Parenting skills that help me be a better librarian

31 10 2014

I’ve just returned to work following my second maternity leave, having spent the past 10 months at home with a baby and toddler.  Being able to sit on a chair (as opposed to the floor) and enjoy a hot cup of tea (as opposed to a luke warm offering) in relative peace is still a novelty.  To some it might seem that maternity leave is a break in your career; valuable time out of the workplace that is lost forever.  I’d argue that being a parent, and spending time at home with small children, has actually helped me to develop skills that I’m going to find invaluable in my library career.



I thought I was pretty good at multitasking, but managing with two small children on my own at home has taken this TO ANOTHER LEVEL.  I spend my mornings picking dried Weetabix out of the carpet, while trying to stop the crawling baby dunking himself head first into the dog’s water dish, keeping one eye on the 3 year old who is shouting “Watch this, Mummy!” as he hurtles off the sofa onto a pile of cushions.  If I can do this, I can get through all those outstanding emails, a dozen literature searches and a page-long ‘to-do’ list no problem.


Not taking myself too seriously

Yesterday my toddler announced, “Mummy, I’ll be Thomas and you be the Fat Controller” (thanks for that), and we embarked on a very detailed and serious role play scenario, me using my most authentic and well-practised Fat Controller’s voice (it’s taken months to perfect).  Other times we’ll have a moment of frenetic dancing around the living room, the toddler shouting out instructions: “Clap your hands! Kick your legs! Higher, Mummy!”  Singing ridiculous songs at playgroup and having a ‘funny faces’ competition is a good reminder that a bit of silliness and fun is sometimes necessary to help you through the day.


Thinking on my feet

I have never had to field so many awkward questions, and be so creative in my responses to irrational demands as I have since living with a 3 year old.  “Mummy, what does donkey poo look like?”. “Mummy, I want Rice Krispies, I want Rice Krispies!” [Mummy brings Rice Krispies] “No, I don’t want that!”.  “Mummy, I want to go to Father Christmas’ house NOWWWWWWWW!”.  Responding to such unreasonable requests makes those difficult questions at the end of a work presentation seem a breeze.



Being a fulltime working parent means I have to be super organised.  Each month a family rota details childcare arrangements; meals are batch cooked and frozen until needed; clothes are laid out the night before.  A never-ending ‘to-do’ list constantly floats around in my head.  Attention to detail is essential (toddler likes the striped bowl and the orange spoon), and the chaos of life means that minor details and useless facts have to be plucked from my memory instantly (that one needs more work).  All of which is great practice for organising my workload, writing accurate reports and remembering names in meetings (that one definitely needs more work).


Social media

You thought librarians were good at social media?  Mums (and dads) are at it too.  Facebook allows me to join all sorts of parenting groups to converse with like-minded parents, and I can ask random parenting questions on Twitter (“Can you freeze cheese sandwiches?”) and know that another parent, somewhere in cyberspace, will know the answer (Yes, you can, by the way.  And tuna sandwiches too).  I’ve even joined an online slow cooker group for people who love slow cookers, in an effort to be a more accomplished and organised parent.  Good grief.  And there are any number of mummy bloggers out there recounting their parenting failures and accomplishments to reassure you that you’re not alone.  So even while on maternity leave I was on Twitter every day to help me solve life’s little problems, and was connecting with an online community that’s just as active as the library and information world.



My parenting experience so far has been a continuous cycle of What? So what? Now what? (Driscoll, 2007); it’s a constant learning experience.  Dealing with the illogical and hectic behaviour of small people requires a very steep learning curve.  Every day I’m required to reflect on what worked, what didn’t and what I’ll do differently next time, in order to navigate my way through the chaos of modern family life and answer some of those big questions: How do I remove baby’s clothing most effectively following a nappy explosion?   How many towels are required to dry the bathroom floor following bathtime?  What is the best way to diffuse a toddler tantrum in the middle of Tesco car park?  With reflection as a daily custom at home, I can ensure that I apply those skills in the workplace too, and endeavour to learn continuously from both positive and negative experiences.


Time out of work has given me the opportunity to grow and develop personally, which will hopefully have positive implications for my professional life too.  So while I may have been away from the library, I’ve been continuing to gain experience in a wide range of useful skills that will equip me for the next chapter of my career.



Driscoll, J. (2007) Practising Clinical Supervision: A Reflective Approach for Healthcare Professionals. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Bailliere Tindall Elsevier.


Running reflections

2 11 2012

I’ve always described running as my ‘therapy’. It helps me clear my head, sort through my thoughts and gives me down time. Since returning to work 6 months ago after having my son I’ve struggled to make time to run and I’ve really noticed the change. I’ve felt more stressed and lethargic. So, I’ve entered the Liverpool Santa Dash (that I’ve run for the past four years) which has given me an incentive to start running again. It’s only 5k so manageable, and its a fun run so I’ll be raising money for charity too.

Last night I ran home from work. It’s about 4 miles and I managed it in 40 minutes which I was pleased with. What was interesting about running immediately after work was that the time on my own, with no other distractions, allowed me to re-run the day’s events in my mind, decide what had gone well and what I hadn’t managed to achieve. I also prepared a mental to-do list for the following day. This was a real achievement for me, since usually I get home to a tired and boisterous toddler, and the day’s events are quickly forgotten while I try to tidy up or sort tea out.

