Thing 22: Volunteering

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. 

Thing 21: Promoting yourself in job applications and at interview

Well, this Thing is quite timely for me, as I’ve just applied for a new job, so I can honestly say I have recently updated my ‘CV database’, although it’s not a database, it’s more a very long CV with everything on it, which I then edit and tailor according to the specification/job description of the particular job I’m applying for. The principle is the same – i.e. to keep a record of everything that I can potentially use when applying for jobs. I keep copies of all my previous job applications, whether they were done on application forms, or using CVs and covering letters. It’s interesting to see how my CV has evolved over the years. I used to think I didn’t have enough to put in it, and now I have trouble fitting it onto two sides of A4!

When I started applying for jobs, I used to to the interview stage almost every time (not wishing to blow my own trumpet or anything, there’s a ‘but’ coming up), but (see) I very rarely got offered the job. I think my main problem was lack of confidence and an inability to ‘sell myself’ – I’m sure that will come as no surprise who knows me or who’s a regular reader of this blog! I have got a bit better at interviews over the years – I actually enjoyed the last one I had, and I’ve even become more confident about doing presentations, so that’s good. I still find it difficult to advertise my skills, and I still suffer horrendous (that is not too strong a word, some days) lack of confidence quite often, but I think (hope!) I can manage to pull myself together in interview situations a bit better than I used to be able to.

I think my tips for applying for jobs would be:

  • As someone who’s been on interview panels and waded through hundreds of applications forms I would say, please, please, please make sure you refer to the job description/person specification and show that you meet at least each of the essential criteria – if you meet any of the desirable criteria please make sure you show this too. Please give examples, as these could make the difference between you getting an interview or not. (Obviously every employer is different, but I think this is a good general rule.)
  • Also, if one of the criteria is, e.g. GCSE Maths, please show this explicitly. Don’t just say ’10 GCSEs grades A-C’ (or whatever), say ’10 GCSEs grades A-C including Maths’. I know this sounds picky, but I’ve been in situations where forms have been discarded on the strength of seemingly minor details like this, and it’s just such a shame.
  • Keep copies of previous applications – for a record and also because it saves time sometimes – although obviously you do need to make sure that you tailor your application to the particular job you’re applying for.
  • Prepare for interviews. Have answers to likely questions, such as ‘why do want this job?’ ready.
  • I find practising a presentation about twenty times helps, but you might not need to do this if you’re more used to doing them, or just have a better memory than I do!

Here are my answers to the questions in Part 1 of this Thing:

What do you like to do?

Singing, listening to music, taking photographs, reading, knitting, walking in the countryside, writing, proof-reading, going to the theatre, eating, cooking, tidying, organising,  cataloguing, planning, listing (!), listening, observing, following instructions, learning, helping, teaching, investigating, discovering.

What do you dislike?

Confrontation, rudeness, too much social interaction, too much physical contact, not being in control, maths (I find it interesting, but I’m not very good at it), boring meetings, indecision (although I’m terrible at making decisions myself), pointlessness, wasting time. I find it hard to be spontaneous.

Do you remember the last time you felt that feeling of deep satisfaction after creating, building, completing something? What was it about?

I made a calendar out of some of my photos and gave one to my mum and one to my granddad for Christmas (shameless self-promotion!), and they really liked them. That was good. In a work context, I quite often feel satisfied after creating a good catalogue record.

What skills do you need to do the things you like?

For some of the things, like walking in the countryside, you don’t really need any skills. For other things, like singing, I’m not sure you necessarily need skills either, unless you’re very serious about it. I have music-related skills. I can listen and learn things that way, and I can sort-of read music. For things like singing, and knitting and photography, you need to have the ability to practice and not get bored too easily. I’m not sure what the name for that skill is – tenacity?

I suppose quite a few of the things I like require some sort of organisational skill, and perhaps a more methodical or logical mind is required for things like cataloguing, or at least it probably helps. Someone once told me I had a logical mind, and I was surprised, but perhaps I do have one really, despite all my irrationality. I suppose one can be logical and irrational at different times, according to the situation! Attention to detail is also important in cataloguing, and also in knitting!

Things 20: The Library Routes Project

I blogged about my route into librarianship for Thing 10, so for Thing 20 I had a look at other people’s blog posts about their ‘library routes and roots‘ to see how their routes compared with mine.

So I’ve done that, and it seems that quite a lot of people’s roots into the library and information world were fairly similar to my own – degree, no idea what they wanted to do, work experience/graduate traineeship, postgraduate qualification in LIS, struggle getting first job, getting first job, etc. Unlike me, some people were sure from an early age that librarianship was the career for them, and, also unlike me, some people started out in other careers before they realised that library work was actually what they wanted to do.

The nice thing about reading about other people’s library roots/routes was that most people who are now working in LIS seem to really like it, and feel that they’re in the right job for them. It’s good to know there are people out there who are happy in their work!

I’m still not entirely sure what the right job for me is. My current job is the first library job since doing my traineeship that I’ve enjoyed (most of the time!), and even now I don’t feel massively fulfilled in my work, or particularly valued by the organisation I work for. So, I wonder if I’m really in the right career, or whether I’m just working for the wrong organisation!

Because of the way my career path has gone I quite often feel like a failure, even though I know that taking the steps down the career ladder was the right thing to do. I worry the profession doesn’t want people like me anymore – I’m not dynamic or extrovert. I’m rather like a stereotypical librarian, in fact. How ironic that this might now mean I’m in the wrong career!

Thing 18 is still on its way!