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July 9, 2014 / bethan

My First Month: Marissa Saenz  Information Services Librarian, Vincennes University 

What’s the biggest learning curve been? 

The biggest learning curve for me has been managing access to our electronic resources. I joined the staff at the end of a year long transition to a new library management system and was expected to catch up with my peers’ training and be responsible for ensuring that our users would have access when we went live. A couple of months prior during the interview, I was informed of the migration, but did not fully understand what that would mean for me in the role I would later accept. What it meant was working with vendors; collaborating with our management information center; answering to my boss; educating my colleagues while teaching myself what I needed to know; and trying to learn the lingo in order to effectively communicate with all parties involved. I think of this as on the job training, for which library school cannot necessarily prepare you.

What have you had to do that you didn’t expect

Having volunteered in a public library prior to gaining employment at a university library, I prepared myself for needing to have general knowledge on all sorts of topics and patience to provide great service to patrons frequenting our establishment. In an academic environment I expected to be asked about assessments, financial aid, course materials, citations, news sources, reference works, and most likely about using the computers, printers, scanners, and software applications. What I didn’t expect was for the library to be responsible for tasks that in my experiences as a student resided with other offices on campus. The library it turns out is one of the few physical spaces that remains open past standard business hours of operation, is one of the only places on campus that has professional staff on duty after close of business, is a public area where students can congregate in study rooms, in classrooms, on the computers, at tables, whether studying or not. I soon discovered, on this campus, the library is a hub for social engagement on par with the student union. While quite pleased to see students walking through our doors feeling welcome, I found myself unprepared for managing the chaos associated with 18-20 year olds living on campus away from home hanging out in the library of all places. The noise level was something I didn’t anticipate, having found most libraries I visited while growing up to be mostly quiet. The lack of basic computer and research skills was something I did anticipate, taking into consideration the rural area where I work; however, the preference for print materials over electronic was not. I quickly adapted my expectations and have begun exploring the varying roles libraries play in their communities.

What technologies have you needed to use? 

One of the opportunities I was most excited about was to further develop coding skills, specifically for web development. While I haven’t yet had the opportunity to apply these skills I definitely have a long to do list that I hope to work through during my second year.

What new skills have you learned

I have been able able to further develop my teaching skills through classroom instruction and general reference practice. Understanding how to conduct research and teach others how to properly search multiple databases is quite a different endeavor. I believe every interaction I have is leading me to be a better researcher and a better instructor. As a result, I hope the students I work with will feel more comfortable using our services and more confident in conducting their own research.

Biggest challenge

The biggest challenge for me has been adjusting to a new career at an entry level position having worked my way up the ladder in my previous profession. I have found that open communication is fundamental to feeling valued and invested.

Most fun thing

Although I am responsible for electronic resources, the most fun thing for me about working in a library is the books! I love reading about, ordering, and seeing all those wonderful books on the carts ready to be shelved or placed on display. 

Has what you learned in library school been useful? 

I believe the theoretical foundation for librarianship developed in library school has been helpful and will continue to be so, however, I feel that my previous work experience is more predominant in shaping my approach to librarianship and the networking through involvement in professional associations has been more valuable than was ever explained to me while in school.

A few words of advice

Remember you are new to this role, you cannot accomplish everything in the first month or first year. Make a plan for yourself and your library. (I have a list that keeps getting longer by the day!) Develop relationships within the library, across the organization, and through professional associations across multiple disciplines; the people you turn to will prove invaluable. Have fun, make the most of your day, and be happy to do what you do. 

November 26, 2012 / bethan

My first month – Ruth Jenkins, liaison librarian, University of Reading

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!

From learning to teaching within weeks!  Ruth Jenkins tells us about taking on a post specially designed for new professionals: with teaching, information literacy and budget-holding responsibilities, but also with structured training and development opportunities.

