I took what I like to call the 'scenic route' into libraries. That makes it sounds quite pleasant when in fact the request to find a full-time professional post has been mostly frustrating!
I studied English Language and Literature at The University of Sheffield between 2002 and 2005. Although I didn't particularly enjoy it it had its benefits and I left with a 2.1. I didn't know what work I wanted to do, I just knew that I didn't want to teach. After university I moved back to Crewe, my hometown, where work wasn't particularly forthcoming but in November 2005 I managed to get a job as Senior Library Assistant in the library of the (now defunct) Alsager branch of Manchester Metropolitan University. I should have see this coming really as my school work experience was in a public library and I loved that. I don't know why the thought of library work had never occurred to me earlier.
As the campus was slowly winding down there wasn't that much library work to do. However, it was a good introduction into the world of customer service , working with catalogues, journals and the doing other academic library tasks. It was also useful to be working with two diverse sets of students - sports science and creative arts, which helped me understand the varying needs of different library users. I also met some lovely people.
In the long term though, I wanted to move away. My partner was in Yorkshire and I hated living at home. MMU would have funded my MSc but I didn't really want to go back to studying so soon after my degree (what a fool! I would have been £3000 better off!) so I started looking for any job in Yorkshire. In many ways getting my first library job so easily spoiled me for the future as I naively assumed that I could just go back into libraries at a later date should I wish. If only I'd known!
In January 2007 I got an admin post at Leeds College of Music. Hurrah! I could move on with my personal life, but it had a price. By May I realised that the admin life wasn't for me and decided that I really did want to go back into libraries. So, from September 2007 until November 2009 I studied part-time for my MSc in Information Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University. I was slightly at odds with the other students there. Not only was I funding myself, being part-time was in itself quite ostracising, and I was possibly the only person in my class who wasn't currently working in a library. But I did well and got my MSc which I was very proud of. And during the summer I'd volunteered at Skipton public library helping with their home delivery scheme, so I got some library experience too.
After that I was totally stuck. The recession hit, I couldn't get any library work at all and I was in a job I really didn't like, although it wasn't wasted time. Despite not working in a library I got experience with setting up an intranet, working with students and got office and computer experience. However, I was in that role (although I got promoted twice) for four and half years and it was killing me!
When I handed in my dissertation in November 2009 I still had every Thursday free. Leeds College of Music had let me work four days in my job so I could study and I still had that day off when I finished my MSc, so at least I had that to play around with, and in April 2010 I started volunteering at the Commonweal Collection. Set within Bradford University, the Commonweal Collection is a Peace Library run completely by volunteers and it was a great way of keeping my hand in library work until I found paid work, even if it was just shelving, cataloguing items and maintaining the collection.
In January 2011 I made further progress by getting relief public library work in North Yorkshire libraries. At first I was just working the odd Thursday and Saturday (I worked six day weeks throughout most of 2011) while still doing the odd day at the Peace Library. And then in July 2011 I made further progress by getting a Library Assistant post (maternity cover) at Walker Morris solicitors. This was exactly the foot in the door I wanted and I therefore made the slightly crazy decision to quit my permanant, fairly well paid post at the College and move into a less well paid, maternity cover post for 2.5 days a week while doing as many other relief hours at the public libraries to try and earn a close to full-time wage.
In retrospect it was a big risk, and I knew that I could be out of a job come 2012. My maternity post was due to finish in February 2012 and relief hours were facing the chop at the public libraries due to the nationwide cuts. I'm happy to say that the risk paid off though. I went for an interview at Leeds University in November 2011 and didn't get it. However, my Walker Morris collegues knew the person who did so they told me to look out for their job being advertised. And that's how I finally got a full-time professional library post as I'm now Knowledge and Information Assistant at Lupton Fawcett solicitors where I'm putting my library skills to good use!
So if there's a lesson here then it's don't give up! Of course things are slightly easier if you're willing to move for a job but I don't regret anything. I managed to get some great work experience on my way and have worked in many types of library, doing many types of work.