Careers

There are a wide variety of different jobs in the information sector; Librarians and Information Specialists provide support to students, academics, professionals and the public in learning and research environments across many sectors, from educational establishments to law firms, and government departments to charities.

In addition to the traditional role of the librarian as a public servant, maintaining catalogues and collections of books, there is a fast increasing demand across all kinds of organisations for professionals with the skills to organise and retrieve information. The amount of information available to the public, especially through the internet, has grown enormously in recent years, and the role of librarians has had to change to adapt to this but the key element remains the same: storing information and facilitating access to it.

In this section of the blog you can obtain information about the following areas of librarianship:

Academic Libraries
Legal Libraries
Local Studies
Public Libraries
Voluntary Sector

Academic Libraries

Working in academic libraries involves providing a service for the needs of a very specific group of users – students, academic staff and researchers. A university or college may have one main library with provision for all students on all degree courses, or various sites with smaller departmental libraries. In Oxford the situation is somewhat unique – in addition to the Bodleian library there are over a hundred college, departmental and other specialist libraries!

The size of the library you work in will influence the number of staff there are and also the type of work they do. A small departmental or college library, like those in Oxford, may have just one senior qualified librarian and two or three library assistants, so you might be involved in many different aspects of the library’s running and deal with only a small group of regular readers. In larger libraries, the roles will be more specialised and staff tend to work within departments – interlibrary loans, technical services (i.e. cataloguing, processing etc), enquiry services and subject teams. Subject librarians, or Subject Consultants, are responsible for acquisitions within a particular degree subject. They liaise with the relevant department or faculty so that the library keeps its stock up-to-date with changing reading lists, and the latest books and journals published in that field. With such a specific readership, a key aspect of academic libraries is user education. This may involve giving tours of the library,or carrying out marketing to make students aware of the range of the library’s resources, and producing guides explaining how to make the best use of them.

Profile

Dropping out of University after only a term is not an auspicious start to any career but in fact led me, on the rebound, to apply for a post as Library Assistant at Bath University and ultimately to find a satisfying vocation.

I enjoyed my year and a half in the library at Bath so much that it gave me the impetus to return to university in order to get myself properly qualified. Throughout my English degree course at Reading I added to my CV and earned some welcome cash as a Student Shelver and Evening Assistant at the library (a great opportunity to snaffle all the short loan books before your fellow students even realise they need them!).

Reading was followed by Loughborough for an MA in Library and Information Studies and it was when I had just embarked on my dissertation that I saw a job advert for a newly qualified librarian to run the circulation desk at Surrey University Library. I had missed the deadline by a week but managed to persuade the Personnel Officer that I was worth interviewing (I don’t recommend this technique these days!). I lost the job on the basis of not being able to start straight away but was subsequently head hunted by the Deputy Librarian for another post of Principal Library Assistant in charge of the Information Desk.

Although we did most of the work (in our opinion anyway!) new professionals were treated very well at Surrey and a highlight was that Bill Simpson, who was then Librarian, used to take us out for wonderful lunches whenever he had guests. Free food notwithstanding, after 15 months I applied for the job of Reference Librarian in the Bodleian (the first academic post I had applied for) on the rather feeble grounds that it looked vaguely similar to the job I was doing, and I wouldn’t mind living in Oxford…A panel of seven for an academic related grade one post seemed a bit excessive but somehow I got the job over 87 other candidates which was quite a boost to the ego.

I have remained in Reader Services ever since, a total of over 15 years. This may seem an awfully long time to some, but in my defence, the job itself has changed markedly during this time (and continues to change) and working in Reader Services there’s never a dull moment. I have been fortunate too to be re-graded at various times when I have been thinking of moving on, and two years ago, applied for and got the newly created post of Deputy Head of Reader Services.

Vanessa Corrick, Deputy Head of Reader Services, November 2005

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Legal Libraries

Law librarians may work in a variety of library settings including law firms, law schools, courts and other government organizations, and the legal departments of businesses and associations.

Profile

Having enjoyed my job in a library during my university holidays and having an interest in research and the law, working in a law library seemed a logical career choice. I was fortunate enough to get a place at Lincoln’s Inn for my graduate trainee year. I was given extensive legal research training and left Lincoln’s Inn having learned an incredible amount. Also, I had really felt like an integral member of the library team, which I think is very important whilst doing a traineeship.a shelf of law booksAfter Lincoln’s Inn came my year at UCL doing the Library and Information Studies Masters where I chose law as my specialist subject for project work and found having done my year in a law library very helpful. Jobs at Herbert Smith, Trowers & Hamlins and Nabarro Nathanson followed and, although the job descriptions changed each time, the one thing that remained constant was the legal research. Much of the administration side of librarianship is similar whichever kind of library you work in; it is the practical side that you really need to consider when choosing where to work.

