Thing 10: So you want to be a librarian?

This post was written for 23 Things for Professional Development, Thing 10: Graduate traineeships, Masters degrees, Chartership, Accreditation.

Thing 10 is about routes into librarianship and the qualifications needed to be a librarian.  I’m right at the start of my career and so far following what is probably considered the standard route.  I completed my undergraduate degree (in geological sciences – a bit less standard) last summer, am now coming to the end of my year as a graduate trainee and am about to start a masters degree.  I’ve really enjoyed reading other people’s posts on the other routes they’ve taken into librarianship.

Graduate traineeships

As I write this I have only one week left of my graduate traineeship.  For the past 12 months I have been the graduate trainee at the Radcliffe Science Library at Oxford University and it has been brilliant.  As part of the Bodleian Libraries training scheme I had regular training sessions (roughly half a day per week) with 17 other trainees on wide-ranging topics such as library school, what it’s like to be a subject librarian, eresouces, library use of web 2.0 and the work of conservators.  We also had several library visits arranged for us and were encouraged to organise visits to each other’s libraries.  This has really widened my knowledge of the library profession, even if only at a basic level, and I think has provided me with good grounding to start my masters.  I was also very lucky in having a supportive supervisor who encouraged me to take advantage of any other training offered by staff development that I was interested in.

One important point about graduate traineeships is that they are all different.  Some, like mine, have organised training sessions while others give you the breadth of experience because you rotate round several different library departments within the year.  The day-to-day work, even between traineeships that are part of the same scheme, can vary massively.

Masters degrees

In just over a month I will be starting an MA in Library and Information Studies at UCL.  I will be studying full-time as I am in the very fortunate position of having obtained AHRC funding.  If I hadn’t got the funding it would be a different story.  I certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford to study full-time and I would have had to save up for a couple of years to afford to do the course part-time, and that would be without further increases in the fees.  Realistically I think in the end I would have decided to go for another part-time or distance learning course which didn’t involve me having to live in or commute to London.  It’s been said before but I think it’s a real shame if people aren’t able to do the course that they want just because of high fees and very limited funding.

So, why do I want to do this masters degree?  I’m hoping I will learn the skills and knowledge I don’t already have that I will need for the sort of job I would like to move on to.  I’m not saying it’s the only way to get those skills, but I do think it will be the easiest, and for me best, way of doing so.  More importantly it seems likely I will need the qualification to progress in my career.  I keep an eye on job adverts to see what is required for the sort of job I’d like to be moving on to and almost all of them require a postgraduate qualification.  I’m also hoping to enjoy the course!

Although I hope the masters will be good preparation for a professional post I think there are skills it won’t cover. IT skills are important for most library and information job roles and some job adverts I’ve come across even specify a qualification such as ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence) or similar as desirable.  So I’ve decided to brush up on my IT skills and am planning on completing the ECDL while I’m studying at UCL.  Has anyone done any other IT qualifications which they’ve found useful (or not)?

Other qualifications

One of the things that surprised me when I entered the world of librarianship was that librarians don’t generally need any qualifications in the subject their library specialises in (if it does specialise).  Most, but not all, of the subject librarians at the academic science library where I work have a background in the subject they support, but this seems less common in other libraries.  I wonder, is this because subject knowledge really isn’t important or because you can learn enough about the subject on the job?  Is it different for different subjects or different sectors?  It was interesting to read in Lorna’s post that as a law librarian she has a HNC in Legal Studies.