Remembering Booky Bear

I was winding my way through some library sites, looking for information on new professionals when I came across The Library Roots Project , which looked like a jolly good idea. I didn’t recognize many of the names on the site which means a double helping of nosiness for me because a) new blogs to gawp at and b) an excuse to get everyone I know to write one. So here is my route into librarianship in all its inspiring and incredible glory:

The Wonder Years

It’s the early 1990s and everyone is marvelling at Dolly the sheep and Windows ’95 in their slouch socks and stirrup leggings. Well, everyone except me; notwithstanding the fact that I was 7, I was also too busy creating the truly original and not at all clichéd character of Booky Bear for a World Book Day competition. Luckily, the judging panel at Tottington Library were less discerning in their character competition verdict and I won a prize, which I remember consisting mainly of a massive hat. So although I have always been a little reading fiend hoarding those old library tickets, it was that hideous white and turquoise headpiece that alerted me to the fact that libraries were not just rooms with lots of free books in.

Fast forward a good ten years (not much to see, only the repulsive and cruel anguish of adolescence) and I got a job as a library assistant at Layton library in Blackpool. Up until this point I had been merrily visiting my local library on almost a weekly basis but if I could possibly time travel back to speak to grubby little me, I would probably be immensely surprised that I was actually working in a library, rather than y’know churning out best-selling novels whilst tending to my personal zoo/veterinary surgery and my sexy French husband.  (Ah, Pierre mon petit chou….)

But I digress. Working as a library assistant at 17 was an amazing experience. The library was in what they called a ‘disadvantaged’ area, which in practice meant that a lot of our customers came in every day to use the computers, to get DVDs and chat, rather than borrow books. It did radically change my view of what a library was and give me a taste of that bittersweet drug, customer service. Whilst working there I sat my A-Levels and then had to say a lot of sad goodbyes before going to study English at the University of Liverpool.

Interlude

Three years of sex, books and alcohol. Degree achieved!

MA and volunteering

It took me a while to realise that anyone could actually work in a library as a career, which is the self-same attitude that now pisses me off (note to self, be nicer.) After a failed attempt to work in TV, I decided to do an MA in Medieval Literature at the University of York. This was absolutely the best year of my life so far and it has chagrined me ever since that there are not bucketloads of jobs out there requiring an in-depth knowledge of Old French or The Mabinogion. Seriously job market, what the hell?

What this does bring me to is a general feeling of failure – no novel, no TV career, no PhD, no idea. So I applied for and subsequently did not get, several jobs in both the York Central Library and the University of York Library. This obviously did wonders for my feelings of being the human embodiment of utter loserdom, compounded by the fact I was working in a cinema yet again. However, I did get to hear about being a Graduate Trainee (from @Vixie84) and thought that it sounded amazing. I pulled my socks up, put on my jazziest jumper, and began volunteering in two libraries – York Central Library and the York Minster Library.

I think it’s important to note that actually using libraries ignited and aided the lifelong love of books, reading and writing that I think many librarians feel. This love is something that enriches my life and that I can see myself doing until I drop dead from an infected papercut – but it is not why I want to be a librarian. Actually working in a library uses different skills and an interest in books and reading is really beside the point. I want to work in a library because I believe in the all the valuable things we do, the variety of projects and the busy, interesting and vibrant sphere of discussion and change that librarians promote.

Lucky I think this because…

Now

I am a GT!* This is actually an amazing achievement considering that I talked about vigorous toilet cleaning in my interview.

I luckily got a job at one of the dwindling number of northern universities offering this sort of training (cue funeral march). When I started I was convinced that I would not do a MLIS and instead work for as long as possible as a Library Assistant before somehow magically becoming a librarian. Well good old real life has been here to give me a kick up the bum and I soon realised that you really can’t be a librarian without a degree, no matter how bad the course or how much experience you have. It has also taught me such valuable lessons as No You Can’t Work in Special Collections if You Just Want to Touch the Manuscripts; Do Not Lick Date Labels, They Taste Bad; and Students are not Your Friends.

But for the first time in my life I can say with conviction that I know what I want to be when I grow up** and I am actually very excited for the future. As vague as my plans may be, I am hoping to get my qualification, get a job (please lord) and then maybe do some writing and speaking, in a professional capacity rather than just at home in my pants.

 

 

*I won’t drivel on about what being a GT entails, you can bloody well read the rest of this blog for that.

** sadly letting go of the notion that I could be a spy and deleting all of my Jennifer Bond fanfic

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Six months

This month marks my six month anniversary of being a GT. Someone else may take this opportunity to write a deep and reflective post about how they have changed as a professional and, dammit, as a person as well. Not me, you’ll have to go elsewhere for that kind of touchy-feely stuff. As I am learning, we don’t always get what we want, like a new Harry Potter book detailing just how Harry, Ron and Hermione turned into such creepy looking adults or a decent LIS course (amiright).

Instead of talking about my feelings, I have come up with a list of the things I now know about working in libraries – and the things I am still totally clueless about. If anyone has the answers to these, seriously get in touch. I can pay you in the librarian drug of your choice; coffee, cats, cake, crafts or crack.

