29 May 2012

The New Professional’s Toolkit - Bethan Ruddock (Review)

What is initially most refreshing about The New Professional’s Toolkit, is that instead of starting off with traditional ‘librarian’ topics such as Collection Development or Reference Services, chapter one delves straight into project management. Indeed from a cursory glance down the table of contents (or even the title itself where there is a notable lack of any reference to libraries or information), this could be a book about any number of professions; there are chapters on teaching, training & communicating, measuring performance, marketing your services, using technologies, networking & promoting yourself, and managing budgets. Whilst the content of the toolkit is always applied to the library and information setting, it emanates from a best-practice management context – something that is often lacking in books aimed at new entrants to the profession.

Not that there are in fact many such books, which is largely the USP of Ruddock's book; it neatly bridges the gap between college texts and more specialised in-depth monographs. Consequently, the tone of the book is very much underpinned by a pragmatic ‘tips & tricks’ approach, yet not in a lightweight or superficial sense. The result is a text that is very easy to dip in and out of as a reference source, and to find further references, useful websites and other resources for use in practice. You won’t find lengthy narratives or detailed information here, but rather short paragraphs and bullet points – exactly what you want in a toolkit. The recurrent focus on self-study and informal learning in the workplace in particularly valuable. For example, Ruddock emphasises that much of the theory and principles of topics like project management, budgeting or marketing which are taught through formal training courses, can also be learned by self-study using free online resources and websites, including those listed in the toolkit. It is a creative approach, and one that is particularly relevant in these times of rationalised training budgets.

The chapter on marketing services and engaging stakeholders is particularly well-focused. Here Ruddock discusses the advantages of pursuing a benefit-led approach: it’s no good telling people you have access to a new database, instead inform your users (and indeed more importantly your non-users!) how it will make their job easier or better, or how it will improve their research. Essentially, demonstrate to them how your services are directly relevant and of value to them as an individual. Ruddock also raises ideas such as the importance of timing your promotional activities, ‘engaging with the disengaged’ and using an embedded librarianship approach within an organisation to help build stronger relationships.

The chapter on technology is perhaps a little lightweight and formative for those seeking more advanced assistance however, and readers would likely be familiar with most if not all of the content from prior study. Indeed at just over two hundred pages in total, there is still significant scope for being a little more comprehensive in places, without it becoming a turgid task to plough through for the time-pressed reader. Furthermore, it was disappointing not to see any real advice in terms of writing annual reports or library policies, as many new professionals may have limited, if indeed any, experience in this regard.

The idea of a new librarian’s toolkit that is first and foremost about how to manage effectively rather than ‘how to do library stuff’ is timely and extremely welcome. The need to step outside the profession to borrow from and integrate best practice and ideas from other disciplines such as project management, marketing and I.T. is essential – even for new professionals - and Ruddock clearly recognises this. However most importantly perhaps given its target audience, The New Professionals Toolkit doesn’t drag you down a side-path of digressive background-reading, but instead makes you want to actually get on with the job.

The New Professional's Toolkit by Bethan Ruddock is published by Facet (May 2012; 192pp; paperback; 978-1-85604-768-5; £44.95)


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