My first foray into the library world was a volunteering stint in my local library in Tramore, Co. Waterford. I really enjoyed working there – it was a place I had always loved going to as a child. I remember the sense of quiet as I leafed through the picture books in the children’s library. There was something magical about the way the librarians stamped the books and wrote the date of return. I wondered about all the people the books had lived with temporarily. I’ve always enjoyed the peaceful, reverent atmosphere you often find in libraries (though that’s not always the case!). So I suppose I entered the profession with some flowery romantic notions.
After my initial placement I was offered a contract as a library assistant so I stayed working there until I started the course in UCD. The thing that struck me the most about working in a public library was that it really fostered a strong sense of community. During my time there I gained a deep appreciation for the importance of customer service and the concept that a library (whatever its format) exists to serve its customers. There was always something fun going on – book clubs, writing groups, children’s story time, little festivals – it was a wonderful first taste of libraries.
I did the postgraduate diploma in Library and Information Studies in UCD – I decided to opt out of doing the Masters because the economy at that time was not very healthy and I was keen to get back into the workplace. Straight out of college I got a traineeship contract working as a library assistant with Bord Bia – the Irish Food Board. It was a busy role in a small information department so I was given a lot of responsibility. I learned a lot about cataloguing, customer service and information management in a corporate environment – I also learned a lot about food! Following on from that I worked as a Search Editor for Getty Images. It was a very busy role with a wide variety of tasks the main aim was to use metadata in lots of clever ways to improve search results for our customers – in the e-commerce world improved search results often translate into improved sales. After Getty, I worked in Trinity College Library for a while cataloguing for the university’s Digital Collections website. The Long Room in Trinity’s Old Library is the most beautiful library I’ve ever been to, it’s like a church of books and definitely has the peaceful reverent atmosphere that first lured me into libraries.
My current job title is Taxonomist. Most people look at me blankly when I say that and wonder if I stuff dead animals for a living. I’m back working in an e-commerce environment which I really enjoy. I’m working on a specific project to develop a company’s taxonomy and ensure that all products are categorised correctly. It’s a big task but I’m really enjoying the work. Part of my job involves exploring different ways to develop the taxonomy structure and investigating what new categories would be best to create from a business perspective. I spend a lot of time writing automation rules to direct documents to particular categories and product types, it’s very similar to some of the work I did at Getty Images. One of the things I’m passionate about is trying to find ways to improve the work that we do – both to make the process more efficient and to improve the customer’s experience.
I think it’s important for today’s information and library professionals to be flexible and have a solid understanding of all things digital. If you are open to embracing different experiences there is such a wide variety of career paths a library and information studies graduate can wander down. When I started out I was certain I would work in public libraries but over the past 7 or 8 years I’ve worked as a librarian/information professional in academic, public, corporate, semi-state and e-commerce settings. It’s good to get an idea of the variety that is out there. Strong communication skills and a willingness to learn and grow are also important for any job.
My advice to any newcomers to this gig would be to be open and don’t rule anything out. I know a lot of librarians from my time studying at UCD and from my various jobs – the library scene in Ireland is small and full of friendly, interesting people – keep in touch with your class mates and colleagues – it’s important to build relationships with people in the field. And ask for help – in my experience librarians are by nature an altruistic bunch who love to help out others when they can!