Mustufa Khalifa – The Role of an Information Assistant

Our latest post comes from Mustufa Khalifa, who has a slightly less traditional role providing information services to Warwickshire County Council. Tying in nicely with our previous post on the many alternative options to a traditional LIS career, Mustufa’s post offers a detailed insight into the role of an information assistant working in a local government authority.

How and why did you start up working in libraries

By chance really! The department had a library which was looked after by just one person and the post holder was about to leave.  The job was internally advertised and because I knew the post-holder I asked what the job entailed. I was interviewed along with other candidates and was offered the job a few days later. Once I got the job, I only had seven days with the post-holder who dictated procedures and showed me how to do certain aspects – after that I was on my own!

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I left school with four ‘CSE’s then went to India to learn the Quran by heart, for which I am really proud and grateful to all those who supported me whilst I was there. I am also grateful now to my family and friends who support me in retaining it. When I came back to England, I went to evening classes and got an ‘O’ Level and also attended a few short courses in computer literacy. Then I got my first job working part time for a charity (Community Transport) collecting and selling furniture at discounted prices to people on benefits. Then I got my first full-time job as a postal clerk in the building that I am currently working in and have been for more than 27 ½ years.  Two years later I got a job working with civil engineers doing admin work and came across such terms as CCT (Compulsory Competitive Tendering) TPP (Transport Plans and Policies) CPOs (Compulsory Purchase Orders), KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) amongst others. I worked in that team for about four years then got this job and the rest, as they say, is history.  

What do you do in your current job role?

I’ve been working in this role since April 1996. The purpose of my job is to provide staff with access to information to enable them to do their jobs effectively, efficiently, professionally and according to current standards. When I started back in 1996, this was done by subscribing to a lot of government/parliamentary information i.e. circulars; reports; legislation etc. buying books for people and also subscribing to quite a lot of professional magazines.  In those days, the internet wasn’t very widely available and so I looked after quite a lot of loose-leaf encyclopaedia’s, periodicals and Manuals.  Nowadays, most of them have gone electronic and have websites, although I still have a subscription to some who provide a paper copy.

Six months into the job, I was told to reduce the library stock and so I sent a memo (we didn’t have email at that time) to senior managers in their respected fields.  So instead of me making a decision on what to get rid of, I got people who knew their subject to decide which to keep and which to dispose of. The library catalogue in those days was in a Foxpro database which was later replaced by a Lotus Notes database and now it is housed in a web-based system. Two years working alone and the department’s management team decided they wanted to increase the profile of the library so they advertised for an experienced technical librarian. Instead of getting one full-time, they appointed two on a job-share basis.  Soon after they started we began promoting the library and its’ services and held lunchtime seminars. One of them gathered information about the library and submitted it to the Library Association and our library won an award in the ‘Promotional Campaign – Budget under £250’ category. We were given free access to many electronic journals. With internet being more widely available now, I also subscribe to many electronic resources and have put links to more than 100 useful websites on our intranet page.  I now provide more of an ‘information service’ than a ‘library service’.  One of the stand out features of our service is that we provide a current awareness service called Infowatch which is designed to keep staff informed of new consultations, legislative changes, policy developments and information about what the press is saying about our schemes and also any other news that is of relevance to the department. The content is based on the business interests of our department and categorized with keywords (Tags).  Information is added to it on a daily basis. Previously, it was done through a Lotus Notes database but now it is through ‘Wordpress’ and available on the internet. It can therefore be accessed anytime, anyplace, anywhere, including on a mobile device. The beauty of this database is that it provides an email alerting service and you can select what type of information you want to receive by selecting the keywords you are interested in.

Do you have advice for anyone interested in working in public libraries or considering ACLIP?

In the mid noughties, for about six months, I worked one day a week in a public library and, with all due respect to everyone there who made me feel welcome and helped me quite a lot, I realised that it wasn’t giving me the job satisfaction that I feel when providing a service for officers as I do in my current role.  Also having worked in the same building, I’ve got to know a lot about the department, its’ staff and their information needs. I felt like a fish-out-of-water whilst I was working in the public library as the information needs of users there are so different.

What motivated you to do the ACLIP qualification?

I’d been doing this job for a number of years and my manager at the time recognised my abilities, hard work, dedication and the passion that I have for the job.  She sent me on a

few courses and we also visited quite a few government and other libraries similar to ours. Then she encouraged me to apply for the ACLIP to get myself recognised for my knowledge and skills.

Do you think ACLIP is a good way to develop your professional skills/expertise?

I think the Professional Knowledge Skills Base is a fantastic way to see where you are and keep track of and what areas you need to develop your professional skills.



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