12 October 2012

Thing 20: Library Routes

I've learned to love my routes. It's been a long, winding road that has actually ended up back where it started - when I was in my late teens I wanted to be a librarian. So much so that I took a Saturday job in Oak Farm Library and spent half my weekend shelving books, issuing them on little cardboard tickets and coming home feeling my hands needed a good wash. All for a real pittance of pay, especially once bus fare had been deducted. Still, I enjoyed it - the company was good and, as Saturday jobs go, it wasn't a bad one.

Next thing that happened was I fell in love - with my degree. I followed my heart and did Ancient History and Archaeology, specializing in Egyptology - and did well enough to go straight on to a PhD. You could do that in those days. Looking back, it was a mistake in many ways, even though I met my own condition of having to secure funding (thank you AHRC!). I knew nothing really of research so it was very uphill: there was very little in the way of support or research-skills training and, worst of all, I was so GREEN! I didn't have a clue about getting published, networking, or anything at all to take me beyond those 3 years. I loved my subject and I loved studying but I also spent a lot of time working as a barmaid to pay my way. I'd say, until now, that was my favourite job - I like customer service and I was lucky enough to work in the most beautiful spot in the whole wide world.

So after that, I looked around for a "proper job" - anything - I was broke! Applied for various graduate posts only to wind up as a trainee Computer Programmer for a company that liked non-tekkies for our "people skills" - the rest they taught you on the job. I spent a total of six years living in London, working in financial institutions in the City a lot of the time, learning various coding languages. And, yes, it felt a monumental struggle and I never felt like I was very good at it. The skill I learnt the quickest was how to find something someone had already done, try to work out how they'd done it and copy it before anyone noticed I didn't really have a clue.

That life took its toll. My heart wasn't in it and I had never wanted to move back to London. It felt like a wonderful release to get a job back in Swansea again but that turned out to be such a job from hell that I ended my IT career for good. After taking off on a wonderful road trip round Scotland, I came back and was both glad and lucky to a get a job on the issue desk at the University library. Yes, it was a huge pay drop from my IT days and, yes, it was worth every lost penny in terms of happiness and quality of life! I did that for nearly 2 years before heading off to Aber to do the library masters and my career as librarian was finally back on track, some 20 years later.

I can see now that everything I have done has been an enormous help in being a librarian. I have a research background, even though it was a long time ago, and the "Dr" doesn't hurt when you're dealing with academics. You never lose tekkie skills - it's about having a confidence and an understanding of how things work, not specific systems or languages - and I believe these are essential for library work anywhere today. Even being a barmaid was invaluable - providing good customer service often under pressure and with the occasional difficult customers.

I wouldn't want to be anywhere else now - I love working at a university, I love Swansea and I have fantastic colleagues. I know how lucky I am to be able to say I love my job - I never forget the horrors of my London days (stress, long LONG hours, bankers). I don't regret the long road it took to get here. Who knows where it will lead next?


  1. I love this: " The skill I learnt the quickest was how to find something someone had already done, try to work out how they'd done it and copy it before anyone noticed I didn't really have a clue."

    Sounds like a plan!

    I never realised you'd been a real techie, or, had a road trip round Scotland! We must talk more!

    1. That skill still comes in very useful re cataloguing... uh oh, am I supposed to say that on the internet? :o/

      Yes - talk over cake!