Adjusting to the pressures and demands of a professional post has been a challenging experience. Starting a week before Fresher’s Week certainly added to the need to adapt quickly to my new role. I finished my Masters in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield in September, and started as a liaison librarian at the University of Reading later that month. It has been an intense and hectic first month, and one which has sped by.

My job title is Trainee Liaison Librarian, but in actuality I have full liaison librarian responsibilities – the ‘Trainee’ part refers to the professional development support and opportunities that are available and encouraged as part of my role. For example, there is a structured programme for chartership with CILIP that I am intending to embark on. I am liaison librarian for two large departments, Education and History, and my responsibilities include ordering materials, running training sessions, and providing individual help to students and staff. Once I’m a bit more settled I’ll also be taking on some cataloguing work for my subjects, and responsibilities as marketing assistant.

Before I began, I expected a significant part of the role to involve presenting training sessions, but I wasn’t prepared for leading these sessions so quickly. Delivering effective information skills sessions – and not just presenting, but actually teaching – has been one of the biggest learning curves. Having started at the beginning of the academic year, I’ve had to hit the ground running. In a way, this has been useful, as I’ve not actually had a chance to get too nervous about teaching – I’ve just had to get on with it! I’ve done so many now, in such a short time, that I’m starting to get the hang of it. I don’t think the nerves will ever disappear completely, though.

Information literacy was a new concept to me when I started my Masters in Librarianship. Now, it is an integral part of my responsibilities as a liaison librarian. Learning about information literacy at library school has really helped when I’m thinking about the intended outcomes of what I’m teaching, and has helped me plan effective sessions. My Masters has also given me confidence, both the content of the course, and from studying at postgraduate level. I used subject databases and advanced searching techniques myself, so I feel in a better position to advise others now. I developed my professional awareness during my MA, and this has helped me understand the changes and shifts taking place in academic libraries, and my place within them.

Working in a large library is also new to me. My past experience has been within smaller teams, so remembering who does what, and who to ask when I need help, is still taking some getting used to. I’ve also had to present myself with confidence, even if I don’t feel I know much more than the students. I led my first training session six days after I started, so I had to remind myself: I’m a qualified librarian, so even though I’m new, I still know more than them. Luckily a colleague kindly helped me out with that session, so I didn’t have to field too many questions to which I didn’t know the answer.

Budget management is also an important skill, and something which is new to me. Being responsible for large sums of money is quite daunting. As a new professional, this has been a step-up for me. Being in a decision-making capacity can be a bit scary, and is definitely taking some getting used to. I’ve also been getting my head around copyright licencing rules, the virtual learning environment Blackboard, the library management system, and of course all of the local practices at the Library.

The biggest challenge has been managing my time and workload. Organisation has been a crucial skill. As I started a week before term, there was a lot of urgent work. I’ve had to get to grips with my work so quickly because of this, but at the same time, I’m working slowly because I don’t know everything yet. Prioritising urgent tasks, and balancing the rest, has been difficult.

More positively, I’ve enjoyed the opportunities for one-on-one appointments with students. For example, I’ve helped an undergraduate student with researching her dissertation, which was rewarding. I also run drop-in ‘surgeries’ for Education students once a week, based at our other campus. The concept of embedded librarianship is a development in LIS that I’m interested in, so it’s exciting to have the opportunity to do it myself.

My first month has been a tough one. It’s strange to look back over this past month, because in some ways I still feel very new and like I haven’t achieved all that much. However, this is completely refuted when I look at everything I’ve done.

November 21, 2012 / bethan

Professional organisations for fun and profit

I’ve been over at MMU again today, this time talking to the MA Library and Information Management students about the value of professional organisations.

I always enjoy talking to new professionals. It leaves me feeling very energised, and optimistic about the future of the profession! As well as the slides above, I did 10 minutes on Voices for the Library, as they were unable to send a current member as rep to MMU this year.

The group came up with some really interesting questions about professional organisations and campaigning which raised some good points I haven’t covered, so I’ll summarise some of the questions and my responses.

