Thursday, 5 December 2013

Boarding call for London

So, this is it.

It took me quite a while to process that it's really happening but, yes, I'm coming to London very soon! On January 5th precisely. I've found a job, I've found a room and I'm still figuring out the details, but this is for real and I'm coming.

I never thought I would experience so much anguish at hearing such happy news but, the thing is, when hearing that I'd got the job, I wasn't as excited / jumping up and down / singing out loud as I thought I would. Reality is more daunting than dreams.

It was for real. I was leaving. I felt like on the edge of a cliff, trying to muster the courage to jump and searching for the confidence that I would spread my wings and fly. And not crash lamentably on the sharp rocks washed by the angry sea.

So, for the first few weeks, when people asked me how my UK job search was going, I would reluctantly tell "yeah, actually, I think I've found something..." and then abruptly change the subject. The job I've found will actually be enthralling and I'm really excited about it, but, at first, it was really hard to project myself into this new life. And I was paralyzed at the idea of all the things, administrative and such, that I would have to take care of to make sure that it would all work out smoothly. The rocks at the bottom of my cliff were made of unfathomable paperwork, being utterly and depressingly lonely and having nowhere to live.
But since my flat hunt trip there, a few weeks ago, I can now smile when answering that, yes, in 2014, I'll be in London.

This trip gave me two important reassurances. Firstly, it is a huge relief to know that I will have a home to arrive to, to rest a bit in and to fly away from. Secondly, it is also so important to know that I won't be there alone: I will live with wonderful housemates, I will work with some very nice colleagues, and I've also had the chance to meet some other London librarians, especially through the #libdimsum (yummy and chatty!). I am so relieved to already know a few people in this so very large city.

By the time I came back to Paris, my biggest, sharpest rocks had vanished. At the bottom of the cliff now only lies the sea. A sea composed of social security papers and oyster cards and bank accounts. But it's okay. If I was to fall, at least, I wouldn't shatter my skull on geological remains. And I know how to swim. And even scuba dive.

Overall, change is never easy. I've been grieving quite a bit over all the things and people and the job I'm leaving behind. It's just as if I hadn't really understood what I was leaving before. But now the process is almost complete and I'm feeling quite ready to go out of the chrysalis and barge along the Thames, tackling whatever may come next. I'm ready to jump.

So I'm wrapping up all my projects at work, trying to catalogue like a mad woman all the stacks of books that have piled up on (and around...) my desk and leaving meticulous instructions to whoever will come next for the acquisitions I have carefully planned.

I'm very much looking forward to begin this new page of my life, even if it's still a bit scary. But, most of all, I can't wait to meet new librarians (and non-librarians) of Great-Britain. So, come January, if you'd like to have a pint or a cup of coffee with me... You know where to ask!

Licence Creative CommonsThe above photo was taken by myself in La Réunion, in October 2013.
This photo and text are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Friday, 23 August 2013


Next week (starting on Monday 26th August), I'll be tweeting on @VoicesLibrary.
If you don't know about it, this is a really cool project that proposes a new curator every week, who talks about her or his library and experience as a librarian.
I'll be live-tweeting our "back-to-school" week and I'll talk about French libraries and Higher Education. Feel free to send me questions and comments! :)

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

What I learned from my first Skype interview

Two weeks ago, I experienced my first Skype job interview as well as my first interview with an English-speaking board, all in one go! Though it went quite well, I didn't get the job... But it was a very useful experience to me so I wanted to share a bit of what I learned.

1. A Skype interview can actually go quite well!

I was very very stressed about the whole concept of talking to people I didn't know and speaking another language through such an unreliable mean as Skype. But, thanks to their very nice IT service, I was able to make two tests before the actual interview to try out the sound and video so that it went really smoothly on the d-day.

Here are a few tips I gathered on the Web and put into practice on that occasion:
  • I used a headset because the built-in microphone of laptops is rarely great and you definitely want to be heard distinctly;
  • I moved the furniture around so as to have a blank wall behind me and better natural lighting on my face;
  • I propped up my laptop with some dictionaries for a better framing;
  • I actually tested the whole disposition with their IT service and I filmed myself several times to make small adjustment and feel safe enough IT-wise;
  • I had a plan B (my phone nearby and the phone number from their HR service ready to be dialed)!

