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So, here’s my obligatory ‘why I became a librarian’ post. Actually, this is one that I’ve been looking forward to writing. Now that I am a librarian, it seems the only possible thing that I could be. I have described it a vocation: that overwhelming feeling that this is where I belong; this is what I should be doing. And the strange rush of love for the profession – the unutterable privilege of being allowed to do this every day, the sweet elation of recognition from colleagues and peers; a demonstration that the profession loves me too.
And, with hindsight, it doesn’t seem at all strange that I should have become a librarian – if anything, what’s odd is that I didn’t realise it earlier. The signs were all there: books in alphabetical order from a very early age, with home-made dividers; nose always in a book; first degree in English; a desire to classify and categorise; an almost compulsive need for things to be correct and complete. But I never spared a thought for librarianship until one dismal Christmas. After my MA in English I was working in a horrible, stressful, go-nowhere job, and desperately casting around for something to do with my life. Teaching was out: I’d tried it, and realised that I was utterly unsuited to it as a career. I didn’t fancy journalism; couldn’t afford a PhD; and was thoroughly fed-up with the commercial sector. I’d made all sorts of vague plans and promises about trying the civil service, maybe doing some retraining as, well, something-or-other. Then I suddenly said ‘I think I’d like to work in a library’. And I never looked back.
Reflecting on it now, I cringe at how incredibly naive I was about librarianship as a profession. I wasn’t quite at the ‘stamp books and shush’ level, but I wasn’t much further on, and I knew nothing about the culture of the profession. I applied for the MA in Library and Information Management at MMU, and a friend mentioned that she’d seen an advert for a Graduate Trainee at the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester. With no idea of how important a Graduate Traineeship was, and certainly no idea how sought-after the traineeships at JRUL were, I applied, and got the job.
I won’t say that I loved every minute, but I will say that it was the most amazing, exciting, and exhilarating work experience I had ever had. After all-too-short a year, I moved on to MMU for my deferred MA, where I discovered (whisper it) that I actually quite enjoyed research. After that, it was ‘oh, applying for these jobs will be really good experience, even if I stand absolutely no hope at all of getting them.’ Well, I got one: as Copac Challenge Fund Support Officer at Mimas. I’ve been there just over a year now, and my job title has changed to ‘Content Development Officer, Library and Archival Services’ to reflect the fact that I now also work for the Archives Hub. It’s been an incredible year. I’m exceptionally lucky to be working with a group of highly talented, dedicated, and very very nice people, who have given me support and encouragement, as well as the freedom to express myself and experiment.
I’ve also been very lucky to get involved with the fantastic folk at SLA Europe. Again, not something that was part of the career plan (I don’t think they’ll be too upset if I admit that I’d never heard of SLA before I applied for the SLAE ECCA), but it has been invaluable for my personal and professional development, and I’m delighted that I’m going to be continuing my involvement with them.
Where next? No idea. Seriously, none at all. I love the multitude of options that are available as an information professional, and I never have been very decisive. My career development so far has been purely serendipitous and, while I realise that this is not perhaps the best plan for the future – and certainly not something to say in my chartership portfolio! – I’m happy at the moment to see how things develop, and take my chances as they arise.