Monday, 1 August 2011

Thing 10: qualifications and routes into librarianship

For interesting stories on routes into librarianship, see the Library Routes Project. For a less interesting story, see below...

I studied English Literature for my undergraduate degree, a subject that opens doors into a myriad of professions: academia, publishing, arts administration, journalism... or at least lets you peer through the keyhole before slamming the door in your face. Once I'd tried and failed to find a graduate job in any of these fields, I started working in an office in Brighton, about which the less said the better. I then worked in a slightly nicer office, this time in a TEFL school, which allowed me to move into my first job at the University of Sussex, in the TEFL/modern languages learning centre. I was a resources assistant, and subsequently a resources coordinator. I loved working on the university campus but after a few years it seemed that a) the language resources were about as coordinated as they were ever going to get and b) I had a strange hankering to actually Learn Stuff again. It transpired that there was a reciprocal scheme between Sussex and Brighton allowing staff to undertake any degree course, for free. (This seemed an insanely good perk - and sure enough the year after I applied the scheme was withdrawn.)

I'm not sure when I decided I should study librarianship - since both my parents are librarians I spent most of my childhood thinking it was the last thing I wanted. But there was something about the work in the language centre - organising materials, helping people find what they needed, generally supporting learning and discovery - that I loved, and was good at, and wanted to do more of. So in due course I applied to the Information Studies MA at the University of Brighton and started part-time (one day a week) in 2003.

I enjoyed the MA course but at one day a week it was only a small part of my life (until dissertation time came round and like everyone else I became a stressed and hysterical monomaniac for 2 or 3 months.) I obviously didn't do a graduate traineeship, or even a placement, because I was already working. In some ways I think I missed out on new experiences because of this, but it did allow me to do my dissertation research in a setting I already knew and on a topic that I could apply immediately in my work.

I got pregnant just as the course finished in 2006, which meant I wasn't as motivated to find a new professional post as I might have been otherwise. I didn't want to relocate, which already narrowed down the options, and I knew if I wanted decent maternity benefits and the chance to return to work part-time, I would be better off staying where I was. I ended up staying at Sussex for another 2 years, until my current position became vacant. I'm still not technically working as a librarian - my post doesn't absolutely require a qualification, although in practice if I hadn't had one I probably wouldn't have got the job, given how competitive the field is.

I do think of myself as a professional cataloguer and I certainly use the skills acquired on my MA in that part of my work. As for the rest, on-the-job training, direct experience and continuing professional development opportunities (including cdp23!) have been far more valuable. Things move fast in the world of information and you can only learn so much in a formal setting.

I haven't so far considered chartership, as I'm not in a professional post and in general don't feel 'ready' yet. But it's more important to me to like my job, which I do, than to progress in a linear way. Another consideration is that, as I mentioned in a previous post, some sectors pay more than others, and I get better paid here as an assistant than I would do in entry-level professional roles in many other settings...

Photo by adotmanda on Flickr


  1. I enjoyed reading this! You sound down to earth!
    thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for reading Becky :)