Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Thing 20: Library roots / Library routes

Planting the seeds

Like most kids, I didn't really know what I wanted to be when I grew up. My list was a little random. Teacher. Witch. Researcher for the BBC. Pilot. Vet. Doctor. They got ruled out one by one as I progressed through my teens.

I couldn't be a pilot, I didn't have 20:20 vision.

I applied for work experience in a primary school. Loved working with the kids, but the teachers scared the pants off me, and the experience didn't give me any confidence. I found my deafness difficult to manage in the classroom environment. And it all just seemed a little... obvious.

School work experience gave me the chance to try something different. I was given the chance to work in a vet and on the first day, asked if I wanted to watch a minor operation on a cat. I remember watching the vet prepare the animal, shave off the fur, moving the animal around the table like he was shaping dough. And then I remember waking up, sat down on a step with another nurse supporting me. I'd fainted, much to my horror. Tried again the next day. Vet turned on the clippers and I hit the floor. I wasn't much help! I had lasted the grand total of two days before the school plonked me back in a classroom.

At a parents evening, My science teacher, Mr Moores told me to forget being a Doctor. I wasn't intelligent enough and would never be accepted into university. Another science teacher overheard and came running after me and my parents. 'I'm not supposed to say this, but he's an asshole. Ignore him'. But I backed away from the idea of doing a degree in science and medicine, despite an interest in wanting to research epilepsy.

And so a conversation with a careers adviser that started 'I want to be a researcher for the BBC' ended 'yes dear. So does everyone. What about nursing. You like people, you'd make a good nurse'.

I loved the health and social care qualification I completed. People fascinated me. I spent hours in the library discovering disability activists, feminists, psychologists, sociologists, learning more about politics. But social care left me feeling frustrated. I was bound by red-tape, feeling unable to really make a difference. I worked in nursing homes, prisons, psychiatric wards, rehabilitation centres, hospitals, community homes and residential schools. Working in a home for adults with learning difficulties, I developed a close relationship with a woman there who had been abandoned by her family. Most adults had been left in a home as children, and given little chance. I felt more and more like I wanted to work in this capacity on a personal level, rather than a professional level. But it was in a community home for men with dual diagnosis of mental health issues and learning difficulties with severe challenging behaviour that my career working directly with people came to an abrupt end.

I was working with a man with a known history of sexual assult and violence against women. But I was never told this. It was a 'need to know' basis. Despite working with him on a house on my own, it was deemed I didn't need to know. When he said 'The next time you are here on your own, I will get you', I still didn't need to know. When I told my manager I was concerned and thought that staff shouldn't be left working solo in the house she said 'Either you can do the job, or you can't'. When he attacked me, he was placed in isolation in a secure unit. And then I was told. And I protested loudly. He was being treated as a criminal, a man with a learning difficulty who was unable to take responsibility and relied on the adults around him to do that for him. I ended my career there, walked away and made a decision. I was bored of battling the system. I didn't want to do paid work in this area. I did want to adopt a child with a learning difficulty and make a difference that way.

Pondering my next move, I was sat round the dinning room table with my family. My mum stated 'When you were little, you always said you were going to be a researcher for the BBC. What happened to that'? Good point. More observations came. I had spent most of my childhood with my nose in a book. I loved finding things out. I spent my break-times at school in the library. Saturdays in the local library. I had spent most of my time at college in the library. The most enjoyable part of the assignment was doing the research. Even working in social care, I was always finding things out. Checking legislation. Learning Makaton in the local library. Researching family history, local history. Taking residents to the library. I seemed to spend an awful lot of time in this place. How about I work there?

It was worth a shot. The only other option was being a witch and I wasn't sure it was much of a career choice.


And so 18 months later, I found myself working in a public library for 12 hours a week, reading picture books to four year olds, taking part in reading promotions, fighting the kids for the next available copy of Harry Potter, and teaching 'silver surfers' to use a computer. I loved the randomness of it. The mix of people. The excitement of finding answers. The simplicity of just helping people. And the challenge of finding an appropriate response when asked 'Can I see your belly button?' by a man old enough to be my father. Yep, you just never knew what was going to happen next. I accepted random hours helping out in inner city libraries, libraries in the midst of council estates with 'problem kids', dual libraries serving both colleges and local communities. worked on my own, out in the middle of nowhere in communities where the library was the only thing open on a Wednesday afternoon. And I realised I'd made the right choice.

A year after I was first flung into the public library, I secured a full time position at a local university. I made the most of every opportunity. Raised my hand in meetings and volunteered for the tasks that no-one else wanted to do. Got involved in committee's, and library policy groups, writing articles for staff newsletters,  helping with library moves, becoming part of a project group looking at 'self service', represented my workplace at the Forum for Inter-lending. I loved it. Walking through the library doors each morning, I had a real sense of being proud to work there.

I applied for the BSCEcon Information and Library Studies at University of Wales Aberystwyth via distance learning and accepted a part-time position at another local university.


That job enabled me to focus on my studies. I continued to get involved where I was able, but there wasn't as much opportunity. I volunteered at a local charity, and within a chaplaincy library to gain further experience. A chance flick through Cilip's Library + Information Update meant I came across a one-page advert. A new team was being created in a government library moving from a physical library to an online environment. The ad invited me to be part of leading people down the 'Information Superhighway'. I applied, along with 200 other people, but managed to secure a position within library services, helping to shape the new department and promote a new way of working. Eighteen months later, I was promoted to 'Information Specialist'.

The team has moved through a lot of changes. I've worked in Knowledge Management and Records Management along the way. We're no longer a 'library service' but still very much involved in information management.

My road to being a 'real librarian' isn't complete in the traditional sense. I have an undergraduate diploma, and am working towards Acilip. I hope to be able to study towards an MSc in the near future. But if my career so far has taught me anything it's to be flexible, to make the most of opportunities that come your way and to create your own opportunities to increase your skills and knowledge.

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