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May 29, 2012 / bethan

My first month: Amy Icke, 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!

Moving sector is traditionally seen as something you might do later in your career, but Amy Icke moved from a traineeship in a large university library to a post in a small school library. In this post, Amy tells us how to cope with the change.

After completing a traineeship, I moved straight into my current role as Assistant Librarian at an independent secondary school in London. I have been in post for two years and am now approaching the end of my first year at UCL, studying part-time for the MA in Library and Information Studies.

As a trainee I had been working in a legal deposit, university library and so the jump to a small school setting was quite a leap. I really wanted to work with young people as they prepared for university and to explore bridging the ‘information gap’ between school and higher education. So in my mind, my previous academic library work and this new challenge complemented each other well but on a practical day-to-day level I soon realised the work was going to be very different!

Simple library processes that many trainees would be familiar with had passed me by, for example I had no prior experience of book processing, stock selection, weeding and to be honest only very limited experience of circulation! So yes the first few weeks were a steep learning curve and I relied heavily on the expertise, experience and patience of the librarian. Having said this, if you’re interested in exploring a new sector or fall into a job in your ‘not preferred’ area then don’t panic! Lots of the skills are transferrable, you soon pick up new ideas and you learn lots about yourself and the profession in the process.

One major question, which deserves careful consideration is, do you enjoy working in a team or are you happy to work with one other person or even as a solo-librarian? Most school library jobs fit into this latter category and so communication and building relationships which other members of staff is really important. For me, my support network at school includes teachers, the alumnae department, those involved in outreach, the archivist and maintenance and caretaking staff who regularly help me out. These relationships reinforce the library’s role in the school community and emphasise the importance of having a strong network who you can help and vice versa.

An aspect of my job which I really enjoy is its variety and breadth. In a reasonably small library, run by a team of two, you get to be involved in every aspect of the day-to-day running and the longer-term planning of the library. When I started I didn’t expect to be involved with compiling the library development plan or reviewing budgets or bidding for funds. Working in a small team means you can share your opinions and expertise and feel as though you are making a real difference. At first this variety was a little overwhelming and I struggled to manage all the different components of my job but I’ve now become an expert list maker and absolutely everything gets written down in my diary.

I felt less confident working with IT and new technologies when I started in my new role and it is still an area I would like to develop. Getting to grips with a new library management system, especially the reports module, continues to be a challenge but echoing others advice, mine also would be, to give things a go. Play around with things, see what works for your institution, think about how to reach readers in a way they understand and make things as user-friendly as possible. We have a subscription to Bridgeman Art Library, which has been invaluable for displays and presentations but I also make use of free resources such as Wordle. The library currently maintains an extranet page so I have learnt how to update that using Dreamweaver and I have just started populating an image gallery with photographs from our archive collection.

The reason I enjoy what I do is because I can make a real difference on a daily basis and as a member of the library team I help to provide a safe, neutral and intellectually-curious environment where everyone is welcome. You feel part of the school community by playing a supportive role at times of stress and anxiety such as exams, by providing that ‘vital’ book during the coursework season and by stamping out that all important relaxation reading for the summer holidays. Like many libraries, school library work is cyclical and some aspects, such as induction, research sessions, and reading lessons are predictable, but there are so many opportunities to run new events, experiment with stock selection, put up interesting displays and promote the library that time passes very quickly. Spending time getting to know what the students enjoy, what they’re reading, what they want from the library and to see them develop is great fun and highly rewarding.

I am only one year into my MA course and much of what we’ve covered so far has impacted greatly on my daily job. However, I am looking forward to the module on services to children and young people which I will take next year and have enjoyed hearing a wide variety of speakers working in libraries, archives and publishing. The dissertation also provides a great opportunity to research an area which particularly interests you.

If you’re interested in working in a school library or have a story to share then feel free to get in touch at amyicke@hotmail.com or @aeilib on Twitter.

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