Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Library Route

So, I've previously blogged my Library Roots, and added it to the wiki of the Library Routes project (and if you haven't done yours yet, get adding - it's fascinating!).

I thought I'd now add info on my Library Route, i.e. how I ended up doing what I do today.

Well...it all started off a bit randomly. I'd qualified, and now I needed a job. I was scouring the CILIP Gazette job section, and the library recruitment agencies, and the local authority job sites here in Edinburgh, hoping to find something, anything, that would let me work! But it's not easy, even in the Capital of the country, to find a job when you don't have any official experience. So really, after a couple of months, and with the savings going down fast, I needed a job.

I saw a post for a part-time library assistant at a private members society library within the Scottish courts complex at Parliament Square. I had no idea what a librarian would do in a court library, but I got the job, and soon found out. Mainly, the library dealt with the research enquiries of its members, who were all qualified Scottish solicitors. The society owned the building it was situated in, and let out various areas to other groups, and hired out a room for functions. The role involved doing anything from accounts for photocopier use, posting books to out of town members, to helping members find the information they needed, whatever that may be. I was on my own one day a week, and on the other day I had the company of the lovely lady who dealt with the members coffee area, and general bits and bobs.

Having had no experience with Scots law, or researching it, lets just say it was a steep learning curve! OPSI, HMSO, SIs, SSIs, Acts, Acts of Sederunt, differences between UK-wide law and Scots-only laws...every day was quite an education! The previous edition of this book was my saviour! As were the librarians at various other libraries within the complex: I could often be seen sidling into on, with a hopeful look on my face!

A while after starting there, a part time post came up at another solicitors library in the court complex, where I'd got to know staff via my regular visits to ask for help with some obscure reference, or borrow a book to consult. The hours of the post were able to be organised to fit around my first position, and equivalently (and boy did my bank balance thank me for this!) I now had a full time, Monday to Friday, 9-5 job.

I worked both jobs together for about a year, until a full time position became available at the second library, which I was offered and accepted. And now I began what was effectively an apprenticeship. Every enquiry could now be discussed with, or referred to, people with far more experience than me. We all kept track of the progress of each others enquiries, so even if I had passed a tough one on, I could still find out how it had been resolved, and learn from that. We had an indexed book of frequently asked unusual enquiries for reference. The library was a large, long established one, so there were lots of materials, systems and rooms to get acquainted with, and I'd say it took at least a year of full-time work there before I could say I was able to deal with the bulk of enquiries that came my way, and know where things were.

In between enquiries there was of course the general administrative work needed to keep things going - yup, the eternal joy of compiling and issuing of accounts for photocopying and research! :) Also, since the library had held various large book-stock sales in its history, but the card catalogues still held the records for these sold books in with the current books, it seemed like a good idea to get those card files out, and into their own catalogue. That project took about six (dirty - these cards were old!) months, of sorting through each file drawer and removing the records marked as sold when I had a free moment. Finally, we had accurate online, card and bound catalogues, yay! Then I moved onto cataloguing the older editions of textbooks (and some hidden gems) onto the online catalogue, a task that was only 50% completed when I left.

We pushed to get the best technology and resources possible, working with the restrictions of doing so in a listed building. I think the biggest advance was my boss managing to get wi-fi installed! We could be showing members how to best use web tools one moment, and then later on, bringing up case reports from the 1800s from the basement for academic researchers who needed access to our collections for their studies. Quite a varied sort of workplace!

But after 4 years it was definitely time to move on, and I found myself working for my current employer, a commercial law firm. Once again, it was a pretty steep learning curve. Yes, I knew about Scots law, where to find things, where to look and who to ask if I didn't understand things, but the difference was that this time, I was dealing directly with the people giving me the enquiries. Previously, those questions had usually been filtered by the librarians of the firms using the library, and the core points had been teased out, leaving me free to go straight to what they want, whether that was a book, case, or anything else. Here, I was getting people who weren't quite sure what they were looking for, and needed my help to work it out. It's certainly helped develop my "asking people questions until they decide what the important point is" skills! Actually, it's helped me developed my telepathy and mind reading skills too! The time pressure's pretty different as well - everything's always needed yesterday! But it's nice to be in the same place as my users, to be able to see them, chat, socialise etc. and get to know their information needs better. Here too, as in my previous workplace, I'm encouraged to explore technology, and see what tools could be useful for either staff, or library staff. We have an in-house Current Awareness service, so I'm always aware of news and developments, and feeding them back into the firms systems.

Another big difference is that I work solo here - I'm in charge of one office, and my boss is in charge of another. Multiple daily phone calls and emails help us keep track of what's going on, with a wiki for shared information / in case of emergencies, and regular face to face meetings fill in anything else, and help remind each other that we really exist! When I first started I felt like such a pest - being on my own, and being technically a department of my own in this office too meant I had no team members around me - I was never off the phone asking daft questions, not only about the library, but about things like how do I get a document scanned, and what the email shortcut was for the IT department! The patience of my boss was verging on saintly! Now, I know everyone here, and who does what, and have seen multiple waves of trainees pass through the door...I feel almost like an old hand.

The firm and my boss have also encouraged me into anything and everything that will benefit me professionally, so I've attended conferences, joined committees, edited newsletters, blogged, chartered, written articles...I'm certainly not allowed to isolate myself into the world of law and hide out!

So, not quite the career path I had thought of...in fact, law librarianship isn't actually a career path that I even knew existed! Luckily though, I love working in this sector, and am glad that I saw that advert for my first, part-time post!


Oh yes - the books up the top are from a little sprinkler accident at one of the libraries - amazing sight to see halls, rooms and corridors filled with ranks and ranks of splayed open books! I couldn't resist taking some photos!

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