Andrew McAinsh is an Information Officer at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow which combines a modern library service with rare books, archives and collections of medical instruments, amongst other things. Understandably, his work is very varied.
I started my first job in a library a little over 4 years ago, so I’m still relatively new to librarianship. In 2009 I was preparing to graduate with a BA (Hons) degree in Marketing and, feeling indecisive about my career plans, I approached the graduate job market with an open mind. I successfully applied for a job as a Graduate Trainee at Glasgow University Library, where I carried out a series of placements over a year in departments including Special Collections, Serials, Lending, and Enquiries. I’m not sure exactly what led me to apply for the post, but I’m glad I did and I feel fortunate to have had such a practical and detailed introduction to librarianship.
I followed this up by working weekends as a Library Assistant at Strathclyde University while studying for my MSc. The ILS course at Strathclyde includes an optional work placement, through which I spent a month working in the footage library at STV in Glasgow. During this month I applied for a newly created Librarian post in STV’s Edinburgh studio, and I was delighted to be offered the job on the final day of my placement.
I was excited to be taking on my first professional post, but I still had a few months to go before completing my degree. Fortunately I was granted an extension to write my Masters dissertation, and did my best to keep working on it during the little free time I had between my jobs at STV and Strathclyde. Ultimately I only stayed with STV for six months before moving on to my current post (with the dissertation still unfinished). I started working as an Information Officer at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (RCPSG) in December 2011, and finally completed my dissertation and graduated in June 2012.
Although I’ve only been working in libraries for 4½ years, I think I’ve squeezed a lot of experience into a relatively short amount of time. This wasn’t so much a conscious decision as it was the result of temporary and fixed-term contracts, which seem to be standard fare for new graduates nowadays. Fortunately I just have one job now, and although I’m very happy with it, I’m definitely not resting on my laurels. Outside RCPSG I am also a CILIP chartership candidate and a member of the Board of Trustees for CILIP in Scotland.
I have a wide range of responsibilities at RCPSG, partly because the College Library is staffed by such a small team and partly because of the varied nature of our collections and services. This variety means that the library doesn’t fit easily into any single sector, and I often like to think of myself as a kind of cross-sector librarian. As well as helping members of the College with literature searches and clinical enquiries, I regularly assist senior fellows and members of the public with tasks ranging from simple IT work to family history research. The College also has a fantastic collection of rare books, which has helped me to build my knowledge and skills in special collections librarianship.
My job involves a mixture of routine and ad hoc work, which usually (but not always) means my days are interesting without being too hectic. I begin every day by compiling an email digest of daily health news stories for the College’s members and fellows. If there’s nothing in my diary immediately after this, I’ll move on to some cataloguing. The College library holds over 30,000 volumes but only about half of these are currently on the OPAC. This means that cataloguing is my default task whenever I have a gap in my diary. I didn’t receive much in the way of training for cataloguing on the ILS course, which is unfortunate since both of my professional posts so far have involved lots of cataloguing work. I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of on-the-job training at RCPSG, plus some more specialised training for rare books.
I am also responsible for overseeing the library’s digitisation programme. I’ve tried to keep costs down as much as possible for this project by using open source software, low-cost equipment and a DIY attitude. I’ve blogged a bit about the technical side of this in the past if you’re interested.
In addition to the library, the College is home to archives and collections of medical instruments, portraits and contemporary art. My colleagues and I take it in turns to research and create exhibitions using material from across the collections, both for in-house display to College visitors and for online display on our website. We regularly promote our collections and exhibitions using the library blog, and my job also involves actively promoting our services and engaging with library users via Facebook and Twitter.
I enjoy all this variety in my work, but I’ve learned not to take on too much at one time. My colleagues and I are particularly proud of our response rate for enquiries and we risk damaging this if we immediately jump on board with every new idea.
My day-to-day job includes elements of academic, health, public, and special collections librarianship, and one thing which has really impressed me about other librarians I’ve met is their camaraderie (for want of a better word) and willingness to provide both intra- and inter-sector support to colleagues. There are plenty of differences between these sectors (and of course the odd gripe) but I think there is a broad sense of shared purpose in the profession which makes being as a librarian a more rewarding experience. I’ve had a lot of help from groups such as CILIP, SHINe, the Historic Libraries Forum and Rare Books in Scotland, and the proliferation of things like #chartership chats, JISCMail lists, #GLTU meetings and this blog itself are testament to the professional support librarians can share.
Thanks to Andrew for telling us about life at RCPSG – I went on a visit there myself a few months ago and can confirm that it is absolutely fascinating. Andrew is willing to answer questions via comments on the blog, email, telephone or in person – as usual, please use the reply box below in the first instance. You can also find Andrew on Twitter @monsterseas.