My Journey to Fellowship, Elizabeth Hutchinson

I was really honoured to be awarded my Fellowship this year after registering last August. When a colleague asked me how I had managed to do it so quickly I realised that she had misunderstood the process. I had taken less than a year to pull all my evidence together and write it up but I believe that my Fellowship journey had started right at the beginning of my career in libraries when I was only 16, over 34 years ago.

When I offered to write this article I thought that a reflective piece would be nicer for the reader and help me to evaluate the process of Fellowship. Just writing this last sentence made me smile realising that the learning and evaluation never ends. I now understand that Chartership and Fellowship are not just box ticking exercises but chances to look at your career, see where it has taken you and to help you navigate the opportunities ahead. 

Looking back over my journey into librarianship, I was not a very likely candidate to become a Fellow. I left school at 16 and began working at Newcastle Central Library as a library assistant. Immediately I felt at home; I loved working with the public, enjoyed the day-to-day running of the library and soon had opportunity to progress. Moving on to the Local Studies department, followed by a stint in a couple of local branch libraries, my path was clearly entrenched in the public library service. Fast-forward and a move to Guernsey gave me a brief interlude in hotels (definitely not for me) and then family life took hold with three children keeping me busy enough to not work for a while. 

Feeling it was time to go back to work I was lucky enough to get a part-time library assistant’s job in the Guille-Allèslibrary, the only public library in Guernsey, however, life took another turn on finding that, Nicholas, baby number 4, was on the way. Once again I was facing being a stay-at-home mum for another few years. Not that I really minded but I thought I had moved on from talking about babies so I was delighted, one day, to find an Aberystwyth University prospectus on the staffroom table. Inside was the opportunity to be at home but also study distance learning for a library qualification. I could not wait to start, was extremely nervous, but was ready for the challenge.   

2003 found me with four children under eight, a BSc in Library and Information Studies and a part-time professional post as a School Library Liaison Officer for Schools’ Library Service where my love of school libraries began. Our service provided professional librarian support for every school in Guernsey, Alderney and Herm. Our role was to support the day-to-day running of the school libraries as well as manage the resources and to support literacy. I loved the interaction with the children and as we worked mainly with the primary schools it was lovely to think up new ways to encourage reading for pleasure. We offered book awards, book challenges, competitions and author visits but I always had the feeling that we needed to do something more with information literacy and our secondary schools. 

After Chartering in 2008, I took a brief interlude into school librarianship, giving me the opportunity to work with secondary students. This was an interesting but somewhat frustrating job that gave me great insight into the barriers and difficulty of working in schools. Thankfully it did not last long and my journey was to take me back to Schools’ Library Service (SLS) where I have been ever since. Armed with new ideas and an ability to feel confident working with secondary students I focused on finding an Information Literacy framework that we could use at SLS. 

The Head of Service position came in 2014 with the stipulation that I had to have a Masters in Library and Information Management, which gave me another opportunity to study from home with Aberystwyth. Luckily for me I enjoy studying and my children, this time, were all doing homework or revision for exams themselves so we did our homework together. It was a tough but positive time. 

Fellowship at this stage was still not on the horizon. My new role gave me the opportunity to support information literacy in our schools, working on new ways to teach enquiry-based learning, collaborating more with teachers and co-teaching in the classroom. This led to running training sessions and culminated in providing a whole school Inset day about using the school library across the curriculum. An invitation to present at a teachers’ conference via twitter led me on a journey of learning. I realised that school librarians needed to speak at these conferences in order to help schools and teachers understand what we do. Little did I know, or even think about at the time, but these were significant contributions and substantial achievements, I did it because I wanted to help schools understand what school librarians do and nothing else.

Fellowship for me was not about how I was going to do this but actually realising that I had done it already. I truly believe that librarianship is a vocation and we are very lucky to live in a time when learning from others is so easy. Without my Personal Learning Network (PLN) I honestly do not believe that I would have achieved half as much as I have. The opportunities that have been given to me through blogging and social media could never have happened even 10 years ago. Who would of ever heard of Elizabeth Hutchinson the librarian from Guernsey? No one! Now though things are so different: through my connections on twitter I have presented at conferences and been encouraged to write articles which have subsequently been published. I’ve taken many of the opportunities that have come my way and although some of it is terrifying it has led me to being a Fellow of CILIP, something that I am very proud of. 

If I was not thinking about applying for Fellowship how did I end up doing it? I had been a Chartership mentor for a few years and decided that it would be a good idea to go on a refresher course. I had several mentees and wanted to make sure that what I was telling them was correct. The course not only covered the information for the mentor but we were also given a reminder of what the mentee was told and finally as a bonus, one of the assessors gave us pointers from her perspective too. I found it all very useful and as I sat there listening I began to realise that everything I had achieved in the last four years was more than enough to apply for my own Fellowship. Those feelings I had all those years ago when I realised I could get a library degree whilst being at home started to bubble up again. 

Starting the process 

After a conversation with the assessor I realised that my Fellowship journey was not going anywhere without re-validating my Chartership first. I am someone that has always voted for compulsory re-validation mainly because I am the kind of person who will do it if I have to rather than choose to do it. This is not because I don’t think it is important, but like all tasks like this one there always seems to be something else more important to do. Now I had to get on and get it done. 

