Professionalism Part 1: NLPN Autumn

I have a job. It is a full time, must wash my face every day and not tell rude stories kind of proper-person job. But, to my utter dismay, this has not made me into a professional person. Technically, I am a professional because I get paid to stamp books until my hands bleed rather than doing it as a hobby or voluntarily but so far I feel like a bit of an impostor and that any minute someone will hold up my emails or point at my disheveled clothes and tell me to go home to my parents.

Looking back, I can’t quite believe that I spent four years in higher education wittering on about Chaucer and how many times I have read Ulysses* without ever, not even once, sticking my hand straight up in the air during a lecture to ask the academic (i.e. professional student) to teach us how to behave in a real job.

Foolish, foolish past Jen how I hate you and your keen focus on Tennyson and tequila.

I’ve been working as a GT for over two months now and, whilst I have certainly changed, I don’t quite feel that I have achieved this mythical professional status. I am not even sure what you might call it; a state of being, an attitude, a gradual process of change? Gah, what does it all mean!

Going to the NLPN Autumn event recently got me thinking about what it means to be professional, where we pick it up and how we can help each other. 

The NLPN is the Manchester New Library Professionals Network, a group for any early career librarians, GTs (like me) and library school students to be proactive about our profession. The four women who set up and run the group put on events such as the recent Autumn one that I went to a couple of weeks ago and help foster librarian-y discussions in the North West. It is very impressive and makes my head sweat when I think of all the work they have put into this to make it a success.

The NLPN Autumn event that I went to was based at the MMU Business School, consisted of three speakers and lots of free and delicious cake.

The three speakers were all very different; they have different jobs and different attitudes and presentations but they are all genuine professionals. This kind of event, aimed at us early career folk is one way of injecting some sort of professionalism into us – both through networking (oh the horror) and the presentations and speakers.

I’m not going to write up what they spoke about in any great detail – for that you can read the NLPN blog here and come along to the event next time. I think it is more useful, for me anyway, to think about what the presenters did and what made them stand up and speak about their area of expertise or interest on a Saturday when they could have been eating crumpets in bed.

Simon Barron spoke first about digital librarians. It was really, really good – you should feel bad that you missed it. 

Simon also shared his career path so far and the learning curve he has traced to reach his current position. It was inspiring to hear about the wide variety of jobs and titles that a librarian can have – you can even be a librarian in the army. Simon also told us that we could learn code, do our own presentations, write articles and be active in our profession. This is something I really think we should take to heart and I have added it as a characteristic of my perfect professional person; someone who is engaged and active. 

Jane Secker, what a coup! 

Jane spoke to us about copyright and had a different presentation style to our first speaker, encouraging us to do some hands-on research and fill in a quiz. I gained real insight into the work she does every day and the relationships her department has with those other professionals, academics. I did a bit of pre-event googling to find out more about Jane and I was very excited to see her presentation, as she has done so much in such a short space of time. Definitely a professional to emulate!

Our last speaker was the very energetic David Jenkins

I can’t say terrible things about David because I sit next to him several days a week (and so I can insult him to his face) but I wouldn’t want to – his presentation was great! I didn’t realize the type of work David has been doing on Open Access and it was inspiring to see an area of librarianship that we could make a difference in. Being professional is about passion and dynamism (and making good use of your legs.)

Seeing these presentations and presenters and meeting some other young career people have made me re-assess what I thought being a professional was. This is on top of the super professionals I see at work every day. They are a fantastic and diverse lot and are proving to be great role models. However, the NLPN Autumn event was such a concentrated moment in which a room full of green newbies were contrasted with the people speaking in front of them, providing us with a chance to see what the difference between us and them.

As it turns out, it’s not just having a job or a qualification. 

*Please prepare yourselves for an extended, cheese-based comparison. Why yes, I am quite peckish right now how did you know.*

We are the unripe (but un-smelly), fresh white cheese. We taste alright and do what we are meant to but there is another dimension of cheese out there.

We will be a Camembert or Brie in a few weeks/months/years; ripened on the outside by our environment but ultimately still creamy on the inside.

Then finally (oh god I hope so), we will be a cheese supreme. A Roquefort or a Parmesan, hardened by experience but mature and expensive. There is such a wide array of cheeses out there, but they are all equally delicious.

What I am trying to say is that professionalism comes partly from the outside, from being in a work environment and engaging with others in your profession. But more than that, it comes from the inside and from being interested in the diverse areas libraries can offer and trying to be a dynamic and active person. 

Mmm cheese.