This thing is all about library careers – how you got into librarianship in the first place (roots), and your library career path (routes). The rue is my own which I added because I think things sound better in threes.
The roots project wiki website with other library roots stories was down when I was writing this two days ago, but I will look at it later as it’s back again.
Grantown on Spey library, where it all started. I particularly like the turret.
When I was a wee bairn my Mum would take me to the town library where we lived (Grantown on Spey, Scotland). This summer I went back there and walked past the library but couldn’t go in as it was closed for the afternoon. We left Scotland when I was under two, and I grew up with Leominster public library in Herefordshire. We’d go every week and would get the maximum number of books. Sometimes I would have read them all by the end of the weekend! The lovely staff there allowed my sister and I to progress from the children’s cards (three brown tickets) to the adult’s (six white tickets) when we were still teenagers – it was great to have six books a week each!
When I was under 10 my sister and I played libraries. Yes, I know! My parents made us the slips of paper for the front, and we had a date stamp with red ink. We had a good collection of books and I fondly recall playing libraries. I had no plans for the future at this stage.
Later (much later), I did a week’s work experience in Leominster library. (Do schools still do work experience weeks? I went to the Centre for Alternative Technology for my second one.) And then when I was 17 I got a Saturday library assistant job at Leominster library. My sister had also worked as a Saturday library assistant. I worked there for two years whilst doing my A levels, and I distinctly recall, on my last Saturday before setting off for the dizzy heights of university, one of the staff asking me if I thought I would go into librarianship. Despite enjoying the work I said ‘no’. I can’t remember my reasons, but I didn’t see it as my career. Not that I had any clear career in mind at all!
So, I got my degree, using lots of libraries in the process (I was in Oxford – I frequented at least 6 that I can recall, and I joined the public library) and finished my degree in June with no idea of what I was doing or where I was going. I got a temping job for a bit and then applied and got a library assistant job at Lincoln College library in Oxford. It was a two year post and I enjoyed it. As I wasn’t one of the official graduate trainees in Oxford I didn’t take part in their programme, though my manager did get me onto a couple of the talks. For the second year she managed to persuade those who ran the scheme to allow me to join in fully, so I attended the seminar programme and visits as an imposter and made some friends, some of whom I’m still in touch with. At some point during these two years I must have made a decision to go into librarianship because then I applied to do a master’s degree.
I completed my Master’s degree in library and information studies at DIS (or, DILS as it was back then) at Aberystwyth University, and then have had a roundabout route to where I am now. I was interested in research and consultancy and one of the lecturers (Prof Hywel Roberts) asked me to be the research assistant on a couple of short-term projects which lasted about 4 months. One was looking at the new establishment of Re:Source in England (remember that? MLA precurser) and if there was scope for a similar organisation overseeing museums, archives and libraries in Wales. And the other was with an inter-library lending scheme in Wales (Cydfenthyca Cymru – Interlending Wales). The significance of these two projects is that I am involved with both of them still, 12/13 years later.*
The research work finished and I then got a part-time job working with the lovely Honno Welsh Women’s Press. Still in the book world. I did marketing, the website, sales data (creating lots of Excel charts!) and other bits and bobs. To make up my hours I also started picking up some part-time research work in DIS for different lecturers. Then, I had a conversation with Hywel Roberts and he suggested I look into research properly and advised doing a PhD. So, I got accepted onto the new Research Training Master’s degree that the department was offering, completed that, and then completed the PhD (under Dr Geraint Evans). I also did a small amount of lecturing in the department as well. I didn’t have a fixed view as to what would happen once the PhD ended, but, one week in the summer as I was writing up the thesis, a job was advertised for CyMAL: Museums Archives and Libraries Wales, a new division of the Welsh Government, that had just been established a year earlier in Aberystwyth. I applied, and got the job. Jobs are relatively rare in Aberystwyth, especially library/book/research related ones, so this was excellent timing.
As of two days ago (21st Sept), I will have been in post, as Libraries Development Adviser, for seven years. This seems remarkable, and slightly strange. Especially as I am now a civil servant and the one job I knew I definitely did NOT want to do was to be like all the other Oxford graduates and go to London and work in the civil service (or management consultancy, finance or other ‘city’ jobs.) Oh how I laughed for the first few months in my job, every time I remembered I was actually working for the government!
Do I regret anything so far? I miss working in an actual library sometimes, the daily bustle and dealing with all the customers. And I actually miss shelving books. I have had to stop myself when I find myself re-shelving misplaced books in my local library when I’m browsing the shelves.
Sometimes I feel I’m becoming less in touch with what’s important to real librarians. I have thought about doing a week of library visits in Aberystwyth, spending five days with a different librarian each day. I could go to a school library, hospital library, public library, university library and the National Library. All in Aberystwtyth! I would also like to go back to Leominster library and say “Look, I am working in librarianship, sort of. Thanks to getting my library career off to a good start!”
I am aware of the Library Day in the Life project, but have not contributed in the past. Maybe I will if it rolls around again. Although I’m not a librarian in the real sense, it could still be interesting to show what I do as I think there’s some level of uncertainty as to what CyMAL ‘does’ other than award grants.
*The Welsh research led to the establishment of CyMAL. The interlending work I now deal with is with CatCymru and various inter-regional schemes which CyMAL funds. Full circle.