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Bo Middleton

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I am a Librarian but I'm not a Librarian

I am currently Head of e-Strategy at the University of Leeds Library. How did I end up here? I certainly didn't plan it, I've never even studied Librarianship.

I have always been non-traditional though - I was the only girl in my family, I was the only girl at school who liked Maths, when I left school I was the only female to study Engineering at College, and in my first teaching job I was the only female Electronics/Computing lecturer - the only woman in the department (except for the dept. secretary).

None of which is a particularly helpful background for my current job ..... but I did kind of get used to being different. There's a lot of waffle below about my career 'route' but, to summarise, I am basically a techie who has rebelled against the techie stereotype - I always wanted to make technology accessible to non-techies. I suppose I ended up as a Librarian because a) I wanted to work in HE (where there are more people who have a similar political and ethical stance to my own) and b) I wanted to work with technology in a user-focussed environment (and libraries always prioritise users).


My 'route'...... Basically I studied Engineering, then started teaching in FE (in UK this is a 16+ college which does mostly vocational and/or pre-university courses). After working for several years teaching electronics and computing (and taking a teaching certificate along the way) - just as home computing was beginning to take off, I rebelled against my colleagues (I was the department pet - colleagues used to pat me on the head as they walked past my desk .... and they couldn't understand why I was so volatile). My rebellion came in the shape of a new job - moving from the nearly all male Engineering Department in an FE college to teaching Computing and Electronics in a (women only) Women's Technology Centre - which focussed on giving practical skills to women who had most recently been out of education/work. Here I discovered a true sense of self and realised that I was actually quite bright, a good organiser and an occasional leader (this time I did a management course along the way).

From there I had a brief interlude where I did a post-grad course in computing followed by a stint as a lecturer in a University - teaching computing. I discovered that I hadn't really moved on much - women were still a minority and I tended to end up with the (sorry for the language) crappiest of courses to teach - Pascal for Geographers was one of the worst. I suppose I didn't give it much of a chance - but I gave up after a year or so and vowed never to return to teaching.

I then spent the next 3 years working in the private sector - doing hands on computing stuff - setting up servers, networks, helping people with PCs/software - progessing to configuring wide area networks, complicated broadcast systems/software, anything that was needed really - I was working for a start-up company - a TV station in Italy - which started as an empty building and - by the time I left was broadcasting nearly 20 radio and TV channels - it was the first ever fully digital TV station in the world.

The TV industry is a funny peculiar business - full of extremes - there are the production staff who really do fulfil the stereotype of air kisses and talent ego massaging 'you look wonderful darling', and then there are the engineering/techie staff - who work longer and harder than anybody else and want you to know it (macho posturing - yuk). I came back to the UK for family reasons but I decided that I wanted to work in HE - doing computing - not teaching - but in an environment where there was a higher percentage of people that I could actually have some respect for. And that's when I went for a job in an HE Library - as a library systems technician - and during the interview I was really impressed by the user-focussed stance of the chap who was showing me round.

Well that was the start - about 11 years ago now - I did about 3 years as a library computing officer, then a couple as a library systems manager/on the Library's Management Team. After that I switched unis - to go to a bigger Library - to manage a large project which was considering how to implement an institutional 'portal'. That combination of experience in HE, experience managing a large project /large budget, and 8 years experience in academic libraries /library systems - meant that when the Head of e-Strat job came up I thought I'd give it a go.

And that's it - who'd have thought it ...... I like to think that not being a Librarian is a really useful asset on the Library's Senior Management Team - it gives me a slightly different outlook - whilst at the same time ensures that our Library has somebody who is confident in assessing potential in this ever-changing, technologically advancing world. At the same time, not being a true techie anymore means that I am also an asset at the IT meetings that I have to attend - I think about IT in terms of its end users not in terms of the technology required. I really am a Librarian who is not a Librarian.

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