As it says on the tin, I’m an area librarian! I am in based in a library in Midlothian and have overall responsibility for managing 3 public libraries.
How did you get interested in what you do? What advice was available to you when you chose this career direction?
As a child I was always interested in books and reading, but never really saw it being any part of what I would do for a living in the future. I never had any career advice which prodded me towards this profession, but sort of got there under my own steam.
What was your journey to reach the role you are in today?
It took me two goes to get the higher I wanted before moving on to university. I got an MA Hons in History and Politics at university but then, like a lot of graduates, found I wasn’t sure where to go from there. I quickly found out that teaching wasn’t for me, and so did a variety of short term jobs for a year until I decided to apply to a postgraduate one year course in Information and Library studies. One year didn’t seem a lot of time to invest in getting a job-related qualification which if I did well enough could earn me a second degree (MSc, which I got, by the way). Librarianship heavily involves dealing not only with books and information but also computers, and I was interested in information technology at the time, which was another factor that influenced my choice.
After graduating I worked in a college library, then a school library, then moved into public libraries, initially managing one branch before becoming an area manager. Not all libraries are the same, and the things you would have to do as a school librarian is very different from what you would do as a public librarian, even if the basics are the same.
Talk me through a day in your life... what sorts of things would it involve?
Its very varied being a Librarian in a public library; its a service which is open to absolutely everyone, so you never know who could walk through the door. On any given day I would have to spend some time at the front desk talking to people, handling enquiries and requests for information (even the very odd complaint!), helping new members to join, issuing and returning books and DVDs, ordering things people want which we don’t have in stock, and helping people with the computers and printing. I also have to manage my staff, prioritising what tasks they have to carry out and what training they need to develop, and arranging that the libraries are staffed when someone is off sick or on annual leave.
In any given day I would also frequently have to attend meetings either within the library service or with other organisations. Nowadays libraries don’t have a huge amount of money, so when we offer extra services it’s often because we are working with partners to provide something both of us would struggle to do alone. These things could and do include working with others to set up a Science festival throughout the area, working with volunteers and other council departments to provide 1-1 tuition for older people in the basics of using laptops, and opening the library in evenings out with normal hours to allow youth work projects to take place. There is loads more going on, these are just examples.
Basically, the old image of a librarian as some stern person going around saying ‘shhhh’ all the time is long gone. To be a librarian now, everything is about organising, communicating and talking to people. You have to be a good talker!
Was it your planned career when you were 18?
I had vague ideas about being a Modern Studies teacher. It didn’t work out that way - although a school librarian does deal with students and classes all the time, so I suppose I did get a taste of teaching when I was doing that job.
What did your mum and dad want you to do?
If they had an idea, they didn’t tell me!
What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?
At the moment, libraries, like every public sector service, are being squeezed, so be aware that the job market may be quiet for a while. I would say that being a librarian, whilst it may not be a very financially rewarding profession (don’t expect to get rich in this field, guys!), it can be rewarding in other ways. I remember one old lady saying ‘I don’t know what people like me would do without people like you’; moments like that make the job feel really worthwhile.
What other directions could you go in /work in within your field other than the job you have chosen?
There is a bit of overlap with Community Learning and Development, and librarians could probably fit reasonably well into a lot of jobs that require management ability and face to face dealing with the public.
If there is anything you have not covered about your area of expertise, please feel free to add here.
It’s not a 9-5 office job! You have to be prepared to work flexibly, working at different places, working evenings, weekends, etc. Its variety, as well as the variety of people you meet and deal with, is one of the best things about it.