Friday, 14 November 2014

What if I'm not trying to be a librarian any more?

The River Ouse, York by vgm8383
I feel like this blog post has been a long time coming, and it’s taken me up until now to organise my thoughts and feel like I can put some kind of reflective, coherent post together. This is going to be my last post on this blog. Many things have changed in 2014 and, at this present moment and for the foreseeable future, I am no longer trying to be a librarian. I don’t even think I would class myself as an ‘information professional’ or any of those other titles that people in the sector adopt. To be honest, in my current role at the University of York, I don’t know what I would define myself as. My job title is ‘E-Learning Training and Support Assistant’. So perhaps I am an ‘E-Learning professional’, if that is a thing. Many people in the university refer to my team as the ‘VLE people’, so maybe that’s what I’ll be for now: a VLE person. (Although I should stress that our remit is not JUST the VLE ;) - this is a bone of contention at York it seems.)

It was quite difficult to make the decision to apply for my current role. Ever since I started my History degree back in 2008 I had ambitions of becoming an academic librarian in a university library. After graduating, I had an amazing time living and working in London but I was never able to break out of ‘library assistant’ or similar roles at that level. I started studying towards my postgraduate library qualification in January 2013 and I am now nearing the end of the PG Dip stage, where I will be finishing and not continuing to MSc level. It grieves me to say that I have not particularly enjoyed the course. I’d heard many different people say that the course is a ‘means to an end’ and the only way you can progress up the career ladder to avoid being a perpetual library assistant, but I just didn’t want to accept that this was the case. I really wanted to enjoy it and get a lot out of it. In hindsight, I was probably too excited and distracted by living in London to concentrate on the course when I first started, and studying alongside working full-time is very difficult and requires a lot of commitment and sacrifice. I haven’t found the course to be anywhere near as academically challenging or interesting as my undergraduate degree so I don’t think my head has ever really been fully ‘in it’.

In August 2013 I started a job in the E-Learning team at Middlesbrough College and became aware of lots of new things, learned new skills and got a lot of good experience. However, I spent a long time feeling like I needed to keep ‘in’ with the library stuff - going to events, subscribing to mailing lists etc. so I could still apply for the type of dream academic librarian job that had been my aim for so long. Plus, despite the excellent experience I was getting, it was not a professional role and I was still struggling away on a library assistant level salary and feeling like I wasn’t really progressing. At times, it felt quite difficult keeping up with all of the extra 'library' related stuff, especially when I became aware that organisations such as ALT may be more beneficial to me professionally than organisations like CILIP. Then, the best thing ever happened in the form of me winning an ECCA to attend the SLA annual conference in Vancouver in June 2014. It is, to date, my greatest professional achievement. I met so many interesting people and was able to attend loads of exciting sessions at the conference. I cannot thank SLA Europe and the Leadership and Management Division enough for that opportunity and I will never forget it.

When I was jolted back into reality, post-SLA conference, I became acutely aware of the lack of opportunities for the types of jobs I wanted to do in my beloved Teesside. I had applied for a few things and either heard nothing back, did not get shortlisted because I had not finished my library qualification or the organisation simply lost my application (this only happened once, but it was very disappointing). I had no real desire to much further away than Newcastle or York and I knew that if I was going to restrict myself geographically, I probably had to start being a bit more open minded about the types of jobs I applied for. This led me to this moment, right now: three weeks into my new post in the E-Learning Development Team at the University of York, which I am enjoying so far. Nobody in my team is a librarian, nobody in my wider office is a librarian. I am not a librarian. We are, however, based in the library building as interlopers - we’re not officially in their directorate, but it’s a nice building so hopefully they’ll let us stay.

What I’m basically trying to say through these reflections is that, for the first time in years, I honestly have no idea where my career is going to go after this point - but it feels quite liberating to have the freedom to learn and develop in this job without constantly striving for what is going to come next. A wise friend of mine once told me not to pigeonhole myself into a particular type of role and he was definitely right. I’d begun to feel inadequate and incapable of doing the type of library job I’d wanted to do for so long and I had a few months of feeling really low about how things were going to pan out. I’d spent so long building up an identity as a ‘librarian’ when, in reality, it had begun to feel like I didn't really fit in and I was aware that I might never get chance to be the type of librarian I wanted to be. It sounds cheesy and cliché, but I’m very grateful for this new start and that my current manager and colleagues felt able to take a chance on me by giving me this role. It’s kind of an ego boost to know that they think I’m capable of doing a good job. For anybody who is a bit unsure about where they want to go next - I would definitely recommend taking a chance on a job you might not have originally thought of doing.

In January I will have finished my PG Dip in Information and Library studies so theoretically could call myself a librarian, if I felt that way inclined. For now though, I think I’ll stick with being a ‘VLE person’ and see what happens. I have grand plans of developing a new online presence in the new year and this blog will serve as a relic of a former version of me. That’s probably a dramatic and hyperbolic statement, but I felt that I needed some kind of ‘closure’ on my librarian identity. Who knows, perhaps I’ll end up being a librarian eventually - I’d never rule it out. 

To all the amazing librarians I've met over the years - keep on fighting the good fight, you’re all incredible.

Peace xx