We recently interviewed 10 Early Career Librarians to hear about their experiences of Librarianship so far, and to share their advice for anyone considering a career as a Librarian.
Each of the Early Career Librarians has been in the role for less than five years and they represent a variety of roles across academic, public, and health care libraries.
Q. Why did you choose a career in Librarianship?
Katie, Knowledge Officer - I fell into library and knowledge services really, but I'm glad I did! I was a volunteer in special collections as an undergraduate student and really enjoyed it. I was finishing my undergraduate course in English Literature and contemplating starting an MA when I saw a job in an NHS library service. I applied, and got the job, and I really enjoyed the post. I like helping people find the information and resources they need to answer questions or meet a need, and library based roles seemed to really complement this.
Arthur, Library and Information Specialist - I naively thought that working in a library would be quiet and I could just sit around and read books all day. However, my experience as a Library Assistant in a central public library showed me how wrong I was, but also how much I enjoyed helping people find what they needed. I also noticed that the LIS sector was changing, and there was a need for librarians to be familiar with technology, another one of my interests. So I came for the books and stayed for the tech.
Jessie, Partnership Licensing and Management Information Librarian - I started my career in librarianship as the result of a maternity cover position as a Library Assistant that I applied for just after I had finished my undergraduate degree in German Studies. While at that time I hadn't necessarily planned on a career in librarianship, I found it to be a great and supportive environment in which to work and it opened my eyes to the many different opportunities that are available in the field - I toyed with the idea of being a conservator or working with rare books for a while but in the end I found that my interests lay in systems, data and electronic resources so I was encouraged to do a masters in Information Science. And although I didn't go back to work in libraries after my masters, I have found my way back to them eventually and am pleased to find that they remain one of the more rewarding and supportive environments in which to work.
Q. What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in Librarianship?
Joe, Collections Librarians - I would tell them to not be afraid of the more tech based side of things. When I went into the MLIS I deliberately avoided as many of the coding or programming aspects of the course as possible. However, as I have gained experience from a few different library environments since graduating, I have found that this kind of knowledge is becoming more and more integral to LIS and isn't as daunting as it may seem. A little knowledge and familiarity with it can really go a long way.
James, eResources and Serials Specialist - Try and gain a variety of experience at para-professional level to try and gauge if librarianship is for you, and if it is, this will help define the area of library work you want to pursue. At that stage you can then consider doing a professional qualification. It isn't always necessary to gain a librarianship qualification to pursue a library career, but it is worth considering if time and money allow. It is only subjective to me, but I have gained so much out of doing the MA because I had a good grounding in the profession through having worked in various library roles before pursuing the qualification itself. You bring more experience to bear on what you are studying, and likewise you can take what you are learning into the day job.
Danny, Open Access Assistant - Try to get as much experience of as many different libraries as possible, ideally through shadowing other librarians, to see which aspects of the job appeal most to you, as the range of roles can be surprising and keeps the work interesting. Also, librarians, by nature, are happy to help and provide information so reach out and speak to current professionals.
Q. Thinking of someone in their first LIS job, what do you think is the most important skill for them to have?
James, eResources and Serials Specialist - The ability to communicate with a diverse range of people in a diverse range of formats and settings. This might sound funny given the 'traditional' stereotype of librarians being bookish gatekeepers saying 'shhh' all the time, but the effective communication skills of librarians are often the glue binding a good library service together. A lot of library roles involve communicating via: advocacy (selling the library and its services to end users); instruction (teaching research skills); problem-solving (good customer service, particularly around technical issues); or mediation (negotiating with stakeholders and managing expectations). If you were to build a model librarian, good communication skills would be the basic ingredient, I think.
Shona, IReL Officer - I think that flexibility is very important for someone in their first LIS role. This will ensure they are open to new opportunities, will gain a variety of experience, and set them up for a career that is likely to evolve over time alongside technological and industry developments.
Siobhan, Systems and acquisitions Librarian - There is sometimes a misconception that being a librarian is about being knowledgeable about resources, but I think that having good people skills is much more important. As a librarian or library assistant, you are always working to help your users so it is important that you can communicate effectively with them. Most librarians/library assistants will be dealing with different stakeholders on a daily basis, which can be challenging if you do not have good communication skills.
Q. What do you think will be the biggest challenge facing librarianship in the next five years?
Arthur, Library and Information Specialist - Public perception. Ask customers what a library is and they will always mention a building and books. Most libraries are now hybrid, and have a comprehensive suite of digital resources, however people don't know about them and always come back to buildings and books. Over the next 5 years there will be increased cuts and library closures, certainly for public libraries, and they need to change the public perception from an archaic Victorian idea to a modern information service, a Google you can trust, a place you go virtually as well as physically. If librarians don't work to shift this public perception then I think library services will suffer.
Kinga, Scholarly Communications Assistant - I think that managing Open Access Data will be a big challenge in librarianship which will convert LIS specialist into data specialist with technical knowledge. We will need to work closely with academics to identify data that is worth archiving and setting up metadata correctly to ensure discoverability. It will require a lot of additional training and incorporating new software and technologies.
Ingrid, Enquiry Services Librarian - I think it has been and continues to be advocating for libraries and librarianship as a profession, and what makes librarians so valuable to library users. If we cannot effectively communicate this to our funders, cuts will continue to impair our service and staffing and we will inevitably lose value.
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