Tuesday, August 9, 2011

CPD23 Thing 10 – Of habitats and how to acquire them

I didn’t think about librarianship as a career till I was faced with a very determined Guidance (i.e. careers) Teacher in school who was determined I should be a journalist. I cast about wildly for alternatives and the penny dropped that I spent a great deal of my life in the library, I’d just never consciously thought about it before.
On the nature of advice
I had a few false starts.  There was the school year avoiding the incredibly scary Secretary who was also in charge of the school library my Careers Teacher wanted to to go see. The Library itself was great, she was just very very scary (or at least seemed so to me then).  A really nice staff member in the branch public library who told me I needed O'Grade Maths to study librarianship as a degree (urk - sound of sinking - bubbles!!). There was also the utterly lovely man in Bishopbriggs Library who didn't give me a Library Assistant job and said 'horses for courses'. These days I'd say 'test it more before you drop an idea' on most of this, I could have gone up to the Secretary, I could have checked prospectuses re courses and made some choices around that. But I still think 'horses for courses' is actually about as profound a piece of professional advice as I've ever been given.
College and University
I’d hated most aspects of school. I went to college to do a one-year SCOTVEC National Certificate in Library and Information Science in Edinburgh (paraprofessional course) and was staggered to realise I really enjoyed it all, college and course. So I enrolled for Robert Gordon’s in Aberdeen, still teaching the full-time undergraduate degree in LIS back then, and did Honours degree.
Choices ‘To’ and Choices ‘Not To’
What we react against is just as important in forming what we do as what we try to go towards. I’d wanted to go down the ‘special’ (now often called ‘workplace’) libraries route. Because it appealed, and because my uncle was a public library authority Chief Librarian. Which was good in some ways but also seemed a reason to do something slightly different.
Casting Stones Upon The Water and Watching For Ripples
I’d written to all the special libraries in Glasgow looking for unpaid summer work experience at the end of my first year of university. I wanted lots of experience to go with the degree when it came to job-hunting time, I wanted to try a few things and see what I enjoyed. I’ve always said my career would have been radically different without that, it determined everything that came after. 
Foreign lands and back yards
I’ve equally always said that I got two positive replies back, one the day after the other. I’d already accepted the first one when the second one arrived and oh how I winced. I’d accepted a ‘foreign land’ – a professional legal society library and there in front of me was a nice letter from RSAMD (Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama), a library I’d been into, and loved, and appealed to my love of theatre. Again, if those letters had been reversed, a very different career potentially. Because I was drawn to that end, had had college placements in Special Collections in Glasgow University Library (home to the gorgeous Scottish Theatre Archive) and in Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery Library.  But I knew from a lot of consulting The Museums Journal appointments pages in Kelvingrove just how rare museum library jobs were in Scotland.
And so I ended up in The Royal Faculty of Procurators Library hugely and totally out of my knowledge zone as nothing I needed  for it seemed to be anything I’d yet learned.  Which is an over-simplification, but truth is law is incredibly specialist as with many ‘subject’ disciplines. Thing is I got to really really enjoy it (from a starting point of barely understanding a word anyone said to me!), so I worked most of my holidays there during university, but paid this time. I focused a lot of my university work so it had a law librarianship bent, it had become the intent. I went back there for a bit after university.  Twenty years later I’m still in and out of there most weeks of my life, have very good friends there, still a member, still use them a lot as a customer. But I’d come to an uneasy conclusion, I’d decided that really you ideally needed two degrees for law librarianship, I started hankering after a law degree and I was only one year into a librarianship one!
Moving About A Bit
I haven’t much actually for the length of career.  Early on I moved a bit, all to do with wanting to be my own boss in charge of my own library and to move into law firms. It took a couple of years and a couple of changes of job and some unusual patterns of working (e.g. taking an evening job in addition that was more senior than my day-time job, taking a mornings only job thinking it would soon expand to full-time, which it did), but I made the transition. And then I wanted to do Chartership.
Adding on qualifications – Chartership and Law Degree
I still felt very new when I did my Chartership and it was an incredibly useful process for being able to detach a bit and just look at what I was doing out of the tunnel vision that getting to grips with a new job and organisation tends to bring as you try and get up to speed. But gradually I got to grips with it and I still had that feeling that ideally I wanted that law degree, more to prove a point that anything, I’d picked up an awful lot, but I didn’t have the bit of paper, and I had gaps. So in the end I decided I could keep thinking about it or I could just do it and just doing it would take less time in the end. So I spent five years doing the part-time LLB at Strathclyde University in the evenings, I was also doing a lot of professional involvements by this time.  A pattern was set that I’m still in today – work, professional commitments, study. Always frenetic!
Ways and means
However it took me nine years to do two undergraduate degrees and a lot of pressure, if I’d done a full-time LLB and then a 1 year Masters in LIS without the day job I’d have got the same academic result in a fraction of the time.  The way I look at it is I did the best I could, and I got a great deal of experience while doing it the way I did that if I’d just done the sole academic route I wouldn’t have.
And more… - Fellowship
I like doing things, I like goal focus, I’m very determined, fairly insane, stubborn. So in 2005 I finished my LLB and also submitted my CILIP Fellowship application. I like punting at windmills too, and I had an urge to submit and just see what happened. I was very aware I was very non-typical, very young, not that long Chartered comparatively, not exactly a senior professional work-wise, but I was very professionally involved and I fancied a punt at just showing it was possible for me to fulfil the criteria nonetheless.  If I didn’t get it, well then, good experience, and I’d have another go a bit later.  As it was I got through. 
And more… - Fellowship Revalidation
I’ve never been very fond of date-stamped qualifications, it’s all continuous no matter what a bit of paper may suggest, has to be.  So recently it’s been Fellowship Revalidation, first in 2008, and my second is due soon which is why I’m typing away (yet again you could perhaps say!) compiling the next Fellowship Revalidation portfolio (though mass CPD23 catch-up has slightly taken over for a few days!).
Sidenote - Why Revalidate Fellowship
Very few Fellows do Revalidation, you could say after all that effort to get through once why on earth would you want to submit yourself to it again every three years thereafter.  It’s not remotely compulsory or required after all. So many reasons, because I don’t believe in ‘dated’ qualifications, because it’s still an incredibly valuable experience every three years to sit down and really look at what you’ve done, what it means to you, the patterns in it, it helps you weigh up what you do and what next, and think about why and how it fits in with what you want.  It enables you to stand back a bit, take the surface emotion out of it, and just have a look at where you are. I’m talking about such very different things these days to what I talked about in my first portfolio for Chartership, and it wasn’t that much more than a decade ago - but the rate of change we’ve all gone through has been huge.  I’m a lot more experienced that I was back then, but the process is equally valuable still.
The Future – possibilities to play with
I’ve been in the same job for a very long time on the face of it, but the job is different, I am different, and I have done so many things in my career that I think I wouldn’t have been able to do if I’d chopped and changed job a lot. A very long time ago in primary school a young me I remember was heard to say she wanted to do three degrees. These days I have the hankering back again, I fancy that third degree, but postgrad, and just for fun. Possibly try the odd book… That kind of thing.

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