A network for new and aspiring library professionals
Taylor is an Assistant Librarian for The Portico Library, Manchester.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you first become involved in the library and information profession?
I graduated with a BA in English Literature in 2005 but had continued to work in landscaping and horticulture. When I finally realised that the Manchester weather would never change I decided I wanted a career change! I applied for the MA in Library and Information Management course at MMU and completed that degree in 2011 and haven’t looked back.
Can you tell us about your first professional post?
My work placement during my degree at MMU (which at that time was mandatory – I think now it is optional) was at the Portico Library. Once I finished the 16 days placement I arranged with the Librarian to stay on as a volunteer one day a week which meant that when the post for retrospective cataloguer came available I was already involved with the Portico. I started the cataloguing of the Library’s approximately 25,000 books with the 19th century Voyages and Travels section which is a really fascinating collection. At times I felt unsure of whether the work I was doing was to the right standard and I certainly did make some mistakes but was able to go back and remedy these. I completed almost four full subject areas as cataloguer.
While working as cataloguer, the post of Assistant Librarian became available and again, I was well placed, through my experience at the Portico and my recent qualification, to take that on. I am currently working as Assistant Librarian and the work is so varied. I have just started my CILIP chartership process and feel very confident that through my work at the Portico I have fulfilled/will soon fulfil the majority of the necessary criteria for my chartership portfolio.
What are the challenges that you face as Professional Librarian in a Special Collections Library?
Because the responsibilities vary and the team at the Portico is so small, the main challenge is time management and staying up to date with everything that is happening within the Library.
More specifically related to the collection, the main challenge is demonstrating and promoting the value of the collection both internally to our members and externally to the public and to funders. As with most libraries at the minute, funding is a big issue – many of the volumes in the collection are in need of conservation and it is one of our main aims to achieve designated status for the collection.
Have you ever worked in another Library sector? How does it compare to working in a Member’s only Library (Portico)?
I haven’t ever worked in another Library sector, but I know that even within the independent library sector, despite shared initiatives and issues (historic collections, historic buildings, preservation and promotion, blending history with modern day needs) the differences between each individual library are vast. I think independent libraries are most akin to academic special collections probably, with the main difference being the funding. The sense of community within the membership at the Portico is really great as well – with a membership of approximately 340, you get to know the people coming in and their specific interests which is interesting and endearing.
What advice would you give to new library and information professionals who are looking for their first professional post?
I would give the same advice that one of our tutors on the MA course gave the class – don’t restrict yourself in your search. Just getting a foot through the door through volunteering or part time or temporary positions in a library in various posts (cataloguer, assistant librarian, library assistant, development officer) can lead to so many more opportunities, especially as in certain sectors a lot of the jobs are internally advertised. Also, different organisations have such differing job titles for what is actually a librarian post that it is important to remember that titles aren’t everything. Once people know you and know how you work you have a much better chance of progressing within that organisation.
Also, advice my mom gave me is to make a note of the new people you meet in the field. Use a notebook and keep track of people’s names and one thing about them that they are interested in. Then, if you ever meet them again or feel like they are a valuable contact for new projects or posts, they will be impressed that you not only remember their name, but something about them. Although if you are keeping a notebook make sure you keep it secure!
And what advice would you give to new professionals who are interested in working with Special Collection?
I was lucky in that I have been able to learn on the job and gain a lot of knowledge about special collections through the Librarian who has been working with the collection for years and the conservator who recently showed me and another colleague around his workshop (which was awesome!). I think there is a lot to learn when working with special collections, but I suppose my advice is to approach it humbly and accept that the people you will be working with have a lot to pass on to you that will be invaluable. Of course, as a new professional, you will have knowledge and skills that will be valuable to your organisation and colleagues, but the thing about special collections is just that, they are special in that they are unique and you will always have to learn about and understand what makes them unique in order to better work with them.
What do you think was the most useful thing you gained from the course at MMU?
That is really difficult! It has turned out that I have had cause to use everything I learned at MMU, even the things that, during class, I sat and thought, ‘I don’t need to pay attention here – I will never need this’. Maybe the most useful thing is an overarching appreciation for the Library and Information field. My understanding of the skills and knowledge of the work grew exponentially and I have come away with a deep respect for librarians and information professionals.
What would you like to see from the Manchester NLPN in the future?
I haven’t actually been to an NLPN event yet so I am looking forward to getting involved. I think it would be useful to have the opportunity to get a better feel for other library sectors so if possible, maybe organising some shadowing days or half days where someone from a different sector could do a ‘bring an NLPN member to work day’ and then reciprocate it later?