I took this photo a few months before we moved to the Shiny New Learning Centre from the campus. The gardens at the campus are definitely what I miss most about the old library. There were (and still are, we just don’t see them very often) lots of lovely flowers and trees and plants, plus assorted wildlife, particularly ducks and moorhens. There was a large-ish pond that we could see from our office window. Unfortunately, it’s leaking, so they have rescued the fish (carp) and are draining it so they can repair it. I was slightly amused by the notice on the staff website to this effect, which specifically said about them taking care of the fish, which I thought was quite sweet, really. According to one of the security people who was in the SNeLC today, there are no moorhens or ducks this year. I wonder why this could be. Perhaps because there are no friendly librarians to feed them?
I thought I would join with other people in the library world and write about my library roots/routes for the The Library Routes Project.
So, here I am, a library assistant in the shiny new library (I will have to stop calling it that one day, although it is still quite shiny at the moment). But how did I get here? Well, my career path hasn’t exactly gone the way I expected it to, but never mind…
I’m not entirely sure why I wanted to become a librarian. I have fond memories of the local public library’s summer reading schemes for children, particularly one about the Aztecs, but I’m not sure that this influenced my choice of career at all! I think I probably went into librarianship because I couldn’t think of anything else I could do (!). Or, alternatively, because I had the privilege of access to education, books, information, reading and learning and I liked these things and thought they were important I wanted to help other people to access these things and like them and find them important, too. I still do.
I finished my degree in English and Religious Studies and then my Master’s in Theology (Jewish-Christian Relations), and decided to apply for a SCONUL graduate traineeship (now the CILIP Graduate Training Opportunities scheme). I think I had twelve interviews, or it may have been sixteen, and then I decided to give up for that year and got a job opening envelopes and processing magazine subscriptions. It was very dull, but we got tea breaks and the people were nice.
In 2001, I did six weeks work experience at my local public library (the one with the Aztecs) and applied for a SCONUL traineeship again. After quite a few more interviews I got a job I hadn’t actually applied for, at the Taylor Institution Library in Oxford. I think I got this job because it was in a modern languages library and I’d done A Level German and they hadn’t found anyone suitable in the first round of interviews, so they added me to their list. [The way the Oxford traineeships worked was that you applied using one form, indicating which libraries you were most interested in working in. It looks like it's different now, in that you don't indicate your preference at all.]
I loved working at the Taylor Institution. It was a beautiful, old-fashioned library, with eccentric staff and even more eccentric readers (as were allowed to call them then). I met my husband during my year at Oxford – he was working at the Economics library, so we had training sessions together. These training sessions were really useful, giving us insights into aspects of librarianship that we may not have come across in our day-to-day work, and included visits to different types of libraries. The year confirmed for me that librarianship was the career I wanted to pursue, so I applied to do a Master’s in Information and Library Studies at Aberystwyth. I was lucky enough to get AHRB (now AHRC) funding.
I enjoyed the year at Aberystwyth, although I would question whether what I learned during that year has been any help to my in my various jobs – but that is a discussion to have another day! Having a postgraduate degree has helped me get jobs, but whether it has been of any practical use in any of the jobs is debatable. Anyway, I finished my course and applied for lots of jobs and had lots more interviews. Eventually, I was offered a job as a senior library assistant at an FE college, which I took because I was desperate. This was a mistake and I hated it almost immediately. My colleagues were lovely and I learned a lot, but the students were, with some exceptions, awful. Like my colleagues, my job involved a lot of ‘crowd control’ and taking abuse. So, I spent the next 18 months trying to leave. I applied for lots of jobs and had lots of interviews. On a more positive note, I started my chartership and my ECDL!
In July 2005, I got a job as assistant librarian for reader services in my current place of work – then known as the Library of Doom! Despite the library’s rather ominous nickname, I really enjoyed the job at first. It was my first experience of managing other people, which was a challenge, but not too bad at first. It got harder as time went on and my manager left…but I won’t go into all that because you can read about it elsewhere and this blog and on my old blog!
In 2008, I was seconded as a faculty liaison librarian for three months, which was really interesting and a very different role to my reader services post.
I completed my chartership* in 2009 – the highlight of my career to date!
After almost five years of struggling on as an assistant librarian, I decided that I couldn’t do it anymore (well, it wasn’t quite that simple) and went down a few rungs of the career ladder to become a library assistant, assisting with periodicals and cataloguing – indulging my geeky side! I’m now the happiest I’ve been in my job for a long time.
