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.
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…
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