Our first post has been written by Sarah, our benevolent founder, wherein she explains a little about her career path to date. If you have any questions for her, she tweets as @SarahArkle
The thing I tend to ask almost every librarian I meet is almost always along the lines of – ‘how did you get into this career’, which can be loosely translated as ‘please tell me your secrets about how to do well in this field’. This is indeed a common question I find most people in my position asking their colleagues and superiors. Inevitably, there’s often the phrase ‘well, I got AHRC funding to do the postgraduate course so I decided just to give it a go’. Sadly, this isn’t really the case anymore, so I thought it might be useful to have this question answered by people who are experiencing the profession as it currently stands – somewhat undervalued and underfunded, so that all current aspiring and future librarians/information workers can (hopefully) relate.
I initially became interested in libraries as a career option in my third year of university in 2013. I was researching postgraduate courses on book conservation and I kept seeing libraries mentioned as places that graduates from these courses were hired by. Around the same time, I was also considering continuing my studies in English Literature and had ordered a postgraduate prospectus from The University of Sheffield, where I was studying at the time. Flicking through I noticed an MA in Librarianship, and stopped to look at it incredulously. ‘You need a masters degree to be a librarian?’ I asked myself. I started researching the career online, only because I was surprised by the need for a postgraduate qualification when I happened upon the list of graduate training opportunities listed on lisjobnet. This piqued my interest; reading the job descriptions for some of the roles I started thinking I could definitely do it, and really enjoy it, and that was more or less the moment I decided libraries may well be the place for me.
After a few unsuccessful traineeship applications (as in, not even shortlisted for interview…) whilst still in third year, I decided I needed to try harder to get my foot in the door. I emailed every single public library in Sheffield at the time enquiring about doing work experience. Due to issues with funding and staffing most libraries responded to say they wouldn’t be in a position to help me but eventually I had a response from the librarian at Walkley Library offering me a placement. I was then given the opportunity to extend this placement with a stint in the Central Lending library. In these placements I was given the opportunity to learn a little about the basic day to day tasks required of a library assistant. This mainly included staffing the enquiry desk, processing requests, returns and transits and reshelving. Whilst doing this I continued applying for Graduate Trainee roles, and finally started getting some interviews. I was interviewed for a college traineeship and for one other traineeship in Oxford but was unsuccessful. Eventually, I interviewed at a school in the midlands and was offered the post but turned it down as I knew university libraries were where I really wanted to be.
Of course, a lot of people thought I was insane, turning down a guaranteed job after university, but I knew that it wasn’t what I wanted and as such felt it was unfair on the school to accept a job I knew I could only do half-heartedly. So, I did what a lot of other people in my year did, and that was graduate, move in with a parent, and go on the dole. I spent a while applying for any and every library job I could find and was eventually offered a post at an FE College in Oxford, which is really the point I consider the beginning of my ‘career’ so far. Now I won’t go into excessive amounts of detail about my time there, but I had a lot of freedom to pursue my own projects alongside the day to day running of the library and as such got more experience of collections management, coordinating projects and user education as well as the skills more associated with day to day library management. I left after a year because I was offered one of the Graduate Traineeships with the Bodleian Libraries, which is my current role ending in August.
Graduate Traineeships are quite a traditional way to get into the LIS sector, and in my experience, it has been incredibly useful as alongside the actual working knowledge of libraries gained, we have been very much supported throughout the year with career advice, professional development opportunities and advice on applying to library school. This has been incredibly useful, and I’ve already mentioned that this was one of the things which motivated me to get FLIP off the ground. I’ve had a fantastic time in my trainee role so far, and now we’re so close to the end of it I will be pretty devastated to leave. This isn’t a choice, sadly – although I am incredibly excited for my next steps, which happen to also be the oh-so traditional route of doing the postgraduate qualification after the trainee year. I’ll be moving back to Sheffield in September to do their MA in Librarianship full time. And from there who knows where I will go next, hopefully not back on the dole
Although I have taken what is a quite traditional route into the career, that is not to say it is the only way to be successful. We’ve got some posts lined up from people who have not had graduate trainee roles, to talk about their career development so keep an eye out for those coming soon. Regardless of how you decide to push for a career in this field, I would only advise that you don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to other librarians – this is an incredibly friendly career and I’ve found other library people nothing but welcoming and supportive.