by Emily Hopkins, Tracey Pratchett and Gil Young
“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
The library profession is undergoing a period of rapid change. The uncertain economic environment has led to the perception of fewer posts across all sectors. Anecdotally this is partly due to an overall fall in the number of professional posts across the country and to the lack of movement within the profession as a whole.
Research by the CIPD and Penna (2008, p9) claims that workers in their late twenties, thirties and early forties picture their career as a “scramble net” as opposed to the steady progression up the career ladder of former generations. Such workers are used to uncertainty and change. In order to survive and prosper they recognise, amongst other things, the importance of building wide networks, utilising new technology and making themselves visible both within and outside of their profession. The emphasis is on developing generic and specialist skills which can be transferred between teams, organisations and sectors. Career development and progression is determined by skills and knowledge as opposed to age. As training budgets are cut and the opportunities to move around are curtailed by economic factors it can be hard for such individuals to remain motivated.
Motivation is, at the most basic level, “a reason for doing something” (Armstrong, 2006, p.252). Focusing on the career experiences of three library professionals currently working in the NHS in the North West of England, the following case studies examine how they have been able to respond to changes in their career circumstances including moves between sectors, redundancy and organisational restructure. Issues covered include maintaining personal motivation levels when change is forced upon you, the importance of demonstrating impact and the ongoing need for personal and professional development regardless of age or experience.
Clinging on as the net moves beneath you
Emily Hopkins (Case study 20s)
Graduating from Library school in 2006, we knew that we weren’t going to walk into ‘jobs for life’ and make a steady ascent up the career ladder. I couldn’t quote exactly the advice we were given, but we knew we needed to gather as much experience as possible, develop our transferable skills, and be prepared for change! My first professional post was in a public library, before moving to the Department of Work and Pensions. By the time 2008 rolled around, I took up post as SHA (Strategic Health Authority) Librarian at NHS North West, an entirely new role to make my own. Looking back, these jobs all gave me skills that I have used elsewhere, and I suppose my key learning points from these jobs were: to expect the unexpected, to work across a large organisation and ignore (where necessary) team boundaries, and to learn about your users by embedding yourself in the organisation and getting to know them.
In mid-2010, I was appointed library manager at NHS Manchester PCT (Primary Care Trust). I wanted a new challenge, although I knew that this was not going to be easy – the service was still experiencing the fallout from a merger 6 months earlier. Plus, on the brink of an election, the NHS was facing a major restructure and one of the first acts of the newly elected Coalition was to issue a white paper Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS. (Department of Health, 2010), which proposed fundamental changes to the way the NHS operates in England. In the end, the majority of PCT functions and staff were transferred into either hospital trusts or mental health trusts. In our case, it was the latter, and we soon found ourselves moving into Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust.
Landing in a new organisation as an existing library service, but with a user base that had disappeared (most of our users had transferred to different organisations) has all the disadvantages of starting a service from scratch- trying to win over lots of users, and establish and promote yourself, but with additional “baggage” – expectations from management, having to work with what you’ve got in terms of procedures, stock, staff skills and so on.
Two large pieces of luck have inevitably helped us. One was that, there had always been a lot of investment into mental health stock, as this was an area of interest in the PCT. Consequently, our stock is still relevant and we haven’t had to start from scratch. The other was that a few months before we moved into the Trust, an Outreach Librarian was appointed, to deliver “virtual” library services. Very early on we decided to take a pragmatic approach and work together, as we found that the two elements complemented each other very well. This has helped strengthen the service and reach more people – in fact; the Trust has now gained a comprehensive library service.
However, I think what has helped me was to remember that the important thing are our skills, and that these will continue to be relevant no matter what the organisation – the specialist subject knowledge can be built up over time, but our core skills are what really matter and can be taken with us, and will probably be useful in whatever situation we find ourselves in!
Emily Hopkins, Health Information & Resources Library Manager, Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust
Tracey Pratchett (Case study 30s)
Moving between sectors: I became a qualified librarian at the age of 30 and during the past 10 years I have worked in 3 very different roles in two public sector organisations (FE and NHS). In FE, my job was constantly changing and I was expected to take on additional roles and responsibilities as they arose. When I left FE, my official role was Coordinator of the Adult & HE Learning Centre, which was a move towards teaching and provided the opportunity to obtain a PGCE. Shortly after I commenced in this new role, the Library Manager retired and as one of the few remaining qualified librarians, I was asked to manage a restructure of existing library provision and take on additional responsibilities (staff training, budgeting and project management) – all in addition to my day job. At this point I felt that my role was being diluted and that I was moving further away from my chosen career. It was under these circumstances that I applied for a Clinical Librarian position, and it was the diverse range of skills and experience in project management, teaching and management skills, rather than my (lack of) Clinical Librarianship knowledge that won me the post.
Responding to change: Although I moved from one public sector organisation to another, the transition from FE to NHS was a culture shock. Before joining the NHS, I saw it as a single entity; however, it soon became apparent that organisational boundaries are somewhat blurred and constantly changing. I found that whilst I could not offer library services to NHS staff over the road (due to Service Level Agreements), I did deliver a service to staff based in Cumbria almost 50 miles away from my base. This was very confusing at times and very different to FE, where the user base was relatively local and easy to identify. As a Clinical Librarian I had to workout not only who my users were, but how to support them at the point of need with clinical decision-making, commissioning, research and lifelong learning (Hill, 2007). Part of the challenge for me was delivering an equitable service across a large geographical area, understanding user requirements and adopting the right methods of doing this.
