My Career in… Library and Information work

March 19, 2012

Library and information work is a hugely varied field, many jobs now involve teaching and learning rather than the more traditional library roles.

Steve is an Information Skills Co-ordinator at The University of Manchester Library.  He is responsible for the planning, delivery and evaluation of Library information skills training and development, alongside the support provided by subject specialists.  He works with colleagues across the Library and with partners in the University such as the Faculty researcher development teams.

What are you working on at the moment?

We are currently developing new training sessions on blogging for researchers and raising research profiles using social media. We are also about to commence our regular training programme for this term, including sessions on reference management, literature search strategies and tips and techniques for keeping research up-to-date and managing ‘information overload’.

One of the key developments we are working on with colleagues is the launch of the new Learning Commons.

So how did you get to this point in your career?

While studying History at Durham University the support I received from the university library got me interested in the role of academic librarians. After graduating and working in temping jobs for a couple of months I decided to look into how to become a librarian. I got some information from my university Careers Service and began applying for posts as a graduate trainee. In the meantime I also did some voluntary work at a local public library to gain some experience and improve my understanding of the job.

I got a one-year post as a graduate trainee library assistant at the University of Westminster, I enjoyed the job so much that I decided I wanted to become a qualified librarian. I gained a place at MMU to do my postgraduate diploma (I intended to complete the full Masters degree but found a job shortly after completing the diploma stage and somehow never got around to it).

My first professional posts were in business information centres, providing a ‘commercial’ information service to small business and later to the financial services sector.  Although I learned a lot about information sources, enquiry-handling and research skills I realised that this wasn’t what I wanted to be doing in the long term and moved to the Department for Education and Employment before getting into higher education with a two-year post at the London School of Economics, created to develop the services offered to researchers.

The LSE was a fantastic place to work with the depth and range of its collections, and one highlight was helping Simon Schama to track down an obscure nineteenth century parliamentary paper for some research he was doing for his television series.

Having decided I wanted to stay in academic libraries after the post came to an end, I moved back to Manchester to take up a role at Manchester Business School after which I moved into a new role at the Main Library where I have worked since in a number of different posts.

What are the highs & lows?

  • The highs in all of the jobs I have worked in have been helping people find the information they need for a project, or showing people how to use a particular resource and seeing it make a big difference to their research. 
  • The lows were working for a commercial information service in the City of London and trying to negotiate contracts for research with bankers, lawyers and management consultants, all of whom where much better at driving a hard bargain than a newly-qualified librarian!

What training or experience are essential to get in? 

Formal qualifications are not necessarily required to work in a library but if you are interested in becoming an information professional the usual route is to acquire a CILIP-accredited qualification in ‘library and information studies’, either as a first degree or a postgraduate qualification.

Opportunities for graduate trainee posts and library qualifications can be found on the CILIP website (CILIP is the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals).

What about attitude, personality or interests?

  • The stereotypical image of librarians as quiet, shy and introverted is far from the reality. It is essential to enjoy working with people and being confident about getting out and talking to colleagues and customers.
  • The profession is changing rapidly with technological innovations and internet-based services and the ability to be flexible, to adapt and to keep developing new skills is essential.
  • Ultimately, whatever kind of library you work in, the most important thing is to enjoy helping people.

How have you found opportunities in this field?

A lot of library jobs are advertised through Lisjobnet, the main source of information for library jobs. Many posts will also be advertised in national and local newspapers and in sector-specific publications and websites (eg for HE positions).

What advice would you give someone considering a similar career?

  • Although getting a qualification in library and information studies is not always essential, it will help your career development greatly (and will also give you an excellent overview of the possibilities of the profession).
  • It can also help to get a ‘graduate trainee’ post, usually for one year, prior to applying as these posts are aimed at graduates interested in the profession and will generally provide a lot of experience and training opportunities.
  • It can pay to do some voluntary work at a local public library or other library service if you are thinking of pursuing a career in librarianship.

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