Recent mentions of Graduate Trainees (in various contexts) have had me thinking back to my graduate trainee days. Spoiler alert: I *loved* being a graduate trainee. Absolutely adored it. I sometimes think that it would be my ideal job: roving the library, a few weeks here, a few days there; some nice project-work to be getting on with; sticking my nose in to absolutely everything; a veritable library JOAT.
Alas, this is probably never going to happen. But I did have the chance to do that for a year, which is more than many prospective librarians. Especially now.
I did my trainee year at the John Rylands University Library at the University of Manchester, and it was brilliant. Graduate traineeships work slightly differently at all institutions, and at Manchester we worked in different departments in short blocks, to give us a taste of life throughout the library. From knowing absolutely nothing about the workings of a large academic library, I got to attend faculty and Senior Management Team meetings. From never having handled a rare book, I was sent to check the accession slips in the incunables. From never having used a bio-medical database, I started training students in how to use them.
Some of my fondest memories are of my time in the John Rylands Library on Deansgate. They were preparing to re-open after refurbishment, and we go to be part of moving the collections from off-site into their new storage areas. We also got the run of the building. And what a building! Stunningly impressive to visit; inspiring to study in; and quite frankly astounding to work in. It’s so odd to visit now, to remember ‘oh yes! I spent hours in front of those cases, with accession numbers and archival tape’.
In my enthusiasm, I kept records of some of the work I did as a graduate trainee. (If you’re interested, you can see them here) I’m incredibly glad that I did! It’s very valuable for me to be able to trace that early development; a record of the time when I was learning that I loved being a librarian!
My graduate traineeship gave me very high expectations for the rest of my career. I was treated as a professional. My ideas were listened to. I was allowed – nay, encouraged! – to come up with suggestions and ideas for projects. It instilled in me a deep and abiding love for the profession, and a respect for those who practice it well. It also gave me a very strong loyalty to John Rylands – they gave me a fantastic start, and I’ll always be grateful to them for that.
This makes me all the sadder that there are no graduate trainees at John Rylands this year. I understand that budgets are tight, and may well need to be spent elsewhere, but I do feel that graduate trainees are an excellent investment. They’re good for the library itself, who get enthusiastic, intelligent staff with new ideas and outlooks (for a fraction of the cost of a professional). They’re also good for the profession as a whole. I certainly wouldn’t be half the information prof I am today without my traineeship. This isn’t an attempt to big-up my value to the profession! But extrapolate that to all the graduate trainees, every year (there are currently 56 traineeships advertised on the CILIP page), and that’s an awful lot of potential information professionals who may not be being developed to the best of their capabilities.
If I had gone straight into my MA, I would not be as enthusiastic about the profession. I would not be as confident in myself as a professional. I would not have as high an opinion of my fellow professionals. I almost certainly would not be where I am today, and I like where I am today. Very much, in fact. I wouldn’t have got involved with SLA Europe, and be in a position where I can now help other new professionals.
I’m certainly not saying that graduate traineeships are the only valid route into the profession! I’m saying (in a long, rambling, ranty kind-of way) that they are a valuable route which can produce quite unquantifiable benefits. Ah, there’s the rub. ‘Unquantifiable’. Who has money now for anything unquantifiable?
There was an email recently on lis-link about the possibility of setting up a network for graduate trainees. Perhaps what we need as well is a network for past graduate trainees – perhaps an off-shoot of Library Routes/Roots? – where we can share what traineeships have brought to our careers. Start to try to document the unquantifiable. Be a concrete reminder of what could be lost.