How did you first get into the information and library profession?I came into the information and library profession almost completely by accident: I originally trained to be a primary school teacher but soon realised that it wasn’t really for me – unfortunate timing, as it was right at the beginning of the recession and jobs weren’t easy to come by! I was temping and doing part-time work while I reassessed what I wanted to do. Then, after getting a temporary, part-time job in a county council library as a Library Assistant, I realised this is what I should have been doing all along – the combination of my love of reading, my enthusiasm for libraries in general (having always been an avid library user) and working with the general public really played to my strengths and within a few weeks I knew the information and library profession was one I wanted to be part of long-term. I had a long conversation with my cousin, who’d had a very successful career in the library and information field before falling ill, and she encouraged me to go for it.
What qualifications did you take? Once I knew that library work was what I wanted to do full time, I enrolled at Northumbria University on their Information and Library Management distance learning MA course, and threw myself into it with all I could. Fitting part-time Masters study around what was by then full-time library work wasn’t always easy, but my colleagues and managers – not to mention my partner, family and friends – were very supportive and I knew it would be worth it in the long run. And it was: within a year of enrolling I was working as a Senior Assistant in a busy and varied local branch; then after fifteen months there, while the Durham County Council library re-structure was going on, I took a job as a cataloguer in the Technical Services department at Newcastle University’s Robinson Library. That gave me an opportunity to develop some of the more technical skills that I hadn’t had chance to develop in my public library role.
What is your current job title? My next step from Newcastle was to take a job closer to home: I joined the Library and Collections team at Durham Cathedral as Assistant Librarian. It was my dream job, and sometimes still now, after nearly a year and a half, I have to pinch myself that I actually got it!
What does your job involve? Durham Cathedral Library is the most complete in situ medieval library in the UK, and its collections are varied and wonderful. We have over 300 medieval manuscripts (many produced at Durham by Durham monks), 70 incunabula (books printed pre-1500), and over 30,000 early printed books (printed between 1500 and 1850). We also have an extensive collection of modern books, which are borrowed heavily day to day by members of Durham University and local readers with an interest in the subjects we cover; and we also look after and administer the Sharp Library (a collection of modern theology booked owned by the Lord Crewe Trustees). So my job is very varied!
My main duties here involve looking after the modern library collections: purchasing new titles, cataloguing them, choosing what to relegate and get rid of when the collections need weeding. Because we’re such a small team, I get to do every part of the purchasing and cataloguing process, which I really enjoy – as I get to see the books go from being images on a screen to being sat there on the shelf. I also do a lot of outreach work – I put together mini displays of our early printed books for visitors once a month; work with visiting classes and academics who usually like to study the medieval manuscripts; and make sure visiting readers have access to the special collection materials that they require. I might occasionally write a blog post, or update twitter on something linked to our collections too! Every day is busy and brings something different – I never have chance to go into auto-pilot or switch off mentally, which is great.
Can you describe a typical day? One of the things that I love most about this job is that there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ day. In the average week I will have catalogued modern collections; written captions and labels for early printed books; worked on a reading group project for the wider Cathedral community; done some historical research into an aspect of the Cathedral’s history to be used by colleagues; and hopefully been able to talk to a visiting academic about the research they’re doing themselves and discover a little bit more about our collections that way (I don’t read Latin, and I certainly don’t read medieval Latin – so I love it when we have visiting academics studying the medieval manuscripts as they tell me things about the content I wouldn’t otherwise get to know!). I will have usually worked on the front desk: helped students with their enquiries, brought material up for readers, and answered questions from members of the public too.
If there is a big Cathedral event going on, which involves library collections, then my days are even less typical – last September we had a visit from the Antiques Roadshow, and I was called upon to give an on-screen interview about a 13th century sword we have in our collections here! That was certainly not a typical day!
What skills do you think are most important for today’s information and library professional? I would encourage anybody interested in it to join the information management profession – though I would warn them to be flexible and be prepared to be adaptable. Changes are happening so fast in this sector (good in some ways – such as the increased professionalisation in some fields; but bad in others – library closures!) that it’s impossible to know, when you set out on an information management career, where you’ll end up. I certainly didn’t envisage that working fifteen hours a week behind a local library desk would lead me to work at Durham Cathedral.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in Information Management? I would also recommend that people coming into the profession throw themselves into it as much as they can – join CILIP, go to local or group committee meetings; make friends and contacts and meet as many people as you can.
And most of all: enjoy!