the best thing about librarianship is…

16 Mar

…you can apply almost any pre-existing interest to your career.

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Apply to what now?

I’ve thought this for a while, but it was really crystallised for me this weekend. I had a friend to stay – when I met him a couple of years ago he was doing a literature-based PhD. Then recently he had one of those ‘turns out I wanted to work in the library sector all along!’ revelations you see so often on Library Routes and is now training to become an archivist. The amazing thing is, he’s working at the British Library and is now working on an archive of stuff he was writing about for his PhD! He’s literally following up the interests from his Doctorate, despite having completely changed career path. Archiving roles are great for that – I recently saw an ad for an archivist post working in a ’traditional folk dancing and music archive’, or something like that; for someone, somewhere, who loves folk dancing and works in the library sector, that is literally the best job in the entire world

I used to want to be a Careers Advisor, working in Higher Education. Various circumstances resulted in my working in a library, and I’ve found it sufficiently diverting that I no longer have my original ambition. But as it happens, I get to do all sorts of careers related stuff in my job – acting as a New Professionals Support Officer at CILIP, presenting on issues relating to our profession, creating a careers resource of sorts in Library Routes, etc. I also love writing, which I get to do here and in a bunch of publications too. It’s amazing – I’ve ended up doing something I had no inclination of any kind to do until the day before I applied for my first library job, and it’s all gone full circle and back to the things I loved originally.

If you’re interested in marketing, editing, web 2.0, emerging technologies, computers, art, the law, music (and a whole host of other stuff, as well as the more traditional things like rare books or old manuscripts) – almost whatever it is you can apply that knowledge or passion to something in librarianship, whether it’s part of your 9 to 5 job or your extra-curricular activities you do as part of being a professional.

This is a fantastic bonus, and one we should make more of when promoting the profession. How many other sectors can boast this much diversity? How many other jobs allow so many hobbies, passions, expertise or ambitions to be brought to the working table? Libraries FTW!  :)

- thewikiman

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  • SimonXIX March 16, 2010 at 11:13 PM

    Very well articulated. This one of those things that I’d never put into words but was instantly recognisable.
    I never expected to revisit the topic of my undergraduate dissertation – since I was done with the discipline, I figured I was done with that topic. Now, coming to write my Masters dissertation, I’ve discovered that libraries are the answer to the question I raised in the previous dissertation!
    Libraries connect everything.

  • thewikiman March 17, 2010 at 8:13 AM

    Thanks for the comment Simon! It’s a nice revelation to articulate, certainly…

    That’s fantastic about the Masters – you need to do a PhD on the role of libraries connecting your previous two dissertations!

  • Ned Potter March 17, 2010 at 9:12 AM

    The best thing about librarianship is…

  • James Mullan March 17, 2010 at 9:54 AM

    RT @theREALwikiman The best thing about librarianship is so true I was having this very discussion with some1 yesterday

  • Ned Potter March 17, 2010 at 10:19 AM

    @wawoodworth … to your professional life? It's a real advantage of this line of work, should be made more of. (

  • Michael Hopwood March 17, 2010 at 10:19 AM

    Sorry to rain on the parade, but I feel that the library / info sector sometimes has very low standards in terms of professional knowledge and qualifications, partly stemming from a lack of a coherent vision as to what lib/info work actually *is*.

    I found it extremely easy to get into professional library/info work when I started, and have never been short of job interviews (academically at least I am normally overqualified). The profession has certainly been good to me.

    However, something the lack of mandatory core IT skills certification (e.g. the old ECDL) in most job specs I’ve seen is extremely worrying.

    There are now no exams to pass to Charter in CILIP. But since I’ve worked in lib/info I’ve read a lot and come to the conclusion that there is a core thread running through all the work we do – it’s just not taught or applied in 99% of cases. It’s as though having professional standards is an obstacle to getting things done.

    This is a shame and not a cause for rejoicing.

