How I got into Librarianship

This blog post forms part of the Library Routes project started by Ned Potter & Laura Woods. I’ve meaning to write this for some time, ever since I attended the New Professionals Information Day back in October 2010, so not too overdue then… At every talk the presenters emphasised the importance of enjoying what you do and many discussed the creativity, variety and flexibility that working in libraries often affords reminding me in some ways of why I wanted to work in libraries in the first place.   In fact much of the advice given was not new to me but was worthwhile being refreshed.

So how did I get into libraries…

I could start with how I worked in the library at secondary school for my last year at school one day a week but I can’t really remember much about it (‘twas 16 years ago!). While studying for my A’ Levels and it came to making choices for UCAS librarianship came up but I decided to opt for Psychology (for various reasons I needed to live at home if I went to university and there was only one local library course so I was advised not to choose this). So in the year 2000 Psychology degree complete, uncertain about what I wanted to do but knew I wanted to use my degree in some way so I got a job in a secondary school supporting students with learning difficulties. After a year there I did my PGCE and taught A’ Level Psychology for three years at an FE college.  Whenever asked what I did at the time people would always say something along the lines of “Oh teaching at A’ level… I bet that’s better than working in a secondary school… the students will be motivated… they’ve chosen to study” and each time I would need to de-bunk that myth.   Those three years were pretty stressful and by my third year I knew I needed to be doing something different. But what? I briefly flirted with the idea of teaching at degree level but that was quickly dismissed. I was still eligible to access the university careers service from studying my PGCE. These sessions were really useful as it helped me decide that I wanted to work in libraries. The transition from teaching to libraries was not a smooth one though and I found it difficult to get my foot in the door. I left FT teaching in August 2005 and spent the next few months applying for jobs and not really getting any interviews, all quite demoralising and at times made me question whether I’d made the right decision. Then I’d remember how I’d cried on the way to work because I really didn’t want to go in and that strengthened my resolve. I started asking for feedback on my application forms so I could improve my personal statements and make sure I was hitting all the criteria with explicit examples. Staff selecting in academic libraries seemed used to this and gave some useful tips. As a result of one conversation I signed up to do ECDL so I could prove my ICT skills. Staff in public libraries seemed surprised I would ask for feedback. I didn’t get shortlisted for one public library job as I had not put I could use a telephone (they rang me to tell me this). I arranged to shadow librarians at two academic libraries and an NHS library which confirmed I was making the right career choice. These things helped and I got a couple of interviews for PT work on Saturdays as a Library Assistant at local public libraries and then… I had two jobs to choose from. PT work was obviously not ideal but I had my first library job, yay!   Around the same time that I’d been offered my job in the public library I was also offered FT work as a Personal Adviser for Connexions. It was a busy week as I’d had three interviews in the space of as many days. I took up both roles at the start of 2006 and was working 6 days a week. I was really enjoying my PT  library job but not so much my role at Connexions (I’d been based in a pupil referral unit) so continued to look for other library jobs. I’d applied for a job in July 2006 as a Library Assistant at UCE, four weeks came and went so I assumed I’d been unsuccessful. Then in October 2006 HR rang and asked if I was still interested in the post and whether I’d like to attend an interview, “yes please”. I was interviewed for both FT and PT posts and was successful in gaining a FT position and started as a Library Assistant (Serials) in January 2007. I’ve been at UCE, now Birmingham City University, ever since. My roles have changed in that time and before becoming the Serials Librarian (my current role) I also spent time as a Library Assistant in Document Delivery. Moving around and gaining experience in different departments has given me an overview of working in an academic library and certainly helped when I was completely my MA Information and Library Management which I studied via distance learning.