How did you first get into the information and library profession? I began working in Libraries as a part-time Library Assistant with Wolverhampton MBC (as it was). I had been training in Accountancy and Finance with WMBC but fell pregnant I couldn’t go part-time in this job so I got a part-time job in the library service.(Can you imagine not being allowed to go part-time for childcare reasons now?!). It was going to be temporary until my son started full time school. That was 24 years ago!
After a few years I moved to Walsall MBC to take up the same post but on a higher scale. I stayed there for 13 years, moving around different areas of the library service, including Acquisitions, before I decided I really wanted to become a qualified librarian. This was quite ironic as I had told my manager in 1997, when he offered me the opportunity to do the BA day-release at Birmingham, that I didn’t want to be a librarian! Since then my career has been varied; working Local Studies and Heritage library roles, college and schools roles and finally moving into academic librarianship.
What qualifications did you take? I got my Masters in Librarianship from the University of Sheffield in 2007. I uprooted my Black Country family to the wilds of the Peak District to get my qualification! Prior to this I took a career break and did a PGCE to enhance my career prospects. Even back then I could see that teaching was becoming a big part of my job. I am currently pursuing my Chartership, as well as an FHEA (Fellow of the Higher Education Academy qualification. I don’t believe in letting the grass grow!
What is your current job title? I’m an IA, Information Adviser (Subject Librarian!) for the Health and Wellbeing Faculty at Sheffield Hallam University. I am responsible for Radiotherapy and Oncology and also for our Nursing courses, which I share with two other colleagues as the cohort is huge! It’s my dream job and I still can’t quite believe I got it!
What does your job involve? I work with students and staff in the University, teaching information literacy showing users how to get the best from searching databases/library catalogue/etc, and providing resources. I do a lot of promotion work, liaison and PR for the library service, to staff and students as they are often unaware of the value we add to their studies. I don’t work on the frontline any more, but I do see both staff and students for class and individual sessions to either build on teaching I’ve done on their course, or to support them using some of our resources, such as our reading list technology.
I manage the physical and online collection for my area, making sure we have all and enough of the necessary resources to support the courses we provide. I make sure we have enough copies of texts for the amount of students we have and, where possible, I buy e-books, as we have a lot of distance and at-distance learners. So I do some acquisition work in buying in resources for the subject areas I cover (books and journal subs). I also support staff by advising when new resources and new copies of resources become available.
While we don’t work on frontline any more, we still have to provide back-up support for the helpdesk staff. This role is called ‘Duty Adviser’ and is basically ‘Ask A Librarian’! Any helpdesk enquiries that the helpdesk staff feel they should pass on will come to me. I will either deal with them if I can, or I will pass the enquirer on to the relevant person; ie if it is a specific subject enquiry I will log the query and this will then go to the IA for that subject. I will also check to see if there are any enquiries for me, such as students in my subject area requiring subject support.
Can you describe a ‘typical’ day? Ha! I don’t think there’s such a thing as a ‘typical’ day in library and information work, although mine tends to involve quite a bit of tea-drinking! Due to the nature of HE our work tends to be cyclical. Some times of the year (September and March) we are much busier than usual, due to the amount of teaching we have to do. At certain times of the year we are concentrating on purchasing and spending our budgets to enhance our collections – mad March!
Currently then, my day involves answering a lot of emails, generally first thing in the morning. Then I will drink some tea and get to grips with the day. Today I have a teaching planning session with a colleague with whom I team-teach. Then I have two sessions with academic staff; one to do some teaching planning for her MSc students, then to help another colleague to put together a list of resources for a module which will then go into our reading list management system (RLO). I will help her do this too.
After lunch I will return to emails, check there is nothing I need to follow up, and then I am Duty Adviser for the rest of the afternoon. So I go into the ‘dungeon’ and wait for contact from the outside world…during this time I will check the queries system and allocate any outstanding enquiries! I may have to stay to deal with enquiries, as you would on a helpdesk, but if there aren’t any I will have some more tea and go home.
What skills do you think are most important for today’s information and library professional? You have to be flexible in this job. The nature of library work is such that it is always seen as a soft target whenever budgets get cut, and if you are flexible, you make yourself indispensable by being prepared to try anything.
A certain ‘gung-ho’ attitude is also invaluable, in all areas of library work. I thought when I moved into academic librarianship I wouldn’t be asked to be everything to everybody, as is the case in public libraries, but I soon found out I was being naïve! One evening shift included a student coming to the helpdesk with a tin can stuck on his finger. He asked me for some scissors to cut it off, but I got security to come and sort him out, after which I commented to him that my five year old son had once done the same…so, be prepared to deal with anything and everything. It’s not just about books!
What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in Information Management? For new professionals I would say be prepared to do jobs you might not have envisioned doing when you decided to qualify. I had a really limited CV when I went to do my qualification so I decided to take on roles that were outside my experience and comfort zone. Working in the school and college library was certainly character-building! I took on short term roles as well, a strategy I know a number of friends have also adopted post-qualification. It worked for me, but you have to be prepared to have a certain amount of uncertainty, and gumption, to make it work.
Network! Get to know your colleagues and also other people working in libraries in your area. A good way of doing this is joining CILIP as you can participate in your local group. Also, get to as many training courses as you can; this is good for your CPD as well as networking opportunities. I wouldn’t have the job I now have if I hadn’t followed this advice!
Also, be prepared to be exhausted and frustrated some of the time, as you will sometimes find yourself in situations that you may find challenging! BUT…it’s rewarding and gratifying work and I would never in a million years consider going back into Accountancy, even though it pays much better! I wouldn’t change my career decision for all the tea in China (or all the wine in Chile!)…