Having cajoled (some might say nagged) 45 other librarians into telling you their library stories, perhaps it’s time I told you mine! I took early retirement almost three years ago, since when I’ve been involved with many library projects including this blog. I’m not going to write about my current life, because I keep quite a detailed log at Adventures of a Retired Librarian, but I am going to tell you how I arrived at the point I am today.
I was a complete bookworm as a child. There were always loads of books around the house and my Mum and Dad took us to the library regularly. I kept my own books in strict order and decided aged about 8 that I wanted to work in a library – I had no idea what that really involved, I just wanted to be around books all day.
I can’t say that the library staff I met as a child had inspired me. The only interaction in the public library I can remember from when I was primary age was getting a row from the lady behind the counter for not getting my sixpence out (oh, how that dates me) for a request quickly enough. I was more impressed at secondary age – by then, I was old enough to see over the top of the counter and was intrigued by all the Browne tickets and wondered how on earth they ever found mine (especially as they seemed to be in a different place each time). The only time I remember asking for help was when we had a kitchen planning project for Cookery and the person I asked took me straight to the right shelf which I thought was very clever.
My school was a recently merged comprehensive, formed from separate boys’ and girls’ grammars on the same campus, so there were libraries in both buildings. The one for the lower school was unstaffed and we used it at lunchtime, mainly to hide from Lorraine, a rather scary prefect who was always looking for sporting duds to practice her netball team against. There was a librarian in the upper school, but I can’t remember any sort of input from her at all. Things are so much better now with lots of wonderful school and public librarians encouraging children to read.
In my early teens I remember reading my way through shelves of historical romances such as Jean Plaidy – not exactly literature, but these (and an inspiring teacher) awakened my love of history and I moved onto “real” history books, all borrowed, so the library was instrumental in my academic development. I wanted to study history at university and went off to Sheffield to do so, which put off serious career choices for another three years.
In my last year, I did a bit of research, found out what librarians actually did and thought it was probably still for me, so started applying for graduate trainee posts to get my year’s experience before going to library school. However, there was never any great career plan. Serendipity kicked in and I went with the flow, so when the first post I was offered was with Hampshire Public Libraries I grabbed it and had a great year. When it came to choosing a library school, going back to Sheffield seemed the obvious thing to do, and as part of the course we had to choose academic or public options. Because of where I had worked, I chose the latter (tutor: one Bob Usherwood) so that was my career set firmly on the public library path.
While I was at library school, I met my husband who lived in the student flat above mine. This is relevant, because it meant there were now two careers to consider and any moves had to be to places where we could both find work. I spent time with Nottinghamshire, Doncaster and East Kilbride Public Libraries, before making the cross-over (again serendipitous) to an academic library. I was fed up driving from Glasgow to East Kilbride through the rush hour traffic every day when I saw an advert for Reader Services Librarian at Jordanhill College which was within walking distance from our house. Now, some people might think that is a terrible reason to apply for a job, and it’s obviously not one you would ever divulge at interview, but it was my initial motivation – though I then looked at the job and realised I had a lot of transferable skills to bring to it.
I had built up substantial experience of customer service and staff management over the years and these are similar wherever you go. Also, although the stock was very different in some areas, the biggest group of students at Jordanhill was the trainee teachers and there was a large teaching practice collection of children’s books which I already knew a lot about. So it was a good match and I was there until Jordanhill (by then part of the University of Strathclyde) closed three years ago. When I arrived, I would have been horrified at the idea of staying in the same institution for over twenty years, but my job grew and changed immeasurably over the years and the only bad part was locking the library doors on its last day.
So what are my conclusions from all this?
- Libraries are terribly important in growing and nurturing young readers and they are so much better now at doing this than when I was a child. Even so, I became an avid reader, discovered what I was interested in and became a librarian all through using libraries. I hope in my career I managed to help other people do that too.
- You don’t have to have a grand plan to be happy. Some careers just happen, and you fall into your niche. Sometimes compromises have to be made to get the work/life balance right.
- What works in one sector can work in another, so if you want to make a change, just do it!
And that brings to an end Series 2 of 23 Librarians. What next? Well, there are still volunteers ready to write for the blog but probably not enough to create a formal Series 3. I’ll take a break for a few weeks and return later in the year on an ad hoc basis, publishing as and when I receive articles. And if you haven’t volunteered already, but would like to, that means there is still time. Reply below or tweet me @AnabelMarsh.
In the meantime, many of you will be preparing to go off on well-deserved breaks, so Happy Easter!