I always meant to write about how I got into librarianship, and this Thing seems as good a time as any. Like many people, I didn’t want to be a librarian when I was younger. When I was at primary school, I was going to live on a farm with my friend Helen. She was going to be the farmer and I would look after the house. Realistically speaking, though I always wanted to go to university and knew from the age of about eleven that I wanted to study either English or History, I found it impossible to visualise a life after education.
In the end, I studied History at the University of York (2003-2006) which I loved. I briefly considered a few careers while I was there. I dismissed publishing and museum work because they were too competitive. I thought briefly about journalism and even wrote a couple of articles for one of the student newspapers, but didn’t pursue this. I volunteered in the Marketing department of York Theatre Royal and seriously considered a career in arts marketing, until I realised that it would probably require someone with a much more outgoing personality than I actually possessed. Ironically, I’ve now realised that librarianship is a. competitive and b. not ideal for the shy. If I’d known this at the time I would probably never have become a librarian, so it’s just as well I didn’t.
After university I went to St Petersburg, Russia, to teach English. I never had any intention of pursuing a career in teaching – it was simply a means to an end so that I could visit a country that interested me. I also wanted to experience going abroad, which I hadn’t been able to do much of previously – in fact when I got on that plane to Russia it was the first time I’d ever been on a plane in my life!
St Petersburg was lovely but I realised very quickly that teaching wasn’t my thing.
The adult classes weren’t too bad, in fact I came to enjoy them on occasion, but I was completely out of my depth when it came to the younger students. Also, I found having to stand in front of groups of people every day incredibly stressful. I left Russia after three months.
Back home, with no clear plan about the direction my life was supposed to be taking, I started temping and spent my spare time on the Internet looking for inspiration. Somehow I discovered CILIP, then the CATALOG website, and websites about other graduate traineeships. The more I read about librarianship, the more I felt it would suit me and the more I wondered that I’d never thought of it before. Not wanting to rush into anything, I decided not to apply for traineeships straight away, but wait for the next year’s round. I spent the next year working for my local council while volunteering at my local public library at the weekend, undertaking another work placement, and studying for the ECDL in my spare time while applying for every graduate traineeship on the CILIP website.
I ended up in Cambridge, as the Graduate Trainee at St John’s College (2008-2009). I loved the job, and was able to get experience in lots of different areas: reader services, cataloguing and classification, website design and archives and rare books, as well as visits to other libraries and training courses.
I wanted to study the Masters full-time so that I could get it over with. I applied for the MA in Librarianship at Sheffield (2009-2010) and was lucky enough to be accepted with AHRC funding. I really enjoyed the course, learned loads and met some lovely people. The practical experience vs formal qualification debate has been discussed before, but for me, the combination of both was ideal – I got so much out of both my traineeship and my MA and I honestly wouldn’t want to have missed out on either. During my course, I was Chair of the Library and Information Professionals Social Society (which chiefly involved trying to get my coursemates to the pub, with varying degrees of success), worked as a library assistant for a few hours per week and volunteered in Sheffield Cathedral Archives.
After the course, I couldn’t find a job straight away so ended up back home in the North East. I registered with an employment agency and a combination of my experience, qualifications and pure chance got me a temporary role as a Senior Information Assistant at Northumbria University, helping to administer the digital repository. I continued to apply for jobs in London, which is somewhere I’d wanted to live since I was a small child. Eventually I was successful and started working at the College of Law in February, helping to manage the VLE.
I would certainly like to charter at some point in the future, but not straight away. My current job is only a one-year contract, so I’d rather wait until I’m more settled before I get stuck in. Also, I feel that I’ll get more out of it if I wait a couple of years.
In the future, I’d like to work in an academic and/or research library; I would love to work with archives or rare books but I don’t know if this is a realistic option if I want to stay in London, which I certainly do. I’ll see what happens anyway!