Legal research is what drew me to law librarianship in the first place (and possibly the fact that law librarians are among the highest paid!). All of my jobs have also included training of library users, stock management and current awareness. Even though the law firm environment can be extremely stressful, especially when a lawyer wants some complicated research done immediately for an important client, I have always found law librarianship challenging and interesting.

Many of the larger law firms are located in London but they often have international and regional offices, which also have small libraries. Alternatively, they rely on the London office library for research support or staff from London travel out to staff them on a part-time basis. Traditionally there have been plenty of jobs available in law firm libraries but, at times of economic uncertainty, the library is often the first to experience cuts.

The British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) is a very well organised association and runs an excellent legal research course for new law librarians. It also has an annual conference, which is an ideal forum for making new contacts and is infamous for showing what party animals librarians can be!

Clare Kavanagh

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Local Studies

A career working with Local Studies collections can be rich and varied as local studies librarians are often at the forefront of public libraries’ community initiatives and technological advances in digitisation. Recently, there has been a trend to merge Local Studies collections with Archives Services. The general distinction is that Local Studies Collections are inclined to hold printed and pictorial material, while archives are likely to concentrate on manuscript material and original records. Collecting policies do occasionally overlap, notably in the provision of resources for genealogy.

A typical Local Studies collection will include books, pamphlets and periodicals; official local and regional publications; street and trade directories; historical and modern maps and plans; photographs and postcards; prints and engravings; newspapers and ephemera. There will also be held, usually on microform, sources primarily for Family History such as census returns, parish records, the General Registry Index to Births, Deaths & Marriages. Family History customers normally provide around 60% of all Local Studies use which makes it perhaps one of the fastest growing areas of public library use. Enquiries come from all over the world. Other users will be researching an aspect Local History, history of a house, local business information, planning related enquiries or undertaking school or college projects.

Local Studies Librarians are required to balance the needs of preservation and access, because of the nature of the materials. One solution that is still considered to provide the best balance is microfilm. Digitisation is clearly the future for improving access to materials, but it is not yet regarded as a proven solution to preservation. In some cases microform and digital conservation can complement each other. Local Studies Libraries are in a fortunate position as there is now a stream of funding available from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the New Opportunities Fund for innovative projects. These have included the creation of photo archives, digitised historic maps, trade directories and journals, virtual museum tours and catalogues of special collections.

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Public Libraries

Public libraries are now far from what could traditionally be called a ‘library’. As well as the ‘usual’ activities of loaning books, you can now expect libraries to provide you with DVDs and computer games. But loans are not the only part of the process; public libraries are now considered to be public resource centres. Not only do they provide computer and internet access they are also an enquiry point for a wide range of issues from the social to the financial. You can also expect a public library to provide space to meet for small groups, adult education and even coffee shops. The large group of users have a diverse range of needs which can be challenging to work with but also very satisfying. In recent years, public libraries have become more and more focused on providing electronic information, as well as the traditional books. The recent People’s Network initiative gave many libraries across the country computers to provide internet access which has proved extremely popular. Most public libraries now provide Online Public Access Catalogues as well as the facility to renew and request books online.

There is some overlap between the work of a library assistant (issuing and returning books, shelving, processing and enquiry work) and that of a qualified librarian – the latter, especially in smaller or departmental libraries, is likely to spend some time issuing books and undertaking enquiry work. However, they also spend considerable amounts of time managing the team of library assistants, as well as undertaking book selection, user education, and particularly promotion of the library

Profile

I worked in a dual-use library in Chester which served the large secondary school where it was housed and the public two days a week. I enjoyed my work mainly because of the variety; it was a small library so there were lots of opportunities to get involved with every aspect of library work, from reader services to technical services. Working in a school library is great because you get to meet some brilliant kids, even the naughty ones you come to love! I loved working with the public, particularly with more detailed enquiries. As part of a small team in a small library I knew all the staff and the stock well which allowed me to provide a good service. Working in a public library would be great for anyone who enjoys knowing their stock and their readers well, and likes to provide a good service to the public. The changing nature of public libraries means that the job is always changing; you have to be able to help people with all kinds of different enquiries, ones that aren’t related in anyway to Catherine Cookson or Harry Potter. It is also a good job for anyone who enjoys working with children.

Lucy Evans, Bodleian Trainee, October 2007

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Voluntary Sector

Just as large commercial organisations need information professionals to organise, catalogue and control the use and collection of information so too do charities and voluntary organisations. With vast national and international structures the information service for a charity can play a crucial role disseminating reports, articles and statistics world-wide often straight to the aid worker in the field.

Librarians work with specialised material where only a few colleagues internationally may share the same role. Because of this it is a particularly difficult sector to build a career in. Not only is it a tiny sector, but funding may also be limited with the emphasis placed on voluntary staff with only a few qualified, paid staff employed.

Charity and voluntary sector librarianship can offer a highly rewarding, fulfilling and stimulating career. It is highly specialised, and in its importance to the charity, information organisation and supply in the voluntary sector demands a wide range of professional skills. However, limited resources may also heighten the stresses of the job.

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