2. I got a better idea of what kind of positions I can apply for

This was the first time I was proposed to interview for a job after sending more than 25 applications for various positions all over Great-Britain. And it is no surprise that the only institution that asked to interview me had offered a position that was the closest to my skills and experience. So I'm planning to be more picky when answering job announcements so as not to spread myself too much between numerous applications and focus more on a few fitter positions.
But also, here from France, I'll keep working on building better skills and experience for myself to be as qualified as possible on my particular strong points. Go, go, go!

Also, I'm going to keep rewriting my CV again (and again and again...). You wouldn't believe the number of versions of my CV I have on my computer right now. Of course, I change it a bit for every position I apply to but I've also made profound changes many times as I understand more and more how the library job market works overseas. And now is time to change some things again.
A particular detail that struck me, stems from a vocabulary point. When the board told me that they were searching for a liaison librarian and what kind of things that exactly entailed, it made me realise that I actually am a liaison librarian! I had seen the expression many times in various announcements but it hadn't really hit me until then. I'm definitely using that word from now on on my CV. Well, until I find a better way to describe what I do in this tricky English language!

3. I want to practise more my spoken English!

It was such a relief to realise that I could actually understand what the board said. I've been watching a lot of British films and series but I have to admit that if the speech goes a bit too literary or over the board within slang and strong accents, I still have to put up the subtitles to actually understand the plot. And I was quite suspecting that real life people don't articulate as much as actors do... But I was wrong. I had absolutely no problem understanding what the people who interviewed me said, but for a few technical glitches.

An even bigger relief was that they also seemed to understand me! Which I clearly doubted up til then. I do hear in my mind what a good English accent is supposed to sound like but my mouth seems to still have trouble uttering the actual words. I had practised insanely my presentation and potential interview questions so I didn't have too many problems when talking with the board, but as soon as I deviated from my scripts... Stuttering and bizarrely constructed sentences ensued! So I definitely need to keep working on that and I'm a bit at loss how to.
By any chance, would there be some nice British librarians wanting to Skype me for five minutes once in a while so that I can practise *not* answering with a big "Bonjour !" (as I did the first time I Skyped the IT technician... and then died in a puddle of shame and confusion as only French words of apology came into my head)?
In the mean time, I'm planning to listen to some radio shows and repeat after the actors...

Licence Creative CommonsThe above photo was taken in Kyoto, in April 2013.
This photo and text are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A Question of Vocabulary

When I tried to translate my Curriculum Vitae for the first time I got stumped. I think I'm not that bad at writing in English, but I then took the measure of a whole panel of professional vocabulary that I deeply missed. Though I read in English a lot, I had never had the occasion to really encounter specific librarianship vocabulary. I was at loss. So I scoured the Internet for help and here are the resources I found.

* The most interesting resource I found is this Multilingual Glossary for Art Librarians in the archives of IFLA. Even though it contains a lot of art-related vocabulary, it also gives good definitions and translates many useful librarianship words from English to French but also Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish! It's really an invaluable resources and I can't recommend it enough.

* This one is a glossary in French with translated terms in English proposed by Geneva's university. It focuses more on reference research and it's less complete than IFLA' glossary, but it's more easily readable to French-speaking professionals and the definitions are clear.

* This librarianship lexicon is proposed by the French Bibliothèque Publique d'Information and proposes the translation of 1 500 words from French to English, Spanish, Catalan and Czech. The file is a bit heavy, resulting in some lagging, and I would emit some doubts on the translation of a few words. But it's easily searchable and it still is a useful resource.

* Finally, when in doubt for more general expressions, I've been using Linguee. Its search engine compares millions of bilingual texts like EU official documents or patents. I like that it enables us to see the translated words in context in both languages.

Finally, what is really helping me putting all this new vocabulary into practise is reading and interacting with British professionals. I've been reading Cilip Update with great wonder (and have been passing it around to my colleagues!) and have picked up many words while reading it (the "digital divide" will be forever stuck in my mind now! In French we call it "fracture numérique"). I've also now an enormous folder of RSS feeds pointing to British librarian bloggers that I began to find here and there. I've been systematically following all of them on Twitter and it's a pleasure to hear fresh library news from the other side of the Channel. I'm really grateful for being able to communicate with all of them, it's really a great pleasure and honour to witness from afar their interesting discussions.

Thanks to all of these resources, I certainly have become better at expressing myself professionally in English. But there are still many words on which I'm not certain. Maybe you could help me?
I'm in particular thinking about the word "veille" which we use to describe the action of watching closely certain resources so as to stay on top of information in a particular domain (as in following RSS feeds or using software as Website Watcher)?
What do you call it when library assistants put bar codes and anti-theft devices on documents (to us it's "équipement")?
And what about the process of "exemplarisation", when you signal different copies of a same document under its bibliographical entry?

