How many things? Only 23.











Volunteering in libraries has been (and still is) a contentious issue, especially in the last 12 months or so, principally around the areas of staff losing jobs and being replaced by volunteers, or library branches closing and being re-opened by volunteers. I’m  not even going to begin to discuss this as it’s a huge minefield. Anyway, this Thing is all about me, not the wider world. (Sorry that sounds really ego-centric!)

So, for Thing 22 we’re tasked to reflect on whether we’ve undertaken volunteer work, how it was, did it further our career etc.

For my library career I have not undertaken any volunteering that I can think of. Or for my researchy career prior to this.

I have undertaken quite a lot of voluntary work however, in areas of personal interest. Whilst this hasn’t ‘furthered my career’ as the Thing blog post discusses, it has increased my skills, knowledge and experience in general. And I’ve met people who are now friends.

None of it was ever on a formal capacity (good volunteer programmes will have an agreed plan or document of understanding so everyone is clear about expectations etc.) and essentially centres around groups I’ve joined in my local area which I have some affinity with.

These include being a member of the volunteer committee who oversee Honno Welsh Women’s Press for a few years, a position I took up after finishing my (paid) work for them; also taking on various roles in the (now defunct) local LETS scheme; taking on various responsibilities in a local literature festival that ran for a few years in Abersywtyth (called Rich Text), and currently being a trustee of a  group of local yoga teachers called Yoga I Bawb (trans. yoga for all) who work towards taking yoga out to particular groups and making yoga more accessible. I also run some lunch time de-stresser sessions twice a week at work – just 15 mins  but it’s amazing the difference it makes!

 



We’re nearing the end of 23Things (how on earth did that happen?) and it’s time for some more reflective thinking about ourselves.

Thing 21 is all about promoting yourself at job applications and interviews, CVs and personal strengths.

I’m slightly disadvantaged as I have been in this post for seven years now, and haven’t prepared a CV since then. A couple of years ago I applied for a temporary post as a secondment (using their standard form, not a CV) and had an interview but didn’t get the job, which looking back, I’m now glad about!

CVs

Despite not having really updated my CV for some time I do have a ‘full CV’ document. In this I have put everything down that I’ve achieved (even certificates at school sports days!) and all my jobs and education. However, I know I haven’t really kept it up to date in the last seven years and I’ve given a lot of talks, written articles and completed training that are not recorded in this ‘full CV’ document. This may be because in my current job I have an annual performance management plan and so quite a few of the work related achievements are in that. It’ll be a bit of a big task to go through the last seven years of these documents, but it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Something for over the christmas hols perhaps?

From this ‘full CV’ I then can create a specific short one for any job that I might apply for.

My interstes/activities

Through recent work activities, and to some extent some of the things in 23 Things, I have a growing realisation that I like ‘comms stuff’ (communication). Whether it’s a strength of mine I don’t know – others will need to answer that!

Interview tips

I agree with most of the ones on the Wikiman’s blog post as referenced in Thing21. Here are a few tips I’ve gleaned, either from being the applicant, or, from being on the panel.

  • be yourself – if you give a false picture of who you are you may find you don’t fit in later on
  • first impressions count – be smart, punctual and smile as you enter the room
  • make eye contact with everyone
  • plan, plan and plan some more – I have a document with loads of sample interview questions in and would prepare sample answers to them so that I wouldn’t have to think of something on the spot
  • always have an example of something you’ve done for every type of work/activity mentioned in the job spec
  • have a spare pair of tights (if you’re wearing them).


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.

Roots
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.

View of exterior of Grantown on Spey library

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.

Routes
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!

Rue
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.



et cetera