I have worked in libraries for almost five years, firstly in public libraries and currently in a school.
I pretty much became a librarian by accident. I had finished my degree and was working in practically the same job I had when I started the course. My partner needed to move to London for his job, and his mother told me her employer had Library Assistant jobs available. She told me to apply, so I did. I messed up the interview and didn’t get the job. Luckily for me I must’ve not been totally hopeless because they called up a few days later and offered me a job after all!
When you first start out working in libraries most of the skills you need are quite general, and many of these I’d picked up in my previous admin roles. To start off with you need to have a good manner with customers, at least a basic knowledge of ICT and to be prepared for a lot of lifting and carrying. If you decide you want to become a qualified librarian then a higher-level qualification, and this usually takes the form of a Post Grad course, is required. You may also decide to work towards chartership, which could mean better pay.
One thing I (wisely!) did when I was doing my A Levels was volunteer to work in the book department of a local charity shop. I worked alone on Sundays and I was free to rummage through boxes and boxes of second hand books that we held in our storeroom. As someone who is a total bibliophile this was absolute heaven for me. However, it wasn’t until later on I discovered how worthwhile that slog into work on a Sunday morning came to be. A colleague of mine at my first library job told me that a huge amount of people had applied for positions, and only those who had previous library experience or experience of working in a bookshop would be considered. It’s amazing to think of the payoff something can have in years to come, and how much that small thing changed the whole course of my life.
What I enjoy about being a librarian first of all is that I am good at it. That’s not to say I always find it easy but from day one I felt immediately I was able to get right into it. After about a week I felt pretty confident. I was very lucky in my first job that I was allowed to have a bash at pretty much everything. The branch had only opened two days before I started so there was plenty to do. I got involved with events, advertising, craft activities, toy libraries…you name it. The other thing I enjoy is helping to and speaking with the customers. This is something it took me a lot longer to realize as there are plenty of them who are quite willing to treat you like crap and ruin your day. However, when I went on a work placement at a university library I was entirely backroom and it started to get me down, and it brought back memories of boring, lonely admin jobs I’d had in the past. When they asked me at the end of the placement what I had learnt I said that it had made me appreciate my job much more! Joking aside, I learnt an awful lot on that placement about myself and how it is, for me, the people you encounter that make the job, but sometimes that really is taking the rough with the smooth.
Let’s be honest, you’re never going to be Mr. Monopoly working in libraries. However, many heads of service don’t do too badly and, generally, what jobs there are available are paid pretty well.
One of the biggest issues at the moment in the library sector is the lack of middle level jobs. I’ve seen many assistant jobs available at around 15k or so and then a fair few high-level jobs at 40K+ but not much in between. I intend to post a follow up post to this one, which goes into more detail about this issue, but I intend to keep this first post relatively brief!
Finally, if I wasn’t a librarian I’d love to be an F1 driver (no chance – too poor, too fat), a newspaper journalist (a sector potentially even more turbulent than my own perhaps!) or have my own little shop selling vintage and floral thingies. But, for now, I’m happy to stay where I am.