Campaigning: why can’t people employed by local authorities campaign against them? Does this apply to all jobs?

If you work for a local authority, it’s likely to be in your contract or conditions of employment that you’re not allowed to undertake any actions that might be a conflict of interest with your employers, or bring your employer into disrepute. Political campaigning might also be prohibited. Campaigning and speaking out publicly against cuts can be considered to be doing all of those, and you may be threatened with dismissal or disciplinary proceedings. Talk to an employment lawyer or your union if you’re worried about your contract and what you can and can’t do.

Can non library/info professionals help out with VftL and campaigning?

Absolutely! Contact Voices for the Library or your local campaign group to ask how you can help speak up for libraries.

Professional organisations:

How do you find the time to be involved with all these things?

You need to find your personal balance. Some people can commit to working 10,12,14-hour days and thrive on it, producing excellent work! Others need more time for themselves, and can only commit short periods of time to professional involvement. It all depends on your circumstances and capabilities, and there’s no shame in committing less time than someone else is.

You may only find out your personal limits when you over-commit. That’s ok, too – figure out what you can and can’t do, and try to bring your life back into balance. Try and meet your existing commitments if you can, but maybe don’t take on any new ones.

See if your employer will allow you some work time for CPD or professional involvement. If you’re developing yourself as a professional, you’re going to be a better employee, which benefits them. It’s also a good advertisement for the to have their employees professionally active and involved, getting the organisation known as someone who employs good staff.

Make the most of the time you do have. If you can only manage half an hour a week, that’s fine – just make sure that you use that half an hour to its best advantage. What’ the most helpful, most impactful thing you can do with that time?

If I’m a member of an organisation, should I add it to my CV? How will that benefit me?

Yes! Being a member of a professional organisation tells the person looking at your CV that you’re committed to the profession – that you’ve committed at least some money to it, and probably time and effort, too. Professional memberships can show that you have professional awareness, and can help you stand out against people with similar experience and qualifications.

While being a member looks good on your CV, being an active member looks even better! Committee positions, professional qualifications, publications in professional literature – they all help showcase your talents, skills, and commitment to the profession.

Some jobs require CILIP Chartership – for example, The University of Teesside require all new library staff to be either Chartered Members of CILIP, or willing to work towards Chartership within a certain amount of time.

Do you know anyone who’s got a job through networking?

Yes, several – and probably many more I don’t know about! Networking isn’t just about promoting yourself – it’s about making genuine connections with people. Once they know who you are and what you can do, they”re more likely to come to you and ask you to do things.

One of my colleagues, Lisa Jeskins, is about to go freelance as a trainer, and most of her booking have come from people she’s worked with on committees  met at events, presented to – people who know her as a person and recognise her talents.

The key to good networking is professional generosity. Help others out of a genuine desire to help, not self-interest, and you’ll find that you’ll make friends who will be eager to help you in return.

The profession: do you think librarians need to come through a professional qualification, as opposed to work-place learning and development?

A very interesting question. The CILIP Future Skills Project Board has touched on this recently in the Qualifications review, and I think it’s an important issue for the profession.

I think it’s very important that the profession be open to entrants through work or study, and shouldn’t exclude those who (for whatever reason) are unable to undertake a post-graduate qualification. Though I do believe to be a professional librarian, you should undertake some form of professional qualification, be it through formal learning or a professional body. Having a qualified body of workers helps to advocate the value of the profession.

Library courses can be seen as hot-houses – they will enable you to understand and obtain the range of skills and knowledge that you need to be a library/information/knowledge professional within a short space of time. While they can’t teach you everything, they should equip you to be a reflective, questioning practitioner, and help teach you how to learn, and plan and manage your own further development.

I do think it’s possible to be just as good a professional practitioner without the formal post-grad qualification, but I think you’ll have to work harder to manage your own development, and to create opportunities and time to develop yourself. Your professional organisations are there to help you do that.

