Member interview: Nicola Franklin

Nicola FranklinIn this month’s member profile, we talk to Nicola Franklin, recruitment manager, about recruiting information professionals, making the most of social media, and the fragmentation of the information profession.

Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you first become involved in the information profession?

After a science degree, but not wanting to work in a lab, I was at a bit of a loose end after university. One of a series of admin roles was at a small recruitment firm and when the boss was out one day someone turned up unexpectedly for an interview – and I very naively stepped into the breach. Of course he was furious when he got back, but fortunately his response was to send me on a recruitment training course and promote me to consultant, not to fire me! That was back in 1991 and I’ve been working in recruitment ever since.

The information part came into the picture in 1997, when I moved to London and joined a firm called Informed Business Services (IBS) (the other major information recruitment firm at the time alongside TFPL). I really enjoyed working on professional level roles and found the whole world of information fascinating, from business research to library and from web content management to archives. After IBS I worked at Phee Farrer Jones (PFJ) for two years until the 2001 dip, then moved to Sue Hill Recruitment. I really enjoyed working there, seeing the firm grow and helping to develop the business into new areas, like records management. After nine years it was time for a change and I moved last year to Fabric Recruitment to set up an Information Division for them.

Can you give some examples of where you have worked, and in what sorts of roles?

Before joining the information profession I worked for Manpower, first running an ‘office desk’, finding temporary customer service, secretarial and admin staff, then as an on-site contract manager for one of their IBM contracts in Greenford, and then as Branch Manager for their Worthing branch. In my first information recruitment role at IBS I returned to a ‘hands on’ consultant role so I could learn the ropes of this new industry. At PFJ I took my first steps into training and supervising others with a team of two staff. In both these roles the focus there was on business information roles (research and KM).

Moving to Sue Hill Recruitment meant a new learning curve again as they covered the public sector much more than the other firms. It was also a chance to get involved with the industry much more, for example writing articles reporting on events or about issues affecting the sector, and also presenting at seminars and conferences. At Sue Hill Recruitment I also moved back into a management role, with a team that extended to almost a dozen people at one point, and taking on other responsibilities such as tender writing and marketing. At Fabric it has been exciting starting up a new service and having the autonomy to set the parameters and working ethos.

I understand you’ve been involved in a series of discussions around “the fragmentation of the information profession”. Could you tell us a bit about this?

I think these discussions are picking up on the zeitgeist at the moment, where people feel that there is massive change going on all around them, at an unprecedented pace, which could have some quite fundamental impacts on the library & information profession. It all started with a LinkedIn discussion, which attracted nearly 200 responses, and developed into a series of meetings between leaders and representatives of many of the groups and associations from across the information industry. Groups like CILIP, IRMS, BIALL, SLA, BCS, ISKO-UK, NetIKX, ARMA, UKeIG, have all taken part in meetings in December 2010 and February this year.

The main thrust of the discussions has been around the sheer number of ‘representative’ groups there are across the information profession, and how confusing that is for those looking at the information sector from outside (government, the public, employers, the media). We have been talking about how to improve the collaboration and coherence between the groups, and how to increase their influence with these external factors. A wikispace website is due to be launched shortly to enable the development of some concrete tools and documents and gather resources together. We are also very keen to hold an open-invitation meeting for group members and independents to come and express their views and ideas as well – and this is in the planning stage at the moment as we have now had an offer of a venue.  This is likely to take place towards the end of May – watch the discussion lists, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc for more announcements!

As you may know, SLA’s theme for 2011 is “Future Ready”. What does this theme mean to you? How would you make, or how are you making, yourself and your career future ready?

I contributed to the Future Ready 365 blog earlier in the year, making the point that information professionals need to maintain their traditional skills (around the organisation and retrieval of the right information, at the right time, for the right person) but also develop some new skills to help them be successful in today’s world. Skills around understanding, and being able to articulate, what benefit librarians bring to their workplace or to society, and being able to advocate and market their skills and those benefits.

For myself, I realised that social media skills were growing increasingly important, and when I joined Fabric I found I was the most ‘social media literate’ person in the firm, which led to me being given responsibility for their blog, twitter, etc, online presence. I think that spotting trends and getting involved gives you a new skill set, which you can then trade on either in your current role or when moving to a new one. Sitting back and waiting for a corporate training course is no longer the way forward – people need to seize control of their own CPD and just go for it.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out as an information professional?

I find it constantly surprising when I’m interviewing new entrants to the profession, whether they are qualified or at para-professional level, to find that people often have a very narrow view of the profession. They may have heard from just one or two people about what information-related jobs there are, or had voluntary or ‘pre-library school’ experience in only one sector. In the past that might have explained why they were only aware of that one sector, whether it be public library or law firm or whatever, but in today’s age of freely available online information and communication it is far easier to get a wider picture.

I would advise all new professionals to use their curiosity! Put terms like ‘information management’ or ‘records management’ or ‘business intelligence’ into Google (try the ‘blog’ option as well as ‘web’ option for searching). Step back from the day-to-day and take some time to consider the whole gamut of options that are out there for those with skills in organising and finding the right information.

What are your plans and predictions for 2011?

This year I will be focusing on developing the information division for Fabric. I am also continuing to work with the profession as closely as possible, for example helping to organise the ongoing ‘fragmentation’ meetings described above. I’ll also be speaking at several information industry conferences this year (IRMS in April, PI Conference in May and BIALL in June are organised so far) and attending as many other events as I can to keep up to date with everything going on.

I think trying to predict this year is bound to be a failure! When you look in the press the news seems to veer from cautious optimism to dire predictions from day to day. I think it would be easy, in the current climate of cuts at home and volatility abroad, to hunker down and hope it will all just go away. However, I think it could well be a fatal mistake if everyone in the profession takes that approach. Instead I think information professionals need to tackle the changes head on, start thinking and talking in terms of the business benefit they bring, and really work to raise their image in the minds of the public, government and employers. This work needs to be done by the various representative bodies, working together and separately, but also at a micro level by each individual within each organisation.