Judging from the light fittings and brickwork I had once again found myself in Senior Librarian’s Interrogation Suite C.


Judging from the light fittings and brickwork I had once again found myself in Senior Librarian’s Interrogation Suite C.

I’ll get by with a little help from my friends

September seems a long time ago now - but this blog post is about something that started back then and is just beginning to come to fruition now. As part of the Library Camp East unconference I ran a session for solo librarians and people single-staffing libraries to get together, have a chat and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of working on their own.

I wanted to do this because I’d just spent a hectic summer single-staffing a very small library branch through a record-breaking Summer Reading Challenge. I hadn’t had too much in the way of support or line management during this time, specifically due to a managerial vacancy directly above me. And, although I didn’t know this at Library Camp East, my days as a Senior Library Assistant were already numbered.

At the end of September I had an interview for what felt like a long-shot secondment to a very attractive librarian’s post, working as part of the central enquiry team for the county library service. To my amazement and disbelief (a feeling which still hadn’t departed a couple of weeks after I’d started work and had an email signature with the word ‘librarian’ for all to see) I was chosen and given an initial six months in the job. That’s just been extended for a further six months and so I’m not sure whether or not I will find myself single-staffing again.

With that in mind, I want to do something positive with what was a very difficult and simultaneously very rewarding experience. It occurred to me that it would be nice if there was some formal group that could offer support to solos and single-staffers who find themselves needing a bit of a metaphorical hug, and also that the regional branch of CILIP would be the perfect way to organise this. So I’m now about to propose to CILIP East that we found a peer support network for solo library and information workers with the possibility of future events, training and networking opportunities.

This was an idea that was floated at Library Camp East and which met with quite a positive reception. So, even though a few months have gone by, I hope I can follow through on that and actually deliver something that will help people in what can be an immensely difficult and stressful situation. In the meantime, here’s some of the material that came out of the day for you to consider and comment on.

Advantages of solo librarianship/single-staffing:
  • Autonomy, independence and the ability to influence or control the way your job is done
  • Being able to take responsibility
  • Being able to set own priorities and manage own workload
  • Suits people who are self-motivated, trustworthy, can work unsupervised, can cope and who can inspire confidence in senior managers or demanding clients
  • Sometimes a great way to get experience that can lead you to promotion opportuities.
  • Sometimes there is freedom from office or watercooler politics
  • Offers the opportunity to build up really strong, responsive relationships with users, since you are the only person they deal with
Challenges of solo librarianship/single-staffing:
  • No immediate peer support
  • Hard to test out ideas on or get input from colleagues, how to set parameters if working in very new fields, e.g. digital libraries.
  • Safety and security – for example, how to deal successfully with behaviour in school settings or cope in a public-facing role
  • Doing a job that’s really bigger than one person
  • Challenging to organise your own time and prioritise own work
  • Relationships with colleagues, especially if they benchmark their professionalism in different ways to you, for example teachers or academics
  • Dealing with territoriality among colleagues
  • Advocating and marketing yourself and your role within the organisation
  • Meeting other staff, networking and socialising
  • Maintaining motivation and dealing with stress, which can be a big problem
  • Communication – finding out what is going on in the organisation, staying in the loop through informal as well as formal means
  • A role you might find yourself in unexpectedly due to cuts, sickness or reorganisation
  • Adhering to organisational standards, or professional standards, with no-one on hand for mentoring, supervision or feedback
  • Legacy and continuity – how does your knowledge stay in the organisation if you move on? Delayed recruitment can often mean no handover is available.
Techniques for coping:
  • Keep a detailed written record of what your job entails that you can use for handover if necessary
  • Find out what training, support and counselling your organisation offers
  • Make the most of time with line manager by preparing, making notes of what was said, explaining how you are spending your time and asking for regular slots if possible.
  • Socialise in the wider organisation
  • Develop excellent negotiation skills and also the skills necessary to keep yourself safe in public-facing roles
  • Try being an ‘embedded librarian’ in another department, e.g. law, science or IT – sit among your users as part of the team rather than in a room on your own
  • You may be the one controlling the flow of information, e.g. through managing an intranet or writing an email policy, and this may strengthen your position.
  • Make sure you have sight of your organisation’s lone working policy and that the relevant risk assessments have been done. HR and/or trade unions can assist you here.
  • Undertaking chartership can raise the respect levels of professionals in other disciplines (e.g. teachers, lawyers etc.)
  • Advocating for your role within the organisation
  • Keep records of important procedures, document your role and achievements, especially for appraisals.
  • Network with colleagues in your own sector through professional organisations.
  • Develop time management skills, learn to prioritise, accept the limitations of the role rather than fighting them
  • Set up your own personal support networks
English PEN urgent action: Murarrem Ebrey

English PEN, an organisation that works for the freedom to write and the freedom to read around the world, has asked its supporters to help with an urgent action to support imprisoned Muharrem Erbey.

This writer, advocate and human rights lawyer who represented clients at the European Court of Human Rights, and who was involved in investigating extra-judicial killings in the Turkish region, has been imprisoned in Turkey for more than four years for membership of a banned organisation. The accusations against him include trying to humiliate the Turkish state and security forces, participating in demonstrations and representing legal clients.

Learn more about his case here.

English PEN is extremely concerned about this case. It believes the charges against Muharrem Erbey are politically motivated, and that he is being held due to an alleged affiliation with Kurdish political parties. The organisation is calling for his immediate and unconditional release from prison, in accordance with his right to freedom of expression and association, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human and Democratic Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory.

You can help by taking any of the following actions:

  • Write to your country’s Turkish ambassador calling for Muharrem Erbey’s immediate and unconditional release
  • Raise Muharrem Erbey’s case with your Member of European Parliament (MEP)
  • Write letters and postcards of support to Muharrem Erbey in prison. Such correspondence can provide an important psychological lift and has been greatly appreciated by Muharrem Erbey in the past.
  • Write blog pieces about Muharrem Erbey’s case and share these on social media, particularly around the date of his next trial session (13 January 2014)
  • Write articles and letters that will raise awareness of Muharrem Erbey’s case in your local and national media.

For help with the above, visit English PEN’s urgent action page for Muharrem Erbey here.

Information Overload

Information Overload

My LIS CPD blog - beachcombing along the shores of the information ocean...