I realise my routes might seem like they’ve gone the wrong way, but I have learned a massive amount about librarianship, work, career development, management, other people and myself over the last nine years since I began my career as a library professional. My experiences may not all have been positive, but most of them have been worthwhile. I feel that I’m now being more helpful to people as a cataloguer-in-training than I was as an assistant librarian, so perhaps I’m where I originally set out to be after all – for the moment, anyway.
*You can read about my path to chartering on my chartership blog, if you so wish.
On Wednesday, three members of our team in the SNLeC, had a joint leaving party. A goodly number of people attended, and copious amounts of cake, tea, coffee and juice were provided and consumed. The Big Boss gave a nice speech about each departing member of staff and handed over some nice-looking gifts. As is often the case when I attend such gatherings, I thought this thought: why is it that we, but particularly our managers, only tell people how much we appreciate them when they’re about to leave?
There is a series on television in the UK called “Undercover Boss“, in which people who are actually the bosses of their organisations go undercover as minions within said organisations. This, and the subsequent reveal of the ‘minion’ as the boss is all documented for our entertainment. Such is the nature of Channel 4 television. I haven’t watched the series, but a part of the recent trailer for the series really touched me. In it, the boss, who, I think, had now revealed himself to be the boss, is shown telling an employee he has been doing a good job. The employee is crying with the relief of finally being appreciated for his hard work. It shouldn’t be this way!
One of the more interesting things I learned on the management course I attended in the spring was that it not only matters that people feel valued, but for the value to really make a difference to the way they feel about themselves they also need to know they are valued by the ‘right’ people.
For example, in the professional context, managers are the person people look up to. Even though employees may not always agree with the manager’s opinions, decisions or methods, he or she is still the boss. As such, what (employees think) the manager thinks of them and how he or she treats them has a significant effect on how they see myself as a professional people. If people don’t feel valued by their managers, that in turn negatively affects employees’ own valuation of their work and, consequently, their confidence and self-esteem.
This is not to say that appreciation from employees’ peers is not important as well, but in the a professional context the manager is often the one whose opinion has the most influence over the way an employee feels about him/herself. Also, in my experience at least, peers tend to be a lot better than their managers at helping people to feel valued!
As a former supervisor and a colleague, I’m pretty sure I’ve been guilty of not showing my appreciation for people, for which I am very sorry. Even though it should be easy, it is something that people seem to find surprisingly difficult to do. Even saying thank you seems to be beyond some people, and, unfortunately, it seems that they higher up the managerial ladder people climb, the less likely they are to show their appreciation and gratitude – until the leaving party.
So, my advice to any managers/supervisors reading this (of which there are probably none, but never mind!) – please try to show your appreciation for the work done by your colleagues. Even just saying thank you once in while could make the world of difference to the way someone feels about themselves. If you’re not a touchy-feely person, think about it from a business point of view – people are generally better employees if they feel valued.
In the end, whether in a work context or not, people just need to know that they matter.
Thank you for reading!
So, my time as an assistant librarian is over. I wonder whether I’ll ever be one again in another place and time. At the moment I’m not sure that I want to stay working in libraries for ever, but I’m not sure what it is that I really want to do. I’m hoping this time where I should have more mental space will help me to work that out. We shall see. Anyway, I thought now might be a good time to reflect and make a list of some of the things I learned during my time as an assistant librarian, so here we are (the list is not exhaustive and is in no particular order):
Among other things I learned…
- I’m not good at managing people
- I really don’t like confrontation (actually, I knew this before)
- How to use the Aleph library management system (circulation module)
- Getting involved in office politics is to be avoided if at all possible
- How to successfully pass the CILIP Chartership
- Friendly and supportive colleagues are worth their weight in gold
- It is very important to feel valued
- On a related note, line managers need to say thank you more often
- It is extremely difficult to do a job if you don’t believe in what you’re doing
- Rotas are much more difficult than you might expect
- In fact, rotas are Very Bad Things
- Unhelpful line managers cause untold damage
- As does poor communication
- I’m not good at training people
- I am good at being too sympathetic to people who have library fines
- I quite like doing presentations, even if I’m not very good at them
- A lot about Excel
- A lot about Word
- A lot about Outlook
