Library roots/routes

RootsRoutes bw shutterstockA lass in libraryland thought that it was about time she added her two-penneth worth to the Library Routes Project which was started by Ned Potter in October 2009.  The idea of the project is “…to bring together the thoughts and experiences of information professionals on how they got where they are today, and why they chose to work in libraries at all…”.


Having been plucked from the bosom of Northumbria at a young age and thrust against her will into a childhood in the south, ALIL found relief from the horrors of being a ‘northerner’ in a southern land where she could.  The world of books proved a wonderful escape and so a lifelong love of the written word began. Despite dabbling with ballet, the violin and the piano as a child (and lapsing in them all) ALIL always came back to books and remembers the local library as a nice place to be.

During secondary education, which is not a time ALIL will remember with fondness, she discovered a love of history and theatre studies managing to drag herself through her school years with their help.  Difficulties arose when her two primary A’level choices clashed on the timetable and a hard choice had to be made.  History was sacrificed for theatre and sociology and design where settled on to make up the numbers.

Not going to university was never an option and so ALIL began to mull over her HE options post-school… she pondered the wonders of studying theatre or stage management, speech therapy or something to do with books.

ALIL can thank Mrs Thatcher for not being able to follow the theatre route, the country was in a bit of a state and unemployment was on the rise – it just wasn’t practical to run up student debts training for a career path where employment opportunities would be especially limited upon graduation and competition fierce.  Speech therapy just didn’t fit (for more reasons than ALIL knew at the time) and so something with books became the name of the game.

So after speaking to the school Librarian ALIL filled in her PCAS/UCCA forms for Librarianship courses and was offered a place at Leeds Polytechnic, School of Librarianship.


Despite applying to study for a degree in Librarianship to ALIL’s (temporary) horror the course title was altered prior to her commencing her studies… come September she found herself studying on the new Information Studies course at the School of Library and Information Studies.  Although she would have liked to spend all of her course studying the more traditional skills of Librarianship the additional information/IT based modules proved useful and ultimately stood her in good stead once out in libraryland.

By far the most useful part of her three years at library school was ALIL’s placement at theBritish University Film and Video Council (BUFVC), which was then housed in a sweltering office in Greek Street, London. ALIL spend a wonderful few weeks working with a really lovely bunch of people (e.g. Jim BallantyneMarilyn Sarmiento, Murray Weston and Cathy Grant), was involved in compiling her first index for their journal Viewfinder(which was ultimately published), working in enquiries (great fun and very rewarding) and updating a card catalogue of TV listings. This placement opened ALIL’s eyes to the many rewards of information work and allowed her to witness firsthand a caring, helpful service at its best.

The freshly qualified ALIL spent some uncomfortable months signing on and working in the voluntary sector before she finally landed her first post – three hours a week as Assistant Librarian in an FE college.  This three hours eventually led to additional temporary hours working at one of the college’s satellite sites, where she was involved in building up the library service and relocating it to a windowless but newly refurbished basement library and IT suite. She also found herself landing an additional twenty hours a week at another specialist FE college.

First job/s landed ALIL proceeded to pick up and build on her newly acquired skills – there was progress and there where moments of despair – the joys of juggling part-time posts whilst seeking ones niche can not be underestimated.  Despite learning a lot in the FE sector ALIL knew that it was not where her heart lay – she found herself hankering for the arts/humanities and a service with the feel of the BUFVC.

Then out of the blue ALIL stumbled upon that elusive job with her ‘name written all over it’ in an HEI specialising in the arts.  The application was completed, interview attended and as a result ALIL found herself the proud and slightly overwhelmed solo owner of a small and far from perfectly formed specialist service in the HE sector.  The post was part time and after some negotiation with one of her other employers a forty hour working week split between the two posts began.

After a number of months working a forty hour week, sacrificing lunchbreaks and just not having enough hours in the day ALIL decided to give up the job in FE and rent out a room in her house to make ends meet.  This proved to be the best decision she ever made, finally she was able to put all her efforts into her new HE job and after a few months her post was made full time.

Twelve years on and ALIL is a full time, chartered, solo Librarian in an established conservatoire library service and can’t imagine working anywhere else but libraryland…