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March 12, 2012 / bethan

My first month: Carly Miller, school library

What’s it really like to start work as a new professional? In this series of guest blog posts, we’ll hear from new professionals about their first month in a new job. What have they learned? How have they fitted in? What’s been the best (and the worst!) thing? If you’d like to contribute the story of your first month, get in touch!

What to do if your first professional post isn’t what you expect? Carly Miller tells us about how to get the most out of a difficult situation.

I should start by saying I didn’t really like my first professional post and that I left after three months. This means my blog post is probably going to be a little bit different from other people’s but hopefully still just as useful!

What was the biggest learning curve?
Really the entire experience was a learning curve. I think library school really focuses on the positives and presents a really idealistic view of librarianship; it didn’t prepare me for finding my job upsetting, disagreeing with management or what to do when your legal rights such as a lunch break are being ignored.
I think I was also quite surprised by the lack of understanding from teachers about what a librarian is. A lot didn’t realise I needed a qualification and I was often seen as the person who was there to solely fill the photocopier and stapler up. I think there needs to be some collaboration between librarians and PGCE courses to nip this attitude in the bud.

But my biggest learning curve was that you need to follow your instincts. In between the interview and start date there were things that made me realise the job wasn’t going to be for me; I ignored my instincts and just carried on when really what I should have done was voiced my concerns and then, if they weren’t adequately addressed, stepped aside.

What have you had to do that you didn’t expect?
What I really didn’t expect though was the lack of support. It was very much, here is the library now get cracking. A person had been in post temporarily for a year before me, they interviewed unsuccessfully for the permanent post and when I started they didn’t know what their employment situation was going to be once the crossover period ended. Neither of us were briefed or prepared for what was needed of us and we were just expected to muddle along; it was an extremely awkward, uncomfortable and unproductive situation that I had no idea how to handle.

What technologies have you needed to use?
Aside from the LMS (and the photocopier that teachers often needed help with!) there wasn’t much in the way of technology, most of my experience with it was trying to find free resources that would be useful and looking to the future.

I really wanted the students to have the opportunity to start using things like twitter and blogs to communicate with the library as a lot of universities are using them now so I set up accounts. Unfortunately access to them was then blocked and even though I requested the restriction be lifted it hadn’t been at the time I left.

One thing I became aware of where I was, was the potential danger for management to see something fancy and new and grab it without fully thinking how it would work in practice, which is obviously something I would have to work around if I’d continued in the role.

What new skills have you learnt?
The role really made me consider management skills, I don’t think the management was great where I was and since leaving I’ve worked in a job where there was an amazing line manager and a thorough induction process. The whole experience made me think about management and leadership skills; basic things such as ensuring people are introduced to each other and showing new starters where they can put their lunch are actually really important for putting someone at ease. I was also told when I requested a meeting that existing staff took priority over new which I think is a mistake, I think it’s really important to ensure new staff are settling in and given an opportunity to raise any concerns.

I really hope the experience has improved upon my management, leadership and mentor skills that I’m starting to develop as a new professional.

Biggest challenge?
The whole experience was a challenge; it was a challenge to work alongside the person whose job I had taken, it was a challenge to try make the changes to the library the head of sixth form had implemented work and it was a huge challenge to be honest with myself and admit to everyone I’d made a mistake.

Most fun thing?
I think working with the students would have been fun but unfortunately as I was not only replacing someone they liked but also making them unemployed it wasn’t that easy to start building a relationship with them. Plus they didn’t like the changes to the library, I didn’t either but I had to try make them work and so that put an additional barrier up.

Has what you learned in library school been useful?
Yes even if I wasn’t really able to put it into practice! At library school I learned the best way to run a school library, best practice on redesigning the physical space and advice on weeding stock. I had no say on any of this really but at least I knew that things were being done wrong!

If your first professional post isn’t right for you, it’s not the end of the world! Try talk things through at work, talk to your professional colleagues and just try and learn as much as you can from the situation.



Leave a Comment
  1. Zaddyman / Mar 12 2012 13:06

    This is an interesting and brave post. It’s not always easy to admit you’ve made a mistake and harder still to write about it in a reflective way.

    I had a similar experience in an interview for a school library job where most of the other applicants (who I met and spent the day with bizarrely) were unqualified. The job eventually went to someone who’d been working as an administrator at the school for 10 years and fancied a change. This told me all I needed to know about the school!

    I agree that more needs to be done to highlight just how qualified and educated librarians have to be particularly to teachers

  2. r peat / Mar 12 2012 13:41

    I was lucky in my post to be in similar situation to you but I did have some help inschool, a collegue in the same boat left her post after 3 weeks, the day after the principle librarian finally got round to ringing to see if she needed help!

  3. Lorna / Mar 12 2012 13:52

    My first post after library school also only lasted 3 months, however I managed to learn enough in those 3 months to move on to a library that suited me better. And I don’t regret that first job, it was my opening into law libraries and I still wok as a legal librarin now, 17 years later!

    I don’t think anyone should expect their first professional post to to be their perfect job, I don’t think any job is likely tbe perfect! And jobs are scarcer these days so there may be a need to take a less than ideal job for financial reasons so if you end up in a job that’s not your ideal I echo Carly’s advice to learn as much as you can, there is often more to be learnt from a bad experience anyone!

  4. thebradfordlibrarian / Mar 13 2012 16:20

    Thanks for the comments guys! Its interesting to hear other people’s experiences!


  1. Sometimes jobs just don’t work out…. « thebradfordlibrarian
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