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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Thing 10 - 10 Steps to Growing A Librarian

[Tip 1 - Get very lucky!]
      A lot of people can point to a single event or instance as the reason for their career choice, or they can say they became interested in a career path after they studied it at school/college/university. This isn't the case when you are born (or is it cursed?) with the librarian gene. My first idea of librarian as a possible career didn't come from my studies at uni or college, or even school, it didn't even stem from the first time I ever visited a library & took out a book I truly believe that I was born with the idea already in my head. It was probably passed to me by osmosis from my mother (a librarian & museum's officer) & my father (a teacher).

[Tip 2 - Try everything!]

       Of course I didn't realise this until many years later, in fact I spent a lot of my childhood convinced I was going to be a ballerina, a journalist, a novelist & a marine biologist (then on the weekends I would travel the world & become a rock star). But as a result of this early, & I'm sure completely unintentional, indoctrination whenever I was given the choice of subjects to study or work experience or other skill development exercises I would always find myself being drawn towards choices that would make a suitable basis for libraianship, for instance, between the ages of 5-11 I was enrolled in ballet classes & would spend one night a week in a community hall learning to dance - after class instead of going home I would go & visit our local museum or library & spend an hour or two there, eventually the ballet lessons stopped but I kept visiting the museums & libraries. By the time I had to choose my GCSE options in year 9 this trend towards academic & historical subjects was quite deeply ingrained, & obvious in all of my career guidance tests & discussions. But I was still convinced I was going to go into some other field such as politics, anthropology or journalism, which is why at A Level I took Politics, General Studies, English Language, & Psychology, & only completed one year of a history A Level (that & the fact that our history lecturer disappeared about a third of the way through the year & so we were completely unprepared for our mock exams let alone moving up to the 2nd yr).

[Tip 3 - You don't always have to be specific!]

      After college I was still unsure about what I really wanted to do so I decided to complete a BA in American Studies, a degree which covers a wide range of disciplines including History, Politics, Literature, Philosophy, Cultural Studies & Anthropology, as well as offering the opportunity to study abroad. Obviously if you are 100% sure of what field you want to work in, particularly in relation to Science/Medicine/Law, it would be a good idea to get a more subject specific degree, but if like me you are still trying to keep your options open & would like to gain experience in a range of fields, this type of multi-disciplinary degree is a very good idea. Even if you are a 100% sure that you want to go into a field like librarianship it can still be useful to have an undergraduate degree in as wide a subject as possible as it helps you to develop your ability to transfer skills & broadens your knowledge on a wide range of subjects (always good for a librarian), & these days it's not absolutely necessary to have an undergrad in libraries. You may however want to sign up to a postgrad library course or graduate traineeship afterwards as this not only shows your commitment to the field, but also helps to guide your professional development & should help your career to progress from assitant librarian to manager of library services or other strategic role.

[Tip 4 - Any experience is good experience!]

       Which is why I eventually got an MRes in Information & Library Management from University of the West of England, but not before I had completed my American Studies postgrad course & toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher - I even worked for a while as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher. This meant that I started my actual career a couple of years late rather than straight after graduating. At the time I used to panic about this because I was surrounded by people who all seemed to know exactly what they were doing with their lives & people who kept telling me to make a decision, but looking back I can see that it was pretty much a forgone conclusion that I would end up in the library field but I am really glad I had a couple of years to try out some other jobs & learn more about what my choices were before making the final "decision". For instance, I learnt that despite managing to spend approximately 10 years working a variety of part-time/full-time roles in a number of different call centres to pay my way through university, I don't really have the temprament to work in such a high turn over customer service environment. I loathed working in telesales, & tele-debt collections for a utility company was the worst, but it did teach me a lot about customer service which I have since been able to tone down & adapt to other jobs with less intense but not less important customer service targets.

[Tip 5 - Work experience!]

During this decision time, & prior to doing my MRes, I did decided to get a short term post in the information field, as I wanted to make absolutely sure it was the career I wanted before committing the money & resources to going back to uni so I spent about 8 months working at the National Monuments Record Centre (English Heritage) before starting my course. This role allowed me to tone down the customer service skills from previous roles & balance them with the need for other skills & abilities, such as indexing/cataloguing, digitisation skills & much more & as a result I deceided to go ahead with my MRes course in Information & Library Management.

[Tip 6 - Research!]

While studying for my masters I became particularly interested in how minorities are represented & serviced by the library service, I even completed my dissertation on the topic of disabled access in public libraries. As a result I have spent the past three years working in a role that would allow me not only to complete standard library tasks but also to expand my knowledge & skills into the advocacy, strategy & leadership fields through opportunities such as my involvement in the Diversity Panel & Entrypoints Taskforce.

