Laura Woods suggests that most people she’s talked to have stumbled upon a career in librarianship by accident. And I’m about to reinforce this correlation just a little further. I too drifted, rather than stumbled, into this beloved career. To be fair I’m also a left-wing voting socialist, a vegetarian, a trade unionist, a cyclist, a lover of public transport, I like (slightly) obscure indie and country and western music, I read, I support CND and Amnesty International, I wear Dr Martens, corduroy trousers, and plaid shirts, and I collect banana stickers so it might also be argued that my destiny was already sealed.
I left university with a degree in geography and, after a few dead-end jobs, came to the conclusion that, whilst at university (and indeed throughout my life) I’d really enjoyed the library. I’d enjoyed finding information, I’d enjoyed research and I’d enjoyed discovering new things in old things. So, I sent my CV around to just about every university library in London and finally secured a job as a Periodicals Assistant at The British Library of Political and Economic Science (BLPES). Under the guidance and mentoring of the brilliantly named (and just plain brilliant) Thalia Knight I found the threads of a career developing. I undertook my Postgraduate Diploma at Newcastle Upon Tyne Polytechnic, came back to BLPES, learnt the intricacies of Library of Congress cataloguing and classification, moved to the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and immersed myself in the beauty of information retrieval. The delight of both these places was twofold and, in essence, is what makes being a librarian so rewarding. Firstly, it is finding, handling, discovering and reading information from such prestigious collections of material which genuinely are world renowned; secondly, there is an excitement in meeting such a wide spectrum of people from just about every corner of the world and helping them discover what they are looking for. They are simple pleasures but totally rewarding.
After these stints in university I moved into further education and worked as a librarian at Greenwich Community College. Again, the rewards were in working with a disparate group of students and staff and supporting them in their quest for knowledge. The user groups were different from those at university but supporting EAL pupils, refugees, asylum seekers, parents, teenagers and just about anyone else as well is just as rewarding.
And so to my last two posts as a secondary school librarian. I started out in an inner city comprehensive and it was a baptism of fire. An extraordinary bunch of pupils, a dedicated and passionate group of staff and a very rewarding experience. And from talking about hip-hop, West Ham United and the architectural delights of Canning Town, I presently find myself discussing the beauty of tractors, crop rotation and the Wurzels in the rural confines of South Somerset … as well as the delights of teenage fiction, Shadowing the Carnegie Medal, information skills, and why you shouldn’t rely solely on Wikipedia to cut and paste information.
No one goes into librarianship for the money. My partner and kids will tell you that. It is a beautiful job though. It is extremely rewarding, extremely satisfying and extremely motivating, and you do meet some extraordinary people that make up this melting pot of a world we live in. It’s a career well worth (shambolically) stumbling into.