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 Brown 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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- What works in one sector can work in another so if you want to make a change, just do it.