If you have some answers to these questions or if you want to share your own favourite resources for librarianship vocabulary, please do post them in the comments!

Licence Creative CommonsThe above photo was taken by me in Paris, in April 2013.
This photo and text are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Re-Branding Gate vs Reindeer Gate: of CILIP, ABF and ADBS

When beginning to search for ways to find a job in the UK, I stumbled upon LIS Job Net early on but found out about CILIP and its relation to it much later. Finally arriving on the threshold of the CILIP website, I was amazed: everything seemed big and new and shiny. It made the previous professional associations I had met appear quite pale in comparison.

In France, information professionals divide up between two associations: ABF ("Association des Bibliothécaires de France" - literally: association of French librarians) and ADBS (which acronym, after many changes made, can't be developed anymore but is "L'Association des Professionnels de l'Information et de la Documentation" - association of information and documentation professionals). There is a real gap between those identifying as librarians and those that we call "documentalistes" (school librarians, some academic librarians, other information professionals). We don't mix. We're not even in the same category of public servants. So each keeps to its own association.

That's why I was very impressed to see that all of Great-Britain's information professionals seemed to be standing side by side under a single banner. I was impressed by what looked like a gigantic, sprawling association, doing so many things that the French associations, between the two of them, didn't seem to be able to pull out: awarding qualifications, providing career advice, supporting a parliamentary group, providing the mean of international exchanges... It's huge! It's so dynamic! I wanted so badly to get in!

Now that I've had the time to prowl over almost every pages of their website, to read a couple of CILIP Updates and to contact some of its members, my vision of CILIP is more nuanced of course. But it doesn't take away the awe of discovering such a powerful entity, thoughtful of its members and protective of their interests (I mean... a parliamentary group! Who does that?!).

Then the re-branding gate happened and I was floored. Sitting on the bench of my brand new Twitter account, I saw an army of librarians rising as one to take back into their hands the choice of their new identity, of which they seemed to fear they would be spoiled. The first survey and the names proposed were obviously an awkward move from CILIP (though I did like "The Knowledge People", but that's my bad sense of humour showing...). The event stirred the members minds: heated and salutary discussions arose. Even within the more aggressive campaigns, the unity, the care, the support of librarians and information professionals were laid before my eyes, and once again, I was in awe. CILIP is so important to all of you, it's such a part of your professional identity, that you were happily going to war to defend what it meant to you.

I've never witnessed such an uproar within the aforementioned French associations. Well, on a lesser scale, we could talk of ABF's really bad move on their 2011 Christmas card. Let's name it the Reindeer Gate. And here is why:

This is the image that greeted us on the ABF's website during all of December 2011. We didn't know whether to laugh or cry. We decided to laugh and Twitter librarians exchanged reindeer photos during all of 2012. There's even a Tumblr. About reindeers. And librarians. Yep, that's what we do for fun.

But what? Did I just compare the CILIP re-branding issues to our silly holiday card conundrum? Well, if I did, it's because I hope that CILIP can get by as well as ABF finally did. And I do think that they will, one step at a time.

In the end, here was ABF's Christmas card for 2012:

(Yep. If you click on the image, you can see that there's a tiny reindeer at the bottom. And it was made by a nice librarian blogger. Everyone loved it and the reindeer-gate ended in champagne.)

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Learning with MOOCs: what is it like?

A few months ago, while still waging my personal war for general knowledge, I stumbled upon the MOOCs. I had been following video courses on YouTube and lurking over other potential e-learning options when I discovered them - and it was love at first sight.
Friends on quest for knowledge, don't go any further: the greatest universities worldwide are opening their doors for us to trample through. They're the new cool kid on the educational Web and it seems like everyone's babbling about them... So I thought I would add my two pence and tell you what it's like from the inside, to learn with a MOOC.

If you haven't met them yet, MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses, proposed by universities from everywhere (but mostly American). More than simple online videos, they want to get closer to a "campus" atmosphere, with a beginning and an end date, homework deadlines and a strong will to be as interactive as possible.

