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Maria’s story: From Story Time to the Society of Advocates

Maria’s story comes from Chapter 12: Professional Involvement and Career Development

Becoming a librarian was more of a occurrence for me than a lifelong dream. I did the usual teenage thing of not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up. My main interests were: racing driver, farmer’s wife, vet. There were good reasons against any of these though, such as being a typical girl driver or hating the sight of blood. Then one day whilst on study leave I was lying on the floor watching my Mum scrub baths in her hotel and she said to me “what about a librarian”. Suddenly the world went “click”. I loved books, computers and people, and that’s what the job involved. Helping people with enquiries was similar to working in the hotel which I found very satisying, but with a lot less washing up, which had to be a good thing! So off I went to visit my school librarian and arranged to spend study periods helping in the library. She was even kind enough to let me spend half my summer holidays doing a library stock check.

I looked into university options and signed up for an English degree in Edinburgh (conditional on 2 As and a B in 6th year) or Library and Information Studies BA in Aberdeen (unconditional). During that summer I realised I wouldn’t enjoy the English degree and spent a lot of time praying I only got a C in Chemistry so failed the conditions for Edinburgh, a prayer that was answered! And so I did a BA Hons in Information and Library Studies at Robert Gordon University. The title was swapped round during my first year to better represent the course, much to my disgust as I wanted to be a “librarian” and none of that modern “information specialist” gubbins.

I loved my course, it was varied and interesting – although explaining to other students that “no, it wasn’t just about learning the alphabet and how to put your hair in a bun” got a bit tiresome. (One of my male chums had a total panic when I went and got my long hair cut into a very short style one day, he was convinced I’d have to start the course over again!). I was lucky enough to get a work placement for 6 weeks in the House of Commons library and that became my goal, to work in a “special library” such as that one.

As for my actual career path, well these things never run straight and true. My first job was Children’s Librarian for Clackmannanshire, based in Alloa Public Library. I wasn’t good with children, although I loved their books and it was a management position so very steep learning curve, which was often very scary. The most important lesson I learned was that if you aren’t sure of something you need to ask about it, ignoring it and hoping it goes away does not work and ends up being very horrible. Now I always ask if I’m even vaguely unsure of something, and I encourage others to ask too, its much better for everyone’s mental health.
Unfortunately it was only a maternity leave job so 10 months later I was unemployed again. Being “newly qualified” I was determined I deserved at least 10k but then a job at the Advocates Library was advertised and it had a pretty crest so I thought I would go for it even though it was under my goal. I got offered that job as Reader Services Library Assistant the same day as a job in a private school as teenage fiction librarian for one and a half times the salary.

A lot of lip chewing later I went for the lesser paid job as I could see it had more potential, I often wonder if I would still be sitting among very well read Terry Pratchett books if I had gone the other way.

The job was not as intellectually challenging as I found I needed, although I had been warned that in interview. It was changing daily though and could be moulded to suit, to a certain extent, and my line manager was the best you could have. To the extent that one night at a function she came over and said “guess what I’ve just done”. Well I hadn’t seen her dancing on any tables so I looked blank “I just got you a job”. Dismay she wanted rid of me soon changed to excitement as I heard about the position in question. It was working for a law firm in a new office they were building that would have a purpose built branch library – that would be mine, all mine! Under supervision from the main library and its team in Glasgow of course. Luckily the interview went well and I was suitably excited about the leather sofas and Madonna style headsets for the phones.

I lasted in that lovely job 18 months before my previous line manager got promoted and her position was advertised, it was my dream job and I was thrilled to be given it. It was stressful and time consuming and complicated and frustrating. But so rewarding and satisfying and enjoyable too. During my time there Performance Management was introduced and I used it as an excuse to work with my team to enhance our team work skills. We have some very different team players so this was a careful balancing act trying to please them all and move us forward towards our agreed goal.

I always said I’d be in that job till I retired or they fired me. Until my husband and I decided to move back to Aberdeen, for no reason other than we wanted to. I now have a very different job which is a lot less librarian. I feel almost semi retired with shorter working hours and the main focus of many of our members being on the events side of my job. I have to arrange and attend wine tastings, theatre trips, tours of local sites of interest etc, as well as training events for the solicitors to get their important CPD hours (continuing professional development). It frustrates me to not use my degree, or intellect, as much as previously but at the same time it is an interesting, social and less stressful role.

Options in Aberdeen are limited, especially for a law librarian, so again I’ve said I’ll be in this job till I retire. But who knows what the future holds..

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