  • Jennie March 17, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    Very true: if I wasn’t working in law, I’d want to be working in a science library (which I had interviews for, but like law, it’s not so easy to get a job in a specialist library without prior experience, and you get prior experience by…working in a specialist library!)
    Being able to work in a sector that interests you is a definite bonus to the ol’ library job! :)

  • thewikiman March 17, 2010 at 10:38 AM

    Hmm, I know what you mean Michael but I see this as two different issues.

    It is more or less impossible to have a coherent vision of what info work is (at least not one of a managable size) precisely because the jobs we do are so diverse – which in turn is partly why one can apply so many pre-exisiting interests to one’s career as described above.

    Researching a paper, I came to the conclusion that perhaps the only thread that runs through 99% of information sector careers is use of technology (although there’s a good shout for ‘problem solving’ too) so I agree that it is madness not to emphasise this in job specs. But I have seen it as an ‘essential’ on the spec of all the jobs I’ve been interested in – not an ECDL qualification, but significant experience to ensure you can hit the ground running with IT aspects of the job. Some of my friends did the ECDL but I just went on courses for specific stuff I needed (ie Access or whatever) and that worked well for me. And everyone – EVERYONE – in the whole of the library world is over-qualified, that’s just the way it is. A lot of our facilties assistants here have PhDs, it’s crazy. I had an MA when applied for my first library job which didn’t even require A-Levels.

    But I digress… As I say, I think the points you raise are all important, but that they shouldn’t detract from our celebrating quite a unique and sellable aspect of librarianship. Perhaps the diversity / applicability of interests has contributed to the malaise you mentioned about what we actually do, but it’s nice to celebrate things as strengths rather than weaknesses when we get the chance! :)

  • thewikiman March 17, 2010 at 10:47 AM

    Well it’s a good job you didn’t end up in a Science Library Jennie, or the world of law would have lost an ‘influential blogger’ eh… ;)

  • Bobbi Newman March 17, 2010 at 10:47 AM

    RT @theREALwikiman: The best thing about librarianship is…

  • thewikiman March 17, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    Wow, the ‘wink’ smiley is lame. Apologies, Ms. Law.

  • Jennie March 17, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    Hush yerself: there’s nowt influential about me, unless you’re considering what fishtank would be best for your work desk – I have some top tips there! :)

  • Cara Clarke March 17, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    What a fab blog! You’re quite correct – it does indeed encompass a range of interests. If only non-library folk realised this instead of harping back to the old ‘Shhh!’ stereotype.

  • thewikiman March 17, 2010 at 11:07 AM

    Thanks Cara – yeah it would be good if they realised that.. we have to MAKE them realise it!

    I really think we should be drawing more attention to this aspect of librarianship – it makes the profession more appealing, and that can more or less only be good.

  • Bronagh March 17, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    Yes! I’ve often thought this about librarianship. It’s the Uber Career. Am also reminded me of Borges’ concept of the library as the world, and the world as the library. Strangely enough, I also used to want to be a careers advisor!

  • Laurent Meese March 17, 2010 at 1:57 PM

    RT @librarianbyday: RT @theREALwikiman: The best thing about librarianship is…

  • libreaction March 17, 2010 at 4:12 PM

    Couldn’t agree more. Its allowed me to indulge a lot of my interests and – I like to think – develop a varied skillset.

  • Linda MacDonald March 17, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    RT @jimmy1712: RT @theREALwikiman The best thing about librarianship is so true I was having this very discussion with some1 yesterday

  • topsy_top20k_en March 17, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    The best thing about librarianship is…

  • CDG East Mids March 17, 2010 at 11:11 PM

    The best thing about librarianship is… (via @theREALwikiman)

  • [...] out was a New Professionals Information Day, which may be themed to some extent along the lines of my previous blog post about the applicability of existing interests to the library profession. (That, incidentally, is a [...]

  • [...] theme is great – pursue your passion through librarianship. This is something I’ve written about before – how the information profession allows you to pursue your existing passions and bring them [...]

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