- A bit about computers in general
- Sometimes putting things at the bottom of your in-tray really does make them go away
- But sometimes it doesn’t
- Not as much as I should have done about the Dewey Decimal System
- To count a lot of money
- To be responsible
- I’m more subject to my emotions that I thought I was
- To rely on God to get me through the day
- The self-returns machine needs to be carefully nurtured otherwise it gets upset
- To [try to] behave like an adult
- Diaries are very useful
- Outlook reminders are even more so because you don’t have to remember to look at them
- The people who can most afford to pay their fines are often the people who most vigorously dispute them
- It is impossible to keep everyone happy
- Being the filling in a sandwich is not very nice
- It’s always good to have an emergency supply of chocolate
I would like to know how to leave my feelings outside of work. I have been asked to do this by my line manager. She says I have to be “Bookmouse” out of work, but when I come into work I have to be “Bookmouse, Assistant Librarian”. It’s almost like being a secret superhero (or super villain, depending on your point of view). (Except that apparently it’s not – I did suggest that it was being like a secret superhero to my line manager and she disagreed.) Tobe fair to my line manager, she asked me to leave my feelings outside for my own good: I keep getting upset by having to deal with people’s complaints and having to implement things I don’t agree with, and I’m too worried about people potentially not liking me to be a good manager/team leader and all of this is not good for my health. I think, though, that if I was capable of it I would have mastered the art of turning off my feelings and built that invisible wall that one of my colleagues was talking about the other day by now. I have, after all, been doing this job (or variants of it) for several years and I’m not really inclined towards deliberate self-destruction.
I suspect I haven’t done it because I don’t know how to, but also because I don’t think I really want to. I don’t want to have to leave my feelings aside – my feelings are important! (But of course they’re not really). Without them, what am I but a robot? (I actually think a robot would be better at doing my job than I am.)
Anyway, the fact is that I have to learn to leave my feelings outside work otherwise I might…What? I don’t know. I don’t actually know whether being able to leave my feelings aside would help me to feel better. It won’t make the wrong things right. All that will happen is that I’ll repress my feelings even more than I already am doing and then one day I’ll implode.
Obviously I’m not suited to the job I’m doing. The leader of the management training course told me I’m not cut out to be a manager. I know this to be true, but it was a bit disconcerting to hear someone else say it. I wish I knew what I am cut out to be and how to become it.
- Foxes use a compromising conflict management style; concern is for goals and relationships
- Foxes are willing to sacrifice some of their goals while persuading others to give up part of theirs
- Compromise is assertive and cooperative-result is either win-lose or lose-lose
- Advantage: relationships are maintained and conflicts are removed
- Disadvantage: compromise may create less than ideal outcome and game playing can result
- Appropriate times to use a Fox style
- When important/complex issues leave no clear or simple solutions
- When all conflicting people are equal in power and have strong interests in different solutions
- When their are no time restraints
I must admit, I was surpised at being a fox. Perhaps I was deluding myself. Then again, I had just started a new job which I was enjoying, so I was probably feeling quite confident in my own abilities at the time.
The other month [it was the other day when I originally drafted this post], I did the test again as part of the aforementioned management training course. This time I was a teddy bear:
- Teddy bears use a smoothing or accommodating conflict management style with emphasis on human relationships
- Teddy bears ignore their own goals and resolve conflict by giving into others; unassertive and cooperative creating a win-lose (bear is loser) situation
- Advantage: Accommodating maintains relationships
- Disadvantage: Giving in may not be productive, bear may be taken advantage of
- Appropriate times to use a Teddy Bear style
- When maintaining the relationship outweighs other considerations
- When suggestions/changes are not important to the accommodator
- When minimizing losses in situations where outmatched or losing
- When time is limited or when harmony and stability are valued
So how did I change from a fox to a teddy bear (assuming I ever really was a fox in the first place)? My line manager has asked me to think about this, so I am. See, I do what I’m told, like a good, cooperative teddy bear.
Well, a lot has happened in four and a half years. There have been some very difficult times, both professionally and personally. People say that difficult things get better the more you do them. This may be the case for some people in some situations, but for me trying to do my job this hasn’t been the case. The difficult situations I have to deal with, the less confident and more unassertive I feel, and my behaviour reflects this. I’m sure all of this has contributed to my current status as a teddy bear and it is not good.
If anyone knows of any jobs suitable for teddy bears please let me know.