I was ashamed and delighted to see how easy it was. There really is no excuse for not re-validating every two or three years. If you are keeping your CPD up to date on the VLE your job is half done already. 250 words on your professional and organisational journey and demonstrating that you are aware of libraries in the wider profession and you are finished. I would really encourage you to do this if you are a Chartered Member of CILIP, as it not only keeps you on track with CPD but also keeps you focused on your professional journey. 

Now that I had re-validation under my belt it was time to focus on my Fellowship. I found a wonderful mentor called Carol Webb, someone who was not only patient but also very encouraging and who I enjoyed talking to a lot. We talked via Skype and email and we have never met each other, I am sure we will one day. When I was finding the journey hard she kept me going and on track. We both liked the deadlines I set myself and although I did have to give myself a bit of slack at the end I did finish within a month of when I said I would.  

My plan was to look at the PKSB and decide which areas I could focus on. If I were to do it again I would look at the PKSB in a much more structured way by being very specific about the areas I chose. However, I was not really sure what I was supposed do with it at the beginning and if I am honest it felt like a huge task and a waste of time. Having completed the whole journey I feel that if I had understood the end process better I would have given the PKSB the time it really deserves. I think the message to only choose 6-8 areas is not highlighted enough and it all seems so huge. If you can narrow it right down it is a far more useful tool. This does not mean that if you change your mind or direction that you can’t update your PKSB, you can. Whilst I did feel that I struggled with this it has led me to being far more comfortable in supporting my Chartership mentees to use this tool effectively. 

I chose to gather all my evidence on an online tool that I could share with Carol. I used Padlet, which not only allows you to collect your evidence but also comment and share it. After a conversation with Carol she pointed out that I needed to start thinking about why I felt that this evidence was worthy of being on my board, in other words not to forget the ‘So what?’ I should also keep four areas in focus:

  • What was the achievement? 
  • What impact did it have? 
  • What was the outcome? 
  • What was my analysis of it? 

This was one of the most useful things she said to me as many ideas got onto my board but if I could not write anything about the four areas then I knew that they would not make the final cut. 

You may be surprised reading this far that I found writing about myself very hard; there is a huge difference between writing about your life and writing about your achievements. It all felt so, “I’m great look what I’ve done,” which was not good. I know that there is no other way to evaluate this process so I just had to get over myself and get on with it. 

Even though I only had 1000 words to write I started by writing my personal and organisational journey much like this. Starting to write is the hardest part and just getting something written down was good. As you can tell I am quite a chatty writer by nature and I knew that with so few words I would have to be succinct and several drafts later it began to take shape. I focused on my personal journey first and then once I was happy with that moved on to the other two criteria, each time trying to decide which pieces of evidence to include. This was really hard as I felt that every piece deserved a place. I kept in my mind what I had learnt on the mentor course: I needed to provide no more than 15 pieces of evidence and it should be able to be read within two hours. Much of my professional judgement needed to be evident in which pieces I chose. Many months were spent adding and taking pieces of evidence away. 

As with many tasks like this I got distracted so easily. I wasted a lot of time working out the best way to present it on the VLE long before it was finished. I was too keen to see how it would look that I sent ages uploading documents that I ended up not using in the end. I did need to learn how it worked but I should have just waited until I was ready and then sorted all of this out. 

Imposter syndrome 

I got to about a month before my own deadline and hit a real crisis point. I felt sure that my evidence was not good enough or that something was really lacking. Conversations with Carol led me to posting a question on twitter and luckily for me I found Maria Grant who had just been awarded her Fellowship. She kindly shared her portfolio with me on the CILIP VLE and seeing how she had set up hers gave me the boost I needed. Her area of librarianship is so different from mine that it was impossible for me to do exactly the same but after a few attempts I had taken her idea and made it my own. She had used PowerPoint slides and brought together several pieces of evidence on one slide, I chose to use Word, keeping everything to a single page if I could. I am really grateful to Maria for sharing her work as it made me stop rushing and remember that it was my deadline that was creating the pressure. I took a deep breath and started to select the evidence properly and a month later I was ready to submit. 

Having gone through the whole process there are definitely things that I would do differently if I were to do it again: 

  • I would be more careful with my PKSB
  • I would group my evidence in relation to each criterion to make it easier to find, although at the beginning it was not always obvious which criterion it would be in 
  • I would wait to upload my statement and evidence on the VLE until I was sure that I had everything I really needed 

You could say that all of this was part of the process and I suppose it was and everyone is going to have a slightly different journey. Being a Fellow is not a magic wand to something better. What it is for me is an understanding that I have achieved something good, I do have expertise in my area of librarianship and when I have my ‘impostor syndrome’ moments it helps me remember that I do know what I am talking about. 

Elizabeth Hutchinson is Head of Schools’ Library Service in Guernsey, a Chartered librarian and Fellow of CILIP. She came runner up in the 2016 LILAC Information Literacy Award, is an international presenter and writes regularly about how school librarians can make a difference as a published author and through her blog.

Twitter: @elizabethutch blog: https://www.elizabethahutchinson.com/blog

(Article first published in School Libraries In View , Issue 44

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