Karen Mackay is a Libraries Supervisor with Perth and Kinross Council. Here she reflects on coping with change.
When I first heard about 23 Librarians back in March, my first impulse was to get involved. I penned a few hundred words describing my then current role as a library assistant and the path that had led me there. However, I never submitted the text; it was missing something, but I could not say exactly what. Then later I read post 16 by Jessie Linardi Nicol: finally I understand that the real issue concerned my professional development.
Heraclitus was right: change is the only constant in our lives. However, sometimes the rate of change we experience can go into overdrive, such as when we start a new job, have children or travel abroad. Whether desired or otherwise, these changes demand that we face our new reality; we must grow and adapt accordingly. However when we are caught up in the intensity of the moment, it is almost impossible to reflect on what is happening to us.
I can now recognise that back in March I was navigating through a phase of professional upheaval triggered by a restructuring of our service. I already knew that I had gained a promoted post as a libraries supervisor, a role which involves locality operational and supervisory responsibilities under the guidance of a District Librarian. Although I understood the practicalities of the changes, I had yet to embrace them on a personal level. What did I really want? From a job? From this job? From my career? For the future?
Aged 18 I could not have said what I wanted to do because I did not know myself. But I knew what I loved, so I studied English Literature and French at Cardiff University. Whilst studying I worked as a casual library assistant. I could say this then led me to work in libraries but, although the experience certainty helped, this was just simply one of many jobs I had as a student, albeit the one I enjoyed the most.
Upon finishing my degree, I worked as an ESOL tutor for a year out in France before moving to Scotland with my partner where I worked in retail. To complete the story, two years later I applied for a job as a library assistant in a new community campus library in Highland Perthshire where I have been since. With the library serving both the local school and community, the role proved to be as varied and challenging as promised from the outset.
You could say I eventually fell into library and information services, but I would disagree. When I became a library assistant it was as much the customer service skills gained from retail, as knowledge of library services that meant I could successfully fulfill the role. Three years on, I am equally as certain that the same applies to my entire skill set developed and demonstrated through voluntary work and personal interest projects as well as through my work in the libraries and information services sector.
The world of work has transformed and is still evolving. If the mantra of old was stability and fixity, the mantra of the future is flexibility and dynamism. As new professions are created and others, including librarianship, are shaken at their foundations, it is important that individuals adopt a new, adaptable approach to careers (yes, plural) and professional development. My advice would be to follow your passions but be sure to develop your transferable skills so that when you have that vocational epiphany, or when opportunity arises, you are ready.
In my new role I am coming to the conclusion that there will never be such a thing as a typical day. To begin with, being both a public and school library, throughout the day we facilitate class visits as well as serving members of the public, including bookings for our ICT meeting rooms. We are very attuned to the rhythms of the community, being at our busiest after school when lots of other activities are happening in the campus and at our quietest during the school holidays (perfect for stock work). In this context, my specific role incorporates both front-of-house and managerial tasks; striking the balance between them is my latest professional challenge.
Thanks to Karen for this interesting take on the subject and best wishes to her as she settles into her new role. Please leave any comments or questions in the box below and she will get back to you.