My library roots and routes

Taylor Institution Library

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.

View of National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

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.


7 thoughts on “My library roots and routes

  1. Librarians are such wise and helpful people. I never go to a library that I don’t speak to a librarian and often will request her assistance. Before the Internet a librarian was the most likely person that could answer those hard questions no one else could answer.

  2. It is great that you are enjoying your current role and exploring new library career paths.

    I bet there are loads of people in your position who would really like a job which is somewhere in between library assistant and librarian.

    Maybe you could write to the Library Association and suggest that they change the structure – could there be other levels between library assistants (with a few GCSEs) and librarians (with degrees, experience and chartership)?

    In the olden days you only needed to to do a two year course to become a librarian.

  3. Hi Trish,

    Thanks for your comment.

    There are such things as Senior Library Assistants (or equivalent job title), which are between library assistants and assistant librarians in the hierarchy. In some places you need a library/information science qualification to do these, in others you don’t.

    The Library Association no longer exists – it’s been replaced by CILIP. I’m not sure who is responsible for creating the staffing structure within libraries. It may be partly based on CILIP recommendations, but a lot also depends on the individual institution.

    You can become a chartered librarian without having a postgraduate library qualification, although you have to have an ACLIP, which is the CILIP certification scheme for para-professionals. It’s a slightly different route to the one I did, but you end up with the same thing. You can find out more about all these things on the CILIP website if you want to, but this has probably turned into too much information!

  4. Dear Lilian,

    I found your blog through my cousin Liv’s (Liv Love Laugh) and I found this post so neat! It’s fascinating to see how you got to where you are now. I love our local library (which is also rather new and shiny) and am an avid book lover… although I read very little fiction. Anyway, enjoyed your blog! Keep it up!


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