Remember that library school isn’t just about what you learn in the lecture theatre. It’s also about starting to make connections and build up your network. Your lecturers are a set of people who are there just to help you develop, so make the most of them! And your classmates are your future professional colleagues – connections you make now may still be important to you after many years.

November 12, 2012 / bethan

Alternative careers for new library and information professionals

This afternoon, I’ll be at MMU talking to their graduate trainees about what I do at Mimas, and what sorts of alternative careers they might like to think about.

This is a bit of a recurring theme for me, but one that I do think is really important. As someone who’s lucky enough to have a fab non-traditional library job, I like to tell people about all the brilliant opportunities open to them. A library/information qualification fits you for so many jobs, in different sectors, industries, and specialisms.

A huge thanks to everyone who shared descriptions of ‘what they do’, to give a real insight into all the opportunities out there. These brief job descriptions* show how many things are the same across all library/information jobs, yet each is specialised and tailored to the needs of users. It’s one of the things I think we do best as a profession – take the skills we have and figure out how to apply them in new and innovative ways to give our users the services they need.

If you’d like to share a brief description of what you do in your job, get in touch.

*(Emphasis in job descriptions is mine.)

October 18, 2012 / bethan

My first month: Carly Sharples, Social Sciences Faculty Librarian

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!

Career planning isn’t an exact science, and you might find yourself in a very different role than the one you’d originally planned for. Carly Sharples’s (@carlysharples) original plan was ‘reading stories to children as often as I could’. Instead, she’s an Academic Liaison Librarian with responsibility for seven faculties. In this post she talks about getting to grips with her role, and how library school helped to prepare her.

Carly blogs at


Well if you’d told me when I started library school that three years later I’d be an Academic Librarian responsible for seven faculties I would certainly not have believed you. Yet here I am! I started library school with the express intention of working in public libraries and reading stories to children as often as I could. So what happened? How did I suddenly find myself on a baking hot July day, starting work as a Faculty Librarian at UEA?


I did not have too long to ponder this question, as my brain was soon swirling with names, faces, acronyms, numbers and staircases as I tried desperately to remember everything everyone was telling me. I discovered that I already had 40 emails waiting for me in my inbox, piles of donated books waiting on my desk, and plenty of paperwork to read and digest. These were my challenges: I had to find a way to quickly learn which resources were available for all my subjects and how to use them, liaise with faculties over their induction requirements for the new year (yep – the diary was already looking pretty scary), get my head around the Library of Congress classification system having been a Dewey girl all my life, start getting to grips with the collections and placing orders for books, and I needed to check if any schools wanted to cancel any journal titles in order to take up a new journal subscription. It’s fair to say at the end of the first day I was feeling a tad overwhelmed!

It sounds like a lot, but I suppose the key thing with any new post is to take your own approach and bide your time. It was clear from the outset that my biggest challenge would be adjusting to the sheer scale of the role. My previous post had been as a subject librarian, dealing with just one school and developing subject resources for just those students. It’s taken me the whole of my first month to understand that while my new role is made up of the same elements, it is not the same job at all, and I have to take a much broader view which fits my remit and can allow me to set realistic and expectations of what I can achieve. This realisation is not without its frustrations, as much of the subject-specific support I would ideally like to provide I just do not have the time for, and a lot more of my time than I thought is devoted to devising compromises with academics regarding which library resources we can buy within the library budget! Nevertheless, my priority remains the provision of an excellent library service, and if I’ve learned anything over the course of my career so far, it’s that this provision takes many guises.

Would I be able to do this without library school? I doubt it very much. A lot of the content covered in my MSc I have drawn heavily on when trying to get up to speed with subject information (in particular business and law). I’ve also drawn on skills I’ve gained throughout my library career so far, including presentation skills, knowledge of LMS and discovery systems, reference management systems, and just how to get along with so many new people! It’s surprising how many little things you thought you’d never need to know again you’re suddenly very grateful for a bit further down the line.

