I must admit at the beginning that I haven’t always wanted to be a librarian; international showjumper, musketeer, or book shop owner in classic Black Books style yes, but librarian, no. I studied Archaeology and Modern History at Queen’s University Belfast and joined the rest of the graduates asking themselves, what now? Eventually I saw an ad for Graduate Trainee posts at Trinity College Dublin and I jumped at it. The chance to work with all those fabulous books in one of the best libraries in the world was too tempting and I was lucky enough to get one of three posts offered that year.
I stayed on in Dublin to study for my library qualification and emerged from University College Dublin clutching my Master of Library and Information Studies. I had decided to study full-time and I made some really good library pals along the way. The course was really wide-ranging, reflective of the many different paths a library career can lead you, everything from rare books to XML.
I have been extremely lucky to find library and information jobs in various sectors. My first professional job was as Assistant Librarian in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive where I built up a good subject knowledge of everything social housing related. I landed on my feet in other ways when I got that post and gained things no organisation would think to put in their recruitment pack. The Library Manager, Margaret Gibson, became my unofficial mentor and pushed me (gently) into joining the Career Development Group committee of the Northern Ireland division of CILIP. This special interest group, now sadly defunct, has given many a librarian in Northern Ireland an opportunity to network, learn new skills and get involved in the wider profession. I, for example, helped organise events, wrote articles for the group magazine LINK and was one of two New Professional Support Officers.
My next role, Information Officer at Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), took me in a different direction albeit that I was still using my library and information skills. The main focus of this role was disseminating information to the voluntary and community sector and in particular NICVA’s 1,000+ member organisations. I gained some invaluable skills in communications, developing content for websites, producing publications and promotional literature, organising events, and developing training courses. One project I’m particularly proud of was a data protection project aiming to increase knowledge of a complex but vital topic for the voluntary and community sector. The project included building relationships with the Information Commissioner’s Office, developing and writing a guidance document for voluntary and community organisations, organising and managing a series of information seminars and provision of follow up training and advice.
Working at NICVA also gave me an opportunity to get involved with the Association of Information Managers in Northern Ireland, AIM (NI). AIM (NI) addresses the needs of library and information workers in a range of organisations, quite often sole information worker, and is a wonderful way to build a network of people you can call upon when you need advice or help. AIM (NI) has also built a good relationship with the Library School at the University of Ulster and has been able to advise on the types of courses that would be useful to AIM’s members.
Currently I am working as a Librarian at the international law firm Allen & Overy. Allen & Overy has 44 offices in 30 countries around the world. The Belfast office opened in July 2011 as a Support Services Centre providing support in areas such as finance, HR, IT, creative services (design and marketing), and library and research, to name a few. The Library and Research function comprises a team of research staff and a team of operations staff providing services to offices from London to Sydney and everywhere in between. Much of my work consists of traditional library tasks including acquisition and cataloguing of library material, but the global reach of our work and the interaction with librarians and other staff around the world is a very interesting and satisfying part of the job. Working on some of our cataloguing projects with the international offices has also given me an opportunity to work with records in different languages and I’m becoming quite adept at recognising the word ‘edition’ in many languages.
We are always learning in the library and information profession and we all know how important adaptability is in any job so I have always jumped at opportunities for training and learning new skills. I have learned how to plan, shoot, and edit videos; I have taken courses in communications and marketing; I even have a BTEC Level 3 Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS) which has given me much more confidence in developing and delivering training courses. Next up is BIALL’s Legal Foundations Course which I am looking forward to studying over the next few months.
So if I were to give any advice to people considering a career in information management it would be:
- Information skills are relevant to many jobs so don’t just look for the word librarian in the title.
- Be open to learning and trying new things. You never know where it might take you.
- Try to get experience in different sectors. It gives you a wide perspective on how things are done differently depending on financial resources, organisational culture, among other things.
- Get involved with professional bodies, even if you just attend a few events. Getting to know other library and information professionals is a great way to build a network of people you can call on when you need advice or support. Your professional network is a mine of knowledge and experience which is really invaluable.