Our latest post is from Rebecca Mulvaney, who talks through her route into the profession. Find her on Twitter: @beccavane
Like so many people who seem to stumble into this profession, my first role in a library was the product of convenience rather than providence. After graduating with a degree in English from the University of Liverpool in 2013 I was set to start an MA in Renaissance Literature the following September, but my temporary contract as a Communications Assistant with a local arts organisation was coming to an end and I needed to find another part-time job. I wanted to be working as close to the campus as possible, so when an entry level position in University of Liverpool’s Library came up I applied without a second thought. I had prior experience working with their Special Collections and Archives team – with whom I’d collaborated for my dissertation; a decent knowledge of the higher education sector, and enough customer service experience to make me an ideal candidate; despite turning up late for the interview!
Less than a year later I was seconded to a higher grade post and was convinced that Academic Libraries were my niche. I loved the atmosphere, the yearly cycles of exams, open days and welcome weeks, the challenge of solving bizarre queries and dishing out life-hacks to first years. Not only was I enjoying the job, I was good at it – all my staggered forays into roles and industries which I’d explored through student internships, work placements and temporary contracts had equipped me with a hybrid array of skills, and in a library I could potentially use them all. I took every opportunity offered and kept asking for more responsibility, until something entirely unexpected happened – I started to get bored.
To put my boredom into context; I’d previously worked in a customer services role in a high-street bank for six years and the day-to- day responsibilities of a library assistant are uncannily similar (just swap the books for money). On top of that, UoL’s Library has the luxury of employing a huge staff team. Whereas in a smaller academic library I may have been helping with acquisitions or assisting an academic librarian alongside Helpdesk duties, at Liverpool my rota of tasks began to feel restrictive. I desperately wanted a career in libraries but I needed to progress to preserve my sanity, something that wouldn’t be easy until I’d completed an MA in Librarianship. Then there was the issue of even financing another postgraduate degree, I was only working part-time and full-time posts in Liverpool’s academic libraries are as rare as a dry English summer.
However, after finding my niche in libraries, I was loathed to start searching for alternatives. I was lucky to return to my post as Communications Assistant with Abandon Normal Devices for a time, working alongside my library hours, but the position wasn’t permanent and I had to commute to Manchester – chipping away at the money I intended to save for an MA. I applied for a few administrative jobs within local Universities too but couldn’t face returning to a role with so little flexibility and space for new ideas. I investigated the possibility of applying for graduate traineeships but it wasn’t the right time of year and I couldn’t move away from the Northwest because I’d already signed a house contract. I knew I eventually had to commit to a full-time post, but I was determined to keep searching for a role with links to the library and information science profession.
To cut a long story short – I found the ideal post, not in an academic library or even a public library but in the University of Liverpool’s Students Union (Liverpool Guild of Students). I’ve now been working at the Guild as a Student Voice Coordinator for nearly a year; recruiting and training student volunteers, looking after course representation, running quality enhancement projects, conducting research, liaising with academic staff to improve the student experience and sitting side by side in committees with the academic librarians whose role I aspire to. Student Unions invest a huge amount of time and money – when possible – into developing their staff and so I’ve been inundated with training opportunities, shipped off to conferences and encouraged to invest in my own knowledge and skills progression. I’ve become an expert on areas of higher education policy that I never knew existed and I’m seeing the impact of the decisions made by Governments, Research Councils and Universities from the perspectives of both students and academic staff across the UK.
I’ve also worked on two fantastic projects delivered by the University of Liverpool Library, Pass the Book and Library on Tour, each driven by a staff team who are keen to experiment with ways of expanding academic library services. The projects grew out of feedback from students and were developed with extensive student consultation which I could lead on due to my expertise from the Guild. I found myself embedded in these projects at all levels – collaborating with librarians and library assistants at every stage from conception to implementation, from running surveys to writing tag lines. Although my role in the Guild is technically at the same grade as my previous post as a Library Assistant I have the agency to collaborate with a wider range of departments across the University; from the E-Learning Unit to the Liverpool Doctoral College, and I have a much greater degree of autonomy and responsibility – so it is impossible to get bored!
The next step for me is to start my MSc in Information Science – Library Management via distance learning at Northumbria University in September. Working with the academic librarian team via the Guild confirmed that this is the right path for me to follow and thankfully I’m now in a position to afford the tuition fees. I’ll also be investing time and money in attending conferences around the UK – including CILIP’s Rare Books and Special Collections Group Conference this September and LISDIS 2016 in November. Although the expense might seem daunting, there are often bursaries for conferences available and it’s worth starting to build your professional network early on. And finally, although I’m excited to finally be moving onto the next stage of my career I won’t be leaving the Liverpool Guild of Students any time soon, there are new library projects in the pipeline and it’s the perfect place for me to gain the experience I need.