Call for help: get involved with RLC Oxford!

We’ve been incredibly quiet on the blog lately. Mostly because we’ve all been incredibly busy and especially as those who currently take the most responsibility for organising meetings are leaving, or have left, Oxford.

We’re hoping to have a meeting in a couple of weeks, it would be great if you think you may be interested in helping out to come along so we can note your interest. Later in September we will be having a more specific handover style meeting to give password details and support to those taking over!

So, what does it involve? Well, as RLC is a non-hierarchical collective, you can be as involved or uninvolved as you like. We do however need people who are able to commit to helping keep the blog and twitter accounts afloat, schedule meetings and also help facilitate discussions at meetings. There is no formal structure to RLC and as such no specific roles to be filled, we just need a few people to spare a little bit of time now and then to ensure meetings are actually happening!

If you think this might be something you’d be interested in, then do attend our next meeting if you can. We currently have a Doodle poll to help set the date and time, accessible here. Alternatively, please email radicallibsoxford@riseup.net with any questions and we will get back to you as soon as we can. You can also join the RLC Jisc Mailing list or follow RLC’s main account on Twitter as well as our Twitter to get more of an idea of what RLC do.

#radlib15 – An Overview – Part 2

This is the second part of Sarah’s write up of her experience at the RLC gathering in Huddersfield on 04.07.

Session 4: Local networks

This session was actually one I facilitated alongside Ian Clark of the London and SE group in order to try and share our experiences of being involved with local groups and encouraging others to establish their own local RLC networks. Having never really done much public speaking, I was slightly nervous about being asked questions and such, especially as I was the only Oxford RLC member there but generally feel as though I handled people’s questions well. Ian and I took turns to discuss our personal experiences with London and Oxford respectively, focusing on any issues we had and how we went about tackling those. We’d already surveyed people asking them about what they thought were barriers to setting up or getting involved with local groups so we had some ideas about themes we may need to address and surely enough many of these were raised as key issues in the session. While I wittered on about the various difficulties I’ve had setting things up in Oxford (we’re not as scary as you think Oxonians!) Ian jotted down these main issues on flipchart paper and we then encouraged people to think of potential solutions and stick them on the flipchart on a post-it. The results can be downloaded as a PDF here. It was really useful hearing what others thought may be a good way to tackle problems, and I hope it helped some of the more reluctant attendees to reconsider setting up something local, as it really is an effective and rewarding way of taking action. I did feel quite positive after the session though, and look forward to seeing if further networks begin to crop up in its wake.

Session 5: Gender relations/power structures in librarianship

The initial aim of this session was to look at hierarchies in librarianship from a feminist angle. Librarianship is an incredibly feminised profession and is often seen as a ‘woman’s job’, yet so many people at a higher level tend to be male. We wanted to consider why this was the case and so we split into smaller groups. The group I was in consisted of three incredibly cool ladies who I won’t name due to the Chatham House Rule, but they were really interesting to talk to and just really quite *cool*. Our conversation veered a touch off the initial topic but ended up being so valuable. We talked a little about the way that RLC works, and how negotiating your way in a non-hierarchical, horizontalist space can be incredibly difficult. One member of the group mentioned how she’s attended facilitation training provided by Seeds for Change, who offer training and resources to activist groups. We all agreed that having people taking on roles as facilitators at meetings etc was not necessarily in opposition to RLC’s non-hierarchical values, but was definitely worth considering as being a good way to get things done more efficiently. on the other hand it is something that needs to be carefully negotiated to ensure that hierarchical structures do not become cemented. It would be really interesting to hear what other people think about this so do feel free to tweet me or email the Oxford RLC email address if you have any comments on this.

Session 6: Inequality in education – a school librarian’s experiences of fee-paying and academy schools

This was the final session I attended and I was really, really excited about this. Talking about educational inequality is basically my jam and a big influence on why I want to work as a librarian. It was led by a school librarian who has moved from a role in a fee paying grammar school through to an academy which has had its share of notoriety. It was really interesting (but entirely unsurprising) to hear about the vast differences between her two roles, but seeing the two ends of the educational spectrum juxtaposed quite so vividly really hammered home just how unequal our education system is. I was slightly disappointed that this session didn’t go quite in the direction that I had hoped, which was that we could think of ways we can use our professional roles to try and combat this inequality, but that was not at all the fault of the person who had pitched the session and I still really enjoyed it overall.

