How did you first get into the information and library profession? I first got into the Library Profession as I was reaching for the stars, quite literally. I desperately wanted to be the first woman on Mars, but my exceptionally supportive and patient father said I wasn’t aiming high enough, my goal should be to be the first person on Mars. So we went to the library to research how one might go about becoming an astronaut. I was eight or nine. I spent the whole summer doing research, borrowing books, sitting in the library, asking the librarians loads of questions. I did end up getting involved in aviation and getting my pilot’s licence, but the thrill of finding out new things and being a point of knowledge became the new goal that I sought.
From there it was an easy step to lunchtime library monitor (yes I have one of those enamel badges to prove it!) and from there 4 years of shelving books as a Saturday job in my local public library as a teenager. I found I needed to fund my way through university, a degree in English Literature (not Librarianship!) and so worked every summer in a number of the libraries in my borough, doing three months at a time, with a huge range of library experience from the music library where I learnt about the existence of a ‘hum dictionary’ to the social services element where I got to meet some amazing elderly people in care homes and take them a selection of books.
What qualifications did you take? Four summers of three months equals a year of work experience in libraries and it seemed that although other options were open to me it just made sense that after my degree I go straight into a post-graduate course in Library and Information Studies.
Some of the more established schools didn’t like my route of experience and also didn’t know my final degree result when I was applying so although I got offered places at Loughborough – the offer of a bursary, the fact I didn’t have to do hours of cataloguing and classification (bad librarian!) each week, and that computers featured highly on the learning agenda at University of Central England meant an easy choice for me in going there. It is sad they no longer run the course; I think they were ahead of their time and know that their forward thinking and their inclusion of new trends has held me in very good stead.
What is your current job title? I don’t have a single job title. I now have a ‘portfolio of roles’. These are:
- Head of Customer Relations (at Linex Systems)
- Freelance Librarian (self employed)
- Trainer (For Aslib)
Past job titles have been Saturday Shelver, Assistant Librarian, Research Librarian, Research Services Manager, Library & Information Centre Manager, National Information Services Manager, Information Procurement Team Lead.
What does your job involve? At Linex I look after the needs of our customers. Many of whom are Librarians. I do demonstrations of the product, write guidance materials, training, answer questions, act as a liaison between publishers and our customers, manage feedback into our Product Development cycle. My boss tells me that I am a salesperson too, but I prefer the title of ‘product evangelist’.
In my freelance role I work with mainly law firm libraries in a variety of ways. I help them review budgets, create library project plans for firms that are merging, look at the value they are getting from their providers if they have elements of their service outsourced. I also have experience of helping with projects such as new Library Management systems, rolling out other solutions such as Research Monitor etc. My experience builds each time I take on a new project, but a lot of it also taken from my time as a Library Manager in both a major law firm and a major Tax and Accounting firm.
For Aslib I deliver training courses on Negotiation and on Using Excel to manage your library budget.
Can you describe a ‘typical’ day? No. Typical days don’t exist.
What skills do you think are most important for today’s information and library professional? The ability to adapt.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in Information Management? Keep an eye on the job adverts and when you see lots in one area think about what skills you need to do that job. Even if you love your job and have no intention of moving, if you start never seeing jobs that you could do, it may be a warning sign that you are either in an exceptionally unique job, or you need to think about other roles you could do.
If you don’t have the skills, consider training courses, reading up, volunteering. If you do develop a specialism then still continually update your skills as you never know where this fast paced market will take you…or leave you behind. I heartily recommend getting involved in your local or specialist information body, for example SLA Legal Division, BIALL (British and Irish Association of Law Librarians or CLIG (City Legal Information Group)They help raise your profile, often run excellent courses and are good networking opportunities.