Saturday, 17 November 2012

Thing 20 - Library roots / routes

Library roots

Trips to the mobile library after primary school. A great deal of fun and excitement selecting that week's reading from the children's section. The mobile library was a terrible grey colour, but was an articulated lorry trailer, and the children's section was in the bit above the connection with the truck unit. (A similar sort of vehicle is pictured here). It was always exciting going, and they used Browne Issue!! Mum was, and still is, a big reader and she spent many hours encouraging me through my dyslexia and opening up the wonderful world of the book.

Teenage years. Seeking solace in the high school library. A lunchtime library pass would mean that I wasn't beaten up in the playground, or my blazer chucked over the school fence. Asterix the Gaul books in French. Similarly, at weekends visits to the central libraries in Luton or Dunstable. The microfiche catalogue was a wonder to behold. The Library at Sixth Form College also became a place of refuge, although the Common Room and cheese toasties had growing allure. That, or joining the masses sitting in the main corridor, just watching the other students go back and forth, trying to perfect that teenage disinterested / threatening look. Never really mastered that!

Luton Sixth Form College
© Copyright Nigel Cox and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Undergraduate career. I worked incredibly hard at university driven by my love of study, poor social skills,  a general lack of balance in life, and most significantly, terrible A-Level results. Many happy hours in the Library, second floor overlooking the Loch and watching the mists and clouds dance over the Ochills. Biological Abstracts in hard copy became an absolute joy and I revelled in a catalogue on computer.

Grounds of Stirling University
© Copyright Eva Forbes and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Present day. I still use my local public library, and have retained that magic and awe in visiting. It's a place that provides me with potential for escape, together with a feeling of belonging to my local community. My leisure reading helps me to escape to places or situations that I have slim chance of actually being at, and enables me to meet and experience people and lives whose paths I would not cross in real life. Library staff still inspire and guide my reading. However, the computer and smartphone take increasing amounts of my time and attention.

Library Routes

Another story of an accidental librarian (sorry!).

  • Uncertain what to do at the end of my undergraduate degree, I stumbled across several posts for graduate trainees to work in libraries. Lady Luck shone and I was successfully appointed to a position, one of four, at the Polytechnic of Central London (now University of Westminster), working in the Engineering and Science Library on New Cavendish Street. Completed a very happy and informative year, and was accepted to study Librarianship at the University of Sheffield.

115 New Cavendish Street - site of the PCL Engineering & Science Library.
© Copyright Stephen Richards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

  • On completing Sheffield I was fortunate in being appointed to a Senior Library Assistant post in the Normanby College Library, supporting nursing, physiotherapy and radiography students, linked with King's College Hospital and King's College London. Three very happy years learning about health and medical information sources, gaining Chartership. Supported, guided and encouraged by a fantastic line manager and mentor, the librarians at the adjacent Medical School Library, and in the other health care libraries in the South East Thames Regional Health Authority.
  • Took a giant leap of faith and relocated to South Wales to manage a small further education college library and learning resources service. Constantly inspired and  supported by other college librarians as part of CoFHE and a very supportive senior management team in the College.  Four happy years and my line manager suggested that I had achieved lots but that it was time to move on. 
  • A further leap of faith, and probably more blind courage than was really sensible, I was appointed to manage a Campus Library at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff. New subject areas, managing and supporting professional colleagues, introducing three graduates to the profession via our own Graduate Trainee scheme, and finally a huge refurbishment project.  A fantastic environment in which to develop my financial management, team leadership and strategic management skills. However, the refurb project, although successfully completed, was my downfall. I ran out of enthusiasm and energy in the post-project phase - adapting  services and partnerships required of the new Learning Resources Centre, and saw my dream job wane into a buildings management, problems solving role. Made the best decision of my life, and resigned. Took time out, and after 6 months or so the yearning to return to the profession grew too strong to resist.
  • A fortunate  sideways  step saw me appointed as an Assistant Librarian at Morgan Cole Solicitors. Despite having no legal training my colleagues supported me, and were extremely generous in sharing their knowledge, experience and friendship.  Being outside of my comfort zone in both subject area and the commercial environment was hugely developmental, but it was clear that this wasn't quite the right role or environment for me.
  • Took up post with the Welsh Assembly Government in 2006 and have progressed through Policy Support Librarian and Legal & Business Team Leader roles, and other periods of temporary responsibility.
  • Currently on secondment with CILIP as Policy Officer (Wales).
In writing this account I'm struck by a few key messages:

  • Colleagues are so generous with their time and in sharing their knowledge and experience. Value these relationships and work hard to develop and retain them. If working in solo positions generate links with colleagues outside of your organisation.
  • I have never regretted those giant  leaps of faith and those periods of living on my Dutch courage.  Resigning from the Campus Librarian's role was a brave move, and horrendous at the time. But this was the correct decision. The possibility of still being a very unhappy, dispirited and probably a very unwell, dysfunctional Campus Librarian is just too frightening.
  • However, know your strengths and appreciate  your  weaknesses. I'm surer now that senior management just isn't for me.  Being at the "practical sharp end" of librarianship suits me well. 
  • My "fit" with the organisation has been significant. If I feel I can contribute to the organisation, if I am valued and challenged then I am far more likely to love working there, and stay longer.
  • Take opportunities when you can. Living outside your comfort zone for short periods of time can be positively developmental. Carpe diem!
(c) Lechoucas, 2012 - Creative Commons CC-by-sa 

1 comment:

  1. That's an interesting route! Two points of crossover, I too went to Sheffield and, although I haven't studied at Stirling I know the area very well, did an OU Summer School there once and had an interview for a job (which I didn't get). Agree about carpe diem and leaps of faith. I've had a couple, most recently to leave when my library closed rather than take a role I didn't think was "me" - so far that is working out! Hope your secondment goes well.
    PS I have one Thing to go. I suspect, like me, you are now rushing to meet the 30/11 deadline.