I think one of the most challenging aspects of being a faculty or subject librarian is the fact that, while you are a member of a team and have support from your colleagues around you, you are also quite alone in that it’s down to you to choose how to prioritise your workload, what you can or can’t manage in terms of teaching for each school and just how much support you can realistically offer while getting the day to day emails and admin done as well. I’d encourage any new professional finding their way in this environment to continually challenge this tendency toward creating your own bubble, and work collaboratively with others as much as possible – especially all the other library staff who aren’t new and therefore know so much more than you and can help you! This isn’t always easy, and as my day-to-day activities revolve around interactions with student and academics, it has been hard to get to know the other library staff and build a relationship with them, but I am continuing to make the effort to get to know everyone.

I can’t say my first month has been constant fun – there are fun elements, but I’ve also been quite anxious starting a new role which is so much larger than anything I’ve ever undertaken before. I’ve continually reminded myself that I’m new and that I can’t know everything at once, and  with the support of my colleagues and a few deep breaths every now and again I’ve made it through my first month still feeling reasonably capable, which I think is an achievement in itself! I still consider myself a new professional with plenty to learn and more confidence to build, but perhaps I’m now a little less new, a bit more experienced, and have plenty more challenges to look forward to.


October 5, 2012 / bethan

My First Month – Francesca Redman, Acquisitions Services University of the West of England (Secondment)

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!

Meeting BERTHA: Francesca Redman (@deadlylibrarian) shares her experiences of being seconded to Acquisitions Services at the University of the West of England.

I have to say that on the whole my first month has been enjoyable, but I sometimes feel as though haven’t achieved a great deal. I’m a very hands on kind of person, and can become quite bored when I have nothing to do, so the month long gentle induction that I’ve had thus far has been  frustrating to me at times-I’d much rather fling myself into doing things, and figure out what I need to know a bit later. Having said that, I do recognise this as a personality trait that has, at times left me in some sticky situations, so I’ve been trying my best to slow my brain down and take in the wealth of knowledge that is being offered to me by my colleagues and managers.

Having read the ‘my first month’ post by Carly Miller, I’ve come to realise that what I’ve been offered by the whole team here is a really supportive environment that many others aren’t lucky enough to benefit from-for example, on my first day, a huge amount of staff from across all the teams in the library came to have their tea break at the same time as me, and there were many biscuits to mark my arrival. Since then, everyone has taken a genuine interest in how I’m settling in, and I must have had a million coffees, lunches, and chats to catch up with the various people that I’ve met in my first few weeks.

What’s the biggest learning curve been?

The move from my substantive post as a library assistant at our Gloucester Campus to the acquisitions department at our main campus in Bristol itself is quite a large learning curve. I’ve gone from being part of a team of 4 to a team of around 90, and much of the first week was taken up with getting to know the people and the basics at the new campus. There is also a completely different student population here, as Gloucester Campus is exclusively for nursing students, and Frenchay is our main campus, offering services to a range of different subjects at different levels. I’m spread across two separate teams, spending half of my time working in customer services at the library helpdesk, and half of my time working in the acquisitions department working on our rolling stock review, and as I mentioned earlier, I am still learning about my roles and shadowing various members of the team at the moment.

Another big learning curve (of a sort) has been remembering that I’m in a position that has responsibility for others now – I supervised a lot of staff in my retail career, but since I moved in to libraries 5 years ago, I’ve been in fairly independent roles, with little responsibility for anyone but myself.  I’ve had to re-awaken those dormant supervisory skills, which is still a work in progress!

What have you had to do that you didn’t expect?

Library tours- on my second day I was told that part of my role will be to give tours of the library to new/returning students, which I hadn’t really expected, but hopefully I will rise to the challenge. I even offered to give a tour to this years’ new Information and Library Management students, though this is really just because I’m a bit nosy, and want to meet them all.

What technologies have you needed to use?

I’ve had to get to know our library management system better, and I’ve also had to dust off my previously underused excel skills, which has prompted me to book myself on to some in-house excel training, to make sure that my knowledge is up-to-date and I’m not making things too difficult for myself.

