Thursday, 23 June 2011

Roots and Routes - a career in right angles

I discovered this Roots and Routes idea through cpd23. Scrolling through the other postings I had to hunt for school librarians. I know there are a lot of us out there - but we don't seem to have much of an online presence.

My roots in libraries:
I think I pretty much took libraries for granted as a child and teenager. We had books at home and my father in particular was a lifelong fiction reader, usually with a book on the go in every room.
Our public library (Wakefield City Library) was a regular haunt - my mother (an English teacher) presumably took us as I remember smaller siblings in push chairs. The junior library was a fabulous (old fashioned) place - parquet floor, wood everywhere, and the tantalising swing doors into the grown up library, Narnia-like.
As a teenager (or however old one had to be to be admitted to the hallowed place) I haunted the adult library. There was a teenage fiction section (hardly any teenage fiction really in those days - 1960's - don't gasp) - William Mayne is about all I remember. But I roamed the non- fiction shelves and borrowed voraciously especially travel/ adventure writing and lots of craft/ design books, true crime, psychology.
Of course that was all pre-digital (we barely had TVs) so there were also the mysteries of the card index and borrower tickets and all those boxes of issued tickets at the librarian's desk.
At school I suppose I borrowed fiction, but I don't remember much about it. I was a library prefect (!) in the 6th form but that seemed to be mainly about telling people to be quiet!!!
At university (Reading) I read English, hated the library, stopped reading anything except course-related "texts" and certainly being a librarian of any description never entered my head. Like other contributors to this thread, the careers advice at university was pathetic:I should be a  teacher (based on no evidence at all) - no other suggestion. So, being pretty pathetic in the imagination stakes myself, off I went to do my PGCE and the rest, as they say, is history.

The right angles of my career:

English teacher in secondary schools/ English teacher FE college (think "Wilt", it's about the same era). Then the first unexpected turn - the college transformed (in one of those regular re-structuring exercises we are used to in Education) into a tertiary college - I don't even know if that is a recognisable term these days. Basically from a standard (bog-standard) 1970's FE college, the college added a big academic stream for 16+ students, including amazingly exciting whole new departments, like Performing Arts. So I wheedled a year's secondment retraining in Theatre Design and Stage Management and lectured in that area for the next ten years.
So where is the library in all this? you may wonder. Not there quite yet, though I did use the college library, which was transformed from a pokey, dusty no-one wants to go in there type of place, into a great big open, noisy (!) busy place with journals, comfy seats and a whole TEAM of smiley, young librarians, who would go to the pub with us. And I did manage the department's own resources.
Then not so much a change of direction as a complete drop out. Heart ruled every other sense and I escaped to the northern wilds ( a year out, I thought of it). Circumstances dictated that one year turned into seven (things go slowly up north). Finally, having completely depleted my resources and desperate for a job, I came across a library assistant job in the local secondary school, just 15 minutes down the road. Competition was stiff (and we were all vastly overqualified for the level of post, but also inexperienced in librarian things) so I was really thrilled to get the job.
So there you have it - a librarian at last. Completely unexpected and unplanned, but absolutely good.

My route in libraries:

I think I worked about 15 hours a week in my first library assistant post. I was trained by the fabulous School Librarian (thanks Johanna). She was a "proper" qualified professional so I learned all the routine tasks, book processing, cataloguing, circulation management etc. We only overlapped at lunch times, so I had to get on with it on my own. Of course, being an experienced teacher helped me enormously, in terms of understanding curriculum, teachers, school things in general. I re-discovered the wonderful world of children's and teenage fiction.
After 4 years I upped roots and headed to Suffolk. I had no job to go to, so spent a scary few months without an income and applied for really any job going. Happily I got a job as school librarian for a year in a school which shared its library with the public library, so I benefitted from training in their LMS and worked with the public librarian who was another huge professional support for me (thanks Alison).
Finally I then moved to my present post (more hours, less travelling) where I have been for the last 13 years. There's a lot to say about my work here, but I'll keep that for another blog.

Reflections on my roots and route:
Happily I learnt some key essentials for my career needs, long ago enough to have made a difference to how I think about my career, but not earlier enough to save years of anxiety wondering what I was going to be "when I grew up".
I would like to make it very clear that being a librarian doesn't feel an inevitable or intended career, but it suits me very well and I think I do a reasonable job at it. But there are a whole range of other jobs I could have done (some of which I have done). 
What I did learn about work is that the key thing for me is about balance: I need to do a job which has several elements and they need to be in about the right proportion. Those ingredients for me are: a blend of practical, physical work along with a variety of academic, intellectual activities. I get the biggest buzz out of teaching, but don't enjoy the stresses of classroom management which go with a lot of secondary teaching these days. I've always worked in the education system in various roles and that's probably significant. I'm good at logistics (stage management) and especially managing the physical environment. I can cope with being a sole worker, but I have to work hard to have effective relationships with teaching colleagues with allergies to libraries!
There's much more to say about status, career structure, SLS support, Chartership, managing stuck-ness, and also the many byways and meanders in my career which don't feature in my routes here. Another time for that.

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