Plenary

Last of all we had a plenary session. I acted as scribe for this, so I took notes and feedback on all the sessions which had run throughout the day. You can see some really quite delightful scans of my terrible handwriting on the RLC Archive here. This was a nice way to round up the day and also get a bit of information about sessions I had not attended. We finished by forming everyone into their local groups to give them the opportunity to have a quick discussion about setting up networks and exchange contact details as a follow up to mine and Ian’s session, so hopefully that will encourage more radical activity across the UK!

After that we cleared out the venue and headed to the pub, of course! This was incredibly pleasant and gave me more opportunity to talk to people I hadn’t managed to chat with much at the event. After a few drinks we went out for curry, but quite frankly I think it’s best to leave the rest of the weekend unsaid – what happened after #radlib15 stays at #radlib15.

#radlib15 – An Overview – Part 1

Sarah recently braved getting in a car in Kent with 4 strangers and driving all the way up to Huddersfield to talk radical librarianship with members of RLC from across the UK. Here’s her round up of the weekend.

So I survived the Radical Road Trip (although an insane van driver almost ensured we didn’t) and arrived in Huddersfield in the evening. We headed more or less straight to the pub to socialise and I spent most of the evening going ‘oh yes, I know you I follow you on twitter!’. Mildly stalkerish introductions aside I found everyone incredibly welcoming and had a lovely evening at two of Huddersfield’s finest establishments. The Grove, which I would recommend to people into beer, and Bar Maroc, which I would recommend to people, full stop.

Feeling slightly fragile in the morning, I made my way from my hotel to the venue to help set things up. This mostly involved moving chairs around and such and drinking a copious amount of coffee. By around 10:30 the majority of people had turned up so we kicked things off with a welcome and a discussion of the safer spaces policy to set the tone for the day. The floor was then opened for pitching and the loose running order for sessions was established. As some sessions ran parallel to others I wasn’t able to attend everything, and so will only talk about those which I did attend. In this post I will focus on what happened up until lunch, and will post about the afternoon beyond in a second post. For more information on all sessions, please see the RLC archive here.

Session 1: Communication!

The theme of this session was looking at how we can best communicate with our users when sometimes we may only see them for a single half an hour induction at the start of the year. This is especially problematic in larger academic libraries where the student intake is constantly changing and growing. Some really interesting discussion on information literacy came up, especially pertaining to students in this day and age because many have the attitude that if they read it on the internet it must be true. If something is talked about enough and by different people, it gains legitimacy and this is why we need to emphasise the importance of evaluating information sources in both an academic and real world context. One practical idea brought up was using information literacy sessions to make students question their beliefs by having them use information skills to debunk a conspiracy theory, which sounds like a really engaging way of emphasisng the importance of thinking carefully about the information you find and use. Overall this session gave me a great deal of food for thought on how I might practically think about engaging with students.

Session 2: Radical Research.

This session was inspired by a project some of us associated with RLC are working on to research website filtering/content blocking in UK Libraries (across all sectors). It involves sending FOI requests to public authorities to determine if and what they are blocking and some of the results so far have been incredibly interesting (and a little concerning). The idea of the session was that there needs to be greater scope for both LIS students and independent LIS researchers to be able to engage with radical librarianship from a research persepctive. I found this session useful because I will be doing my MA in Librarianship soon which will require me to write a dissertation, so it felt good to know there are others out there interested in engaging with more critical/radical research enquiries. One idea pitched was creating a bank of radical research topics to inspire postgraduate students into pursuing a more critical approach to their study. For a much better explanation of this session and where we might go next with this, see here.

Session 3: Team working and the ‘Professional Divide’.

