I keep meaning to write about my library root/route, so this is my contribution. My roots and route are ever so traditional, as far as librarianship goes, but I hope there’ll be something of interest and use in there.
Undergraduate Degree (2005 – 2008)
I did an undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature at The University of Leeds (I stuck heavily to the literature and did as little language as possible!), because I’d always been strong in arts and humanities subjects at school, and out of my A-Levels (English Literature, Sociology, German, ICT, Critical Thinking and General Studies) English was the one I thought would be the most interesting (and, to be honest, make me sound the cleverest, because when you’re 18 that’s all that really matters eh?) I was already under the impression that it didn’t really make that much of a difference what particular artsy/humanitiesy degree you do, they employment prospects are massively limited unless you particularly excel, so I didn’t think too much about a career. I figured the choices would probably be teaching, office work or doing a more vocational Masters degree, and I’d worry about it later.
By the end of my second year at university, I began to curse 18 year-old me for being quite so relaxed about career prospects, and 16 year-old me for picking the A-Levels I did, and 13 year-old me for picking the GCSEs I did, and 11 year-old me for not listening more in Science, and then I realised there was little point in all of that and started panicking about what the heck I was going to do for a job that wouldn’t destroy me. I’d seen my mum have a horrible time of secondary school teaching so that was a definite no, and I’d watched friends go through the incredibly competitive and often soul-destroying process of getting into newspaper journalism, so despite having spent most Friday afternoons during sixth form in the newsroom of my local paper doing work experience (instead of General Studies classes – time well spent!) I decided I wasn’t going to go into that either. If not teaching or the media, where’s an English graduate going to go?!
I had a think about the kind of thing I wanted to do, and a couple of things stuck out; I wanted to help people learn without having to do it in a classroom/school environment, and I wanted to make a contribution to improving society in some way. Grand aims indeed, but I do think sticking to my guns with the big themes was helpful at that point. I started looking at prospects.ac.uk – I don’t know how I found it, but find it I did – careers in academic librarianship. Spot on! I had a look at how to get into it, and two recommendations were general work experience in a library environment, and a graduate traineeship. So I promptly set about getting both.
Library Work Experience (2007 – 2008)
During my third year of university I worked for 15 hours a week as a Senior Information Assistant at Leeds Metropolitan University. The post was a maternity leave cover and worked really well around my studies. I made an effort to find out what people there did, what kind of roles there were and what made an academic library work. There were lots of opportunities to get stuck in with different things when it was really busy and there was a real emphasis on improving your customer service skills.
Graduate Traineeship (2008 – 2009)
I was able to use my experience to apply for three graduate traineeships – Manchester University, Leeds University and Leeds Met. I was interviewed by Manchester and Leeds Met, and was successful with the Leeds Met one. It was an educational year and I’d recommend trying to get a graduate traineeship, because although it’s not the only way to get into the vocation, it has the potential to be a very focussed, clear-cut route with opportunities to find out about what’s out there. Keeping a reflective diary proved invaluable and it’s good practice for later on. It’s well worth keeping your eye out for conference bursaries, visits and other opportunities because as a graduate trainee you should be in a perfect position for a) writing a good begging letter about how you really really need this opportunity and b) getting given time off work to do CPD things. Among other things, I was able to go to the IAML (UK & Irl) Study Weekend and helped design a poster for the LILAC conference. I also started to meet people working in other libraries in the area, like the graduate trainees at Leeds University and the brilliant team at Leeds College of Music. It all helped give me a bit of an insight into how vast the LIS profession is.
Masters (2009 – 2010)
I had the option of studying at Masters level at Leeds Met or Sheffield, and decided on the MA in Librarianship in the Information School at Sheffield. Having spoken to people who’ve done their Masters at different universities, I’m really glad I chose Sheffield and continue to be impressed by the work they’re doing and the standard of teaching you get on the MA course. Even though I never did get to formally learn about cataloguing (long story!), I think the opportunity to study, debate and present on areas such as ethics, emerging technologies, management, budgeting and issues such as open access was incredibly valuable and has provided me with an excellent grounding in the field of librarianship. Liz Chapman wrote a piece for us at Voices for the Library about the value of a professional qualification, in which she wrote:
“While the MA provided me with skills and knowledge in a number of disparate areas – from finding and assessing high-quality information resources to basic web design – its key advantage for professional practice was that it provided a wider and more strategic overview of librarianship than it would have been possible to gain from working in an individual library service. This gave me the ability to consider the relative merits of various competing demands, and awareness of the different ways in which things are done in different library services. I learned about the laws and professional ethics governing librarianship and information provision, and gained a greater awareness of the socio-cultural value of libraries and their contribution to other agendas, such as education, employment and quality of life. While the course included more abstract and philosophical elements, it was – like much librarianship research – primarily geared towards professional practice.”
A Masters is very much what you make of it, in terms of what assignment topics you decide to study and what extra-curricular activities you get up to. As well as throwing myself into the degree and really enjoying being in an academic environment doing research about things I found incredibly interesting, I was very busy with paid work – between the August after finishing my graduate traineeship and up until I started a full time job a couple of weeks before the dissertation deadline, I worked in a lot of different libraries/information services. At one point I was juggling a full-time MA and five part-time jobs. I shan’t pretend it wasn’t for the money, but it was also for the experience, and the variety of experiences I had, the different users and environments I encountered and the skills I built upon have all been of great benefit.
Library Advocacy (2010 – ongoing!)
I got involved in library campaigning for Save Doncaster Libraries in June 2010 and co-founded Voices for the Library in August/September 2010, and well, it’s been an incredible year and a bit! I was honoured to be named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker 2011 and have done all kinds of bits and pieces of writing, public speaking, media interviews and other things. I try to keep tabs on it here.
Post-Masters Employment (2010 – 2011)
For money and life reasons, I needed a full-time job as soon as possible after my Masters. I spent June and July applying for any vaguely interesting and well-paid jobs going (there weren’t that many library jobs to be had) and took a job back at the University of Leeds, as a Learning and Teaching Support Officer. I work in the School of History, making sure all things learning and teaching related run smoothly. Although this isn’t directly related to libraries, I’m involved in a small degree of library liaison, and I give lectures and support to students about learning resources, referencing, plagiarism and other things that they could ask the library about but often don’t seem to want to. I spend a lot of time advertising library services to staff and students! I’m also responsible for content and Turnitin assignments on the VLE, which is, I think, going to become an increasingly relevant part of academic librarians’ roles.
PhD (2012 – 2015)
My Masters dissertation topic was the role of public libraries in supporting and encouraging democratic engagement, which I found incredibly interesting and more importantly, very relevant to what’s going on in society and libraries at the moment. I decided I wanted to look into the topic more, and do something that would hopefully make a real difference to the way public library services are understood and viewed by stakeholders. I’m starting a PhD at the University of Strathclyde in January and am very much looking forward to it. I’ve read a couple of blog posts over the last few days about the direction LIS research is/should be heading in (including this one by libcroft) and I’d very much like to make a positive contribution to the field and help take it in a direction that enables us to clearly articulate the role and value of library and information services.
Beyond that? Who knows! So much has happened in the last year that I really didn’t see coming the day I turned up at a protest to save a library, that I can’t even begin to guess what might happen next.
I looked into the possibility of chartership a couple of months ago and although CILIP said that my campaigning and involvement in various conferences and events demonstrate that I can address a “wider professional context and active commitment to professional development”, I don’t think I’m going to do it. My current job doesn’t really offer me the opportunity to collect enough evidence to put together a good portfolio, and I think realistically it’s just not the right time (not least because of the time it requires that I just don’t have). I’ll save that one for later, I think.