Monday, 22 August 2011

Thing 10 - Routes into Librarianship, or, My Library Life So Far

I am one of the many people who fell into librarianship. I had just graduated from Leicester University with a BA in English and felt much like Princeton in the stage show Avenue Q:

What do you do with a BA in English?

What is my life going to be?

Four years of college

And plenty of knowledge

Have earned me this useless degree.

I can't pay the bills yet,

Cause I have no skills yet.

The world is a big scary place.

But somehow I can't shake

The feeling I might make

A difference to the human race.

("What do you do with a B.A. in English?" 2003, Avenue Q: the Musical, Music & Lyrics by Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx)

After returning home due to lack of funds I was roped into helping set up a Library Access Point (LAP) in my home village. LAPs are small libraries which are managed and staffed by volunteers in partnership with county councils. We opened our LAP in October 2003 and I started volunteering on the Monday afternoon and Saturday morning slots. I answered the advertisement for a Graduate Library Trainee at the Classical Faculty Library at the University of Cambridge and came second. So I carried on volunteering and learning to drive. By this point, I was thinking that library work was for me, partly because I wasn't qualified to do anything else, and I didn't want to be stuck in admin for the rest of my life.

Luckily, in January 2004, I got a letter from Classics offering me the trainee post as the trainee had left to study for a PhD. So I came in too late to join the other trainees in most of the library visits and in setting up CATALOG so I felt my year was less like a traditional traineeship and more like a contract library assistant job. I learned MARC21 cataloguing, classification, serials management and conservation. I helped students. I watered the plants. Nearing the end of my traineeship, I didn't know if I wanted to do a Masters in librarianship. I was toying with doing a PGCE and then I thought I'd get some more library experience once my trainee year was over.

A year in the wilderness doing library volunteering and lots of different temp positions (admin again) and I stumbled upon my current job, which I've now been doing for five and a half years. During this time I've seen the library change from an overstocked out-of-date book repository to a bright, welcoming, up-to-date working library. I've also seen my job and its various roles shrink as print journals have decreased and more library services become automated and online. This is undoubtedly a good thing for our users, but it means that I have grown out of my role.

I applied for the MA/MSc Information & Library Management at Northumbria University and studied by distance learning, which was hard, as I was also working full time and there just aren't enough hours in the day. I did enjoy my studies, although I found the lack of interaction with other students quite isolating (VLEs and forums only really work if everyone uses them). After many frustrating hours and some sleepless nights, I passed my dissertation and I'm now looking to move on to a professional post. If anyone sees such a post in Cambridge, please let me know.


Becky said...

Hi there- how are things going now? Did you find another job? I'm still in the first wave of CPD23, almost there, but am browsing through the Library Routes page, and stumbled on you! Love the pink font btw!

@LDN_Librarian said...

Hi Pink Librarian! I too have stumbled into the world of librarianship... I've been working in a public library for 2 years now, though I feel I have reached somewhat of a glass ceiling career-wise.

I am seriously considering doing the Librarianship Ba Hons distance learning course through Northumbria. I just wanted to ask (even though yours was a higher course) if you thought it was good/worthwhile/well administered? And whether Northumbria was a decent uni through which to do distance learning?

Like you I am working full-time, so do not want to comit 3/4 years of my life/spare time to something that is not worthwhile...

All the best for your career,


@LDN_Librarian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pink Librarian said...

Hi both. Still on the job hunt, although on a positive note I now have a lot of experience filling in application forms and have been to a few interviews, which really helps you to feel more confident every time you go to one.

In terms of postgraduate study, the most important thing is to choose the course that is right for you. Does it cover the things that interest you? Is the way the course is run appropriate to your needs (i.e. distance learning or part time or full time)? Do you prefer coursework assessment to exams? Can you afford it, both in terms of time and money?

The latter is the most important point I think. While the Northumbria course has good content, delivers the course effectively online and only takes 2years instead of the normal 4 for DL, if you can't fit it into your working life schedule, consider a longer course duration, such as that offered by Aberystwyth. The tight timescale requires you to manage your time very efficiently - you may have to stop doing some hobbies or interests, cut back on holiday or family time, use all your Annual Leave to study for assignments.

In terms of academic support, the course leader Biddy Casselden was very supportive throughout and all the lecturers are available via email. The only problem I had was with the DL administration, so be prepared to follow up any issues that aren't dealt with swiftly - go straight to the programme leader if the office can't help.

I can't advise you which course to choose - my experiences may have been different to other people on my course. All I can say is that it was the most convenient course for me and there were no compulsory visits to Newcastle, so extra costs were limited.