This session aimed to think critically about teams and how they are structured as well as the ‘professional divide’ in librarianship surrounding what exactly allows a person to be defined as a ‘librarian’. This was an incredibly eye opening experience for me and a really useful session because it showed me that clearly I have been incredibly fortunate and privileged to work in some very horizontalist teams where I feel very much treated as an equal despite being so early on in my career! It raised a lot of questions about organisational structures – can you have a radical team? Can managers be radical? Does a team have to have a hierarchy? Is it important to make professional distinctions between librarians and library assistants? Considering the non-hierarchical nature of RLC I think this was a really interesting discussion to have and definitely worth raising at future Oxford meetings to try and inform best practice if people want to try and encourage more openness and horizontal team-working in their jobs. In my experience I’ve found that my managers generally shun the professional divide and refer to all their staff as librarians which we also do to each other. I’ve never been referred to (except jokingly) as ‘just the trainee’ or in any other way that may have made me feel inadequate for being early on in my career but this is obviously an issue that affects other people and worth discussing further.

Lunch!

I’m not actually going to discuss the details of lunch, other than do a small humblebrag about the fact my vegan cake got quite a few compliments! I really enjoyed the morning sessions and felt that some really important discussions took place which I’m looking forward to bringing up at a future RLC Oxford meeting to see what folk down here have to say on the matter. Look out for my write up of the afternoon coming soon!

Update on RLC Oxford

It’s been a while since we posted anything to the blog, so we thought it may be good to put something up in the wake of last night’s meeting as there are going to be some changes and new things happening with the group!

Firstly, we’re on the lookout for help! We need more people involved in the admin side of things as our main computer monkey will be moving away soon. If you’re interested in helping out with running the social media, the blog or any organisation of meetings please email us at radicallibsoxford@riseup.net. All involvement is on a voluntary basis and is self directed so you can be as involved (or not) as you’d like. It’s also worth noting that RLC is run collectively without a hierarchical structure – so everyone is in charge.

Secondly, at last night’s meeting we discussed the Chatham House Rule, which we shall now be applying to our meetings. In short, the rule is that any information or discussion from a meeting can only be discussed, used and published afterwards if done so without identifying the speaker or any of the participants of the meeting. This also means that lists of those attending the meetings cannot be circulated. We’re hoping this may help encourage a free, safe environment where people feel comfortable contributing to discussion and attending meetings. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about this.

Third of all, we’re in talks to start getting out there and using our skills as librarians to help out local charities, activists and radical groups. This is still very much in the early stages of development so more information will be released as and when we have more confirmed plans, but if you are part of any such group who have any information management needs or perhaps an in house library you’d like some attention given to, drop us an email and we can talk through how we might be able to help! (Voluntarily of course!).

And lastly, we have a member heading up to Huddersfield on friday for #radlib15! So do keep your eyes on the blog for a write up of that appearing in the next few weeks!

Having the courage to say “no, I don’t want your Postgraduate library qualification.”

By @bookjenga, originally published on her medium site. With thanks to her for letting us publish this here.

A lot has been said over the past few years about the value of studying for a postgraduate qualification in library/information science, and a lot of it has been said by me. I didn’t intend to wade into this once again but at a recent Oxford RLC meeting I was enthusiastically encouraged to write a post about why I started studying one and gave up.

On entering the library profession a number of years ago I was repeatedly told there was only one way to progress, to get a postgraduate library degree. I never quite believed it when people said this, and spent a lot of time encouraging people not to rush into an expensive qualification they may not need.

Having said that, only four months into a year-long library trainee position I commenced a distance learning masters with a university that shall remain nameless. I thought it was best to get on with it and get started. I thought it was my only option.

First, let’s summarise my gripes with this particular course:

– The course material was often outdated (by several years, in one case not having been updated in five years)
– The feedback from lecturers was sparse, including one lecturer who wouldn’t respond to our queries in the run up to an assignment deadline because she was going on holiday (during term time)
– The final marks were often not consistent with the comments given, leading me to believe the grades were inflated
– Many people on the course had no library experience, some had no undergraduate degree, which proved difficult when working on group tasks and stunted course discussion online
– The online interactive nature of the course which was the reason I signed up, turned out to be PDFs of lecture notes that we could download, and the occasional chat room (sometimes visual, most often not)

There are some factors which would probably have bothered me no matter where I studied:
– The cost of the distance learning course was greater than the full time course, despite receiving less contact with lecturers and the course material not being regularly updated
– I had to pay £40 in order to be allowed to graduate, even though I wasn’t going to go to the ceremony — why the additional cost to an already expensive course?

