This post is part of 23 Things for Professional Development.
For Thing 10, many people have been detailing how/why they went into librarianship. I’m not going to do that now, partly because I’ve written about it before, and partly because one of the Things coming up in future weeks is the Library Routes Project, so I want to do a bit more reflecting on the path I’ve taken so far then. So for now, I’d just like to run through the various components of the “standard” route into librarianship – graduate traineeships, library qualification, and chartership/certification – and share a few thoughts on how I’ve found each stage so far.
I’m going to try not to get bogged down in discussions about whether all or indeed any of these stages are actually necessary for a career in librarianship – partly because they’ve already been discussed so eloquently elsewhere, and partly because if I did, I’d be here all day! Suffice to say that I don’t believe that there is any one right way into librarianship, and I certainly wouldn’t hold my experience up as in any way representative of what others have, would or should have done or not done on their way into their careers. Right, think that’s enough caveats – on with the blog!
I did my grad trainee at Gray’s Inn, and to this day it remains the best job I have ever had. First and foremost, it offered me an invaluable hands-on introduction to librarianship – there were only 4 other staff in the library, and most of the “front-line” stuff was handled by the trainees (Gray’s take on 2 trainees each year, so I was working alongside one other person who was as new to librarianship as I was). I learned a tremendous amount about legal research, both through actual planned training with a senior member of staff and by helping out with user requests at the desk. It was great to learn legal research skills while working somewhere with such an extensive print collection as well as online legal resources – since then, the libraries I’ve worked in have mainly used online databases (in my current job, I can’t remember the last time I picked up a book), but I do think that understanding how to use the print resources too, and knowing what is available in print, has made me a better researcher.
Although I think that I probably had less variety in my job than in some trainee positions – I’ve heard great things about traineeships in academic libraries, for example – doing my traineeship in such a specialised library was such a fantastic experience that I don’t think I missed out at all. If I were to go back now, the only thing I would do differently would be to get more involved with other trainees in other libraries, and try to get more out of my CILIP membership. I joined CILIP as a trainee purely because Gray’s paid for it, and I was told when I joined that they would be sending off my membership form for me – I had no idea at the time what CILIP did or what I should expect as a member, so I had no involvement with them at all besides flicking through the Gazette for the job ads when I was coming to the end of the year. As for getting to know other trainees – myself and the other trainee at Gray’s went on various visits to other libraries, mainly other law libraries, and got to know the trainee at Lincoln’s Inn a bit, but that was about it. I regret now not using that time to broaden my horizons a bit, and make friends with a few more people at the same stage as myself.
I did the MSc at City University, and thoroughly enjoyed the year. It was a busy one though – I elected to study full-time while working part-time, which meant that I didn’t really have any free time until I’d handed in my dissertation! I did think that the academic standards weren’t quite as high as I’d been expecting for a Master’s degree. I got a distinction in my final results, which I wasn’t really expecting – I knew my work was good enough to pass, but I didn’t feel like I’d put in the kind of effort that would earn a distinction! A lot of people said it didn’t really feel any more rigorous than an undergraduate degree (I can’t really comment on this as my undergrad was in photography, so this was the first time I’d ever really done any higher level academic work). From what I hear, that’s a common criticism with LIS courses in the UK generally.
I’m glad I did the Masters – I did learn a lot, and I think it’s given me a good theoretical base from which to examine the work I’ve done since. I do have some sympathy with those who consider an LIS Masters degree to be a box-ticking exercise, but I think you get out of it what you put in. If you see it as just a hoop to jump through, and treat it that way, then you probably won’t get much out of it. I tried to think of the year as an opportunity to really learn about my chosen career, and explore all the areas that I was interested in, as well as those that I didn’t yet know existed. I think that’s probably a good attitude to take – a Masters degree is supposed to be an exercise in self-directed learning, after all.
I’ve just re-started the Chartership process, having first registered about a year ago and abandoned it when real life got in the way. On reflection, I think I’m better off doing it now than I would have been a year ago, even if my life had continued on an even keel at that point. When I first registered I was a few months past finishing my MSc (and hadn’t even received my results yet!), 6 months into a non-professional post (although I was promoted to professional-level shortly after that), and didn’t really have a clear idea of how I wanted my career to develop. I really struggled with getting my PPDP written, because I didn’t know enough about what I could be doing to be able to identify where my gaps were. I’m finding it much easier to do now, because I’ve got a bit more professional experience to draw on. I know that many people have chartered immediately after qualifying, and I’m not suggesting that everyone should wait longer, but I do think it was right for me to leave a little bit of a gap between qualifying and chartering.
So that’s me so far. As for future career development – well, first step is to complete my chartership! Further than that, I’m not really sure. I hope I’ll continue on with more of the same really. I’m a firm believer in CPD, and I don’t really want to get to the point where I consider it a necessary evil rather than something I do for its own sake. I understand that CILIP have plans to make CPD mandatory for keeping your chartered status, and I’m broadly supportive of this move – I think it’s important to emphasise the “continuing” aspect of “continuing professional development”, rather than it being seen as something that happens in discrete stages along the trainee-qualification-chartership path.