Friday, 27 February 2015

So you want to be a librarian?

Last week a YouGov poll claimed that the three jobs Brits most like the sound of are author, academic and librarian. When I tell people what I do for a living, I usually find they don’t actually have a clue what it is that I actually do; stereotypes and misconceptions abound! So is being a librarian really all about books and silence? Here’s my experience of working as an academic librarian for five years thus far.

So what do I need to become a librarian then?
You’ll need some work experience of some kind in a library environment. Excellent communication skills, self-organisational skills, initiative and problem-solving skills, and a good manner with people are also vital. You’ll also need to do a CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) – accredited undergraduate degree or postgraduate qualification in Librarianship/Information Studies/Information Management. 

Blimey! I need all of that just to sit and read books all day?
Good luck with finding space in your workload to read books! Your duties and tasks will vary depending on what sector and role you’re working in. As an Academic Liaison Librarian in a university library, I teach research skills to classes of various sizes, help students with finding material for and referencing their assignments, work with academic colleagues to decide what books and journals to purchase and how to ensure they meet student needs, manage and contribute to projects to improve library services, investigate new developments and technologies which could help our work, check reading lists and add them to the online system, create material for our webpages, and attend departmental and Faculty meetings, amongst other things. Other librarians in universities might be managing the systems or online resources, or the enquiry desk. There are all sorts of librarian roles; you might be managing a school library, or working in a public library, prison library or corporate library, in a law firm or media organisation, for example. You might not even have “librarian” in your job title; you might be an information manager, information architect, knowledge manager, information officer, media manager, information consultant to name just a few. I can’t possibly list all of the different potential jobs you could do as a librarian here…but I can guarantee you won’t be reading books all day!

OK…but a library is a quiet and relaxing place to work, right?
Come into my library the day before a big assignment deadline date and see how quiet and relaxed it is! Libraries are not quiet any more. Students in universities and schools need spaces to work together. Public libraries host baby and toddler Storytimes and other meetings and events. You might have silent study spaces in your library, for example, but generally there is activity all around you. As for relaxing…librarianship is like most other jobs – you will be busy, sometimes things will go wrong, and sometimes you’ll feel pressured and stressed. You’ll face similar challenges to anyone working with the public; sometimes you’ll be dealing with upset, angry, intoxicated, or just unpleasant people. I’ve been shouted at more times than I can count, personally blamed for all sorts of things, including impeding the access of the general public to scientific knowledge and thereby the progress of society, and had stuff thrown at me. It comes with the job.

Yikes. I hope the salary is good?
This varies quite dramatically between roles and sectors. It’s difficult to generalise, but corporate and academic library roles tend to pay more than public and school libraries. Whatever job you’re doing, you won’t be in it for the money though.

Hmm. So why do I want to be a librarian then?
My job is challenging, interesting and rewarding. I love teaching and working with the students, and I get opportunities to get involved in all sorts of projects and to follow things which interest me. In my experience, libraries are open-minded and welcoming places to work, and my colleagues have been generally lovely and funny. There are so many routes that you could take in librarianship; you’re bound to find something that interests you.

How do I find out more?
Have a look through the CILIP webpages, sign up to the LIS New Professionals Network, get chatting to some librarians on Twitter, or check out some blog posts on how people got started in libraries.

Friday, 13 February 2015 – a social calendar for our times

I’ve had it in the back of my mind for several years now to write a blog post on surviving relocation. I’m a bit of an expert. I don’t stay anywhere for much longer than a couple of years, moving around the country in the name of my career.  And it can be hard. Until you actually do it, you don’t realise what a massive thing it is that you’re doing. It’s not like going to university, where everyone’s in the same boat, constantly on the look-out for opportunities to make friends and get a social life going. You’re dropping yourself into an existing situation; the people around you are living and working there already; some are settled with partners and families; others are in their own routine. Yet there are lots of us doing this; not just librarians, but young and not-so-young people everywhere – we tell ourselves that it’s all about the next promotion, or we get itchy feet, or an opportunity comes up that’s too good to miss (or sometimes, in these times of austerity, the only opportunity we’re going to get right now).  And so we load our belongings into a van and start a new life somewhere else, some of us multiple times. 

The first time I did it, moving to Bristol after library school in Sheffield, it took me about six months to make friends. I didn’t really know where to start. I tried a socialising website; you were allowed one free event, then you had to pay an extortionate fee to keep attending. We all met in a city centre pub; the host ticked our names off on his sheet, starred the non-attendees for the blacklist, then went off to claim his free drinks, leaving the rest of us to mingle. Because it was so expensive to attend again, we all tried to make our new best friends in the space of a few hours. I exchanged numbers with another young woman, and we started meeting up. She liked spending the whole of Sunday shopping. I definitely did not. After a few evenings of stilted conversation over dinner in a chain restaurant, we silently, mutually conceded that we were not compatible, and that was that. Eventually I started meeting other local librarians at events, and began to build myself a small social life there. 

When I moved to Bedford, I was determined to try harder. I felt I hadn’t made the most of Bristol. Despite my previous experience of a socialising website, I decided to search online for social groups, and I found one for people in their 20s and 30s, hosted on the site, which was new to me. It had a very small annual fee (£2) to join and seemed much less formal. There was a meet-up in a pub about 10 minutes walk from my flat the first weekend I was living here; I thought it would be worth a go, and I could always make my excuses if it was awful. 

It turned out to be a really welcoming group. In the past almost two years we’ve run the Race for Life together, gone wine-tasting and cocktail-making, taken a day trip on the train to Paris, gone to the theatre and cinema, and done a lot of dancing and drinking (oh god, so much drinking). I was able to explore the nightlife in the safe company of others, and made some genuine friends, not ones of convenience. This group has impacted profoundly and positively on my life in Bedford (a town which, I’m sorry to admit, I still don’t like) and I can’t imagine what I would have done with myself without it.

The reason I’m finally writing this post now is because today that group has ceased to exist. After a few changes of leadership, the final lead organiser has stepped down, and no one has pressed the button in the 15-day grace period to rescue it. The URL leads to a message that the page cannot be found. Just like that, it’s gone. I expected to feel sad…but actually, it’s OK. Because this is the nature of Meetup. It’s transient. Groups disappear once they’ve run their time, and every day new groups appear; people meeting up around an interest or commonality, or simply to make friends. And this reflects the transient nature of the lifestyles that so many of us lead; moving on every so often when we need to, with minimal looking back. Last year our group was in its hey-day, with so many events on the calendar I couldn’t possibly keep up, and nearly burnt out when I tried to; now it’s gone, but other local groups flourish. I have contact with the friends I’ve made through other means, and I can join other groups to make more. The nature of all of the Meetup groups I’m familiar with is that most members can and do dip in and out of the activity; making the group fit our schedules rather than the other way round. All the time, people leave, and new people join, just as people ebb in and out of the towns and cities, on their way throughout their life.

It’s often said now that there “is no such thing as a job for life any more”. I think this is true, and with that comes all of the other elements of our lives; for those of us moving frequently, nothing is stable. reflects that and gives us a means of trying to fit in, to make a life for ourselves, however temporary, wherever we go.