Member interview with Sarah Wolfenden

SLA Europe member and previous ECCA winner Sarah Wolfenden, currently a Subject Liaison Librarian at Brunel University, kindly takes some time to tell us about her upcoming presentation at Internet Librarian International 2014, her views on the profession and the benefits of becoming a volunteer. Sarah keeps a regular blog at The Wolfenden Report and can be found on Twitter as @SarahWolfenden 

Can you tell us a bit about your background and what sorts of roles you have had?

Sarah WolfendenAfter my undergraduate degree in English, I moved to London where I worked in a variety of retail jobs, including one in a children’s bookstore which was lovely and another selling beauty products which was less so. It was this customer service experience that helped land me my first job in a further education college library. After revelling for a while in no longer having to mop floors past midnight or work over the Christmas period, I decided to look around and see what else I could do. I decided to continue working full-time and completed a Masters in Library and Information Science part-time over two years at University College London.

Immediately after, I worked in another further education college – supporting students completing degrees this time. This role was initially very interesting as I was responsible for creating a satellite site from scratch, which involved training and developing staff and continuously improving the ways we could support the students we had, many of whom had been out of education for a long time. I am now in a university where students can access so much more than those undertaking degrees in colleges and it’s part of my job to help them realise this and to get the most out of them.

You currently volunteer for SLA Europe and CILIP. Can you tell us about what you do and you have found to be the benefits of volunteering?

I started volunteering for CILIP in 2011 when I offered to become the liaison officer for the London and South East region of the Colleges of Further and Higher Education Libraries Committee. This role was varied and provided me with many training opportunities which I was then able to use in my professional life, such as learning how to use social media, presenting, and organising events. After a merger with another group in CILIP, I became the web editor just as they changed their website software – this quickly became another opportunity to learn some new skills! At the same time I also became involved with the London and Information and Knowledge Exchange helping them, primarily, with the social media aspect of their conferences.

I found out about SLA through a CPD23 event on the benefits of professional organisations and promptly started attending their events and webinars. I found them very beneficial as a new professional at the time and was thrilled to win an Early Career Conference Award to attend the SLA annual conference in Chicago. It was after this I joined SLA Europe’s Digital Communications Committee. I would greatly recommend volunteering for anyone who’s considering it; it’s a great way to learn new skills, to find out what people do in other sectors, and to make useful connections.

You will soon be speaking at the ILI conference 2014 – can you give us a sneaky preview of what you will be presenting on?

Oh ok, just a little one then! I will be presenting a case study under ILI’s theme of Measuring Excellence. I’ll be talking about the Customer Service Excellence Standard and how Brunel University London Library have been using the process of completing it to engage with students using a variety of social media and with staff through collaborative development sessions on customer service, hostmanship, and motivation. More can be read about it via this Info Today Europe newsletter.

What excites you most about the profession today?

I think it is now much easier to keep developing professionally which is fantastic – there are webinars, twitter chats (including #SLATalk) and events available on almost any topic, many of which are free. Library and information professionals are a sharing and caring bunch of people and this has been made much easier as many blog and tweet.

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

I have three pieces of advice (actually that’s a lie – I have loads but I’m going to stick to three for the purpose of this interview)

  1. Get on Twitter. It is a fantastic way to keep up to date and stay connected with the strong network of information professionals who reside there.
  2. Apply for conference bursaries. There may be lots of competition and there may be none; however, it is always worth having a go as it could be you who gets it. The ones where you are asked to write it up afterwards are especially worthwhile as it can be a great way of reflecting on what you’ve learned and paying it forward for those who couldn’t attend.
  3. Don’t be scared of steep learning curves. Some of the best opportunities I have received have been in jobs or situations where I have initially thought ‘scary, but has potential’ and generally it has worked out in some way or another.

What are your plans and predictions for 2015?

I have lots! In my day job I have been given some new responsibilities so will be doing my best to fulfil these new duties to the best of my ability. Additionally, I’ve been asked to write a few articles for a couple of library and information journals and to submit some book reviews so I will be continuing with this and with my blog.

On a more personal level, I’ve recently moved out of London so can now have a garden! I will be busy clearing nettles, growing vegetables and finding ways to be as self-sufficient as possible for the foreseeable future. I am also expecting my first baby toward the beginning of 2015 so I will be away from my job for a few months while I take on what I predict will be yet another steep learning curve.