‘I Am Not a Brand!’: Building Your Personal and Professional Profile #SLA2014

I was looking forward to attending a session by Mary Ellen Bates at SLA 2014. Having seen her speak at SLA Chicago in 2012, I knew her talk would be engaging and full of practical advice.

The content was applicable to any information professional, whatever their role or level of experience, from a self-employed consultant looking to brush up how they appeal to clients, to a job-hunter looking to impress a prospective employer. This was the case because all of us have a brand, whether we like it or not.

What is your brand?

‘Brand’ is a very corporate word, which I know many may take issue with. I am going to use it in this post because it is the term Mary Ellen used, but essentially its means:

How you are perceived by others –

  • How you show up
  • What you’re known for
  • And what Google shows about you (It’s not a good thing if you don’t show up on Google. Clients, or recruiters, expect you to show up. And a vacuum is still a message – it’s a blank and boring message)

The important thing is whether you own the brand. This can be a bit scary as it can feel out of our control, but there are ways to own the message.

Where is your brand?

It’s your email signature, a cover memo for research results, your internal website bio, social media…

The Wall Street Journal found a significant amount of companies are using social media to research job candidates – no surprises there! However, interestingly, they’re looking for positive things:

  • 50% are looking for good personality
  • 50% are looking for a wide range of interests
  • 46% are looking for creativity – whether you can do today’s job, and the ability to grow into a job in a year’s time.

So it’s not just hiding pictures of your Friday nights out, it’s about creating a positive brand.

How can you own your brand?

Mary Ellen listed some great ways to cultivate a positive message.

Photographs lend authority. For example, an author photo on a book is totally unnecessary, so why do we see them on so many books? Think about the credibility of a Twitter account where the avatar is the default egg, would you follow back?

Be authentic – this is something Bethan Ruddock mentioned in a session I attended a few years back, and has really stuck with me. She said something along the lines of: be authentic, because if you’re not you’ll get caught out eventually! It’s also tied to the WSJ findings, where employers are looking for a good personality and wide ranging interests. I like to think I come across as genuine on social media, I like to post about things I find interesting so hopefully others will too.

“But I haven’t got anything to say!” – You don’t have to say much! Read others’ blogs and tweets; learn something and blog about it; ask questions, conduct a survey and blog/tweet the results. This reminded me of the 1-in-4 rule, which Ned Potter mentioned in a marketing presentation I attended in 2012 (of four tweets only one should be about your organisation. The others should be retweets, @replies, or just tweeting something your audience might find interesting). In that context, it was about avoiding simply broadcasting on Twitter. However, I think it’s also useful here, in that retweets and replying can be ways to engage if you don’t feel confident you have something original to put out there.

When you describe yourself, is it what/how, or is it why? Emphasise the benefits of what you do, not just the features. Talk about results. Express your success in a way that demonstrates your value. A good tip from Mary Ellen is to emulate the pros – how do vendors describe their value? They’ve spent money on it, so benefit from their investment!

This session was a highlight of the SLA conference. Mary Ellen is an engaging and entertaining speaker, and I’m very glad I sought out her talk this year.

Subject searching and subjective searching – search skills training

I recently attended a workshop on literature search skills held by the Thames Valley & Wessex Search Skills Group, who provide support and training for library staff involved with literature searching in the area. These meetings are an opportunity for participants to exchange experiences and techniques of searching for a selected topic, brush up on skills and learn about different approaches. It was especially aimed at those who are new to searching or to the NHS.

The workshop was full of useful information, both in terms of new knowledge and reassurance that my searching is ok! And it was great to meet health librarians from around the region – I’m fairly sure health librarians are universally lovely, from my experiences so far. It was particularly nice to meet other NHS-newbies, and to learn I’m not the only one new to this.

There were about ten of us attending the workshop. We were all given the same topic to search for in advance of the session, and we sent our results to be compiled and discussed during the session. The topic was a real literature search request, and our results were compared with the requester’s top ten. We also brought along our search strategies and shared our approaches as a group.

The topic we were asked to search was: Are there any published case studies which illustrate the clinical and ethical issues of managing pregnancies that originated through fertility tourism, specifically UK patients seeking egg donation abroad? *

The discussion was fascinating. Despite a lot of us using subject descriptors, a controlled language, our search approaches and subsequent selection of ‘most relevant’ results were very different and incredibly subjective.

Looking at the list of results it was interesting to see ones that had come up in my own search, but I hadn’t included in the set I sent in. What made me think they weren’t top 5-10 and someone else think they were? Likewise, a lot of the results we selected in the group weren’t to be found in the reader’s top ten.

It got me quite worried – what am I missing when I do a search?!

So how to counter this problem? It’s helpful to get colleagues to check your search if you want a second viewpoint. We tend to do this if we’re struggling to find much out there, or if we’ve been asked to find all the evidence out there on a topic, such as for a systematic review. Usually, however, our literature search requesters are after a quick answer or an overview of the evidence, so it becomes less of an issue.

A useful tool that was recommended, which I will be making use of from now on, is GoPubMed, the statistics from which displays a summary of top subjects, authors, journals, and years of publication for a topic. I’ll be using it as a way to identify further keywords mid-search, or to narrow down to a particular journal, for example.

I really enjoyed the workshop. I gained a lot of knowledge from this workshop, and it served to reassure me in my own search techniques. I’ll definitely put into practice much of what I learned.

Comparison of Vancouver and Seattle public libraries

A welcome at Vancouver airport!

A welcome at Vancouver airport!

Last month I travelled half the world away to Vancouver for the Special Libraries Association (SLA) annual conference.

After the conference I stayed on in Vancouver for a little while, and then travelled across the border into the United States to visit Oregon and Washington. As I expect is pretty normal for a librarian in a foreign country, I wanted to see the public libraries of the cities I visited.

Both Vancouver and Seattle public libraries were incredible buildings. The only thing I have seen in this country that comes close is the Library of Birmingham. Inside, they were both quite similar in style, with pops of bright colour, but I have to say Seattle Public Library just snuck into the lead over Vancouver.

The Vancouver Public Library resembles a high-tech Roman colosseum (I didn’t get a picture of the exterior, sorry). The entrance just beckons you in.

Vancouver library entrance

Vancouver library entrance

Seattle Library utilised the light and the view from the upper floors. It felt more open, whereas Vancouver library felt quite closed in with low ceilings especially on the ground floor – a contrast to all the glass and light in the foyer area with cafes and shops. It’s still an impressive place, and well worth seeing.

Inside Seattle public library

Inside Seattle public library

During our visit to Seattle Public Library we noticed the auditorium, where they were screening the USA v Portugal football match in.


It was a good atmosphere, and a lot of people popped in while using the library. It was the best of both worlds – I got to nose around a library, and the fella got to watch some of the World Cup.