So far, I have learnt:

How to do my job

Yeah, it would be a little worrying if I didn’t know what I was doing by now. Not that I don’t spend some days just staring at the book in my hand, wondering what the hell I meant to do with it – but for the most part, everything has clicked into place. I haven’t been fired yet so hopefully things are going well.

How to write emails

Sometimes it still feels like a minefield – I agonize for hours over exclamation marks and whether I should put ‘thanks’ or ‘cheers,’ only to hit send on an email that someone will take ten seconds to skim. It has become more natural though, and it helps to realize that most people probably feel this way sometimes.

Apart from that one student who emailed me with only the four cryptic words, “I have found them.” I don’t think she has ever worried about how to write an email…

Photocopiers

On the first day of my Graduate Traineeship they should have told me to kiss my loved ones goodbye, as from that point on I would have only one major relationship in my life – with the fudging photocopier. If half of the queries I deal with are about fines, then the other half are how to copy, how to scan, how to add credit, how not to die when scanning your own face.* Indeed, you’ve really never felt alive if you haven’t stuck your hand blindly into the boiling innards of a photocopier, risking your fingers to pull out the remnants of someone’s Ryanair booking confirmation.

Librarian stereotypes

As in, nobody really conforms to the stereotype but all non-librarians are weirdly obsessed with it and ask you about it whenever you mention where you work. I’m talking about the idea that librarians are quiet, nerdy, cardigan-smothered battle-axes who ssshh people over the tops of their glasses, before going home to their cats and/or knitting. I didn’t really expect to meet anyone like that when I started at MMU but I thought there might be some echoes of truth. Turns out, not one jot. I may wear cardigans and glasses and tell people to shut up but that’s because I am grumpy, stylish and blind, not because I am a librarian.*

Social scene

There is one! Hallelujah!

Special sellotape

We have special posh sellotape, only to be used to affix spine labels to books because it doesn’t turn yellow and costs a fortune. This is some seriously specialized shit.

Dewey Decimal System

It’s taken six months, but I am now prepared for everyone thinking I have memorised the entire DDS and will be able to direct them to books on their particular subject. In these cases I either point them towards the catalogue or point them towards a random shelf and leg it.

PhD

After six months of attempting to use up the entire UK supply of post-it notes, I have realised one epic thing. I am so, so glad I didn’t do a PhD. There are lots of little reasons why not, like the fact that I can see the results of my hard word on a daily basis rather than waiting for years, or that I am finally writing a book, or that I probably would have made a sucky academic anyway. Sadly (ha), the world will never get to read the amazing research of Dr Bayjoo on Medieval Welsh literature but hopefully they will get some use out of a library where Ms Bayjoo works. I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about emotions but seriously guys, I am so pleased that I work in a library as a GT, not as a student. Huzzah!

I have six months to learn about:

What is up with staplers

So what I do know, is that staplers break constantly. How can we live in a world whereby I can carry the entire internet in my pocket and videochat with my sister on another continent – but can’t affix pages of paper together in a semi-permanent fashion. If I don’t become rich by being a librarian (likely), then I will just have to invent a stapler alternative and solve this blight upon our society.

Metadata

What the fuck is metadata?

Reservations

I feel like I have told everyone one of our thousands and thousands of library users that they cannot reserve books that are on the shelves upstairs. I do it every. single. day. If I am looking at a career spanning several decades of saying this same thing every day, I am going to need to get myself to a zen-like place or pour Baileys onto my cereal. It’s not so much the repetition, it’s the telling someone that the book they need is upstairs, giving them the shelf mark, and then watching them just walk away because they can’t be bothered to actually pick the book up. The stuff of my nightmares, I tell ya.

LIS courses

I have tentatively accepted my place to study for my MLIS in September. I am both pleased and not pleased, manically veering between both emotions on a daily basis. Watch this space to witness my complete mental collapse.

Suitcases

Why do all the students have them? What the hell is in them? Is everyone just going on holiday apart from me?

Why books are so dirty

Seriously, I don’t know what people are doing to these books but after an hour of straightening or being on the counter, I am filthy. I have gone through two bottles of sanitizer in six months and I’m beginning to fear that the book bacteria are becoming resistant.

Lack of scientists

Where are all the scientists? I thought, coming from a literature background, that I would be in a minority. Surely scientists, with their organized brains and love of data and charts and numbers, would make fantastic librarians – and yet everyone I meet has done some sort of humanity degree. It is great though, to work with people who share similar interests in old books and dead people.

Twitter

Subtitle: why can people be so mean (sob, sob). I bloody love Twitter, and think that is almost an essential tool for anyone, early or late in their career. Just think of the networking possibilities you could have whilst sat  in bed eating jam with a spoon. Nobody would even know, unless you tweet about it! Yet, some people use Twitter to be mean and it can be a harsh reminder of the fact that even though we are grownups, some of us are still children. And I say this as a person who has tweeted about their own bum.

Thanks for reading – here’s to another six months!

*Impossible

**This is definitely going on my CV