New – CILIP column: Breaking down barriers and building transferable skills

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The UK needs a strong library and information association to represent the sector, champion the difference we make, and develop skills and expertise, writes Kate Arnold

CILIP will re-launch in January 2018 with a renewed sense of purpose, a strong and independent voice, and open and inclusive approach.

We recently took an important step towards the re-launch when members voted to introduce a new approach to membership that will be more open to everyone in the information, library and knowledge management sector; more affordable and provide better value for money (

I have been impressed by the eloquent points made by several new professionals about the development options offered by the new approach to membershipthrough the new Leaders Network.

This got me thinking about:

•    The skills I use most in my daily work as an information professional - facilitation, influencing, relationship management and project management;
•    How these skills have changed over the 30 years I’ve been in the profession as we move from gatekeepers to facilitators; and
•    How I gain new skills and get a chance to build up relevant experience - attending courses;taking on new roles outside my comfort zone; volunteering in professional associations.

Conference themes

Just as I’d started to think about these questions, we hit conference season and I got bombarded on Twitter with hashtags – specifically #lilac17; #UKSG17 and #IFLAGlobalVision. I followed these conferences with interest. Each had a very different theme, but inevitably some slight overlap. It was interesting to watch each conference unfold, and at times each appeared to be its own little echo chamber; highlighting how siloed we are as a profession.

I was particularly struck by two discussions on skills, initiated at UKSG (shifting sands and skills required by academic librarians, see and Lilac (future of information literacy, see, and look forward to continuing these as CILIP develops its information skills strategy over the next year or so.

Moving between sectors

One of my aims, during my presidential year, is to highlight our transferrable skills and encourage everyone to consider moving between sectors to gain new experience and spread best practice.

If you are thinking about moving sectors, or widening your pool of job seeking opportunities, I'd urge you to read this book: Career Transitions for Librarians: proven strategies for moving to another type of library edited by Davis Erin Anderson and Raymond Pun (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). It's packed full of useful advice and tips: keep a spreadsheet of skills linked to experience with examples; utilise volunteer opportunities to fill skills gaps; reach out to your network to make contacts in sectors you are interested inmoving into. There are 39 interviews/essays by information professionals in a variety of sectors, providing illustrations of a variety of ways of making transitions. The only criticism is its subjects are largely from North America, so some of the employment situations don’t apply in the UK.

The recurring themes in all the stories are:

•    Know your organisation; learn how to find out how it ticks and operates;
•    By moving jobs and sectors you get a good idea of what work environments suit you best;
•    Be flexible and take up chances to learn new skills; and
•    Get involved in professional associations for experience, to find mentors, to build up contacts when unemployed, or job hunting.

Breaking out of silo land

During a workshop on developing a skills strategy when we were discussing barriers to moving between sectors one person said: 'Aren't we the ones preventing this happening? We're our own worst enemies at reinforcing this siloed mentality.'

I believe they are right, we aren't as good as we could be about moving sectors. Some sectors are difficult to break into (I have recent personal experience of this) as they will only take people with experience in that sector. Even if you can offer evidence of transferrable skills garnered in another sector this is usually ignored or dismissed.

We're going to have to break this cycle, if nothing else, to ensure sectors learn from one another, a case in point being academic libraries learning from the experiences of corporate/workplace libraries in facing the challenge of proving their value and evolving services.

Research Information is the media partner for CILIP Conference (5-6 July, Manchester) where information professionals will gather from across the UK for two days of collaboration, learning and inspiration.

The conference celebrates the rich array of sectors in which information professionals work and includes sessions and workshops covering a range of topics from using data and information to impact and evaluation to copyright and the future of libraries. The keynote speakers are Dr Carla Hayden, 14th Librarian of Congress, and Professor Luciano Floridi, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford and Faculty Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute.
For the full programme and to register