I’m definitely going to run home again. As well as helping me to get fit, it will help me to find some valuable reflection time. Which, since I’m planning to submit my chartership portfolio by the end of the year, is much needed!

Thing 16: Advocacy, getting published and speaking up for the profession

2 10 2012

Advocacy is so important for health libraries because there’s such a low level awareness about what we do, inside the health service as well as amongst the general public.  People are always surprised when I tell them what I do, and often people misunderstand and think that I wheel around a trolley of Mills and Boon for inpatients in the hospital.  I am really passionate about the value of library and knowledge staff within the NHS and I certainly consider advocacy to be part of my role (even though it’s not in my job description). I consider it a professional duty!

The advocacy that I’ve been involved in has mainly been through work -I’ve spoken at non-library conferences and found people to be intrigued about the role of a Clinical Librarian.  I’ve also published an article in a renal medicine journal about a project that I developed with the renal unit in the hospital.  But come to think of it, these activities have all been within healthcare – perhaps I should be pushing the boundaries and advocating to a wider audience, i.e. the general public.

I like to think that I do this (to some extent) via Twitter – as well as an active professional network I do have non-library followers too.

I also see an opportunity to advocate on behalf of other library sectors – for example, my son (16 months) and I used the local library a lot during my maternity leave, to go to Baby Bounce and Rhyme sessions and meet other mums.  His Nan still takes him a couple of times a week and he borrows books (even completing his Summer Reading Challenge!).  I feel strongly about the value of my local public library in the community so maybe I should be advocating on their behalf, as a fellow librarian and user of the service. 

So two tasks for me:1)  identify ways to advocate health libraries to the wider general public (any suggestions welcome?!) and 2) write a letter to my local paper advocating the value of my local public library.

Thing 9: Evernote, ever-blocked by IT dept

5 07 2012

I would love to crack on with Thing 9, but as it stands my IT department have decided to block the Evernote website.  So this will remain ‘parked’ until I have time to have a look at home.  This probably won’t be for a while since I have a lively toddler to go home to every night and once he’s in bed I’m pretty much done for the day.  Gah.

Thing 5: Living a reflective life

8 06 2012

I’ve been working towards Chartership for the past two years so I feel like I’ve been in a reflective haze for most of that time.  At first I found that I had to force myself to reflect and that the “What? So what? Now what?”  mantra was necessary to stop me from digressing.  Further down the line it does come more naturally to me, but I do think I still have to work at being a reflective practitioner – it’s so easy for work / family / real life to take over.  I found that writing my reflective learning log (via PBWorks) makes me take a necessary pause for breath.  Often I think, “Right, I’ve got 10 minutes so I’ll just write a quick log entry”, then I find that 2 hours later I’m still typing!  It’s a bit like professional therapy for me.

One unnerving side effect that I have noticed is how wearing a reflective hat can overflow into my personal life; I’ll sometimes find myself likening children’s TV shows to professional development (I watch a lot of CBeebies – well, my son does).  Does anyone else find this?  Once you’ve activated the reflective switch it’s hard to turn it off!

Thing 3: my personal brand

25 05 2012

Reading the description of branding I realise that I have massive misconceptions about it.  I always thought of branding as anexercise I needed to go out and ‘do’, like marketing or promotional work, I suppose.  Now I realise that it’s something I’m already doing – people construct an image of my brand according to my opinions, my CV, how I’m dressed, my mistakes and my successes.  Scary stuff.  Which makes me think about other people’s brands and how I perceive them.  It’s easy to pre-judge someone based on their position or reputation and there have been times when I’ve got it wrong.  Other people might be getting it wrong about me, quick, I need to do something!

I googled myself using my maiden name and my married name (I only got married in February this year).  If people go looking for my online brand, they’ll find Twitter and LinkedIn profiles of people who aren’t me (I’m not yet using either).  They’ll also find an art consultant and an architect with the same name.  However, add ‘librarian’ to the search and you’ll find me!  There’s links to a presentation I delivered at a CILIP event, library newsletters and our regional website.  However, there’s no one central point of reference that describes me or what I do.  I think a LinkedIn profile would be a really useful way to present my professional role (I use Facebook for friends/family and personal stuff).  Jumping on the Twitter bandwagon would allow people to access my opinions / interests / values etc.

Reading Ned Potter’s presentation, You already have a brand! Here are 5 ways to influence it…, I realise that all of the professional activities I’m involved in have a useful by-product – my brand!  The conferences I’ve presented at and the publications I’ve written have been sending a silent message to my peers (and prospective employers!) about the kind of librarian that I am.  I’m happy in my current role and don’t think about moving on in the near future, but all this will come in handy if I ever want to move sectors and need to demonstrate that I’ve got transferable skills. 

Last year I learned a hard lesson in how not to manage your brand.  Whilst on maternity leave I was asked to contribute to an article that was being submitted to a journal about a project that I’d been involved in.  Of course, I agreed.  When the article draft was emailed to me, I was in the throes of new motherhood and didn’t read it as carefully as I should have.  It was submitted to the journal in a less than perfect state and I cringe every time I read it because I know it could be improved.  I regret that this might have a negative impact on my brand but I know that it was a one-off and I won’t make the same mistake again (by mistake I mean not proof-reading carefully enough, not having a baby ;-)).

So, my conclusions and next steps from this exercise are:

  • Create a LinkedIn profile
  • Set up a Twitter account
  • Use the power of my brand to share a positive message about myself!