This is my life

Okay I’m no Eamonn Andrews and I don’t have a big red book, but I hope you won’t hold this against me as I’d like to tell you the story (my contribution to the Library Routes Project) of how I ended up as a Deputy Information & Library Services Manager or Librarian for short!). Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve always wanted to be a Librarian.  At a very early age I lined up teddy bears and dolls on my bed and ‘issued’ books to them from the bookshelves. I’m not sure where this fascination with libraries came from, but it was obviously deeply rooted as here I am today.

Fast forward twelve or thirteen years and you’ll find me at a high school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne during my G.C.S.E. years. Work experience placements were compulsory at my school and I decided that I would try working in a real library.

I therefore had a placement at two of the city’s public libraries  – Fenham and Benwell – and spent aweek picking up the ‘basics’ (issuing and returning books, processing new stock and shelving). This experience didn’t put me off my chosen career – if anything it confirmed that the path I had chosen was the right one for me.

I stayed on at School to sit A-levels and it was about this point that we started to get careers advice. I think the fact that I knew exactly what I wanted to do threw the careers staff slightly as I didn’t really need or want their help. But, I suppose out of a sense of duty, they asked me whether I’d ever considered a career as an Archivist and, as I hadn’t, they swiftly arranged a work placement at the Tyne & Wear Archives Service. I spent a week at the archive doing something with ship inventories (the details escape me, but it was 17 years ago) and, at the end of the week, I realised that archive work was not my bag as I missed being at the ‘coalface’ and interacting with lots of users.

I started to look for a place at University and decided to hedge by bets and apply for courses in English Language (my favourite A-level subject) and also Information & Library Management. I got the grades to do English at Durham University and decided to keep my options open – I was vaguely wondering whether one day I would wake up and think “A librarian – am I mad?” so I thought a general arts degree would enable me to swiftly change my career choice if necessary.

During my three years at Durham, I worked as a student library assistant in my College Library but this was a sleepy little job that involved filing issue cards (the Library hadn’t been automated at the time), shelving and little else. I can’t say that this particular post filled me with a sense of well-being, but I imagine that most Librarians have had a similar experience at one point in their careers. However, unperturbed (or perhaps more correctly stubbornly) I still felt that librarianship was right for me. I applied and secured a place on the Masters’ course in Information & Library Management at the University of Northumbria, which was due to start in the September following my graduation.

But a chance conversation with a recent graduate, who had come back to visit for the weekend, changed everything. She introduced me to the SCONUL graduate library trainee scheme and explained that she was currently one of three trainees at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. I was so interested by what she told me about her placement that I decided to check it out for myself and I applied for a number of positions including the one at the Bodleian, which I was lucky enough to be offered. I therefore deferred my place on Northumbria’s Masters’ course for a year and this northern girl moved south.

My year at the Bodleian was fantastic and I loved every moment of it. I spent time in different departments (Special Collections and Western Manuscripts and Reader Services) and at the Science and the Philosophy Library. It’s such a unique place to work and I felt privileged to be part of the team even if it was for such a short space of time. I could have quite happily stayed there for the rest of my working life, but my Masters’ and Newcastle were calling.

So it was back to Newcastle for a year and back to living with my folks. Towards the end of my Masters’ I began to apply for jobs and, as I’d met my (then) husband-to-be in Oxford, I was keen to go back there. I landed a job as an Information Officer at the Said Business School and this is where I first met Andy and that special breed of student – the MBA. I spent three years working at Said and, during that time, gained experience in numerous aspects of library work including database searching, journal subscription maintenance and copyright clearance for study packs. After three years, I felt that it was time to move on to the next challenge and began working at Nuffield College as Deputy Librarian. I spent another three years at Nuffield gaining new experience in archive work (I didn’t escape archives!), acquisitions and staff management.

By this time I was married and my husband was keen to experience life in New Zealand so we decided to move out there for a year. I applied for jobs and had my first-ever telephone interview (a weird experience especially given the time difference between the UK and NZ) for a part-time Senior Reference Librarian at a medical library in Wellington. Somehow the fact that I was sat in my living room whilst the interview panel was thousands of miles away didn’t put me off and I managed to get it. We bid farewell to Oxford and went out to NZ in September 2006 and I began working almost immediately.

I had also applied for a job as a Research Librarian at the Parliamentary Library of New Zealand but, given I hadn’t heard anything, I presumed I had been unsuccessful. I was therefore surprised to receive a phone call once we were in Wellington asking me to go in for an interview. The interview day arrived (a typical Wellington weather day – gale force wind with accompanying horizontal rain) and I arrived at the Parliamentary Library looking a more than a little dishevelled. I somehow managed to regain composure and, well, walked away with another part-time job. I therefore spent my mornings working in the medical library conducting literature searches, answering enquiries and providing training and then my afternoons at Parliament gathering information together to answer enquiries received from MPs and their staff.

After ten months working two part-time jobs began to take its toll and I was lucky enough to be offered an exit. A maternity cover position arose at Parliament and so I said goodbye to the medical library and took up the position of Research Librarian full-time. The fact that I lived two minutes walk from Parliament had nothing to do with this decision although leaving the house at five minutes to nine every morning was very appealing! Although my husband and I had only gone to NZ for one year we extended our stay for a second year so that I could carry on working at Parliament as I was really enjoying the fast-paced and often frantic nature of the work.

Alas, all good things must come to an end and our time in NZ did just that in June 2008. We were faced with the slightly scary prospect of not knowing where we were going to move to when we returned to the UK, as it depended on where I found work. (My husband is a graphic designer so can work anywhere he has an Internet connection and a supply of coffee!) In our first week back, I had a second interview at the Cambridge Judge Business School (my first was by telephone at an ungodly time of night in NZ!) and within a couple of weeks I’d begun working there as Deputy Librarian. This is where I am now although my job title has just been changed to Deputy Information & Library Services Manager to better reflect the work that our team is involved in. I now feel like I’ve gone full circle as I’m back in a Business School and back working with Andy again. The only difference is that I’ve ‘switched sides’ – although just between you and me my allegiance will always lie with Oxford!

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4 Responses to This is my life

  1. Niamh says:

    What an interesting journey, thanks for sharing your experiences. Issuing books to teddy bears, I love it!

  2. LK says:

    really interesting (I have always wanted to live in New Zealand as well!) and glad to see I wasn’t the only one who wanted to be a librarian from a young age. Although I never issued books to my teddy bears – I don’t think they were reliable enough.

  3. KTLib says:

    I can’t believe I admitted that – one of the problems of late-night blurry blogging I suppose!

    LK – just do it – you’ll not regret it!

  4. libreaction says:

    Didn’t realise you’d written this – way behind with blogs at the mo because of start of term shenanigans. Fascinating to read the full story. I still plan to tackle your absurd loyalty to Oxford at some point!

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