I’ve mainly been at work, or at least that’s what it feels like! Not only has it been the beginning of the new academic year, but we have also moved into the Shiny New Learning Centre. The SNLC (or SNeLC (sorry)), is lovely, but comes with its own problems, like an over-sensitive self-returns machine that goes into a sulk and stops working if anyone should dare to return books through it at anything other than exactly the right frequency. I don’t even know what the right frequency is, and I work in the library, so I don’t how the students will get the hang of it. Practice, I suppose. We’re currently posting people to take turns at standing beside the machine to help people put their books through correctly, although, as I said, I don’t even know what the machine’s idea of ‘correctly’ is.
Anyway, enough of that. I’m not supposed to be thinking about work when I’m not there.
I’ve been home to visit my family on a couple of occasions – once for my uncle and aunt’s 40th wedding anniversary party and once to sing Handel’s Messiah. I enjoyed both of these occasions, but I’m afraid I probably enjoyed the singing more than the party, much as I love my aunt and uncle! We performed the Messiah in the church I grew up and got married in, with people I’ve known all my life, a historically accurate orchestra (if that makes sense) and a church full of an enthusiastic audience. Plus, of course, the music is great. I like Handel’s music, because it makes sense – you can sort of tell where he’s going with it and he repeats ideas quite a lot. This is quite helpful when you’re sight-reading a part you’ve never sung before! We had a practice on the day, but that was it for me, so I had to muddle through as best I could and listen carefully to the people around me. I don’t think I made any mistakes anyone could hear, so that was OK. When I was singing, I felt the happiest I have felt for a long time.
What else has happened? I passed my CILIP chartership, which was a nice surprise. I can now put letters after my name – MCLIP, which stand for Member: Chartered Library and Information Professional. I don’t know why it’s not MCILIP – Member of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. This has long been a mystery to me, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
The pacemaker seems to be working. I was still experiencing some strange rhythms, but I went to the pacing clinic in September and had the pacemaker’s settings adjusted and I’ve felt better since then. I’m feeling quite tired at the moment (hence having the day off today) but I think this is due to too much work, rather than anything directly heart-related. I’ve got another appointment at the pacing clinic in November.
The other morning I took some photos of the wild flowers growing on a bit of ground on campus. I don’t know whether they are truly wild or whether someone once planted the seeds there, but anyway, they are very lovely things to look at on my way to or from the Temporary Library of Not Sure What:
Despite the fact that things are happening in my life (obviously, but you know what I mean) I find that I have little or nothing to say about them, so I will just make a brief annotated list to keep you informed:
- I’m going to start a ‘new’ job on 1st July. I will still have the same job title apart from one word and I suspect it’s going to be very like my current job (i.e. nasty and stressful) but with more responsibilities and more money. The extra money is obviously a good thing, but I really severely dislike my job and feel that I’m incapable of doing what I’m currently required to do, never mind a job with extra responsibilities. This make me feel inadequate and stupid and angry. I don’t think I will ever be able to do my current/future job unless I have a personality transplant, which is a bit unfortunate. Yes, I know. I am grateful to have a job and I am looking for a new one.
- The Library of Doom is no more, but I’m leaving writing about that to someone else.
- We (the choir) performed ‘Carmen’ last weekend, with the help of some real singers and a virtual orchestra. It was good. I don’t know why I don’t have anything much to say about it. I’ve tried writing a blog post about it, but I can’t make it sound interesting or exciting, even though it was both of these things and I enjoyed it a lot.
- I was going to have to have an MRI scan before having the pacemaker, but now I’m not. I’m having an ultrasound instead, so that’s a big relief. I still don’t know how far up the waiting list for the pacemaker I am, but I’m finding getting from A to B on foot increasingly tiring and difficult and frustrating. I think the situation with my heart is colouring the way I’m viewing the rest of my life at the moment and this is not good. I feel a bit like I’m under a big grey cloud a lot of the time.
- We are thinking of getting some hens. Our friends have just bought an Eglu and of course two hens to go in it. They are very cool and produce lots of eggs! I went to feed them today. They are quite friendly and sociable and seem to enjoy being stroked, which is nice.
- The garden is coming on. The beans are growing and the carrots have recovered. We have already had a few strawberries to eat. Yum.
- I’ve started to play my flute in church again on a regular basis, which is also a positive and good thing.
- Other good things include (in no particular order) getting my chartership portfolio handed in, socialising with friends, our new Sunday afternoon church gathering (which I will try to write more about some other time), going to see Hot Mikado and of course the lovely Mr C.