Fionna Black is Librarian at the University of Glasgow’s Language Centre Library.
My 13-year-old son was commenting on how hard it was to study as a doctor, the entry requirements and the years at University. He remarked I was lucky to be a librarian as it is so easy!
I was lucky – but it wasn’t easy.
My Dad can be credited with suggesting librarianship as a possible career. My school reports always highlighted my strength as project work, where I had to research a topic and present my findings.
I went down the 3 year BA route at RGIT, in the days before honours degrees, and completed my charter in just over 2 years due to some accreditations for work before and during my degree. Having started my degree not long after turning 17, I was fully chartered just after the age of 21.
Now it is very different, and possibly quicker to become a doctor, if you take the option of a 4 year undergraduate degree followed by a yearlong graduate traineeship then a year postgraduate study and the long haul to chartership.
My first few graduate jobs in the early to mid-80s were all short-term, about 6 or 9 months. Coming home with handfuls of presents at the end of each job, my sister thought it would be good to keep changing my job frequently so I could get lots of gifts. However, I was keen to settle down and was offered a job at the consulting engineering firm, Arups (Ove Arup and Partners as it was then) where I had completed my 2nd year college placement.
Arups provided an excellent training. Time was money, and none could be wasted. I visited their Dundee, Aberdeen and Glasgow offices frequently. Not only did I gain my chartership during this time but also a husband.
Following a brief stint in FE, I was interviewed for a job in careers information at the University of Glasgow. It’s hard to believe I was there for 17 years. I had interesting visits to employers we worked with including: VIP seats at a Royal Navy passing out parade; the Mars factory at Slough – including the production line, with lots of samples (yum); MI5 and MI6 – but I can’t tell you about them!
The job changed frequently with new remits until I ended up with the job of designing web pages, which I was not only unqualified to do but had no desire to do either.
Since 2011, I have held the post of Librarian in the University of Glasgow Language Centre Library. Unlike many of the subject specialist libraries dotted about the University we do not belong to the University Library, we are autonomous with our own budget and staff. We have a good relationship with the University Library and use the same circulation system so work closely with the Lending and IT staff.
The Language Library has an-in house classification scheme which works well. University Library Cataloguing complete our cataloguing requirements. My cataloguing and classification lecturers would probably think that was a good idea – not my favourite, or best, subjects at RGIT.
All matriculated students of the University are welcome to use the Library, but our regulars are the Modern Languages & Cultures students and staff, along with our EFL and pre-sessional students. We also have lots of Centre for Open Studies students and some external members, many who join for 4 months to access to our IELTS material. There are only 2 weeks in the year when there are no courses running so, although the number of visits fluctuates during the year, we thankfully have very few quiet times.
At present we are tackling an ongoing digitisation project for the VHS tape and audio cassette holdings so that we can provide the material the students need in a format they recognise. Yes, I do feel old when I bring out a VHS tape and they’ve never seen one before. Over the last couple of years we’ve completed a substantial stock check. There are still a few languages to do, but although the budget is manageable it’s not infinite so only a few languages can be tackled each financial year.
I am the only full-time member of staff. A library assistant works 4 hours each day and an evening assistant works 4 hours during semester to allow students, and especially the Centre for Open Studies students, to access the Library until 8.00pm.
There are days when no progress is made as I sit and sort out problems and complaints and errors, but I’m sure all Librarians have these days and there are not too many of them. One of the main challenges of the post is to stop EFL students writing on the textbooks. Interestingly there is no copyright in China, so the textbooks that cost libraries £30-£40 are about £0.50 in China. So they are viewed as a throwaway commodity.
So yes, I am lucky. I enjoy my work, especially the autonomy, but knowing there is support and advice if required.
Many thanks to Fionna. Comments and questions are welcome below.