I’ve been introduced to BERTHA who is our 3M book sorter, and I’m a huge fan of her work, we have a glass wall in to the room that BERTHA lives in, and the geek in me loves to watch her sort books.

What new skills have you learned?

Luckily for me, so far I haven’t required any new skills, but I have had to get my brain to remember some things that it had buried a long time ago, like complex excel formulas, and charts. I think that the experience of meeting so many new people in a really short space of time has helped me with my networking skills.

Biggest challenge?

I was given a list of statistics publications to withdraw, and when I got to the shelves, what looked like a small date range of items to withdraw turned out to be a huge pile of weekly journals, which were time consuming to withdraw from stock, as they weren’t catalogued as journals, but as a single book, and our system wouldn’t let me find the record very easily-this challenged my self-motivation skills and left me covered in dust!

Most fun thing?

I can’t really pinpoint a single fun experience, so far, I’m enjoying the opportunity to do a range of different things throughout my day, and I really enjoy spending time on the enquiry desk helping students- at the same time, it’s good to know that the time spent answering enquiries is finite, and I can return to the quiet oasis of my desk to do something a bit different too.

Has what you learned in library school been useful?

I think that the modules that I took in library school helped me to consolidate my opinions, and I found the course interesting, but I think that my practical work experience has been more useful than anything. Had I not had a varied experience in different libraries and departments, I may well have struggled more than I have so far, as this role is fairly diverse, and nothing that I studied in library school that I can think of could have adequately prepared me for the reality of it.

September 24, 2012 / bethan

My first month: Madeleine Smith, NHS

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!

Being promoted into your first management role is never easy – and even less so if restructuring moves you into a role you haven’t been properly trained for. Madeleine Smith tells us how she managed her service and her development through a challenging time of change.

I was promoted into my first professional role about a year ago, while still finishing my library school qualification.  The role was formed as part of a corporate restructure and basically merged the librarian and senior library assistant (my old job) tasks and responsibilities.   Unfortunately this meant that the previous librarian lost their job when I moved into the new role and so as you can probably imagine, there was a pretty bad atmosphere for a while.

We were not able to close the library during the transition phase, so I focused on training my new library assistant to enable us to stay up and running. Maybe it’s a “librarian thing” to focus on the needs of others, but I totally neglected the fact that I needed training on the aspects of the new job that had been the librarian’s domain.   So when the librarian left, I was expected to get on with the job at hand, and it was assumed I had been given a handover.

While I was confident in my abilities in about half the job (the half that had been in my previous job description), I thought that it would be a very steep learning curve for the other half.

In the end, it turned out that some aspects were challenging but quickly achievable (like presenting a funding bid to the Board with 2 days notice!), but that some small things were really frustrating and took much longer to complete.  I had to write to every supplier to let them know the situation, and that I needed access to the admin sites for their resources, and no, I didn’t have any customer account numbers or anything like that.  This took ages to sort out and was especially unhelpful since the restructure came in the middle of journal renewal season so I had deadlines to meet. The other major challenge was that there was no business documentation in place, like strategies, policies or up to date operating procedures.  This was where the management modules I’d studied at library school came in very handy.

At the end of the first month in the post, while myself and my new library assistant were settling down into the new roles, we were told that there was to be another restructure and our directorate would be merging with another in the organisation. Again the management modules at library school came in useful here to deal with working through this process.  Change like this is a huge part of any organisation in the current financial climate and so one of the key skills that any new professional, in any sector, can learn is the ability to deal well with change.  It is a stressful process, and it can take a while for the fall-out to settle, but if change is implemented well and you can communicate openly with your managers and your teams, it can bring so many opportunities and benefits to you and your work environment.

