I didn’t start blogging entirely because of the Library Routes Project, but since I found out about it earlier this year it’s been a source of continual interest, occasional inspiration, and a nagging “I want to be part of this” feeling at the back of my mind. Chatting to various people about my career path to date at the recent LISnpn meet-up provided the ultimate catalyst, and so here we are.
Looking back over things, I was probably always going to be a librarian. I apparently came home from my first day at school and told my mother that I didn’t think it was very good “because they haven’t taught me how to read yet”. Regular visits to our local library were a significant part of my childhood, as I quickly became a rapid and voracious reader, and at school I would read anything I could get my hands on. Reading English Literature at university (Southampton) seemed the obvious choice, and my BA led on to a part-time MA (focussing on Medieval and Renaissance literature, which sparked my enduring interest in manuscripts and rare books).
Graduating from my MA I didn’t really have a career plan as such, I had a part-time job in the local theatre but decided to look around for something more regular (and full-time). A job in the acquisitions department of Hampshire’s public library service sounded appealing, and I was lucky enough to secure the position. Two and a half years of happy reading followed, as I took home significant numbers of the books which passed across my desk.
This was a fantastic role to start in, as I gained direct experience of processing stock, handling invoices and basic cataloguing, as well as being able to see all the other elements of stock selection and acquisition in action. Later on, I spent some time assisting the music librarians with their scores lending service, and I also spent a month on secondment to some of the branch libraries where I learnt a lot about the public-facing aspects of library work.
After about a year in the job I decided that librarianship was a career I wanted to pursue properly, and encouraged by my colleagues I applied for the LIS MA at UCL. I decided to study the course part-time, and dropped my working hours slightly to accommodate this. I loved commuting up to London one day a week, usually staying overnight with friends to take advantage of cheaper train fares, and it was great to be studying again. I had been keen on the UCL MA largely because it offered manuscript studies and historical bibliography amongst the optional units, and these were definitely amongst my favourite parts of the course.
Half way through the course, I decided to move up to London. Taking this opportunity to try a different type of library work, I secured a post in the information centre at a City law firm, but as there was a three month gap between my move and the start of my new contract I spent the summer temping as a records management assistant. Legal information work was unsurprisingly very different, and I quickly learnt a range of new skills, including conducting searches across the legal databases we subscribed to, and preparing bulletins of news and developments in specific areas of law.
My contract and my degree conveniently finished simultaneously in September 2008, and I opted to look for my first professional post elsewhere – I really enjoyed my time as a legal information assistant but it didn’t feel like quite the right area for me at that stage (though who knows what the future will hold?!). Another temp post followed, this time at the Commonwealth Secretariat library, where I spent a very enjoyable six weeks working predominantly on a major reorganisation of their grey literature collection.
An aside on temping: a few years ago I would have said I really wasn’t tempted by temporary work. However, my own experience has taught me that it can be a fantastic way of acquiring new skills and experiences, and a lot of temporary posts can lead into longer term positions (the records management job I did was apparently always filled by a temp, and my predecessor had been there over a year).
I knew my Com.Sec. post was going to be a short-term contract, so I was madly applying for everything I thought I could do, and several things I thought I didn’t stand a chance of getting too. I was extremely glad about this when I secured my current role, which I had thought fell squarely into the latter category, and at the time of writing have been there for almost two years.
My current title is Information and Promotion Officer at the Royal Society. I initially thought that working in a learned society would be all about the rare books and archives, but it’s so much more than that. I do spend some of my week invigilating in the reading room, and fetching material for readers from our closed-access climate-controlled stores, but it’s really quite a small part of it all. On the more traditional library side, I catalogue, process and shelve our new book stock, check in journals and manage their circulation around the building, and answer enquiries on various aspects of our collections. I have also ended up as the departmental web person, so I spend quite a lot of time updating and adding content to our web pages, managing our blog, and promoting our events programme.
I very nearly called this post “Being in the right place at the right time”, because I do feel that’s rather how my career as a librarian has progressed to date. It’s been a fantastic journey so far, and I’m really looking forward to my professional future. Being a bit more settled, both professionally and personally, has given me the confidence to become more outward-looking too – I’ve recently re-joined CILIP, am planning to sign up to SLA Europe before too much longer, and am looking forward to increasing my involvement with the wider professional world.
Oh, and I’m currently avidly reading popular science books and scientist’s biographies. My husband (who has a Chemistry degree) finds my conversion into wannabe science geek most amusing, but I love learning about what I’m doing and how better to achieve that than by reading the books I work with?!
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