Thought I’d join in with the Library Routes Project and blog about how I ended up as a librarian, and how I got to my current post.
I was a very early reader; apparently I taught myself to read a bit when I was 3, and the teachers at nursery school worried about me for a while because I insisted on reading all the picture books before I’d go and play with the other children. I used my public library regularly and had my own bookshelves too, holding favourite reads that I’d plough through over and over again. When I was a little older a few friends joked that I’d grow up to be a librarian, and this would bug me for some reason, I guess because it implied I was nerdy. Anyway I loved computers, and librarians don’t do anything computery, do they?
My parents had drummed into me from an early age that I was expected to go to uni, and so I did. I considered studying Computer Science for a long while, but ended up going for one of my other favourite subjects: Music at Southampton University. By this time I was going out with my now-husband, and moved in with his family over the holidays so I could get work in London. His mum worked for the local council, saw an advert for vacation library assistants, and encouraged me to apply. I thought ‘why not?’ as the pay was decent for a holiday job and the hours were ideal, and I was fortunate enough to get a post.
My role was an unusual one – a vacation assistant based almost entirely behind the scenes, working for the community library service rather than a particular branch. Lots of photocopying worksheets for kids doing summer events; basic circulation, processing and withdrawing old stock; helping out colleagues with IT bits and pieces etc. One of the most interesting bits for me was preparing playgroup loans – crates of 30-odd books with a set number from each section of stock kept in rolling stacks (board books, picture books, multicultural, non-fiction etc). A few times I got to go out as a second person on the mobile library which was based at my workplace; unfortunately this was never a fantastic experience as the mobile staff only wanted a helper if they were going somewhere a bit dodgy! I ended up doing this job for all three of my student summers, getting slightly more responsible tasks each time, but I still didn’t think of librarianship as a career, maybe because outreach/children’s work didn’t particularly appeal.
What finally got me thinking seriously about it as a career was a blog post a friend of mine did when she was considering what to do after uni. She linked to a few different pages about librarianship and graduate trainee schemes, including the CILIP website. I’d had no other serious career plans at the time (writing jingles for a living sounded fun but precarious) and suddenly this seemed like a decent option, with a logical career progression which meant I’d know what to do for the next few years! I ended up following the ‘traditional’ career route she’d researched pretty closely – in my final year at uni I applied to some traineeships and spent the next year at the London Library (a lovely place to work and to visit if you get the chance). From there I got a place on the full-time MSc in Library and Info Studies at City plus AHRC funding (yes, I was a truly lucky one), enjoying the geeky modules, tolerating the rest and writing my dissertation on using tagging to describe music according to its mood/emotion.
Between finishing the diploma and starting the dissertation I worked for a month as a library assistant at Trinity College of Music as sick leave cover, and apparently I made a positive impression! This experience got my foot in the door of music libraries, and I’m sure played a big part in me getting an Assistant Librarian job at the Royal College of Music after completing my dissertation (after several unsuccessful interviews elsewhere, including a cringeworthy experience at the BBC for which I was woefully underprepared…).
My current job is Librarian (Systems and User Education) at Trinity College of Music – as a temp I envied my colleague doing the job, so when I heard it was becoming vacant I just had to go for it. To my great fortune I was appointed and this week I’ll have been working at TCM for two years! I love the systems side of things, and have been incredibly lucky as the Jerwood Library’s a very supportive workplace and my boss has encouraged me to get plenty of training and attend events to continue my professional development (although I’ve decided not to formally charter for now). The user education side comes less naturally to me – I do love helping people to find information and empower them to do it themselves, but I’m not a natural ‘teacher’ of groups. I also look after online resources and marketing, which means I get to use Facebook for work!
Since starting at TCM I’ve become embroiled in the world of music libraries – I’ve joined IAML(UK & Irl) and attended one of their Annual Study Weekends which was very interesting and good fun. I’m also the current secretary of the Music Libraries Trust which is another new experience for me and fascinating to see how a grant-making group works from the inside! Who knows what awaits me in the long term – right now I feel quite strongly that I wouldn’t like my boss’ job leading a whole library because of the amount of bureaucracy and diplomacy that requires. A 100% systems/online resources/e-librarian type job in the future is appealing but I’m happy where I am at the moment. I got to where I am today with a large amount of good luck (e.g. the timing of various vacancies); I think serendipity must play a role in most people’s careers!