What? I’m a Graduate Trainee at Elizabeth Gaskell Library, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Why did you choose this place? I wanted to get experience of working in an academic library before starting an MA course in Librarianship – most universities stipulate that you must have had at least a year’s experience in a library before beginning your study.
How did you find the application process? It was just like most other job applications – application form, interview, references – nothing too complicated. In the application and interview I had to give evidence of skills such as customer service, attention to detail and organisation, as well as demonstrating that I’m serious about a career in librarianship. The whole process probably took two months from start to finish, but they were very quick in offering me the job, which I appreciated.
The competition for GT jobs is very fierce; I heard from one employer saying they’d had over 100 applicants for the post, and considering there are probably 30 jobs advertised on the CILIP website throughout the year, that’s tough. The areas in which jobs are advertised are also very limited – most of the posts available are advertised by colleges at Cambridge or Oxford, or are based in London. Regional posts are few and far between, which can be a challenge. The other thing to keep in mind is that most of the posts (but not all) are in university libraries, so there’s not much opportunity for training experience in legal, school or public libraries, for example.
What do you do here? The job is intended to give an overview of all the different types of work that library staff do, and so it’s very varied. I work on the issue counter on a rota basis, issuing and discharging books and dealing with fine payments, and once a week I deal with enquiries at the helpdesk. I spend the rest of my time in the workroom, working on various projects. I recently created a podcast explaining how to use a database and I’ve also created various helpsheets and guides for use in the library. I am responsible for receiving new books and making sure they’re added to the catalogue and reading lists. I’m also involved in digitisation, which is where we create PDFs of chapters or articles and upload them so people can read them online. This is what takes up most of my time, as scanning a chapter from a book can take ages! I also help out with general library duties such as straightening and shelving books, as well as satisfying reservations. My work is also very tangentially related to linguistics – our library caters for speech pathology and therapy students among others, so I’m often working with books on phonology, pragmatics, speech disorders and the nature of language.
There are six other GTs at MMU, spread out over the various library sites, and the library team have set up a training programme for us with various sessions throughout the year. Topics include presentation skills, teaching and customer services, as well as behind-the-scenes tours of library support services, special collections and other libraries.
The good things: Librarians are by nature very friendly and approachable, and so I’ve settled in really quickly. There’s loads of stuff to learn and the training programme is really varied. I’ve had a lot of hands-on experience in dealing with customers which is invaluable and looks great on CVs and MA applications. I’ve become familiar with library management software and several databases and have had lots of opportunities to develop all sorts of skills. I’m even going to help teach an information skills session in the spring! It’s great preparation for a librarianship course and a great start to my career. I’ve also seen what sort of things a subject librarian gets up to, which is what I want to do – I could potentially end up as a Linguistics librarian, which would be brilliant.
The bad things: It can sometimes be incredibly boring – the workloads ebbs and flows, as does the number of students coming in to the library. Despite having a lot of projects, there are still days when there aren’t any new books or any digitisation requests and I’ll be twiddling my thumbs. There’s only so long you can straighten books before your eyes go funny! Also in a more general sense, now is not a brilliant time to be going into librarianship, what with the extensive government cuts to libraries and public services. Even academic libraries, which are probably a lot safer than other types of library, are working on very tight budgets thanks to cuts to HE funding, and there’s no guarantee of me walking into a good professional post after my MA. However, that’s a bridge I don’t need to cross for another 18 months!
Anything else we should know: Librarianship might not be an obvious choice for someone who’s studying linguistics, but a lot of the skills and knowledge you pick up are transferable – for example, if you’re the type of person who enjoys studying syntax, then you probably have the logical mindset that’s useful for cataloguing. I’ve also used my linguistic knowledge when helping speech pathology students think of search terms for databases.
If you want to get into librarianship, a Graduate Traineeship followed by an MA is only one of the routes into the field. CILIP has a comprehensive guide to the sorts of things you could do to get into libraries, and the Library Routes Project and Library Day in the Life Project are good resources too. If you’d like to ask me more about my work, feel free to contact me on Twitter (@heliotropia) or leave a comment on my blog.