To get in, it's really quite simple: you just need an e-mail to subscribe to the course and access the lectures.
On a fixed day, the videos of the week's lecture - cut into little sessions of 10 or 15 minutes - are put online (and in HTML5, no less). Some little and fairly easy intra-video quizzes are there to check that you have understood the important concepts.
Some courses also require some reading, sometimes optional, sometimes compulsory (of course, if you're taking a literature course, you can expect to have to read a few books!). But often, the access to resources is made easy. For example, this leadership course enables students to access scientific articles which aren't in Open Access, either directly on the publisher's website, or through downloadable PDFs (and suspiciously, the teacher is often among the authors...).

Students can exchange notes and advice on the forums (but when you know that, at the beginning of a course, the number of subscribed students can reach 50 or 60 000... it's sometimes a bit hard to be heard!).
Apparently, teachers, their assistants, and Coursera's technical staff follow more or less what is said. Some teachers step in directly on the forum. Other multiply e-mail announcements to answer the most popular comments and questions. This psychology teacher seems very invested in this project and often creates new videos to address the debates roaring among students.

We also have some good old-fashioned exams, either in the form of quizzes or essays (or something less traditional as in the Songwriting course I took, where lyrics or music excerpts were asked each week).
Grading methods vary from course to course. For example, this management course values participation and asks to write a minimum of 20 posts on the courses' forum (with the excess you can expect: myriads of uninteresting subjects and the same themes repeated over and over, especially in the first weeks). Some essays only require a minimum of 100 words to obtain automatically the maximum grade. Other go through peer review: each week, the student evaluates at least 5 of her peers so as to be able for everyone to get some interesting feedback. I must confess that this is my favourite method: I really get the impression that it's while trying to assess the work of someone else that we really get the whole dimension of the notions we're supposed to have acquired. And I have received some really interesting reviews, full to the brim with wise advice.

In the end, we get a nice little virtual diploma vouching for our participation and success in class. Some courses even propose (for some sum of money) to validate more officially your participation so as to be able to bring it out in a professional context. But, in my humble opinion, the interesting part is really in the pleasure of learning new things, in a well delimited, interactive and motivating environment.

You've guessed right: I'm in love with MOOCs. If you've got a somewhat school-loving soul, or if you're just hungry for knowledge, you're in for a treat. So let me tell you that I immediately signed in for three new courses and that my schedule is full until next year...

In conclusion, here is a little collection of courses that you might like. Have fun!

Licence Creative CommonsThe above photo was taken by me in Paris, in February 2013.
This photo and text are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Elusive Figure of General Knowledge

I've always been attracted by the elusive figure of general knowledge. By the promise of well-roundedness, by the mirage of a better understanding of our world. And, because of the French wording of this particular concept ("Culture Générale"), by all of the meanings enclosed in the word "Culture". But, more importantly, I wanted to find meaning and order in all of this knowledge, all of this culture.
In high school already, I was avidly searching through encyclopaedias for neat time lines, pouring over the great trends of music through history, taking notes about the succession of ideas through the course of the world. When I began the game of competitive exams, general knowledge mutated into a requirement, and my original attraction became a real obsession. I needed to jump through the hoop of general knowledge dissertation to enter the top ranks of public service and its libraries.

I took the tests for years, always hopeful and enthusiast: the exercise was quite amusing and I was flirting with results almost good enough to pass. Meanwhile, I also worked my way through library school, a first job in an academic library and eventually passed a mid-level competitive exam to become a civil servant. What I've discovered through this process, is that my love for organising general knowledge in my head is what makes me an honourable librarian (or so I hope). It makes me thrive for coherent collections, for well-thought development policies and rigorous classification. But it doesn't make me any better at general knowledge dissertation, and, on that level, I'm certainly not able to compete against youngsters just out of literature or history preparatory classes.

So, I decided to stop fretting about exams for a while, and just rejoice in practising a job I love while enjoying my day-to-day stroll through cultural regions. I didn't give away general knowledge, I just keep the overall point of view for my library work, and dip timidly through its deep waters in my down time, not searching to get everything into my head, just enjoying the ride.
It materialised through different ways. In my intensified readings, in my discovery of MOOCs, in the curation feature I instituted on my original blog. I hope to tell you about all of this in the near future.
It also showed through a broader desire for more adventures, for exploring unknown territories. Since the beginning of this year 2013, I began running, I visited Japan, I tasted tons of new dishes and pushed myself to meet knew people. And now I want to push the adventure further and live somewhere else, discover a new way to work and to live. Taking the German definition of the word and burning to experience another culture, another country, another civilisation. And keeping to pick up bits of general knowledge along the way.

