When I left Devon and went to the University of Glamorgan at 18 I had three objectives; first and foremost was to get a good degree, second was to have fun and third, because I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career, I was hoping that over the course of the next three years my life’s direction might become apparent!
Fast forward 3 years and an English degree later and I still hadn’t had my career epiphany. I had become rather attached to South Wales though and that meant I needed a job - quickly. I ended up as a Sales Executive for British Gas but selling energy and its related products was far from my dream job and although I was a good sales person, it didn’t come naturally to me (I like to think that’s because I’m too honest!)
The best thing about working at British Gas was, unfortunately not reduced gas and electricity prices, but being able to speak to such a diverse range of people. Think of the range of people who use public libraries and multiply it by 10 and you’re on the right track. I had no doubt in my mind that whatever career I chose I wanted to be part of a service and preferably a service from which users could go away happy.
An information service!
Towards the end of 2005 I noticed an advert for a SCONUL Graduate Trainee in the library at The University of Wales, Newport. My only library experience was as a user but as I read on it appeared that it didn’t matter, this traineeship was all about finding out if you wanted to be a librarian. So I did my research (including finding out what SCONUL stood for) and with a solid background knowledge, endless enthusiasm and a winning smile I got the job. It turned out to be a very smart move because my year as a graduate trainee was fantastic. I was working in a small library with a supportive team around me and I was able to become involved in a wide variety of different processes. It was great gaining career experience and seeing how all the cogs fitted together to make the library machine and I pretty much knew straight away that this was what I wanted to do.
My year at Newport flew by and before I knew it I was applying for the MSc in Information and Library Management at The University of the West of England. My graduate trainee contract was only for a year and I knew that my career couldn’t progress without the MSc so at the end of 2006 I found myself a penniless student once again. Just as I began to investigate the possibility (shudder) of returning to a part-time sales job to pay the mortgage I happened to come upon a vacancy for a part time library assistant in Cwmbran Public Library. It was only 10 minutes away from my house and the hours fitted perfectly around the days I was commuting to Bristol.
Of course I had no experience of working in a public library, but I had worked on something called the Gateways to Learning project during my time at Newport. This was a project that involved academic and public libraries in five counties in South East Wales and was something that Cwmbran Library was just starting to get to grips with. So it was my knowledge of this, along with that all important enthusiasm and winning smile, that got me my next Library role. I won’t write about the ins and outs of my time at UWE because if you want to know what I studied you can look at the prospectus but, as anyone who has done the library qualification will tell you, it’s incredibly hard but satisfying work.
So for the next 9 months I was very tired but I learnt a lot; I learnt that I enjoyed working in public libraries as well as academic libraries, I learnt that the traffic around Bristol is generally awful and I learnt all about library and information management.
On completion of the taught part of the MSc I threw myself head first into my dissertation. This was the part of the MSc that I was terrified about doing, but it actually turned out to be the most fun. At Cwmbran I taught a weekly computer taster session which was primarily attended by the group affectionately referred to in Adult education as the silver surfers. It was these silver surfers who provided me with my data; their ideas and opinions about IT. I found out what they liked, what they disliked, what confused them and what scared them and from these ideas and opinions I was able to investigate, speculate and conclude my way to a finished dissertation.
The ink was barely dry on my dissertation when I spotted an advert for a part time Assistant Librarian at the very place I had studied English almost five years previously, The University of Glamorgan. I applied and was lucky enough to be offered the job, although I like to think it was my strong work ethic, experience and confidence, more than luck or a winning smile that got me through this time.
The story doesn’t end there as there is still one more bend in the road leading to my current position. Upon being offered the Glamorgan job and learning the hours were flexible my brain whizzed into action. I could, theoretically still work in Cwmbran three days a week and then work in Glamorgan the other three (on Sundays I rest.) And so I did, I loved libraries so much I decided to work two jobs, just so that I could spend as much time in them as possible! Eighteen months later I was offered a full time job at Glamorgan. I didn’t hesitate to accept, which surprised some people as I was very vocal about enjoying the variety of having two completely different jobs. Variety is the spice of life has always been my motto. A full time professional post however, is the aim of every newly qualified librarian and I already knew that the role was varied and exciting and I knew it would allow me to take on more responsibility and become more involved in professional activity (including this!)
And here I am today…I spend less time in libraries, but more time being a librarian, and I love it!