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Steven Oakden

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I was originally going to go to sea as a deck officer with the Merchant Navy. This was back in 1971. I went for eyesight tests in Fleetwood and then a medical at the MN headquarters at Liverpool's Pier Head and failed it because I broken my right arm twice and the doctor didn't think I would be able to use a rope laddder. In hindsight this was all daft as I can use a rope ladder quite happily. Why I wasn't asked to actually use one I don't know. I had a lucky escape as the British Merchant Navy rapidly declined and I wouldn't have liked the lack of female contact, a great bonus in library work.

My father then suggested libraries as a career as he had an idea that working in Local Government was a job for life and a fairly protected environment. The abuse and hasssle you can get we were unaware of. I therefore stayed on at school until I was 18 and meanwhile did my A levels and went for interviews at Aberystwyth, North London Polytechnic and Birmingham Polytechnic. I was offered places but my grades would only get me into Birmingham as Aberyswyth wanted Bs. So in September 1973 I went to Birmingham to do the old ALA course and had an awful first year. We only had 12 hrs lectures a week and much of that was of a very poor standrad. Public Librarianship was mind numbingly dull and Cat & Class was rather ineffectual, we merely had discussions about where you could classify a certain book, I felt it taught me nothing. Stephen Butcher who taught Bibliography was good and Tim the Promotion of Library Use guy was also good, and I learn't from them and enjoyed their lectures. Then in summer 1974 it was anounced that the profession was going to become a degree only profession. As a group we felt badly let down. The Library School must have known about this possible development and we should have been warned about it, and encouraged to go the degree route.

The second year we had 19 hours lectures and more work to do so it was better except for the Management lectures, which were luckily only 1 hr a week we all ended up missing these they were so awful and irrelevant. I passed my exams and then there followed a long struggle to get a job as by this time, Summer 1975 there was a spate of Local Government cut backs. In the end I worked voluntarily at an Adult Education Centre in my home town of Preston, Lancs to try and get some experience in a library under my belt. I only ever heard of two of my fellow students again, what did become of the Birmingham School of 1973-75?

I applied for over 40 jobs from June to December 1975. Suddenly in one week I was called for three interviews. I got a job working in Seaforth Library in the Liverpool dock area as a Senior Assistant Librarian and started in December 1975. The issue figures were desperate and we were used by the resident winos a lot, a great start to my career! By May I had moved to a busy branch in Maghull and this was better work wise, at least I was always busy. I later became a Branch Librarian at Netherton which was in a Portacabin in a deprived Inner City area, great! Later I went to Ainsdale Library on the outskirts of Southport and this was much better with a decent catchment area and fairly demanding readership and exhibitions to organise. However I felt monkeys could be trained to do what I was doing, the authority I worked for had twice the national average issues and half the national average book fund, so in effect we were working on 25% of the desireable budget, there was little development work mainly because the managers lived in fear of the elected representatives on the Library committee who were powerful yet knew precious little about what could be done with the service. Very frustrating.

I applied for a College Librarian job in Southport College and despite being told that they wanted someone with a degree I still got the job. This was a far better environment for me as I had almost complete independance of action and my own budget. I did a degree part time with the University of Central Lancashire at Preston by going there twice a week in the evenings. I had 13 years there with latterly a great team of staff and enjoyed a lot of my time there. However Learning Resources were being taken in a fragmented direction which I didnt agree with, we tried to expand the library but met with a lot of indifference. In 1996 I decided I had to move on as I wasn't being allowed to develop Learning Resources in the ways I was suggesting, and the atmosphere at the college was dreadful at that time.

I therefore applied for a job at York 6th Form College in 1996 (salary negotiable), how often do you get that in libraries! I initially turned the job down but the Principal negotiated with me and he upped the salary considerably making it worthwhile moving the family over to York. I had charge of a new LRC which was nice but I had always wanted to be in the start of an LRC development project. In fairness they had done a pretty good job and after a lousy start with a group of staff very resistant to change and a network that crashed several times a day we got going. Then in 2001 we merged with York College of FHE to become York College. The sixth form senior management more or less took over the merged college which was good as they were a good set of people and were staff and IT orientated. However the downside was that that there three Learning Resource Managers on two sites. It was decided to go to one and I didn't get the job. Luckily I was re-deployed as were the other 6 without jobs. I was redesignated IT Projects Officer. This turned out to be a good thing as I now started to acquire new skills and was mainly in charge of the college website content and doing VLE work plus managing funded projects.These included the Higher Level Skills for Industry, JISC X4L and an LSDA Q Project. Gradually the job expanded and I worked in a great team. Then in late 2003 I was head hunted! MLA Yorkshire wanted to start Library NVQs in the region as York College already acted as the centre for Heritage Management did they know of anyone who could do the Library Qualifications?

To cut a long story short we ran a launch event in Autumn 2003 and then started with candidates in February 2004 and by the following year we had up to 83 candidates at a time doing Level 2 & 3 NVQs. Keeping track of it all was quite demanding and I knew nothing about NVQs in general or the Library Qualification but after doing my Assessors award things got better. Then in 2006 we got e-portfolios and this was a great help in keeping track of what was going on and providing help to the candidates. I had a great time with this project it was something I could call my own and we got a good reputation. I met and worked with a number of great people within the region. In 2008 we started to offer the ICTL qualification as well and this was a much better course for candidates. It was a higher level qualification and so it stretched the candidates and yet was easier to do as there were less units and the qualification was clearer in its requirements of the students and what they had to provide. The NVQs were getting the college a lot of good publicity as I was good at self promotion! We featured in C & G newletters, CILIP Update and regional newsletters of professional organisations. I got terrific job satisfaction from this work.

In early 2009 we knew that the college was facing funding reductions so it wasn't too surprising when I and 15 other middle managers were facing redundancy. By now my skills had broadened a lot since redeployment in 2001 and I was nothing to do with the LRC at the college apart from staff training but far more to do with IT. This was obviously a great help in getting another job in the depths of a recession which I think, as do many others, was largely exacerbated by the dreadful British media. I left the college in July. I applied for 8 jobs and had 5 interviews! The following week I travelled back from holiday for an interview at the Hull York Medical School at the University Of York. I was offerded the job and started in September. I was lucky and very grateful to get something else so quickly. I worked as a Learning Resources Support Officer mainly doing Blackboard VLE work which was the VLE we had at the college so I am familiar with it. Here it is used more in depth so I am learning new things. I am also using 'Captivate' as I have been authoring a lot of Blackboard help files and 'Articulate' which allows you to spice up Powerpoints with narration, so I'm also using 'Adobe Soundbooth' to edit digital audio recordings. My job included going out to train Consultants and Doctors at the teaching hospitals in the region in the use of Blackboard and I really enjoyed this part of the job meeting some very talented people.

I have recently been working at the National Science Learning Centre on the STEM eLibrary collection, it's a wonderful resource and I enjoyed the work tremendously.

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