Sunday, 21 August 2011

Thing 10 - Why I became a Librarian and how I got there

I didn’t start off as a Librarian. I started off doing the usual thing you do in my era as a girl from a working class background growing up in a small town with a handful of O levels do - leaving at 16 to do a one year secretarial course and ending up at in an office job at one of the local large firms. I quickly got bored and did a few evening classes to improve my O Level tally with a vague idea that it might get me a better job. I was also discovering the bright and exciting lights of city life and in the next round of redundancies (in which there were many rounds) I volunteered redundancy and headed off to Nottingham with a vague idea that I was going to do something different. I managed to quickly fix myself up with a temporary job while I decided what to do next. I ended up enrolling on one year part time A level courses in Psychology and Communications and Media at South Notts College (Possibly one of the happiest years of my life) and then was encouraged by my Tutor to go on and do a BA Honours Degree in Social Sciences.

Three years later, with a 2/1 Degree under my belt, I was still no clearer what I wanted to do except that I wanted to use my Degree. After more hours pouring through careers books, I came up with 3 ideas - Social Research, Careers Adviser (to provide young people better advice than I had been given) or to work in a library - preferably in a Social Sciences Department in a University Library. After a very dismal interview at York University to do Social Research and then trooping off to Guildford for the same course and never hearing anything back, I gave up with that idea and went for Plan B - working in a library.

My first priority was to get myself some library experience under my belt before applying for a place on a postgraduate Library and Information Management course so I wrote to various libraries in the East Midlands to see if I could get myself a 6 week voluntary placement and was lucky to end up locally at Gedling Area Libraries. I initially did 6 weeks and after a stint on the enquiry desk, a class visit, a morning learning about aromatherapy, going out on a bear hunt with the under 5’s and decorating the children’s library, I learnt that librarianship was much more than I had previously thought. I carried on going to Carlton Library on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings while temping in the day time, with the idea that the more experience I could gain, the better chance I would have in getting a postgraduate place. I then managed to spend the summer combining temping with setting up an information centre at Netherfield St Georges Centre in an attempt to gain as much experience as I possibly could. After a major setback at a certain University’s open days/interviews which shall remain nameless where it was proclaimed by their Head of Department there that they rarely rejected applicants unless they were really bad and then receiving a rejection letter a few days later, I was offered a couple of places - Sheffield University and University of Northumbria. Better still, University of Northumbria offered me a much envied mature student’s bursary which sealed my decision. (From there I learnt that quite a few people had been put off by their experience at the University which remains nameless by their rejection letters too, there was obviously a lot of bad applicants that day!).

I’m used to condensed courses with my evening classes and fitting 2 A levels in the shortest possible period but this course must have been the most intensive thing I had done. I think what struck me more about this course was not the content itself but the work ethic of everyone and how everybody worked together to cram which was effectively a 3 years degree in to a 9 months Postgraduate! A bigger challenge was to follow, trying to find a professional library job against brighter and /or more experienced candidates.

I knew my experience was still limited compared to most people so as soon as I finished my course, I found myself some voluntary work - this time at Mencap and Dial (UK) in Doncaster and again combined it with more temping. After becoming an expert on how to get from Nottingham to Doncaster on public transport in the shortest possible time and how to live on nothing for the last few years, I was given a break. I was offered an interview for a Resource Centre Assistant at Arnold and Carlton College but after being unsuccessful, I then had another phone call a few days later asking if I would like a temporary library assistant post in the library. I didn’t have enough experience for the initial job but the Librarian had decided that she liked to give me a chance and came up with this additional job instead!

After 6 months I was finally successful in obtaining my first professional job (albeit job-share) at Charles Keene College as an Assistant Librarian. I still filled in my spare days trying to improve on my experience by signing on the Nottingham County Council Professional Register and working at Arnold and Carlton as a relief library assistant. After a couple of years of building up my experience with this strange mix of jobs, I decided to have another go at applying for a full time professional post and managed to find one quite quickly - my current post at RNIB.

I’ve been in my current post since 1996, a lot longer than I planned. The job has changed radically, responsibilities have come and gone particularly with the new advancements in technology, and I’ve survived quite a few restructures ! I’ve managed to charter in the process - via the old report route B way and I’m now in my second year in revalidating which has made me keep my focus on professional development. One of my aims was to become more involved in networking which I’ve achieved. I still keep my eye on the job market but realistically there has been very little to apply for lately.

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