My name is Sarah Kennedy and I guess you could say my journey into librarianship started when I studying for my Masters in English in UCC. As part of the course we had to complete an embedded research and reference module administered by the librarians of the Boole Library. I found the course fascinating and I thought that it seemed like the perfect career for me. Research, organisation, the opportunity to continue to learn and up-skill and the ability to engage with people – it had everything I wanted in a career.
From the moment I finished my MA I began researching how to go about becoming a librarian. I knew that I would have to go back to college and I also knew that I would have to get some experience. I was hoping to get the experience first to set me up for the course but it turned out that I got the opportunity to go back to college first. I was a bit apprehensive that my lack of experience would hinder my learning but I think that the research I had done about the career really helped in my understanding of the various modules.
Having said that I was very keen to start building my experience, and with that, my CV. During the second semester an opportunity came up to apply for a role as a research assistant in a project looking at information management and the use of electronic health records in healthcare. My interest in health librarianship had really grown over the first semester and I thought it was a good opportunity to learn more about the healthcare sector. I was worried that my lack of experience would be an issue but I thought it was worth a try and I got lucky. The job involved literature searching and reviewing, organisation of information using various reference management tools and I managed the group blog, adding information and links to keep the group up to date. This experience then led very nicely into my next role.
Early in the summer I saw an advertisement posted on LibraryJobs.ie; the Irish Hospice Foundation was looking for an intern to help with a project using Zotero. I was in the middle of the Capstone project but I felt that I could cope with the workload. I was delighted to be offered the experience. I was even more delighted to find that the library and information manager was understanding and flexible with regard to the time I needed for Capstone, and even more than that, she was extremely generous in sharing her experience and expertise. I learnt a lot, built my confidence in my ability to use various LMS and other software, and designed guides for users.
When that project came to an end I had to figure out my next move. I wasn’t fully confident in myself and I was hesitant to start applying for jobs that seemed to require more experience than I had. Fortunately, I was eligible for Jobbridge as I had been on casual dockets. The Royal College of Physicians advertised for a Library Intern to help with various projects and cataloguing of their Dun’s library. I felt it was a perfect role for me because it meant more experience in the health sector and it also meant some experience with rare books and archives. I have always been interested in learning more about older materials. Unfortunately the MLIS did not offer a rare books module so the internship presented me with the chance to learn something new and broaden my skill-set. I think my passion and interest in the role really showed during my interview. I also think that the research assistant role and my volunteer work in the Irish Hospice impressed the interviewers and I was offered the job.
It has been a huge learning experience – I have been cataloguing using RDA standards, I have been involved in digital marketing using the Heritage Centre Twitter and blogging, and I have been given some basic training in archival standards and systems. My employers have also been very generous in terms of other training in things like Microsoft Office products which is extremely useful and will serve to make me far more efficient in my work. I have also had the chance to work on a project examining the issues surrounding providing access to e-journals and this project has afforded me the opportunity to meet with other librarians and benefit from their knowledge.
Of course it can get slightly frustrating to be working without a wage. Not everyone is in a situation where they can afford to ‘volunteer’ and there are many versions of the internship/volunteering story, a lot good, but some bad. I know I have been extremely lucky but I also know that I am willing to work hard and I really have a passion for this career. I think while luck has had a part, these things have worked in my favour too.
The MLIS course is interesting and informative but having the opportunity to put theory into practice is invaluable. The positives I have taken from my experience so far have been numerous but the following are the ones I think are the most important:
1. 1. Actually using a LMS and having the confidence that you can figure out most things given a little help and/or some time.
2. 2. ‘Real-life’ cataloguing – understanding that different organisations do things differently but that once you understand the standards you can create good records.
3. Librarians are some of the most helpful and generous people you can meet – if you have a problem there are always librarians willing to lend some advice or point you in the right direction. (Twitter is really useful for this or mailing lists or if you aren’t a solo librarian just asking people you work with). I have also learnt so much from the people I have worked with so far and I really appreciate the time they have taken to help me improve my skills.
4. 4. I should give myself more credit for the work experience I had before the MLIS. For awhile I felt that my experience in fashion retail was worthless in terms of my new career, but I have realised that my customer service skills, team management experience and sales and marketing knowledge are all transferable to the library environment.
I think this is a really important point for those who feel that they can’t afford to work for little or no money. There may not be the opportunity to work in a traditional library setting but there may be other jobs available where the skills acquired are completely transferable to a library career. I think my experience as a Research Assistant is a very good example of this. Keeping in touch with SILS is a great way of finding out about these kinds of opportunities. There is an alumni Facebook page and now there is no fee for joining the alumni association, contact SILS@ucd.ie for more information.
5. 5. I know that when the time comes that I have that big important interview for the job I really want I will be able to use all the experience I have had to prove that I am the perfect candidate. I will finally have the confidence I need in my skills and my ability because I have been doing so much over the past few months. This sense of confidence and the knowledge that I am very capable is hugely important to me.
My biggest piece of advice to people hoping to find experience is to get involved and stay connected. Libraryjobs.ie (@LibraryJobs) have a great social media presence and now SILS is on Twitter too (@UCD_iSchool). Groups like NPD (@NPDIreland), A&SL (@ASLibraries) and the CDG (@LAICDGroup) are fantastic and organise great events where you get to know people and build your network. It was at these events I was told who to follow on Twitter and who to ask for help and advice. I really appreciate the support of the library community and I’m glad to finally be a part of it.