Gordon Hunt is currently Head of External Engagement at UWS. Here he explains how the skills developed in his library career have benefitted both him and the University in this wider role.
I wouldn’t say that I always wanted to be a librarian, but from the moment I went to do what my school called ‘community service’ (you could opt for it instead of sport) at my local public library at the age of 15 I was hooked. No computers, just the Browne issue system and fingerless gloves (it was a 1960s concrete and glass library with under floor heating that had never worked). After a degree in English Lit at Durham I was a graduate trainee in the famous Brotherton Library at Leeds University, where I learned that I wasn’t likely to become a cataloguer. After my MA at Sheffield I went back to Leeds as a Reader Services Librarian.
Then followed what you might call a varied career. I was Sub Librarian of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, and then Head of Learning and Information Services at Westminster College of HE in Oxford. That was my first taste of managing IT as well as libraries. I think I got the job mainly because I was chartered with the Institute of Information Scientists rather than the Library Association and they thought that meant I was an IT expert. Westminster folded (it’s now part of Oxford Brookes) and I made the move to Scotland to run libraries and IT at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and drama (RSAMD, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), combining work with my love of acting and all things theatre for a while.
From RSAMD I moved to the National Library of Scotland as Director of Customer Services and after that to my current home at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) as University Librarian. Which is where it gets interesting.
We librarians have a lot of skills, as the blog posts in this series demonstrate. We tend to be creative, enthusiastic, altruistic (after all, no-one goes into libraries for the money) and committed to communicating with others. Oh, and good at organising things. That can make us good project managers, good educators and fundamentally good at working with people and building partnerships. I wouldn’t apply all that to myself, but the way my career has developed in the last few years is largely thanks to the kind of transferable skills we tend to have in our profession.
I was enjoying covering the four campus libraries of UWS when I got a call out of the blue from our Depute Principal asking if I was willing to take on the role of Campus Director of our brand new Ayr Campus. The job involved a role in the day-to-day management of the campus and responsibility for working with local partners and stakeholders in Ayrshire. The organising skills came in handy, but the main enjoyment came from meeting all sorts of people and building partnerships that would benefit them, the University and our students.
The job also enabled me to work more widely across the University and, as a result of that, I was asked to take on a temporary role as Director of Planning and Management Information alongside the Campus role, which I did for a year and a half. I’ll be honest and say that planning and statistics are not my natural milieu and it was a steep learning curve, but thanks to a great team and a supportive boss I learned a huge amount about how the University works and how our strategy is formed. I also got to project manage the introduction of an online dashboard system that now provides access for all our staff to a wide range of performance information. The librarian skills were a key part of this work, and the default approach of making data available to everyone was something I brought to the table that perhaps doesn’t always come naturally to planners.
I’ve now pretty much left libraries behind, at least in a day job sense. My latest job is as Head of External Engagement at UWS, a role that involves working with a wide range of external partners including colleges, schools, business and the third sector, as well as managing our alumni operation. Again, it’s all about partnerships, both inside and outside the organisation. It’s about bringing people together to create activities that will benefit our students and the communities and businesses we work with.
It’s a cliché to say that I don’t have a typical day but I really don’t. My day tends to be full of discussions and meetings that might lead to new activities or are about making sure those activities happen. The job is really about relationship management, facilitation, following-up and evaluating. There are some more formal duties of course, for example agreeing articulation targets for college students moving to University courses and chairing programme panels for the college degrees we validate. It’s mainly about finding creative ways of increasing our impact though. UWS works with a wide range of communities, including some of the most deprived in Scotland, and we have the chance to make a real difference to people’s lives.
That, I suppose, is where it comes full circle. Libraries change lives, and what I do now, I hope, will also give me the chance to do that. I don’t know what I’ll do next but I know it’ll involve using the skills I got working in libraries to encourage people to work together to achieve something good. I’m incredibly lucky to have a job where I get to meet a lot of interesting people and learn about a lot of different places and organisations. I didn’t plan my career, despite everyone telling me that I should. I’ve just taken the opportunities when they came, and followed the principle of always going for a job I wasn’t 100% sure I could do, so that there’s always a challenge.
It will always say ‘Librarian’ on my passport whatever job I end up doing. I’m determined not to lose touch with what happens in libraries and I’ll take any opportunity I can to get involved. I hope the jobs I end up doing will enable me to support libraries in all sorts of ways. If you’d told me when I started out what a varied and interesting career I’d manage to have (so far!) I wouldn’t have believed you!
Many thanks to Gordon for this insight into where a set of library skills can take you. If you want to chat to him about any of the above you can find him on Twitter @glhunt31, or leave a comment below and he will get back to you.