Friday, 7 January 2011

My Library Routes/Roots

I've enjoyed reading the various contributions to the Library Routes Project , and I think it's now time to contribute my own story.

I’m not one of those people who always wanted to be a librarian. It never crossed my mind as a child, despite taking up my first library position at the age of 11; a Pupil Librarian in my secondary school library on Monday break-times.  I loved books, and my parents took my sister and I to the local library (Kingstanding Library in Birmingham) every Saturday to feed our reading habit, but I don’t recall ever wanting to be a librarian. My love of books was what led me to volunteer in my school library. As a child and in my early teens, I wanted to be an astronaut, actress, musician, author, volcanologist (this last one is actually still a secret dream of mine!). In my mid-teens, I settled on journalism. Aged 16, I spent my two work experience weeks at local newspapers, and really enjoyed it.  I planned to get my A-Levels, study English Literature at university, then do a postgraduate qualification in journalism. 

Around this time I was looking for a weekend job to fit around sixth-form.  A vacancy for a Saturday Library Assistant arose at one of my local public libraries (Tower Hill, Birmingham), and I applied for it, thinking it would be more fun than retail work. I managed to get the job, and it was indeed great fun; I really enjoyed helping people and getting to know the regulars. But I still never considered it as a career.

I left aged 18, when I moved away to study a BA in English at the University of York. I decided to try to get a part-time library job again, and in my second year I managed to get a job as a weekend shelving assistant in the J. B. Morrell Library there. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do career-wise at this point; the journalism idea went out the window in my second week at uni, when I went to my first student newspaper meeting and realised that I wasn’t the right type of person to be a newspaper journalist. I dallied with the idea of being a secondary school teacher, but this came to a fairly abrupt halt after a period of voluntary work in a local school (I realised that I didn’t like children that much. Or at all, in fact). I enjoyed studying and being in the university environment, and I’d thought about pursuing a career as an academic, but I realised that this wasn’t quite right for me either. Shelving in the university library, I started to pick up bits about what went on, and the roles of the staff members called academic liaison librarians. They did all sorts of interesting things, like teaching information and research skills (despite my experience at the secondary school, I still liked the idea of teaching – just not teaching children!). I started to wonder if this might be the career for me. I mentioned it to my line manager one day, and she told me I would need to do a postgraduate library qualification; this surprised me as I had no idea that a library degree was necessary, or even existed. I did some investigation, but I didn’t make any decisions at this point.

In 2008 I was in my final year at York, and felt ready to go into the world of work for a while. I decided that I’d postpone any postgraduate study for at least a year after graduation. I still hadn’t made any firm decisions. I liked the idea of working in higher education, and alongside the academic librarian option, I was considering trying to get into the careers service or a widening participation role. I also wondered whether I might want to do a law conversion, go into social work, or work abroad as a language assistant for a while. I decided to just apply for any jobs, graduate or otherwise, that looked interesting. I applied for various graduate retail management schemes, other random jobs, and a year-long graduate traineeship in the library at Leeds Met University. I nearly became a contracts proofreader, but then I was successful in getting the graduate traineeship. I had a fantastic year at Leeds Met; despite the daily commute from York, I loved my job. I gained experience in so many different areas and was involved in some really exciting things, including a book-writing project which I had the opportunity to write about for SCONUL Focus ( ). I decided that librarianship, specifically academic librarianship, was the career I wanted to pursue.

I originally planned to do the MSc Information Studies at Leeds Met, but for various reasons found myself on the MA Librarianship at the University of Sheffield in September 2009. I think this was the best thing that could have happened; I had an amazing year. I learnt loads, made some lovely friends, and was given several fantastic opportunities, from helping out at the New Professionals Conference to giving a presentation on my view of the future of academic libraries at the SCONUL Conference 2010. I finished in September 2010, after completing my dissertation on student perceptions of staff in the Information Commons at Sheffield. While I was at Sheffield, I got involved in the CILIP Career Development Group Yorkshire and Humber branch, as a New Professional Support Officer on the committee. I was there for less than a year, so I didn’t get to do as much with the committee as I would have liked, but I was lucky enough to be invited by Ned Potter to become involved in the running of the LIS New Professionals Network (LISNPN).

MA finished, it was time to hunt down my first professional post. I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone reading this that times were not good for LIS vacancies in 2010. I was very lucky in being willing and able to relocate anywhere, but there were still not many options. The few job adverts for academic librarian positions that did arise tended to specify that “post-qualification professional experience” was required. I believed that the only way I would break into academic librarianship would be to find a position as a trainee liaison librarian, offered by a couple of libraries. I had an interview for one such position at the University of Reading, and was devastated when I was unsuccessful. Many unsuccessful applications and one unsuccessful interview for a non-professional post later, a fixed-term Assistant Librarian role at UWE Bristol arose, and I was pleased to see that, despite having a demanding job specification, there was no insistence on that post-qualification professional experience.  I was called for interview, and it went really well; I actually quite enjoyed the interview! I was offered the job (one of three that were available) the next day, and, four very hectic weeks later, moved to Bristol and began my new role. 

I applied for the job because of the subject liaison and teaching aspects, but the job also involves other areas of responsibility, such as management of the AV collection and journals, and line management duties. I really enjoy going to work every day and I’m gaining so much valuable experience from these various aspects of my role. It’s a fixed-term position until July 2012, when our campus closes, but I don’t think about the fact that it’s going to end; I’m just concentrating on gaining experience and taking all of the available opportunities, and I’m feeling positive and excited about the future. My next step will be Chartership, which I will begin shortly. I feel very much that I have ended up in the right career.

And I’m still using the customer service skills I developed as an 11-year-old looking after the school library while the librarian had her break!


  1. Hey, I was a weekend shelver at the JB Morrell a mere two years before you (I think! I might have even been at York in your first year!) Small world.

    It's so lovely to hear people say good things about how much they value the MA - somehow it is so much more than the sum of its parts, and I know I got a hell of a lot from it.

  2. Amazing! Small world indeed. And the all-important question; which college were you in? ;-) I was a Halifaxer.

    Definitely true about the MA. What I didn't mention in that post was the level of support offered by the staff, particularly my supervisor, which extended beyong purely helping me to perform well academically on the MA; that's a whole other blog post for sometime in the near future I think.

    Thanks for reading! :-)

  3. Your library routes story sounds similiar to mine in places. I identify with the not considering librarianship as a career until it happened almost by accident. One day I will write my library routes story (not much to put in it yet!) and will talk about how I nearly ended up on a HR graduate scheme for a big supermarket but decided to accept a graduate traineeship instead. It's also lovely to hear such great things about your MA experience, this might be one of the better decisions I have made too.