How did you first get into the information and library profession?
Well, I have to admit it was somewhat accidental, but that seems true of many of my fellow professionals! After completing a degree in Agricultural Science and a Postgraduate Diploma in Natural Resource Management I suffered a number of years of ill health when I was unable to work. I decided that I needed some new career options and I was looking for types of vocational training that I could undertake part-time and which would allow me to work as and when my health dictated.
Being a sensible person I visited my local public library to find out about courses in my local city and I had the very good fortune to be guided by a wonderful Librarian. I was considering a legal course or perhaps teaching but a Library course was suggested and furthermore an interview was arranged for the following day with the Admissions tutor at my local University – I had overnight to think of an answer to “why do you want to be a librarian?”!
It was only after I started the course that I began to understand the journey on which I had embarked. I am grateful to the teaching staff at Northumbria University at that time, especially Eileen Saez and Margaret Watson (former CILIP President), for demonstrating the values and ideals of the profession and providing me with a model to which to aspire.
What qualifications did you take? I began studying the Postgraduate Diploma in Information and Library Management which I upgraded to Masters level by completing a dissertation once I was working. I then gained Chartered status and also completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice.
What is your current job title? I am currently Head of Customer Services in a large university library.
What does your job involve? As Head of Customer Services I am responsible for planning, delivering, marketing and evaluating services for our customers. This includes all the traditional circulation functions (yes, we still have lots of books), but also enquiry services and the management of the study environment. If that sounds like a lot it is, but thankfully I have the assistance of a large team of hard working staff as well as a supportive manager.
Can you describe a ‘typical’ day? Well, I guess everyone is going to say ‘no’ to this one but I’ll give it a go. Most days will involve one (or several) meetings; despite frequent discussions about whether as many meetings are a worthwhile use of time, they do seem to get things done and are an effective way of engaging with colleagues and library users.
Having a large team, and being a proponent of ‘mbwa’ (managing by walking around), I generally try to do just that every day as it helps me discover what is going on with everyone and how the service is running. It is also a great way to generate and discuss ideas for service developments in a more dynamic and informal way. Another benefit of mbwa is that it allows me to follow the old mantra of trying to “catch individuals doing something right”.
Although I don’t always have the time, I do like to walk around public areas of the Library most days but particularly when we are busy, to observe what the library environment is like. The rest of the time will usually find me in the office (usually with an open door for staff), doing anything from sorting out prizes for a Library Fresher’s Week Tombola to planning staffing for a ‘Pop-up Library’!
What skills do you think are most important for today’s information and library professional? My mother once described me as ‘a jack of all trades and master of none’, but somehow, with Librarianship, this has come good! Currently for me management skills are important but it is vital to have good communications skills and a degree of emotional intelligence. However, fundamentally, I think you also need to have a good base of information skills and an understanding of information architecture. After all, these are the strengths that make our qualities as librarians unique.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in Information Management? My first question to anyone considering a career working in a library would be to ask them if they like books, reading and being in libraries. If I received an effusive response I would then warn that book-loving introverts who think that Information Management can give them a ‘nice, quiet job’ need to think again!
The really crucial question is – ‘Do you like people and think that a career working with and helping people would suit?’ If the answer to that is ‘yes’ and they are looking for an exciting, fast moving, multifaceted career with a wide diversity of options then perhaps Information Management for them. Oh, by the way, it is still okay to like books…