[Tip 7 - Don't give up!]

The first hurdle was finding, applying for & actually getting any library job. I started out with a fixed idea of the type of library I wanted to work in & the type of role I wanted to start out in but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to get a job that specific. One of the first things I did was to re-assess my CV & look for ways that I could tailor it towards specific library fields. 'Tailoring' doesn't mean lying or inventing or even exaggerating, it just means making sure relevant elements of your CV are specifically highlighted. For instance, the customer service jobs I've had are useful in illustrating that I have transferrable customer service skills but for a position as a librarian I wouldn't need an indepth analysis of them on my CV, my role as archive assistant at the NMRC on the other hand is an area that I felt I needed to re-write to better showcase by library skills. I then sent my CV out on spec to several libraries but I also signed up with LISJobNet & several other general job agencies. I received a lot of rejections at first & at times considered giving up & staying in the customer service sector, but then I began asking for feedback from the rejections which helped me to understand how I could change my applications & CV. The feedback also showed me that I had already done a lot of work to develop the skills needed in the library field at the time through my other roles it was just a question of finding new ways to showcase them in my applications. Eventually I was lucky enough to get a position in the library field that actually met some of my own pre-conceived ideas about what kind of role I wanted:
  • A role in a specialist library
  • A role working with special collections/archives as well as books
  • A role that would allow me to work in a variety of locations
  • A role that would allow me to gain experience beyond the basic library skills, e.g. marketing, strategic planning
  • A role that would offer opportunities for further LIS research
  • Preferrably within travelling distance of my current home
[Tip 8 - A librarian is more than a catalogue!]

I began my current role as library & archive assistant in 2008 & in the past 3 yrs I have learnt more about the importance of 'non-librarian' skills & how far the librarians role extends than ever before. My own role has expanded from basic tasks of reader enquiries, basic cataloguing tasks, re-shelving, etc to include a wide range of marketing, research & strategic planning tasks. Since joining the SMLA I have supported museum exhibitions, created marketing materials for a variety of audiences, created a range of strategic project plans, supervised volunteers & conducted research into a number of fields including minorities, human resources, education resources & stakeholder analysis. As a result of these opportunities I've had for role diversification I'm even more glad now than ever before that I took the opporunity to work in a range of roles while at university & took on a multi-disciplinary approach to my own education.

[Tip 9 - Raise your Profile]

Now that I have settled into my role & have taken on opportunities for research & leadership within the organisation I am looking for ways of raising my professional profile, partly in relation to my Chartership application but also to open new avenues for networking & continued professional development. Unfortunately raising my profile hasn't been as easy as I first thought. In certain areas - creating online profiles, blogs, etc - it has been relatively easy to create a professional profile for myself (especially with courses like the 23 Things for Professional Development) as all that is required is the commitment & time to do it. But in other areas such as getting yourself published, attending conferences, etc it has been a lot more difficult. As a result my tip would be to network within your organisation, find yourself a mentor/line manager & get their support in making a case for attending conferences, professional visits & training sessions as part of your PPDP they may also be able to support you in finding ways of getting your own research published.

[Tip 10 - It's never too early!]

As soon as I began working at the SMLA I created a 'CPD file' where I kept copies of any documents I'd created or projects I'd been involved in or anything else that might eventually be of use for my CPD projects such as the Chartership portfolio. As I went along I would add bits & pieces to the file & would then sort through the file at the end of each month, this made it easier to eventually put together my portfolio evidence. It also meant I had already taken the time to reflect on & analyse different projects & documents, which was enormously helpful when it came to writing the reflective passages for the portfolio such as the Evaluative Statement. I also began looking for other ways of collecting evidence & developing my skills & I'm currently volunteering for two different projects (1 in-house & 1 external) which will help me to develop new skills, make new networking partnerships & raise my profile as well as helping me to continue to learn more about the Information & Library Management Field in relation to my specific interests. Both the projects I'm volunteering with involve specific areas of research that I'm interested in including minortiy representation in the library services & stock, & management & strategic techniques for advocacy & policy planning. Without these volunteering opportunities it could be quite a long time before I'm able to develop my paid role enough to be able to gain this kind of work experience. I would say that if any opportunities come along it's always a good idea to put your hand up, or at least find out more about them.

I'm hoping to continue to use these steps as guides to my continued professional development, which I hope will eventually lead to my taking on a more managerial/strategic role within the library field such as operational or strategic manager for a library. However, I still have a long way to go to achieve this & am constantly looking for opportunities to develop my skills, in partuicular I'm looking for opportunities in advocacy, policy setting & people management/supervision. Any hints, tips or advice in these areas very gratefully received.

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