Monday, 2 November 2009

A life in libraries: Library Routes

Ok, this is probably off-message for a children's literature blog but please indulge me this once. CILIP, the professional organisation I belong to, is promoting a page where members blog about how they became librarians, and this is my contribution.
I was a complete bookworm as a child. There were always loads of books around the house and my Mum and Dad took us to the library regularly. I kept my own books in strict order and decided aged about 8 that I wanted to work in a library - I had no idea what that really involved, I just wanted to be around books all day. I can't really say that the library staff I met as a child had inspired me. The only interaction in the public library I can remember from when I was primary age was getting a row from the lady behind the counter for not getting my sixpence (oh, how that dates me) for a request out quickly enough. I was more impressed at secondary age - by then, I was old enough to see over the top of the counter and was intrigued by all the Browne tickets and wondered how on earth they ever found mine (especially as they seemed to be in a different place each time). The only time I remember asking for help was when we had a kitchen planning project for Cookery and the person I asked took me straight to the right shelf which I thought was very clever. My school was a recently merged comprehensive, formed from separate boys' and girls' grammars on the same campus, so there were libraries in both buildings. The one for the lower school was unstaffed and we used it at lunchtime, mainly to hide from Lorraine, a rather scary prefect who was always looking for sporting duds to practice her netball team against. There was a librarian in the upper school, but I can't remember any sort of input from her at all. Things are so much better now with lots of wonderful school and public librarians encouraging children to read.
In my early teens I remember reading my way through the shelves of historical romances like Jean Plaidy - not exactly literature, but these (and an inspiring teacher) awoke my love of history and I moved onto "real" history books, all borrowed, so the library was instrumental in my development there. I wanted to study history at university, and went off to Sheffield to do so which put off serious career choices for another 3 years. In my last year, I did a bit of research, found out what librarians actually did and thought it was probably still for me, so started applying for graduate trainee posts - you had to have a year's experience before you could get into library school. However, there has never been any great career plan. Serendipity kicked in here and has done ever since, I went with the flow. I had no strong feelings about whether I wanted to be an academic or public librarian, but the first post I was offered was with Hampshire Public Libraries so off I went and had a great year. When it came to choosing a library school, going back to Sheffield seemed the obvious thing to do, and as part of the course you chose academic or public options. Because of where I had worked I chose the latter so that was my career set firmly on the public library path.

While I was at library school, I met my husband who lived in the student flat above mine. This is relevant because it meant there were now two careers to consider and any moves had to be to places where we could both find work. I spent time with Nottinghamshire, Doncaster and East Kilbride Public Libraries, before making the cross-over (again serendipitous) to an academic library where I have been ever since. I was fed up driving from Glasgow to East Kilbride through the rush hour traffic every day when I saw an advert for Reader Services Librarian at Jordanhill College which was within walking distance from our house. Now some people might think that is a terrible reason to apply for a job, and it's obviously not one you would ever divulge at interview, but it was my initial motivation - though I then looked at the job and realised I had a lot of transferrable skills to bring to it. I had built up substantial experience of customer service and staff management over the years and these are the same wherever you go. Also, although the stock is very different in some areas, the biggest group of students at Jordanhill is the trainee teachers and there is a large teaching practice collection of children's books which I already knew a lot about. So it was a good match and I have been here ever since. The institution has changed (now part of the University of Strathclyde) and the job has grown and changed immeasurably over the years but I'm still happy with it.

So what are my conclusions from all this?
  1. Libraries are terribly important in growing and nurturing young readers and they are so much better now at doing this than when I was a child. Even so, I became an avid reader, discovered what I was interested in and became a librarian all through using libraries. I hope in my career I've managed to help other people do that.
  2. You don't have to have a grand plan to be happy. Some careers just happen, and you fall into your niche. Sometimes compromises have to be made to get the work/life balance right.
  3. What works in one sector can work in another so if you want to make a change, just do it.


  1. I found your blog really interesting especially as I am new to the profession. As a child, I was a book worm as well and my dad bought me every single 'ladybird' book going so I guess you would figure out we probably are the same generation! I did not actually have a career plan as such although my dad felt I would do well as a Librarian as it is a good profession for a woman! I was more interested in International Relations and Travel but I did go to work in a library after my A-levels and I spent the entire summer doing indexing and cataloguing cards! That put me off librarian for quite a while! I did my first degree in English and went on to do a post graduate in International Relations hoping to go into the diplomatic field but that eluded me so I settled for teaching for a while, worked in publishing and then in housing. I did consider Librarianship again about 20 years ago but I stepped into a public library and decided it was not really for me. However, a few years ago, I felt unfulfilled within the housing sector so took a CELTA course and then went to work in the careers advise field. As part of my NVQ, I had to carry out a careers guidance session with a client which led to information seeking and searching on the web and I decided to go back and get a professional qualification. So here I am newly qualified and still unable to get my first job! I have been wondering if it was worthwhile doing the course but I learnt so much and as I have always been keen on information provision, your blog has revived my confidence in the profession and I guess I will just have to 'wait out the recession'! I now have a temporary job as Assistant Librarian in an FE college which is providing me with valuable experience and I hope to be able to use all the transferable skills from my previous roles in securing a permanent library role. OA

  2. Anonymous, feel free to share your experiences (and read others') at the project Anabel was referring to...

  3. Hi, Anabel - lovely to hear your career path! Interesting that we overlapped at Mansfield all those years ago and where we have both gone to since then! Glad to have found you again and I will enjoy following your blog and you on Twitter from now on.

    Best wishes, Anne