Despite these concerns that the particular course I had chosen didn’t have any value and was a waste of my time and money, I continued to the end of the first year when I was awarded a postgraduate certificate.

After my first year of study I put the course on hold due to the financial difficulties I had with continuing at that particular time. Then a strange thing happened. I applied for a job which had “postgraduate degree” as an essential requirement, was interviewed and, though I didn’t get the job, was told that not having the degree had nothing to do with it (the reason was my lack of teaching experience).

Since then I have spoken to friends who are in the following situations:

– Have the full masters but in a professional post that didn’t have the masters as a requirement
– Have not studied the masters and are in a professional post that had a masters as a requirement and they still got the job

So there are clearly exceptions to the rules we’re being told.

I always keep one eye on the job market even when I’m not looking for a new position, because I think it’s important to know how the profession is progressing. Recently all the professional positions I’ve looked at have required “a postgraduate qualification or CILIP Chartership” at least one this week I saw stated “or equivalent experience”.

Looking at the careers of people I know well, the majority of them were successful due to the experience they had. So does having the masters make any difference?

There are obviously still jobs out there that require the full masters but it’s hard to say how many of these would relax this requirement for an outstanding candidate who had everything but.

For me, the issue boils down to having courage. I call it courage, you may call it stupidity.

It took courage for me to say “no, I’m not going to spend another £10,000 studying an irrelevant and outdated course”. It took courage to say, “I’m going to risk losing jobs because I don’t have this qualification”.

I could no longer justify paying for the course I was on and once I’d quit I struggled to justify the need to return. The jobs I’m seeing advertised are weighted heavily towards not needing the qualification so I’m taking the risk.

Someone said to me recently, “things might change, the qualification could become more popular and then where would you be”. I really hope this doesn’t happen because for a profession to discount people just because they can’t afford to study for a postgraduate degree is appalling. I’m not saying that librarians don’t need to be qualified professionals, far from it, I’m just saying that there should be more than one way to do this.

If there isn’t more than one way, we need the better universities who offer these courses (some LIS courses are far from the diabolical picture I’ve painted above) to offer more funding because otherwise we’re going to lose valuable people who just can’t take the financial risk in assuming that this course is vital for their career when it quite possibly isn’t.

Note from Sarah: This does not necessarily represent the views of the Radical Librarians Collective. This was just a product of an ongoing discussion about the postgraduate qualification which is, for many, a very stressful and difficult decision to make. There doesn’t seem to be enough out there about people who are working without the qualification, so we felt it would be useful to open up this side of the dialogue for further discussion in the hope that it may help prospective LIS students make an informed choice about such a significant investment.

Sunday Social

The term ‘radical’ has been quite divisive among folk, and has definitely been putting people off coming along to the more formal seeming meetings we’ve been holding, so to break the ice we decided to have a more relaxed ‘social’ gathering and actually this worked really quite well. We had a few faces from previous meetings show up as well as some new ones, and although there weren’t a huge number of people there overall it was still very pleasant being able to chat with other people in the field. We didn’t limit the conversation strictly to ‘radical’ library chat, but instead treated it as a chance to get to know each other better. However, some discussion of the what exactly  a radical librarian is. As such you can now consult our FAQ’s page if you feel unsure about exactly what we stand for or are trying to achieve with this group. Whilst we understand the importance of adhering to a safe space policy, we think having a social style meeting was successful and will likely hold more in future, alongside our more formal ‘meetings’.

What do we even mean by ‘radical’?

An issue which keeps arising is the term ‘radical’ and how off putting it can be for many people. The issue appears to be that people struggle to disassociate the term ‘radical’ from ideas of aggressive militancy. Really, what we mean by ‘radical’ is challenging the status quo. The way we see it, we aren’t looking for a revolution, we’re just looking for consciousness – being aware of the state of things and being able to look at them critically and then utilising this to inform best practice in our own careers.

One of our next steps is to work on a statement of purpose to try and diffuse the apprehension people are feeling, but for now our basic purpose is to try and bring librarianship back to its ethical roots – helping others and making information accessible, and free, to the wider community. When you explain it like that, it really doesn’t seem so radical after all.