My Career so Far: Katie Smith

Our latest post is courtesy of Katie Smith, the current Graduate Trainee with Bradford District Care NHS foundation Trust. Here she shares insights into how she got into librarianship and provides some sound advice for any aspiring librarians looking to get a foot in the door. Find Katie on Twitter @NHSlibtrainee.

One afternoon in October, in my final year of university, I found myself in a room full of extra-curricularly minded students realising I wanted to work in a library.

Over my previous three years of study I had quite successfully evaded the question of what I would do with my theology and religious studies degree. I’d even managed to go on a university exchange to Canada to prolong answering this question. Yet in the end I found the biggest skeptic of my future was none other but me. Final year panic had set in. I absolutely had to improve my extra-curricular standings for anybody to take my CV seriously. Even though I didn’t know what my CV would be used for. And thus I became a course representative and found myself in a Student Staff Forum meeting last October. I felt a tang of unexpected envy when somebody else in the meeting volunteered to be the student liaison to the library for the department. I wanted to chat to the librarians. Librarians are cool. The penny dropped.

Jumping forward a year and a month and I’m now working in an NHS library in Bradford as a Graduate Trainee Librarian. On that fateful day last October I hadn’t pictured myself working in a health library. Fierce faculty rivalries had to be maintained at university in all aspects of study, particularly in the libraries. If the neuroscientists and medics kept to their Health Sciences Library then I too would uphold my end of the bargain and keep to the BA-student-haven of the Brotherton Library.

And so, with a blinkered vision I began to investigate the career routes into librarianship. I kept my eyes peeled over the final months of my degree on the lisjobnet website for graduate traineeships. Feeling disheartened with the pear shaped geographical distribution of traineeships and intimidated by the accounts of some graduate traineeships springing into their role from a Masters degree I decided to postpone applying until applications opened for the 17/18 cohort. I was not yet ready to leave the beloved North for a traineeship.  Besides, I reasoned that Yorkshire must be facing a constant struggle to employ enough library staff to fill all of its public and university libraries. Surely I could step in and easily snap up a role. Yet as best laid plans go I didn’t get any interviews from my library job applications over the following months. Libraries don’t give away roles compulsively. By July I was unwillingly exploring the gritty pits of my student overdraft and henceforth submitted myself to plan B to bring in the money: volunteer in a library for a year whilst working in a coffee shop.

No sooner had I modified my CV for a coffee shop than I noticed a new graduate trainee listing on lisjobnet based in Bradford… for an NHS library. With my BA trepidation laid aside I thought a little job nosiness could do no harm and I downloaded the details. The more I looked into the job description and imagined myself as their candidate, the more excited I became by the prospect. I submitted an application for the role and was invited to an interview. For once in my life I felt quite calm and collected about the interview and it went well enough for me to get a job offer!

I’ve been the Graduate Trainee Librarian at Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust for nearly three months now and I’ve still got a gleeful feeling of unexpectedly getting a job I really like! Spatially, the library is a mere mustard seed compared to the library giants in Higher Education but it means that I’m getting to know the other library staff and library regulars really well. The library is able to support our library users much more closely that larger libraries. The small size also requires my role to be incredibly varied (my apologies if this sounds like a cliché, a lot of Graduate Trainee’s claim their role is varied!). The majority of my time relates to customer service and the day to day running of the library; everything between shelving and dealing with telephone enquiries is within my domain. On the side of this I have a few other small projects to undertake throughout the year too relating to cataloguing and visual marketing.

From my quite short experience there are a few things I recommend to people thinking of working in information and library services:

  • Be open minded about the roles you apply for: It’s good to experience a variety of roles and you can’t always predict which library sector you will enjoy the best.
  • Connect to your inner bibliophile and philomath: Staying in touch with the book and information lover within you will inspire you to help library users as you’ll want to share the [book and information] love with everybody.
  • Get some kind of library experience: Volunteering, work shadowing, being a regular at a library… get yourself familiar with library environments and the bread and butter of library procedures.
  • Get some experience of customer service: The core of all libraries is about helping people to access information and knowledge. Customer service experience will improve your communication skills and help you to help others better.
  • Be confident in your literature finding methods: Be proud of your ability to navigate the world of databases, document supply, journals, e-book access and access rights. You will need to be able to do these things to explain to library users how they can do it themselves. If you’re currently studying, take the time to get carried away with literature searching and make those obscure document supply article requests.
  • Be a forward thinking, tea and coffee guzzling, approachable helpful soul who never leaves the house without something to read: Not necessarily all these things at once, but at least a few!

I’m not sure whether I’ll do a masters full time or part time after my graduate traineeship year. I’m loving the health library scene but I’m also wondering if I should try out some other library sectors in case they’re hidden gems too. Regardless of the unknowns I’m enjoying where my career is going so far and I know I’m going to really miss my current library when I leave!


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