To most of the people that I’ve met outside of the librarianship course this year at Sheffield I am “The Librarian” first and foremost. My non-library related past is unacknowledged – I was clearly born a librarian, and for lots of people I am the first librarian that they’ve ever really known. Initially I was surprised by this response. I spent my graduate trainee year working at the University of Bath Library, and while there too I was sometimes met with amused and bemused expressions when explaining where I worked, somehow saying that I’m studying librarianship as an MA seems to have more of an impact. Perhaps this is because while I was in Bath people assumed that I must have stumbled across libraries, and that this was just a job, whereas studying for an MA clearly demonstrates a conscious decision to pursue a career in librarianship. I find it all slightly odd, and it took a while to get used to. For everyone that I knew prior to my progression into librarianship I am simply Jen, who just happens to have taken this career path.
At undergraduate I studied History and Politics at the University of Sheffield, where I suppose I used the library more than some of my friends, understanding a bit more about how to access journals and how to navigate the stacks. While I was in Sheffield, in my final year, I saw the opening of the Information Commons. I didn’t realise at the time, but this transformed my view of libraries and their potential to inspire so many people. Everyone raved about this fabulous new space!
Like so many people I was taken to our local library many times as a child, and as a ten year-old I even helped at our primary school “library” – a small area with a few shelves of rather dull sounding books. But I confess that as I grew older going to the library became less of a habit, and more of a spontaneous activity that I didn’t make the most of, and now regret. After graduating from Sheffield I worked in an admin role for a health and safety company. I learnt lots about buildings, and about processing reports, but needless to say I was keen to find a career that I was a little more passionate about. My next role was again as an administrator, and again in a building company! But this time it was an engineering company, where I processed invoices and ordered site equipment. I loved working there, and enjoyed chatting to various people on the phone, but by this point I was determined to figure out what I wanted to do. I considered teaching, publishing, PR, and various other fields, but librarianship still hadn’t occurred to me by this point.
Looking back I can see the turning point, but at the time it was simply an opportunity to try something new: I was fortunate to be given a month’s paid work experience placement at a digital publishing house in Wiltshire. It was here that librarianship finally occurred to me. I observed the digitisation process of turning rare print collections into digital content, the organising of material, the adding of metadata, and the creation of user-friendly navigation tools. There was also a girl who worked there, to whom I owe a lot, who had sidestepped from librarianship into digital publishing. It was these two components that really got me thinking properly about librarianship. Of course working with digital content is only one area within the broad library and information field, and once I started researching the various types of roles and projects that librarians take on, I was met with an overwhelming feeling of “why didn’t I think of this before?!”.
Everything snowballed from that point onwards. I realised that getting a graduate trainee post was my best option, and began frantically applying for various positions. It was July by this point, so many of the posts had already been filled, but to my delight after several unsuccessful interviews I was offered a trainee position at the University of Bath Library. I couldn’t quite believe my luck; and a year later I was still thinking the same thing. I started off in technical services, where I rotated between the different departments, and then for the second half of the year I worked on one of the information points helping with stock and dealing with enquiries. While I was there I was given the opportunity to do so many different things; all the staff were really encouraging, and were keen to involve me in anything and everything that they thought might interest me. I attended talks, visited other libraries, learnt about our new and the old classification schemes, recorded video tutorials, helped at teaching sessions…it was brilliant! I had such a good year; I learnt so much and realised that I really had made the right decision.
Then, in September 2010, I found myself moving back to Sheffield to study for an MA in Librarianship. And I found myself back at the library that I had used so often as an undergraduate, but this time on the other side of the issue desk – working alternate weekends as a library customer services assistant. This has been another whirlwind of a year: learning new things, trying new activities, and discovering that my interests aren’t as clear cut as I had previously thought. But my favourite part of this year has been getting to know my fellow library student peers. I’ve made such great friends, and hearing about people’s varied interests and ideas has been a real eye-opener, and continually fills me with renewed enthusiasm. Working as a graduate trainee, followed by a year at library school have both given me so many skills and a better understanding of the library profession. But I think for me the most important thing about the initiation process has been learning to be a librarian outside of the workplace as well as inside. I now feel more like a librarian, I am ready with a response to criticisms of libraries and the people that work within them, and I am no-longer surprised to see the word library splashed across my CV.
So now when I hear people call me “The Librarian” I barely notice. It’s not the only thing I am, but I’m comfortable with the label. And perhaps I shouldn’t, but I find the name endearing. In the past people could never remember what I did (or even who I was, on occasion), but now anyone that has met me remembers that I’m that strange girl who’s studying to become a librarian. That librarianship still seems like a bizarre career option to many people needs to change, but in the mean time I’m happy knowing that at least I have become a little more memorable to people upon first meeting.