Working in this role also highlighted the gaps in the library school curriculum, and made me think long and hard about whether I had made the right decision to take on this job in an NHS library.  My initial thoughts were that I needed to leave as soon as possible but on reflection I realised how much I enjoy this job and would probably not enjoy working in another sector quite as much.  Decision to stay made, I then focused on how I could access the training I needed to develop my role and fill in the knowledge gaps.  I felt embarrassed to ask for help from the local librarians, and in a way felt I’d be badmouthing the previous librarian if I did.  The most useful thing I did in the first month of this post was to get over it and ask for help.  This profession is built on helping people so to assume that my colleagues wouldn’t want or be able to help me was absurd.  I found getting a mentor and working on the CILIP qualifications really beneficial and this only expanded my support network of colleagues further.  It has shown me the large range of training opportunities both formally and informally available.  Taking advantage of the help this training can provide has allowed me to develop my library service in new and exciting ways, while building up my CV in case I do decide to leave this role/sector.

There are heaps of opportunities out there for new professionals and taking part where you can is one of the best ways to develop skills for your role and stay enthusiastic about what you do.

June 25, 2012 / bethan

Honest tips for wannabe archivists & SAA spontaneous scholarships

Kate Theimer over at ArchivesNext has posted a great set of (crowd sourced) honest tips for wannabe archivists, which are just as relevant for those starting out in libraries, archives, or special collections.

Some of my favourites (but make sure you go read the whole lot!):

If you love books/old stuff, collect them. If you love helping people have access to information, become a librarian/archivist.

Be willing to do whatever job is needed, even if it isn’t what you planned on when you went to/graduated from grad school.

You have to love learning, experimentation and failure. Or at least have made your peace with them.

Willingly take on new tasks in which you don’t have experience; it’s good prep for a constantly evolving profession/world.

Don’t be afraid to look at the unconventional. Not all jobs are found in more traditional places. Expand your comfort zone.

Be creative and be a creator. Approach your work as a craft to be learned and honed.

You have to love the future as much or more than the past. Absent that, drink beer and get a tattoo.

The hardest part is articulating archival science to stakeholders using similar-sounding words w/ totally different meanings.

You have to like talking about your collections, why they and your professional skills matter to anyone who will listen.

Above all, remember that the professionals you meet generally have a lot of expertise which they are happy to share with you.  Never miss out on an opportunity to demonstrate to them how much you value their knowledge and willingness to share their experiences with you.

A great way to get to know what a profession or specialism involves is to attend conferences. Kate is running spontaneous sponsorships to help people attend the SAA Annual Meeting in San Diego. This is a great way to show your support for others’ professional development, and donations of any size are very welcome! At last count, the campaign had raised $3,412.01 towards helping people attend SAA.

See the website for details of how to donate, how to apply for a scholarship, and how the money will be used. (Although the official closing date is 30th June, Kate has confirmed that she will accept donations past this date.)

June 6, 2012 / bethan

Lone archivists & reading room provision

Thanks to Helen Weller, Archivist at Westminster College, for this guest post. Helen posed a question to the Archives-NRA list asking for advice on providing and invigilating a reading room in a small archive when you are the only member of staff, and this post is Helen’s summary of the guidance she received.

Preparation for the visitor

Almost everyone asks visitors to make an appointment, books only one or two visitors at a time, or books visitors for specified time slots (am or pm). This ensures readers get the help and attention they need!

Most ask users to identify in advance which documents they need, so that these can be waiting (though several people point out that of course, what readers request is not always what it turns out they need!). Opening to visitors half an hour late and closing half an hour early will give you time to prepare and return everything – extra documents can also be fetched at lunchtime. Make it easy to keep track of your documents: allow only (eg) three documents at a time; or have a system for checking documents in and out (also useful for statistics!)

Be clear on your website and in your initial contact about conditions and rules (eg lunch breaks, photocopying, requesting things from off-site storage). Many replies emphasised that most readers are happy to see the items and don’t mind whatever policy you have as long as they know in advance.

