For this week’s Thing we have been asked to blog about our career paths and our experiences within the library profession, so here is my story so far…
I’ve always had an interest in libraries, but it didn’t occur to me to pursue a career in this area until a few years ago when I discovered the existence of graduate traineeships. I immediately became interested in applying for one of these posts, but I didn’t do so straight away because at the time I was about to embark on a Masters degree in English Literature. However, the idea of becoming a librarian had been planted in my brain and after doing some further research into librarianship as a career, I decided that this was what I wanted to do.
I’m not sure why I didn’t think of librarianship before this point, as at school I was always a very organised and bookish sort of person who enjoyed learning and finding out information. I wish that the school careers advisor had suggested it to me, but instead he kept insisting that I should become a teacher because my best subject was English. I wasn’t convinced that I should become a teacher and so I ended up doing my school work experience in a hairdresser’s salon; however, I could tell from the pained expressions on people’s faces while I was attempting to wash their hair that I was not cut out for a career in this area. I later found out that one of my friends had done her work experience in the local public library and I remember feeling quite jealous about this, which ought to have been a clue as to my future career interests!
I first started applying for library jobs after I completed my MA, but I wasn’t very successful at first. I made speculative applications to all of the public libraries in my local area, but there were no job opportunities available at the time. After applying further a-field, I also managed to get a couple of (unsuccessful) job interviews for library assistant posts. At one of these interviews I met one of the other candidates; we got chatting and I discovered that she already had an MA in Librarianship. This was quite intimidating and it made me realise how competitive the library sector can be. On the other hand, I felt encouraged by the fact that, despite having zero actual library experience, I had been interviewed alongside someone who already had a library qualification, and this motivated me to keep trying for library work.
Eventually I had an interview for a Saturday job at a local public library – which I didn’t get. However, a couple of months later the person who took the job decided to leave, and as I had been the second choice candidate I was offered the position! At last I had a foot in the door of my chosen profession.
I worked in the public library for around 8 months and I found the work really rewarding. I was lucky enough to be working in a very busy library, which meant that I was able to interact with lots of different kinds of people. I really enjoyed chatting to the library users about books and helping them to find what they were looking for. After a while, I started to recognise the regular patrons when they came to visit and they also recognised me, which was really nice as it made the library feel like a real little community. The team of librarians and library assistants who I worked with were also a great bunch of people and I had a lot of fun working with them.
However, I knew that I eventually wanted to work in an academic library because I have a strong interest in education, and so after a few months I applied for several of the highly coveted graduate traineeships. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting to get one straight away, as although I had plenty of customer service experience from previous jobs, my library experience was still pretty meagre and I thought that I might have to work in libraries for a bit longer before I was seen as a good candidate. My first couple of failed graduate trainee interviews seemed to prove this theory, but on my third try I succeeded! A few months later I moved to Cambridge to begin my traineeship at one of the Colleges of Cambridge University.
Fast-forward a year and I have now almost reached the end of my traineeship. It has been a really valuable experience and I have learnt a huge amount. As well as having classes in important library skills such as cataloguing and web page writing, I have been able to visit lots of different kinds of libraries, attend conferences, and collaborate on projects with my fellow Cambridge graduate trainees and librarians. I feel really lucky to have had this experience and I know that it will stand me in good stead when I’m hunting for my next library job.
I won’t be job-hunting for a little while yet though, as in September I will be starting my Masters in Library and Information Studies at UCL. I’m both excited and nervous about this, which I expect is a normal way to feel – having done a Masters before, I think I’m probably more nervous than most people because I know first-hand the amount of work involved! I’m looking forward to it though and I’m very grateful to have been awarded AHRC funding for the course.
As to what comes next: I’m hoping to strengthen my CV with a bit of voluntary library work if I can fit it in around my MA next year, as I’m sure that competition for library jobs is only going to intensify. After I’m qualified, I’m hoping to land a job in either a University, college or school library where I can work directly with the students and other library users. I’d like to be involved in user education, possibly by teaching information literacy skills, but I’m also interested in web development so I might look for a role where I’m working with Virtual Learning Environments. The great thing about the library sector is that there are many different kinds of jobs and the work is so varied, so I’m sure that there are many interesting roles out there that would potentially suit me.
After I’ve secured my ideal job, I shall probably be looking towards Chartership as my next career step – but this seems a very long way into the future at the moment! For the time being I’m going to focus on the present, which is my MA and my impending move down to London to begin my studies – only one more month to go and still so much to organise!