would need a year of work and a masters if I wanted to do the job, so I thought I should make very sure it wasn’t awful before I made up my mind.
Of the people I contacted, a number responded – many apologising but giving links or advice, some offering tours of their service or chats, and three offering work experience. I took everyone up on their offers, so I met a lot of people, spent a day shadowing staff, looked around a lot and most importantly arranged the actual work experience.
I spent two weeks at the Institute for Commonwealth Studies, two weeks at Drivers Jonas and two weeks at the Institute for Historical Research during the summer between my second and third year.
All three of the stints of work experience were really interesting, everybody was lovely to me and kept apologising for giving me boring menial work. But I really enjoyed myself. That really was what made my mind up for me, if I enjoyed doing the bad parts of the job, I obviously would enjoy the job if I had an even spread of good and bad.
I went back to university researching libraries and beginning to sort out applications for graduate traineeships. In November, the Information Unit manager at Drivers Jonas called, and told me that one of the part-time members of staff (two days per week) was leaving and asked if I would be interested in filling the role. I was waitressing at the time, working about 14 or 15 hours a week so to do the same hours for more pay and gaining experience for my career seemed an absolutely obvious decision.
I started work almost straight away but continued to apply for graduate posts, as I could not get my experience on two days per week. The first interviews I got from this (and actually my first ever interviews), were for ICS, IHR and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies all on the same day, back-to-back. I was an absolute mess by the end of that day and unsurprisingly didn’t get the jobs. But then DJ offered to increase my hours to full-time. I admit that I wasn’t sure about whether I should go for a traditional graduate trainee post or stay where I was. I was worried about whether a non-traditional route would harm my chances of getting into Library School, and also of becoming stuck in a rut; I thought it would be better to work in a few different sectors before I qualified.
I looked at all of the jobs I had applied for, or could apply for and compared them with the work I was doing. I realised that I was doing work at a professional level and that in many of the graduate trainee roles (although by no means all) I would be doing less interesting, less challenging work. I decided that this, coupled with how nice everyone at DJ was, meant I should stay put.
I started working full-time in July 2008 and started applying for MAs. I subsequently decided that I should limit my search to courses which meant I could remain in post. I then compared all of the courses, and the distance learning course at Northumbria stood out as the obvious favourite given the content of the course.
I was not keen at all on the Hypermedia for Information Professionals module (I am not a web developer!!!) but all of the other modules were better than comparable modules elsewhere and nowhere else had option modules I particularly wanted to do. I got in to the MA and have been studying for about two months. It turns out that I really like Hypermedia after all, and I have been an Information Officer at Drivers Jonas for two years today.


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Library routes – Christopher Rhodes

This post is in response to the Library Routes project created by Ned Potter et al. If anyone wants to include their roots on the Library Routes wiki but doesn’t have a blog, then they are welcome to have it hosted here.

I have worked in libraries since 2005, first at Sheffield University Library, and since 2007, in the House of Commons Library.  I will explain why I started working in libraries and give an account of my (very brief) career.

I graduated in 2005 with a degree in Philosophy.  Since philosophy is about as non-vocational as it is possible to get, I was not granted a clear idea of how I wanted to spend my working life.  However, the naval-gazing tendency among philosophy students does not lead to unemployment in most cases: philosophy degrees are highly prized by employers and philosophy students are more likely to be employed than almost any other type of non-vocational graduate.

My previous work experience had consisted of shelf-stacking in Waitrose (yogurt, and then pre-packed deli), till work in WH Smiths (fun but annoying because for some reason I was never given training on how to use the tills so constantly made mistakes) and working as an interior decorator in a large sixth-form college (being given a task and completing it to exact specifications is highly satisfying – there are no ill-defined success criteria and, provided the people you are working with are pleasant enough, decorating is a very enjoyable way to spend time).  Thus, I had no obvious work experience which lead towards a fertile career area either.

However, after I saw an advert for a graduate trainee job at Sheffield University Library, the central role of the library in academic discourse and the skills librarians use began to seem like a fairly good fit with my own interests and academic background. Philosophy underpins all others areas of study, in the same way that the library is relied on by the whole academic community.  The analytic skills required in philosophy seemed to be mirrored in much of the work of librarians, all of which encouraged me in my application.

Like the majority of library users, I had no real idea what librarians did – for some reason, as a profession we are very bad at communicating our role.  Thus, the graduate trainee job was a genuinely educational experience.  I enjoyed the final third of the year more than the first two, mainly because it involved more engagement with projects and interesting strategic library developments rather than the normal counter work.  That’s not to say that the counter work was awful, and in fact working in the Health Sciences Library at Sheffield remains one of the most enjoyable periods of my career.

After my graduate trainee year I took a job as counter supervisor for the weekend team at Sheffield University Library.  This was interesting because it involved more responsibility and because, when it was opened, I was one of the first people to work in the Information Commons – Sheffield’s undergraduate study facility.  This was a fascinating place to work in as it opened, with opportunities to shape the way services were provided and see first hand the challenges of opening new libraries.

Whilst working on the weekend team, I also studied for the MA in Librarianship at Sheffield.  I worked harder then than I had ever worked before, and as well meeting many interesting people, I also gained confidence in my abilities and confirmed my ambition to work in the LIS arena.  I enjoyed many parts of the course but the dissertation was uniquely interesting.

I was supervised by Dr Andrew Cox and studied the contrasting cultures of customer service librarians and computer technicians using ethnographic methods.  Since I worked in the Information Commons, where both groups were operationally combined, I had privileged access to each culture.  Ethnography, unlike many qualitative methodologies, recognises and relies upon the subjectivity of the researcher.  My own interpretations of each group’s behaviour formed the basis of the study, with my own prejudices being integral to conclusions reached (since I was a member of one of the groups).  I think part of the nature of MA study is that it opens the door on academic research, but doesn’t really allow you to walk through.  Thus, although the study was interesting and I think valuable because ethnography is not a commonly used method in LIS research, my conclusions were not particularly illuminating.  But it is a testament to the originality of the department at Sheffield that they were willing to support a study using unusual methods that could so easily have become unmanageable.

A few weeks before I finished my dissertation I saw an advert for a job in the House of Commons Library.  It was for an indexer, so I was initially skeptical that I had any of the skills required.  However, I sent in a speculative application form and was invited to interview.  The interview day was grueling, with a group interview, critical reasoning test, indexing test and an individual interview.   The day I handed my dissertation in I also heard that my application had been successful.

The Indexing and Data Management Section (IDMS) in the HoC Library provide a service that is almost uniquely specialized.  IDMS use the Parliamentary Thesaurus to indexing all Parliamentary material, including all Parliamentary questions, debates, papers and Acts.  The worked is highly skilled and many people become extremely good at it, some of them very quickly.  I was not one of them, and moved to another section in the library fairly quickly.

I now work in the Statistics Resource Unit, which supports statistical and economic specialists.  The specialists work proactively to produce briefing papers on current or upcoming issues, and reactively by responding to enquiries from MPs and their researchers.  My job is to make sure that they have the resources they need, and to help them keep up to date with reports, statistical releases and relevant current affairs.  I find my job stimulating and there are plenty of opportunities to do interesting things that are not directly related to the role.

I became New Professionals Coordinator for the Career Development Group at the beginning of 2009.  I was involved in organising the 2009 New Professionals Conference and another one will take place in 2010, again involving mainly first time speakers – more details will follow.


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