Wednesday 5 October 2011

Going back to my routes (or why you should always listen to your mother!)

Getting slightly behind in my "Things" but I'm afraid that real life has been getting in the way! This weeks Thing asks us to look at how we ended up working in the sector that we work in. My story starts with listening to my mother. Like all teenagers I didn't listen to what she said for most of the time. I didn't have a burning ambition to 'do' anything in particular. I studied history at university since it was something I was interested in but I didn't do it with the idea of making a career out of it. I thought about maybe working in museums but only as a vague idea.

It was my Mum who suggested libraries. She said "you like books" which at the time seemed the best prerequisite for working in a library. She thought that it was something I would be good at and something I would enjoy. I applied for a few jobs when I left university, one of which was in Cambridge University Library. Eventually I got the job and thus my career in libraries began. I began as a library assistant and have progressed to a position in cataloguing, which I really enjoy.

I found that there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm from anyone (apart from my mother) about working in a library. I vaguely remember some sort of dusty information sheet on the bottom of the pile in the careers section of my secondary school library but that's about it. I spent a lot of time in libraries when I was growing up as my family encouraged me to be an avid reader. It's an environment that I enjoy but through my work I have found out that it is, of course, about so much more than liking books and being able to operate a stamp! I like that I can spend my time working on something I feel passionate about and helping to share this with others. Isn't this what jobs should be about in an ideal world?

I didn't realise that there were qualifications that you needed to be called a librarian, an attitude that I find reflected in others when I tell them about my library course. They always, without fail, ask "why do you need that?". There does seem to be a misconception that all we do is fetch and stamp books. In my opinion, one of the best ways to change this is to get out there and show people the broad range of things that working in a library can offer.

I don't want to steer away from the word 'librarian' but there are so many job titles out there in libraries that have much less negative connotations, things like 'metadata specialist'. I have recently met people from all over the librarianship world and hardly any have the same title or do exactly the same thing. There are many different aspects to the profession and I think that this is something that isn't stressed often enough. People see it as a quiet job rather than just a profession, which is why they can't understand the need for a degree. I have met so many enthusiastic people who are pursuing librarianship as a career. Hopefully they (and maybe even me) can help to inspire the next generation!

So far my career has consisted of working in different departments in the same library. It's an academic library and this is where I would very much like to say. Recently I'm starting to get itchy feet, not for a new job necessarily but with the urge to do more. That's why I've been involved in cpd23 and some other projects, like library outreach. I always thought of myself as picking the one thing that I loved about working in a library and then getting on with it but now I see that there are so many exciting opportunities and there is no harm in getting involved (except a lack of sleep).

The moral of this extremely long and rambling story is that maybe you should listen to your mum once in a while. Sometimes they really do have a clue! It seems to me from reading the posts of others that once someone suggested that they should work in libraries it was like a light bulb went off and they wondered why they hadn't thought of this before. By not promoting librarianship enough, I have to wonder how many people are missing out on a fulfilling career? Maybe if you suggest it to someone who isn't quite sure of their career path in the future you will be creating the newest library superstar?

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