Thing 22: Volunteering to gain experience

This post was written for 23 Things for Professional Development, Thing 22.

Again, I’ve got behind with cpd23 but this week’s thing is really relevant to me at the moment so I’m going out of order to write about it now.  I’ve just started a full time Library and Information Studies MA and one of the things I want to do alongside the course is gain some experience of both different library sectors and practical skills.  My aim is twofold: to help me decide exactly what sort of job I want to get at the end of my masters and to give me experience which will help me get that job.

Although a certain amount of insight can be gained by library visits and talking to people doing a particular job or working in a certain sector, there is no substitute for actually getting stuck in and doing something. There may be some opportunities to gain this experience through paid work, but I’m expecting to have to do some unpaid work.  The course I’m on actually includes a two week work placement.

I’m quite happy to undertake unpaid work to develop new skills or gain an insight into a sector I am new. Importantly, I’m also in the lucky situation of being able to afford to do so as I managed to secure funding for my MA. As the number of funded places for masters courses has decreased and the fees for the courses has decreased, many students are going to need to work longer hours in whatever part time work they can get and will find it hard to find time for unpaid work (except possibly where this is part of the course). If entry level professional posts require experience that it is (usually/often) only possible to gain through volunteering, this is a problem.

Before starting my graduate traineeship I completed two short periods (2 1/2 and 3 weeks) of unpaid work experience in libraries. The first gave me an overview of both libraries and archives and helped me decide that I wanted to follow a career in librarianship, while the second gave me a chance to try my hand at a large number of tasks done by the librarian of a small academic library ranging from shelving to cataloguing, withdrawing stock to website content management. I learnt a lot from both experiences and had fun while doing them.  So, as far as I’m concerned, volunteering to gain experience is a good thing as long as you make sure that you are actually gaining experience.  Something I haven’t always done, but that is important to avoid misunderstandings and to make sure the work is mutually beneficial is to set expectations and objectives on both sides before any commitment is made.

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