Demonstrating impact: In the Northwest we have a strong regional library network (LIHNN), which has been an invaluable support for developing my local Clinical Library service and has also provided a range of opportunities for me to collaborate with colleagues from other organisations on large scale projects including Horizon Scanning, Peer Support in Literature Searching, research into the impact of the CL and Making Alignment a Priority for Health Libraries. Many of these projects have exploited Web 2.0 technologies to address the challenges of managing projects regionally and reaching users in a virtual landscape. These projects have opened up a world of ideas and new skills for me to add to my portfolio and widened my network of collaborators for support and advice. In this period of such dramatic change for the NHS, one driven by efficiency, productivity, cuts and mergers, it is essential that we keep in touch with the key driving forces which are impacting upon our users and it was out of this idea (and the Londonlinks Alignment toolkit) that the MAP project was born. I believe that by being knowledgeable about the issues which are affecting my organisation means that not only can I talk their language but I can reinforce the impact of my service on their key aims and objectives. As librarians, we will be increasingly challenged to demonstrate our value to the organisations we serve and we should continually harvest and share this knowledge as an ongoing process.
Tracey Pratchett, Clinical Librarian, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust
Falling off (and getting back on) the scramble net
Gil Young (Case study 40s)
During my 18 years in libraries I have worked in a variety of sectors including health, academic and public. I am used to change and have made concerted efforts to keep my skills relevant over the years. The one thing I was most concerned about was keeping working. I was convinced that losing my job would be a disaster which I would not be able to deal with until last year when it happened. Reflecting on this time there are a number of things which I would argue enabled me to cope with the situation I found myself in and motivated me towards finding another job. These things are personal to me and I am well aware that many people who find themselves in this situation will have very different experiences.
The first factor, which I admit sounds a little bizarre, was that I loved the job I was doing and felt I had done it well. On a personal level I wasn’t plagued with regrets about things I could have done differently and I recognised that the organisation I was working for needed to change if it was to survive. This meant that I was clear in my own mind that I wanted to carry on doing the same sort of work and enabled me to tailor my search for a new job accordingly. I decided on a strategy where by I would only apply, in the first instance, for jobs I would have applied for if I wasn’t about to lose my current role. The plan was to widen the search out as my last day got closer but in the end this was not necessary.
The years in my role and the wide variety of experience I had amassed meant that I had a very strong network of colleagues across different sectors. A friend who works as a trainer spent a morning brainstorming my options with me. This didn’t particularly identify anything new but it did help me clarify what I wanted to happen and how I was going to go about it. I also let as many people as possible know that I was looking for a job. The advert for my current role was sent to me by 5 different people!
I have had some sort of job since I was 16. When I turned 40 I realised that even though I had been employed in some capacity or other for 24 years that, with the raising of the retirement age, I still potentially had another 27 years of working ahead of me. With this in mind I decided to enrol at Salford University to study for an MSc in Human Resource Management. I wanted to enhance my skills and learn something new. Most of my fellow students were in their early 20′s and used to studying whereas it all felt very new to me. Many things had changed since I had last taken a course in the early nineties and doing exams was a real shock to the system. I was in the second year of this course when I found out that my job was under threat. Having to concentrate on writing a management report and sitting exams meant that my focus wasn’t wholly on what was happening at work. Additionally developing the skills I needed to complete the course helped build my emotional resilience.
As part of the course I mentioned above I was required to maintain a current CV and a reflective diary. These documents came in really helpful when I began to apply for jobs as they focused on outputs and achievements. This meant I had plenty of recent examples of things I had done which had made an impact and which I could use to demonstrate my skills.
Losing my job was not the disaster I had feared. In effect this was due to the fact that, over the years, I had built myself a safety net. I had enhanced my qualifications, built up my resilience and had contacts I could make use of. Doing these things will not make anyone immune to redundancy or joblessness. I am not one of those people who would say that losing my job was the best thing that ever happened to me. It wasn’t. It was stressful and I felt very emotional at times. However it wasn’t as bad as I always feared it would be and just over a year later I am happy in a new role that makes use of my existing skills and which is helping me develop new ones.
Gil Young, CPD & Partnerships Manager, North West Health Care Libraries Unit
Negotiating the scramble net requires individuals to be flexible in managing their careers. The case studies demonstrate how learning and development needs to be ongoing regardless of your age and experience. Over the coming years many of us will find ourselves in situations we have not planned for and in places we do not want to be. Maintaining motivation in the current climate is difficult but continuing to do things will ensure that when change happens each individual is as equipped as they possibly can be to cope with it.
Armstrong, M. (2006) A handbook of human resource management practice. 10th ed. Kogan Press, London, UK.
CIPD and Penna (2008) Gen up: How the four generations work Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, London, UK. Viewed 23 September 2011 http://www.cipd.co.uk/NR/rdonlyres/25DA52DE-F120-4579-AFE3-564C8801425D/0/genuphowfourgenerationswork.pdf
Department of Health (2010) Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS Parliament, London, UK. Viewed 31 October 2011 http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/@ps/documents/digitalasset/dh_117794.pdf
Hill, P (2007) Report of a national review of NHS library services in England: from knowledge to health in 21st century Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, UK. Viewed 1st November 2011 http://www.library.nhs.uk/nlhdocs/national_library_review_final_report_4feb_08.doc