Sharing learning from an inspirational leader
[pic cap : Kathryn caught up with Sue in the Shanklands Room at Bangor University Library.]
Kathryn Parry interviews Sue Hodges, former Director of Libraries and Archives, Bangor University. Sue talks about her career path, and her belief that with confidence and support you can go further than you might think, and achieve the career that you really want.
As I start my new job as CILIP Wales Development Manager, I am making many new connections. I am struck by how many of these connections are with people who are at the opposite end of the career ladder to me. I see many experienced professionals retiring, but I cannot see much evidence of succession planning. How do we learn and carry forward the services these professionals have created? I want to hear how other professionals started out, what shaped their career and any advice they can give.
To gain more understanding of these issues, I recently interviewed Sue Hodges, who has just retired from her role as Director of Libraries and Archives at Bangor University. We talked about how her career developed, and how she aims to share what she has learnt over the years by mentoring and supporting people in their career plans.
Kathryn: How did you get into
Sue: I was enthusiastic about libraries from an early age and spent many a happy hour in my local public library in Connahs Quay. My dad was a welder who believed education was important and that hard work was the key to getting anywhere. I was the first in my family to go to university, where I studied Geography and Geology. I actually got into librarianship by chance. On finishing my degree at the University of Sheffield, I bumped into someone I knew who had just finished the MA in Librarianship and Information Studies. She suggested I go and talk to someone in the university library, and I was given a job as a library assistant for a year. I then had an interview at the Department of Librarianship and Information Studies and got a grant to do the course. After getting married, I did the course and loved it. On finishing the course, I saw a job with the National Coal Board in Doncaster as an Assistant Librarian. My first degree was in Geography and Geology – I seemed to match the experience needed so I went for the job and got it.
Kathryn: How did the direction of your career evolve?
Sue: After a few years in Doncaster, I got a job at Sheffield Hallam as a cataloguer. I had a good boss who let me go on the subject information desk – that was the bit I enjoyed. My next post was as Acquisitions Librarian which I did for a couple of years before having my first child. When my children were small, I had a part-time job at the University of Sheffield in an acquisition role. I enjoyed working there but we had to move as my husband got a job in North Wales. Whilst living in Wrexham, I worked for the CAB, helped out with adult literacy and worked in a hospice. I later worked as a school librarian in Flintshire. I could go to what was then a big educational library collection at Shire Hall, pick out books to support different themes e.g. an Australian theme and support the students and the curriculum. I did that for a year and then I moved on to a job in Further Education (FE) at West Cheshire College in Chester.
Kathryn: Having worked in several sectors, would you say there are similarities?
Sue: Obviously there are professional similarities but lots of different politics and ways of working. In FE, you have to be creative, flexible, technologically savvy and work as part of a team. How you engage with people is key and it is always about communication. In FE, it was a case of being innovative and managing within a limited budget. There are similarities in HE today, in that you have to manage better with a bit less and be more creative. Building relationships, influencing and advocating your service are all important.
Kathryn: How have you seen the role of librarianship develop?
Sue: I didn’t think too much about the role when I started out. I loved the information side and dealing with people, then I got into the system side and the technical side. I was a single parent for seven years, working full time. When my eldest son was about to start university, I had to take stock, and knew that I needed to move back into Higher Education to ensure I had a better salary, pension and prospects. I got a job at Oxford Brookes as a subject librarian in Engineering and Mathematics. That was fun, because they did a lot of different things. We had contacts with some of the Formula One teams, and they bought a racing car in at one point.
After a year, I moved back north and was appointed to the post of Technical Services Manager at Liverpool John Moores University. In 2004, we took on the full suite of Ex-Libris products and the technical knowledge of the team had to expand dramatically. I think that librarianship has changed out of all recognition with regard to the technical knowledge needed, the understanding of information and knowledge management and the fast-moving pace of change and communication.
Kathryn: How did your interest in mentorship develop?
Sue: I became interested in leadership and management when I was Technical Services Manager and then Head of Business Improvement Services at LJMU. The leadership team had an important role in team building and in working with staff to motivate and assist them in meeting aims and objectives. We did 360 feedback and other self-awareness exercises and training to support change.
I found a mentor and then a coach who helped me to look at what I wanted out of life and my career. Whilst at Salford, I did the Leadership Foundation’s Future Leadership Programme, a pivotal moment in my life. When I got to Bangor, I already knew the benefits of coaching and took the opportunity of doing the Institute of Leadership and Management Coaching and Mentoring programme Level 7. I then started doing internal coaching at a senior level within the university. I think the skills I’ve learnt are the people skills; empowering people to do their role and to look at the challenges that may block them.
Kathryn: What are the challenges for
Sue: I think there are three main challenges. One of them is the digital; how do you keep up with the explosion of digital information and technology? The second is collaboration and partnership. Working across boundaries and sectors is crucial in moving the profession forward. We have to advocate with one voice to demonstrate the benefits of librarians as information professionals and knowledge managers for the good of society.
The third area is empowering people and leading by example. I believe it is important to share whatever tools you have to help people succeed, improve and get what they want out of their working life. Having been on various leadership and management courses, I find that people tend to do them and then forget to put all their knowledge into practice. With coaching and mentoring, there is someone there to assist you. As a trained coach and mentor, I help people to grow in their existing roles or to move into new roles. I never imagined I could attain a role as Head of Service. I felt I lacked the knowledge and confidence. It was only with help from a coach that I looked at what I needed to do to meet the skills gap, and gained the confidence to apply. I realised that I did not have to know it all and I just needed to find the right support. I was then appointed to the post of Director of Libraries and Archives at Bangor University. I immensely enjoyed my five years in that role. I am now looking to build up a part-time coaching and mentoring business and doing other things in my life, including writing. Life is about growing and working together and helping other people and I feel I want to give back to the profession, so I have also volunteered to be a CILIP Mentor.
Kathryn: What advice would you offer to new professionals?
Sue: Get the right support and believe in yourself – you can do it. Don’t let the little voice that might say ‘I can’t’ drown out your dreams. We all get setbacks but if you can find someone that can assist you along the way to get over the hurdles that is brilliant. Building your self-belief and self-confidence is crucial, so get some help if you need it.