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So why did I become a librarian?

Ned Potter has recently set up a wiki, Library Routes, to record how and why people became librarians. It seems like an interesting project, and the many and varied routes people have taken in becoming librarians are quite fascinating! So I thought I’d add my two cents, for whatever it’s worth.

I was a library user from a very young age – according to my parents (whose testimony is not entirely impartial and unbiased) I was a horrible child and the only place I was ever quiet was in the library. Clearly I had an inkling of my fate from a very young age! I went through the usual career plans most children go through – ballerina, jockey, actress – and settling on becoming an astronaut. As you do. It was only when I found out, aged around nine, I believe, that you needed a solid grounding in science that I decided that perhaps being an astronaut wasn’t for me.

Apparently I told my mother when I was six that I planned to go to university to study English Literature. This didn’t seem inconsistent with being an astronaut at the time. And I did indeed go to university to study English Literature. I did a Joint Honours degree with American Studies, purely for personal interest – had a wonderful time and graduated without the slightest clue of what I wanted to do. Most career advisors or careers software threw up the same results – librarian, journalist, teacher. Anything to do with words, basically.

As I hadn’t taken a gap year and had attended university a year early, aged seventeen, I decided to take a year out and ‘find myself’. So to speak. I worked as a legal secretary for a year and very quickly decided that the legal profession was not for me. A library assistant vacancy in my local public library came up, a library I had been a member of for as long as I could remember, and I applied for and got the position.

The library is what is known as a portal library, which means it was one of the largest in the county and the staff based there oversaw and occasionally staffed the smaller village libraries as well. I was part of the stock and promotions team, which meant I was involved in the adding, processing and weeding of all the library stock – something which really set me up with a solid understanding of collection development. I was also involved in a lot of the events and promotions we ran – from the Silver Surfers training courses to the Summer Reading Challenge.

After about a year I decided I had found the career for me and applied to Loughborough University’s library school, both because it was nearest to me and also had a fantastic reputation. The library were very accomodating in rearranging my hours so I could work part-time and attend university part-time. I did the M.A. in Library & Information Management in two years, writing my final dissertation on copyright issues relating to fan activity online.

After graduation I applied for a number of jobs, often coming in as second choice only through ‘lack of experience’ – the old ‘need experience to get experience’ chestnut, which I’m sure frustrates so many new graduates. After about six or seven interviews I was offered a choice between a position at the Atomic Weapons Establishment or a position an FE college. I went for the latter as I wanted to work in academia and I preferred the thought of students as customers to atomic physicists!

I’ve never regretted the decision. The pay may be less, but the rewards are so much greater. Like most FE colleges, it specialises in vocactional subjects, so many of the students are not traditional library users. There is consequently a great emphasis on user education, and I spend a large proportion of my day teaching information literacy, either singly or in groups. It’s incredibly rewarding when students come to me to follow up on sessions I have run with them, and I see that they are slowly coming to understand the importance of referencing, citation, search strategies, website evaluation and the like.

There are also great opportunities here to experiment and broaden our focus. We have fantastic online resources, and I’m currently in the process of setting up an integrated search system and link resolver to further facilitate access to these resources. We’re looking at going down the RFID route, and we’ve recently completely overhauled our suite of information literacy workshops, expanding into areas like Careers, Public Speaking, Social Media etc. I get to be intimately involved in all of the decisions, and E-Resources has become my area of speciality, which means I get to take on big projects, which is something I love.

Being a librarian isn’t easy. There’s a great deal of misunderstanding about the profession, and often the work environment can be immensely challenging. You have to like people; you have to want to help; you have to be patient and long-suffering and pain-staking and incredibly detail-focused. But I wouldn’t change it for a second.

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