Thursday, 24 May 2007

Learning is fun

This week is Adult Learners' Week. There's a lot going on in Bolton, and the Council has its own activities and events for staff. One of them is job shadowing, which I did yesterday.

I spent the day with the Children's Services department's Information Officer (IO). The IOs work within departments, producing MIS data, statistics, GIS stuff and generally any locally-produced information required.

I wanted to do this for a few reasons. I've worked with IOs from a couple of different departments on some Council-wide initiatives I've been involved with in the past, and I've enjoyed it. It struck me that there's a degree of common ground between us and them: we all deal with information (sorry Pete!) on a daily basis; we respond to our users' needs and try to anticipate them; we make the most of the resources available to us, and act as expert intermediaries. It gives me a chance to evangelise about libraries as well, which is always good!

The day was varied, intense, and apparently fairly typical. As well as having ongoing tasks - maintenance of their pages on the Council website, for example - enquiries come in thick and fast. The bulk of them were confidential, so I can't go into detail, but there was a lot of mapping of data using specialised software, a couple of FOIA enquiries and a DPA query.

There are definitely parallels with my job, but the difference in focus - very much internal as opposed to your average librarian's public-facing role - seems to have an impact on service delivery. In libraries, we tend to focus our attention on "our" world; whenever I meet and work with people from other departments, they seem to have greater awareness of Council-wide issues than we do.

I could be more effective in my day-to-day role if I understood the wider context our service sits within. We're isolated, but that's at least partly our own fault. The changes coming within local government present a series of new risks for public libraries, but there's also an opportunity. By understanding the context we sit within, by understanding the services offered by similar departments and by being seen outside the library building, there's a chance for us to expand and (more importantly) improve what we do by involving and respecting other professionals.