Sharron Wilson is the Serials Librarian, Advocates Library, Edinburgh, and Business Committee Member for the Scottish Working Forum on Official Publications (SWOP).
2015 marks the 23rd anniversary of me waving off my parents after being deposited at Robert Gordon University with a parting gift of a bag of 10p pieces and the instruction to “phone home” regularly. Hardly earth shatteringly exciting, but, most definitely the starting point of my career path.
I chose to study a BA Librarianship and Information Science so that I could learn how to search and find information, and indulge my interest in “organising things”. A bit basic and simple, but I have never been the kind of person with a master plan for my career (or life!). This approach should never be dismissed: as the saying goes “Mighty oaks from little acorns grown”.
At the end of 2014 I penned the Serials Department contribution to the Library Annual Report. During this process I was drawn to reflect on my career path. I identified some key points that may help someone about to begin their journey….
The real kick-start for my career was the part-time job in Aberdeen University Library I undertook while studying at RGU. As solo weekend library assistant, I learned the skills of working alone and undertaking all issue desk duties. There is no doubt that having library experience, paid or voluntary, on your CV will make you more attractive to potential employers.
After qualifying I became a full-time library assistant within Aberdeen University Medical School Library. I learned how to offer support services to students, academics and medical staff within an academic environment. Finally, I was helping other people search and find information. Career wise, more importantly, I was trained in journal acquisition and recording in Visible Card Indexes (VCI – right) and organising binding consignments.
Find Your Niche
Desperate to re-locate to Edinburgh, I transferred my skills and knowledge to work as Senior Library Assistant, Queen Margaret University College (QMUC). This was a great job where I absorbed many skills from my line manager. She was an internet ambassador who positively encouraged staff to surf the web (appropriately of course!) With her guidance I learned how to get the most from medical databases such as Cinahl and Medline without any specialist medical background.
I managed the Enquiry Desk and was responsible for serials receipt and processing. I progressed within QMUC, finally gaining my first qualified post 7 years after completing my degree. I became the (temporary) Serials Librarian on a fixed term contract. This time there were four VCIs to manage and I was hooked. I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up and Serials were my thing.
I undertook this post during a period when e-journals were “new” and evolving. Aggregator services such as Catchword and Ingenta were in their infancy. Athens passwords were optional! I have only basic IT knowledge and this was a steep learning curve for me at the time. I immersed myself in creating A-Z e-journal lists and spent hours checking URL links.
I was desperate to gain a permanent Serials Librarian position and I was thrilled to see my current post within the Advocates Library advertised. Any doubts I had on the difficulties of moving from the academic to private sector were cast aside. My lack of knowledge on legal publishing or Official Publications was no concern for me. I was confident in serials knowledge and I planned to amaze the interview panel with my e-journal experience! Strange then that the interview panel were more interested in my good old VCI knowledge and binding experiences. Despite all technology failing during my interview, I was so confident in my knowledge that I managed a presentation without any tech and got the job.
If you don’t know just ask
This is a main principle that I apply across life. At Library School we are taught how to look for information. However, there are always going to be situations where you don’t know everything / anything! It is essential to be able to learn to ask for help. It’s sounds like a cliché, but to this day I learn something new almost every day at work. Legal publishers are quite unique and I often have many questions for them. Build a good working relationship with your publisher account managers. My line manager and (award-winning) colleagues are very supportive and happy to help when I ask questions.
Networking may be your worst nightmare but should not be ruled out. I am a member of The Scottish Law Librarian’s group and Scottish Working Form on Official Publications. Both groups provide me with access to a wealth of contacts that I utilise on a regular basis.
Work Hard but Don’t Forget About the Future
My daily work involves leading the Serials team of two library assistants. Over the past ten years we have transitioned all stock receipt from VCI cabinets and onto our library management system. We acquisition the loose parts for 1500 serials and 420 loose leaf titles. We bind all journal stock. I manage the budgets for print journals, binding and electronic resources. This takes up the majority of my working day.
ELD will impact on my job, and as a result, I can no longer limit my personal expertise to serials. I still love serials but think diversification is essential for the future. Thanks to my employer, I have attended many management related training courses, but perhaps slightly neglected my own Library Professional Development. I felt inspired after attending Library Camp Glasgow to address this. 23 years after library school I want to develop my broader library skills knowledge by undertaking my Chartership. This process should give me a useful platform to learn about other modern library services and the wider profession. The career journey continues…..
Good luck with chartership! If anyone would like to discuss that, or any other part of Sharron’s post, with her please leave a reply below. She is also on Twitter @ClubLibrarian.