Have you undertaken unpaid work to further your career?
Yes. After I finished my Master’s degree in a subject unrelated to libraries, I decided I wanted to be a librarian and applied for lots of Graduate Trainee posts.I can’t remember how many I applied for, but it was a lot. I think I had twelve interviews, but I didn’t get appointed to any of the jobs I’d applied for. Sometimes I think it was just because I was bad at interviews, but some of the feedback I got was that I didn’t have enough experience. So, I worked for a year opening envelopes and waited for the next round of trainee posts to become available, and towards the end of the year my contract at the envelope opening place ended and I did six weeks’ work experience at the local public library.
What was your experience?
I really enjoyed it. The librarians I worked with were really good about letting me try out all the different aspects of public librarianship. I went to help run a book group in a small branch library, assisted the children’s librarian with choosing new stock, sorted out audio books for housebound people, helped people use the Internet, worked on the issue and enquiry desks, helped organise a day for people to try out e-books and e-book readers (very clunky compared to the ones we have now!) and generally learned a lot about what being a librarian is really like.
It was the first time I realised that people could have jobs they actually enjoyed doing.
I applied for some more trainee jobs during my time as a volunteer, and I got a job. I’m sure that having some experience I could talk about helped me get the job.
Is volunteering a good thing, or by working for free are we in danger of devaluing our profession?
I think it has its place. It can be a very valuable way of gaining experience for people starting out in the profession who are finding it difficult to get experience otherwise, like I was. It’s also useful to be able to ‘try out’ a job before you commit to it as a paid employee!
On the other hand, I don’t agree with, e.g. public libraries being run by volunteers. This would indeed devalue the profession and make people wonder what the point of being a qualified LIS professional is.