Licence Creative CommonsThe above photo was taken by me in Kyoto, Japan, in April 2013.
This photo and text are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Working in libraries: the job announcements

The deal I made with myself being that I wouldn't leave without a formal employment proposition, I've begun investigating library jobs all over Great-Britain. And, at first, I was shocked by a simple fact: there are actual job announcements for academic permanent positions (well, for all kinds of positions really). And quite a lot actually.

So why was it so shocking to me? Because academic libraries in France don't work like that at all. To have a permanent position in a library, you have to be a civil servant. And to become a civil servant, you have to pass a competitive exam. There are three main branches in French public service: state, territorial and hospitals, and, even though you can move from one to the other afterwards, the initial competitive tests you need to pass to integrate one branch or the other are different.

Territorial communities (and the ministry for culture) manage public libraries. The territorial competitive tests allow you to submit your application to these libraries and you're in charge of finding yourself a job within two years after passing the test (which isn't always easy... but that's another story).

The State (in particular the ministry for research and higher education) is in charge for academic libraries. I personally am an academic librarian, so their working is more familiar to me. After passing the competitive test of your choice, you are assigned to a position. You get to emit vows based on a list of vacancies, but you are not the one making the final decision. After three years of service in a library, you can ask for a transfer: once a year (twice for head librarians), a list of vacancies is issued and you can apply for positions. A commission decides, based on a variety of criteria, from marital status to length of service, who gets to go where.

This intricate system is the price we pay for our outstanding job security. But I personally resent it a bit. It was not my choice to come working in Paris. But 80% of the jobs in academic libraries are in or around the capital, so it's really hard to avoid coming there at one point or the other. I actually got very lucky and, even though I didn't get to stay in my region of origin, I integrated a very interesting position within an amazing team. But now, part of my motivation for leaving is to be able to actually make a choice: choosing where and what kind of position I want to apply for. Choosing of having a new experience in a nearby country. This new horizon of possibilities is a great motivation.

So, is the French libraries market really closed to foreign librarians who would like to get an experience here? Not really. Actually, French libraries employ quite a number of people on temporary contracts, and you can find announcements for this kind of jobs quite easily.
Here are two of our main resources:
  • Emploi Enssib will tip you off on vacancies in academic libraries;
  • While on Biblioemplois you're more likely to find job announcements for public libraries.
And of course, if you are a European Union citizen, you can take the competitive exams to become a civil servant, but that's another subject entirely...

Licence Creative CommonsThe above photo was taken by me at Seyssel, France, in December 2012.
This photo and text are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Hello, World! Hello, Britain!

It took me by surprise on 15 April. I was just coming back from a long awaited, carefully planned and tightly budgeted trip to Japan. During the whole holiday, I daydreamed about what it would be like to live there. And then I just blurted out... "Bah, anyway, I'd rather live in Great-Britain!".

Well, that made me think. I've been wanting to live abroad for a very long time. I mean, it's been on my bucket-list since middle school. But last year, almost exactly one year ago actually, I visited London for the first time. And it distinctly felt like falling in love... I spent all summer riveted to my tv, watching the Olympics (well, I would have anyway, but the London setting felt all the more special). In September, I was lurking on-line typing frantically "French librarians in the UK" on Google. In November, I was back there for a concert and a show. By January, I was budgeting for Japan and wondering if I would be able to save enough to plan another British trip in the summer.

So, I was hooked. But, in my head, I was still stuck on the thought that I had missed my chance during college. Then, I was too busy trying to figure out what I wanted to do to also sort out where I wanted to live. And I'm still trying to make peace with my younger self for not even thinking of applying for an Erasmus. But... Is it really too late? Is going far away on a whim only for young students who got enough of their wits together to get a scholarship and a plane ticket? Well, it took me all that time and that post-Japan realisation to come to that conclusion, but now I'm sure: I refuse to believe that it's too late. So I'm leaving.

Well... At least, that's what I told everyone. I announced it right away to my managers so that I couldn't back off when the realisation of the enormity of what I had just decided finally and inevitably exploded in my brain. And they were nothing but supportive. So I told it too to my friends and family. "I'm leaving. I want to live in Great-Britain." And they were thrilled beyond measure that I had such a daring project. Yes, I'm so very lucky.

But the thing is... In that exulting moment of decision, I didn't know how I would pull that trick. It's great to want to go away, but how do people actually do that? And I still don't know how I'm going to do it. Or if it will ever work. But I'm going to try anyway. With all my hopes and strength and heart. And we'll see what happens.
So, do you want to walk along this terrifying path with me?