Reading Area

It was a fairy even split between organisations which take their readers to a meeting room or library to which the Archivist accompanies them (and brings their own work to do); and those which seat users in the Archivist’s office – either way, you are on hand to answer questions and discuss.

Obviously it is inconvenient to work away from your desk, and you need to plan your workload to do so. However, if readers are sharing your office, you may not be able to discuss sensitive issues with colleagues or on the phone. You would also need to make sure any confidential documents you are working on cannot be read by users, and that your personal possessions are secure. And you should not eat or drink at your office desk if readers can see you doing so – or, if you must, you should at least emphasise you haven’t got any original documents there.

Additionally, if you have a reader’s desk in your office, you need to ensure that it doesn’t get taken over by a member of staff (leave bookstands, handling regulations etc on it to highlight that it is a reserved area).

Make sure your basic searchroom security is easy to administer alone. Suggestions include: have a signing in procedure with address and contact details (make sure they’re legible!), and / or photo ID; ask on their first visit that researchers sign a form to say they agree with the terms of use, which is effectively a promise to behave; provide a designated area for coats and bags and restrict what researchers can bring with them; sit facing or side on to researchers, not with your back to them; consider installing a CCTV camera – real or fake! – or a webcam; or use mirrors so you can keep an eye on people. As one respondent said, users should be able to see you seeing them.

Lunch breaks

Almost everyone closes their reading area for lunch. Most people try to agree with the reader in advance when a lunch break should be scheduled, so that they both leave together and meet at a set time to recommence work. Some negotiate leaving for coffee breaks as well; some take their readers for coffee with them; some just do without. Again, most readers seem happy with various arrangements as long as they’re explained in advance.

Short absences / fetching further documents

Some archivists are willing to leave readers alone – particularly known and trusted readers – very briefly (eg two minutes to go to the loo, or to fetch more records if the store is nearby and you can lay your hands on the item quickly). One person made a point of not telling visitors how long they would be gone. Some ask a colleague to cover for them; some ask readers to wait outside the reading room.

Some archivists put one item away as they fetch the next, so the reader is not left alone with anything. Some mentioned that readers are usually willing to hold doors and help carry outsize or awkward items, and one pointed out that this also keeps them with you!

If you need to leave the room to photocopy records, ask if you can post them on to the reader after they leave, or ask them to wait while copies are made after all other records have been put away.

Long absences (eg meetings)

The verdict is almost unanimous: if you have a user, you cannot normally attend a meeting, and vice versa. Use your Outlook to block off a reader’s appointment as busy so you cannot acquire further meetings. And having to decline or cancel meetings because a user is coming may even help to get the message across that you need assistance!

However… some organisations allow trusted long-term users to work alone, particularly when invigilation would mean the Archivist working away from their desk. One person with long term researchers (coming in for days or weeks at a time) said they made sure they were present for the whole first visit and then tried to ensure the researcher had everything they needed while the archivist carried on with their normal work, including leaving the room to go to meetings – though this was with a proviso that if the archivist ever felt uncomfortable about leaving a researcher, a colleague would cover for them.

Help from other people

Many archivists get helpful backup from librarians (usually give long term cover if you take your users to work in the library), reception staff or other colleagues (mostly for quick cover), and trusted volunteers. One organisation says they give a ‘trustee’ status to people who have volunteered in the past or who have come in very frequently. Some respondents have mentioned that although it’s no substitute for proper invigilation, if there’s more than one user they keep an eye on each other.

Extra security

A company policy for invigilation makes it easier to refuse to leave readers alone with documents, as it’s then obviously not a personal decision. If your rules have been approved by (non-archival) senior management they will be understandable and defensible.

Remember your personal security: you may need to consider the implications of the archivist working alone, in terms of having either a panic button or just other staff who will come on call if the archivist feels threatened or would like to ask a user to leave.

And finally, The National Archives have published draft guidance aimed at non-archivists with archives in their care – on pages 11 and 12 there is the section ‘Supporting safe access’:

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 or @aeilib on Twitter.