Lesley Thomson works for the Scottish Government in Edinburgh.
I don’t work in a library¹. My job title isn’t librarian and information doesn’t even get a mention – it’s officially something like Creativity Programme Manager, although I prefer Creativator.
And I don’t have a typical day, I really don’t.
So what the hell am I doing here, on a blog about librarians and their typical day?!
Well, earlier this week I was in Dundee at the CILIPS conference (now, that doesn’t happen every day!) talking to librarians about digital engagement² – and trying to convince them that they could, and should, be doing it. I argued that we shouldn’t limit ourselves when it comes to the sort of jobs we go for.
I came to librarianship relatively late. I studied History at university because it was my best subject at school (in those days you were just about still guaranteed a good job with any degree). I had no career plan and I left university only knowing that I’d done enough studying! I applied for graduate management schemes because that was what you did. After several interviews but no offers, I thought I should try to make myself more employable by spending some time (and my savings) getting some basic IT skills (word processing, databases, that sort of thing).
And then I got into the civil service. I thought I’d stay two years and then get a real job. That was almost 20 years ago.
I can’t complain though, I’ve had some really interesting jobs – everything from visiting benefit claimants to providing IT support for 10 offices (and in those days that meant everything from mainframe servers to developing software). But, eventually, I got a bit stuck and started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. And concluded that, actually, I wanted to be a librarian. I’m not sure why, it just seemed to make sense. Perhaps it’s true that librarians are born not made, it just takes some of us longer to realise it.
In an example of the fortuitous timing that has been a defining characteristic of my career, Robert Gordon University had just launched a distance learning Library and Information Studies post-graduate degree and I was accepted into the first intake (distance learning was my only option as I couldn’t afford to give up work to study). I also got a part-time job in the university library as I thought I should probably get some practical experience.
It took me longer to complete the diploma than I’d intended and a change of job and location (to Newcastle) meant that I didn’t complete the Masters. But the diploma was enough to get me a secondment as a librarian to the Department of Trade and Industry (now Business, Innovation and Skills) in London. The department at that time saw the value of the profession and employed librarians in a wide range of jobs. I was posted to a web management role in UK Trade and Investment. A role which included a fair bit of international travel. Which was nice.
I was due to return to my previous post in Newcastle at the end of the secondment but, again, timing was on my side, and an opportunity came up to return to Scotland to work in the Scottish Government Library. My two years there is my only period of traditional library work (apart from the part-time library assistant stint).
I then moved into a role doing knowledge management and digital engagement for a couple of years. And I’ve been in my current role – which is all about creativity – for about 18 months.
So, back to those non-typical days. This week, I: presented at the CILIPS conference; researched and wrote an internal newsletter; added content to our intranet pages; helped brief our Permanent Secretary about what the organisation is doing to become more creative; developed ‘design thinking’ workshops; wrote a blog post for IRISS’s (Institute of Research and Innovation in the Social Services) Creative Quarter; helped a colleague write a social media strategy; and delivered a creative thinking workshop.
Next week, I’ll be talking to colleagues about our intranet redevelopment project; kicking off an organisational design project; developing some service design resources; helping my Library colleagues facilitate their online social media learning programme; and creating an infographic to illustrate our Randomised Coffee Trials³.
And it might not seem obvious – but I’ll be using librarian super powers during all of this!
Another characteristic of my career is that I’ve got involved in lots of things that might not, on first inspection, appear to be part of my job. I’ve organised unconferences, set up and managed communities of practice, delivered social media training for various organisations. And sharing these things on social media (such as my blog) has brought a lot of opportunities my way that I might not have had otherwise.
Looking back, I’m glad that I didn’t start out with a plan. If I’d been really focused on a particular career path I might not have had the opportunity to do some things I’ve done and to gain experience in such a wide range of areas. All of which has brought me to where I am today – doing a really interesting and challenging job.
I’m not finished yet though! My latest digression is into the realm of online learning – I’m 18 months into a Masters in Digital Education with Edinburgh University (distance learning again). It might not seem immediately relevant but I’ve been able to use a lot of it in my job, e.g. I’m currently developing an online game to teach creative thinking.
So, if you take one thing away from this post, it’s this: don’t limit yourself! Librarians have an immensely useful, transferable skill set and we could, and should, be cropping up everywhere, in lots of weird and wonderful corners and places!
¹Not only do I not work in a library, I don’t even have a desk.
²The CILIPS Conference took place in June. Lesley’s presentation is here.
³Intrigued? Get in touch to find out more!
Lesley is happy to continue the conversation via all the usual channels – phone, email, Twitter (@lelil), Linkedin. Even in person – as long as cake is provided. Leave a comment or question below to start the process.
And that’s it for 23 Librarians Series 1! Thanks to Lesley, whose last couple of sentences sum up everything I have been trying to show with this blog. But don’t despair! 23 Librarians will be back for Series 2 later in the year – volunteers still needed, so please get in touch. See you in more weird and wonderful places in the autumn.