There is no way this post can be anything other than historical for me, as you can see from the photograph on the left. Those are my proud parents looking on. The story began three years earlier when I was about to graduate (in history) and started looking for suitable posts to gain experience before going on to library school. I was very sure that was what I wanted to do so set myself no limits of geography or type of library, and determined to take whatever came up first. That turned out to be a graduate traineeship with Hampshire County Council – quite an adventure for a northern lass who thought she had gone to the Deep South when she went to study in Sheffield!
Hampshire’s programme turned out to be excellent. There were 6 trainees and we each spent time in one of the cities (Southampton or Portsmouth), a large town (Basingstoke or Farnborough) and Winchester HQ, so got a good grounding in all aspects of public librarianship. Of course, looking back now, it was very primitive, all Brown issue and card catalogues, but it was real learning, there was no question of using us as cheap labour, and at the end of the year I felt sorry to leave. I wanted to go on and just do the job; library school felt like an unwelcome, but necessary, interruption.
I decided to go back to the University of Sheffield because I liked the place; also the department had a good reputation and was one of the few, at that time, offering a master’s degree rather than a diploma. I soon changed my mind about the course being an interruption, and began to see it as a chance to step back and get an overview of the theory behind the practical things I had been doing. Theory and practice informed each other. I also found I was far more disciplined than I had been as an undergraduate and tried to put in the same number of hours studying that I had in full-time work (though never succeeded, I should add). And again, I think how primitive things were, comparing our course to the curriculum of today’s students – for example, I remember our one chance to use a computer: a sort of typewriter thing with punched paper coming out the back!
At Sheffield, you specialised in public or academic librarianship depending on your background, with the public programme being taught by the legendary Bob Usherwood. So my choice of Hampshire determined my course of study and thus the sort of job I looked for when I emerged with my MA (and a prize for best dissertation on a public library topic). In theory, I was supposed to go back to Hampshire where any professional vacancies during the year were meant to be held vacant for returning trainees. However, two things conspired to make this undesirable: first, Margaret Thatcher had been elected in May 1979 and, by the time I qualified the next year, cuts in the public sector were really beginning to bite. Consequently, Hampshire wrote to say they could only offer a library assistant’s post and all trainees would have to compete for any professional vacancies that arose. Second, while at Sheffield I had met my future husband who still had a year of his PhD to complete, so I wrote to Hampshire suggesting that if I could find a professional post nearer Sheffield it would make life easier for both them and me. Fortunately, they agreed, even more fortunately I found a job as an Assistant Librarian in Nottinghamshire, and Reader – I married him, and remain married over 30 years later.
A happy ending, I hear you cry – but don’t forget about chartership. That, I confess, was the easiest part of it all. I sneaked in during the last ever year in which chartership just meant you worked for a year and your boss signed a piece of paper saying you were a suitably professional person doing suitably professional work (assuming you were) and that was it! In the years that followed we’ve had pre-licentiates and licentiates, professional development reports, Routes A and B and so on, up to the current system. I feel quite abashed when I compare it to the hard work candidates put into their portfolios now.
- Being flexible and open to any possibility at the start of my career worked for me. I let serendipity play its part, though I realise not everyone can do that.
- The requirement to have a year’s experience before library school is a good one. Both theory and practice are necessary, and I’m very grateful for what I learned at both Hampshire and Sheffield.
- Libraries have changed immeasurably in the last 30 years but what we learned was valid at the time. Obviously, IT played a minimal part, but judging from my experience supervising placement students in the last few years, we covered far more about management skills than they do and this has stood me in good stead for the roles I have filled. I also enhanced, particularly with my dissertation, my critical thinking skills and by keeping those intact I have been able to keep learning and grow and adapt through the years.
- The chartership process is a much better test of professionalism now than it was then and I regret, looking back, that I didn’t make up for the ease with which I went through by revalidating. I thought about it several times but never quite got round to it and, having just left my job, it won’t happen now. However, I intend to keep learning so am open to the possibility of further qualifications later on. Another case of watch this space? We’ll see!