Challenges facing early career librarians - and what EARLL can do to help
This is the second in our series of blog posts about the EARLL launch event held on 13th December 2019, sharing the outcomes of the group discussion sessions and how EARLL is trying to help where we can. This blog post will discuss the key challenges that early career librarians in academic and research institutions face, as identified by EARLL members at the launch event. We have analysed the discussion feedback and broken the key challenges down into the following areas:
Upskilling and training
Qualification or chartership was flagged as a key area of concern for EARLL members. Many attendees felt there is too much ambiguity from employers and the sector as to whether the Library Masters qualification is essential for career progression. Cost was highlighted as an additional issue especially as many people fund their own studies and this meant attendees often felt they were funding their own progression. This is especially challenging considering the low levels of pay within the sector compared to the cost of completing the qualification. Chartership was discussed as a possible alternative, but while this shows a personal commitment to the profession and professional development, it is unclear whether it would help career progression.
I (Emily) am currently studying for an MA in Library and Information Services Management, and I have learned a lot from the course, and can see how the knowledge gained can be applied and will benefit my future career, but not everyone who has completed the qualification feels the same.
Several EARLL committee members are doing or have done the Library qualification. If any EARLL member is considering doing the qualification and would like to hear about our own experiences, then please get in touch: email@example.com.
Upskilling and Training
EARLL members feel it is important to build skills outside of one’s own job description in order to develop as a professional. However, there is some confusion over what is seen as a ‘valuable’ skill. In addition to this, early career librarians are often not able to access the training they need as courses are often expensive, and they may not be allowed the time out of the office if they work in customer-facing roles.
At EARLL we are aware that training and CPD opportunities are few and far between for early career librarians and we plan to run FREE CPD events on themes relevant to our members. As far as possible we will hold these outside of term time so the majority of people can attend. We’re also looking into recording our events so they can be accessed remotely.
EARLL members agreed that experience is extremely valuable yet difficult to obtain. They felt it was unclear as to what experience was valued and it was difficult to choose which career path to follow
when you’re just starting out. There was concern over how to bridge the gap between an entry level role and a “qualified” role, especially as so many roles ask for experience that is hard to gain. Some attendees pointed to a hierarchal structure in libraries which was also seen to impact the way in which people gain experience.
It was suggested that a possible solution to these problems was more job shadowing and mentorship which is a great way to get a taste of other areas of library work and gain skills. EARLL is planning to set up a job shadowing hub for London and the South East on our website in due course. We’ll be looking for volunteers to offer to let people shadow them, so please do get in touch if you’d like to get involved firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many attendees highlighted problems with the recruitment process, in particular, the paucity of available roles relative to the pool of potential employees. Also, many believe there is a lack of transparency regarding what employers are looking for in terms of skills and experience.
EARLL is keen to gather insight from Librarians in recruiting positions to get more details about what they’re looking for in candidates for specific roles and how we can apply the skills and experience we already have to move into new areas of the profession. We will solicit blog posts from recruiting managers and specialists in different areas of academic librarianship to help EARLL members get the information and skills they need to confidently apply for roles in new areas.
Concerns over progression fed from the concerns over the Library qualification, upskilling and training, and experience. A lot of attendees feel there is a real lack of opportunity for progression in their institutions, and many would like more guidance on progression routes other than into management, for example, how to get the skills to move into a more technical role.
Financial security came up as an issue especially as living in/commuting to London is so expensive. A considerable number of library posts are fixed term so many people felt they could not apply for them which restricts their ability to gain experience. Salaries were also highlighted as a major issue with salary grades for entry level jobs varying greatly and those in better paid entry-level jobs felt unable to make ‘sideways’ moves to institutions with a lower salary grade.
EARLL members feel that these financial barriers impede the development of a more diverse workforce. For example, it’s often necessary for new professionals to partake in some type of voluntary work in order to gain experience, a situation which penalises those who can’t afford to forgo a salary.
Attendees perceived a lack of support from senior management for career development and training opportunities for early career professionals although it is widely understood that there are often legitimate reasons for this (limited budgets, front-line service needs, etc.). EARLL members also highlighted the hierarchical nature of some libraries, and how this can lead to the segregation of senior and junior staff and a lack of knowledge sharing and communication between grades.
EARLL understands that we need to work with Library Directors and senior management to find flexible and workable solutions that will enable early career colleagues to get the training and development they need while still fulfilling business needs and keeping within budget. We hope our free events and curated website content will help to guide and empower early career professionals to take control of their career development, while we advocate for organisations and institutions to accommodate more creative and flexible ways to provide training and development opportunities. We also hope that job shadowing and mentoring programs facilitated by EARLL will help to bridge the perceived divide between senior and junior staff.
In sum, the EARLL launch event highlighted a plethora of common themes and challenges that face early career librarians. Whilst the solutions are not immediate, it is important that the dialogue has started and EARLL will work with you and advocate on your behalf to overcome these issues.
By Andrew Benton & Emily Horsey (EARLL Committee)