Thursday, 19 July 2012

In need of advice.

Thing 11 is about mentoring, which I think ties nicely into the themes of career progression and a lot of the professional development stuff I discussed in my last post.
So, following this theme...I am about to change my career-and life-in a pretty massive way!
Today is my penultimate day as Academic Liaison Librarian at the University of Worcester, and on Monday I'll be starting a new role as Faculty Librarian at the University of East Anglia. For anyone whose geography is as shaky as mine: yes, they are on separate sides of the country. I am thrilled to be joining the team at UEA, and looking forward to the (pretty steep!) learning curve and set of challenges ahead of me, but I'll admit to some trepidation about starting a new life in a new city - it's a lot to do all in one go!

So, I ask myself, if I had a mentor, how would this have shaped my career and choices so far, including the rather massive decision to uproot my life?

I'm not sure why I don't have a mentor. I'm familiar with the concept, and have met several professional colleagues over the years who I have admired greatly and listened carefully to their advice. Perhaps the fact that so far in my career I seem to have been moving around a lot is a factor in my deciding not to have a formal mentor? Or perhaps it's easier to keep my thoughts, fears, joys and apprehensions in my head rather than sharing them with someone who may have a different opinion? Or, worse of all, admit the possibility of establishing a relationship with someone who I could then potentially disappoint! 

Reading Meg's thoughtful and rather persuasive blog post I felt a sense of loss that I had not allowed the continuity of a more senior and experience voice to inform and reflect on my choices and decisions. It's not that I think I'd have done anything differently, but the idea of having someone to discuss my professional thoughts and choices with is actually very appealing when you stop and think about it. And I would love to think that one day in the future I'd be in a position to mentor someone else in the field.

So watch out Norwich, I'm on my way, and I may just be at a stage in my life to stop, think, reflect and ask for someone else's interest and input along the way. 

Friday, 6 July 2012

On library qualifications and career progression. Is it worth it?

Thing 10 asks us to consider qualifications that are relevant to the role of the librarian, including Master's qualifications and chartership. I have been putting off writing this post all week, thinking I'd feel very negative about the whole process, but actually I suspect my feelings are really a lot more mixed, and perhaps a lot more positive.

For me, the existence of Library Graduate Traineeships was an absolutely godsend. After I finished my undergrad degree I went on to train as a stage manager which required a PGDip and  months of lifting, carrying, climbing, shouting, consoling, crying and generally accruing the most impressive collection of bruises ever seen on a skinny girls legs. Yes, the theatre is all drama, on stage and off. I worked in theatre for three years altogether, and I loved many aspects of it, but it really wasn't long before I realised that I wouldn't be able to keep up the pace and meeting the workload with the statutory cheery disposition, so I started looking for another option.

It didn't take me long to start investigating being a librarian. My only search parameter for a new job was not being a teacher, but I wanted to work with books, and so being a librarian became an obvious choice. However, the thing I found online that made me really excited about the prospect, was all the information on the UWE website about the MSc Information and Library Management. It sounded great! Organising people, working in an environment that makes a really positive impact on its community, working with systems (yep, I'm one of those I'm afraid), and with the rapid technological developments librarianship seemed a dynamic and progressive field.

How to get into it though? I was searching late in the year, and so there weren't too many library traineeships about, but the idea sounded perfect - have a year to test the waters, meet other library trainees, learn a lot more about the profession and how I would fit into it, and then go on to the Master's if I wanted. I applied for the first traineeship that came up and I got it, and it was exactly what I needed. I met some absolutely fantastic people while I was there who are now amongst my closest friends, I learned loads, I still loved libraries at the end of it and I was enthused and ready to take on the Master's.

I do have one confession at this point - I was INCREDIBLY lucky, and was awarded a grant from AHRC to undertake the MSc at UWE. I could not of done the course without it (hell - I was still paying my career development loan off from the PGDip!) and had I not been awarded it I'm not sure where I would be now. Yes, that's me saying that my Master's was worth it. I gained my first professional post because I was doing the Master's course. Ok, the course was extremely broad, hardly touched on massive areas of librarianship like cataloguing and classification, and definitely overdid the management aspect BUT without it I couldn't have hoped to have the knowledge I needed to talk intelligently at interview about the challenges librarians face in integrating information literacy sessions in higher education, about the impact of online resources on traditional collection management, and the shifting nature of a university library's relationship with its students in a web 2.0 world. And you know what, geek that I am, I loved thinking and talking about this stuff!

Don't get me wrong. The Master's was a slog! Some modules I loved (unbelievably my favourite was the legal libraries module, even if a large part of it was devoted to discussing their imminent demise). Some modules were just painful, like research methods. But actually, as my undergrad degree was in English Literature with a focus on creative writing, I had never learned about researching in the social sciences and the different theories surrounding research methods, and knowing this has been invaluable now I find myself supporting a subject which has a heavy focus on quantitative research methods. And most importantly, I met some brilliant people who are now fantastic librarians and part of my professional network.

Ok, so I'll draw this very long post to a close now by saying that I don't have any substantial conclusions about the nature of the Master's and its ability to remain relevant in the profession going forward (and I don't have the energy to extend that thought to the relevance of chartership right now). But for me, the traineeship was exactly what I needed and was a fantastic introduction to the profession. The Master's was a mixed experience, but I learned so much, and I couldn't have moved on in my career without it. And so I'm forced to conclude that, for me, the master's was great, so I can only deplore the incredible expensive that causes problems for so many contemplating a Master's course, and hope that we can fight our inclination to be jaded about a qualification that actually, boring or no, has been fantastic for many and still has a place in career progression.