Sophie and Lucy are both Graduate Trainees at FE Colleges in the Activate Learning group, working at different sites. Here they compare their experiences and discuss their motivations for the future.
What did you do before starting the graduate training scheme, and why did you decide to take your current job?
Sophie: I graduated with a Masters in Medieval and Renaissance Culture from the University of Southampton in 2015 (having previously done my Bachelor’s in Music at the same institution). I knew I wanted to stay in the academic environment but decided not to do a PhD for health and financial reasons, so I looked into other academic jobs to get a feel for what else was out there. I found myself looking at jobs in libraries, museums, and archives, and I eventually began applying for jobs in libraries because it looked like the most stable option. I was initially interested in working in Higher Education, with a particular interest in rare books and manuscripts. I encountered a hurdle early on because by the time I finished studying for my Master’s in mid-September, most of the graduate trainee positions were already filled. I was also fairly limited in location as I had already made the decision to move to Reading. However I did eventually manage to secure a place as a Graduate Trainee at City of Oxford College Library. Although working in Further Education wasn’t what I had initially envisioned, I feel that it has been an invaluable experience to work somewhere so different to what I was used to.
Lucy: I felt similarly, I graduated in 2014 from the University of Reading with a joint degree in Art & Philosophy and endless questions about my intentions. I knew the sectors I wanted to work in – heritage, culture, charity or education, but with even entry level jobs asking for relevant experience and MAs I seemed to be in professional no-man’s land. I spent a lot of time looking at job adverts and thought library and archive work might be a way in and it didn’t seem an outlandish stretch from my previous customer service work experience. Like many recent graduates I’ve worked in cafes, bars and shops, I had a very unfortunate stint in a call-centre and a much more enjoyable but financially impossible internship in a London arts centre marketing office, whilst constantly applying for graduate roles and traineeships in libraries, museums and galleries. When I got offered the Graduate Traineeship at Reading College Library I was overjoyed, it finally felt like a chance to try a real career option.
How is the trainee scheme going? What does it involve?
Sophie: The role has involved some of the skills I learnt at university such as research and organisation while other aspects of the job, particularly public speaking and confronting disruptive students, have put me way out of my comfort zone. I have also gained some new professional interests through this role – I am much more interested in doing computer-related tasks than I thought I would be. I have particularly enjoyed working on the library website and this has inspired me to dust off my extremely rusty HTML skills! Aside from the day-to-day tasks of running a library the role has given the opportunity to be involved in special projects, some of which we have worked on together. These included running the Reading Ahead challenge, writing subject guides, and doing stocktakes. These projects also involved other members of staff who we wouldn’t normally work with, and it was really interesting to get the chance to work in a number of different team dynamics.
Lucy: I agree, it’s been such a varied role and we also have had the opportunity to job swap one day a week which has given us both a chance to experience how even the same job on paper might vary in other teams and places. I enjoy having the opportunity to work in very different ways across the week, from one-on-one tutorials with students to problem solving glitches in our database and digital resources to working directly with our books, finding ways to make our collection as clearly organised and accessible as possible. It is refreshing to be able to utilise and develop a broad range of skills – I feel so much more engaged and able to contribute as a well-rounded person (I’m no longer a coffee machine or an automated script)!
What are your plans for the future? Have you decided to do an MA in Librarianship?
Sophie: I decided quite early on that I wanted to pursue a career in librarianship and have a place to study Library and Information Studies at University College London part time. Part of my rationale for deciding to stay in the profession is the amount of variation between different roles, and the possibility of experiencing aspects of librarianship which are outside my current sphere of knowledge. The course at UCL has a wide range of modules which cater both to my existing interests (such as manuscript studies) and things I’d be interested in learning more about, including the more IT based modules. However this has not been a financially easy decision, and I am currently weighing up my options on how to finance the course and entering the depths of a new round of job applications! I still hope to work in a Higher Education or Special Collections focussed environment eventually, but I am very glad to have worked in such a different environment as it has given me a much more rounded experience of librarianship, and I feel I have gained skills that I perhaps would not have done if I had stuck firmly to one area of the profession.
Lucy: I’m also starting to apply for a new job. Although there’s a lot I’ve loved about my trainee year, I’m still interested in trying out a few more other jobs and broadening my working experience before I both professionally and financially commit to an MA. I would like to gain more experience in a cultural or heritage institution, perhaps in another traineeship. The more I’ve hunted for jobs since graduating, the more I’ve realised how many different but interrelated roles there are and I’m anxious to make the decision that’s both sensible job prospects-wise and right for me. I’ve also been seriously considering studying abroad and plan to work and save for another year first. However, I feel so much more confident than I did a year ago, I feel a little further away from being an inexperienced student and a little closer to finding what it is I want to do (and having the skills to do it).