A network for new and aspiring library professionals
In this interview Jen Bayjoo discusses her first professional post as an Assistant Librarian at Leeds College of Building, her popular blog Strix in Silva and how Dinosaur poses are the way forward. Jen has just started her new role as an Information Services Librarian at Leeds Beckett.
I’d love to say that it had been my lifelong dream but in truth it was quite far down the list after vet, marine biologist, author and (to my eternal shame) clown. I completed my MA in Medieval Literature in 2012 but, shockingly enough, knowledge of Old French and Latin isn’t a very employable skill. The lightning bolt moment for me came from a disastrous interview for a library assistant role, after which a very kind staff member told me that if I was interested in the profession, then I should look into being a graduate trainee. I surprised myself at how much I had wanted that library assistant job and decided to go for it, working in a cinema and volunteering in libraries whilst I applied. Thank god that I got accepted to be a GT at Manchester Metropolitan University; otherwise I would still be shovelling popcorn to this day.
My role is a maternity cover post, which I would really recommend to new professionals as a great way to begin your career and get a taste of what is out there. I work in a really small team composed of myself, my manager (who is the only other professional librarian) and two library assistants. This has made my role incredibly varied; I can be cataloguing new books in the morning and then delivering a training session in the afternoon, in between answering emails from tutors, dealing with student enquiries, selling stationary in our shop, planning our reading challenge, designing help guides and, of course, kicking the printer into submission.
I do have a new job coming up at Leeds Beckett University as an Information Services Librarian. I would never have got this job without all the experience from my first professional post and I have loved every minute of my time in FE – but I’m also super excited about my new role.
I have had to really force myself to stay in touch with my manager, as we are usually at one site each. Not that I don’t want to speak to her – she’s absolutely lovely – but I’ve had to accept that sending a quick email or picking up the phone isn’t going to bug her or be annoying. Opening a new library has also meant that a lot of decisions needed to be made over stock, furniture and posters, and I had to bite the bullet and just do things rather than asking for advice and reassurance all the time. Having the confidence and freedom to make decisions is a big difference from my previous library roles and looking back at the past six months I can see how much I have learnt but at the time it didn’t feel like such a steep learning curve – I think you just tend to get on with things and tackle each new issue or task as it arises.
The main skill that I have gained is the power of diplomacy; I had never really engaged with academic staff prior to this role and when I first began I was saying yes to everyone. Obviously this didn’t work very well! Now I know when to say yes, when to say no and how to work together to reach a compromise or solve a problem – and making connections with staff outside the library has been incredibly useful.
I have also learned how to catalogue so now I feel like a real grown up librarian.
Do it now! If you are being held back by fear over writing in public, then I would say tough luck – take a deep breath and go for it. I certainly spent ages agonising about embarrassing myself and ruining my career but everyone in the library world is so nice and supportive, you really couldn’t ask for a better audience.
If you are held back by the fear that you have nothing to say then why not look at my blog, which is pages and pages of sheer nonsense. This is a worry I do have every time I post, and reading other people’s informative and erudite blogs only cements this feeling. However, you must power through! I tend to note down potential ideas as I go, focussing on projects I am working on, maybe something that has been bugging me or made me excited. Even simply charting what you have been up to can be incredibly cathartic and very interesting for nosy old hags like me.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to promote yourself and BE yourself. This means you tweet the ever loving god out of your posts, and try and get some of your winning personality across. It’s fine to be formal or you could take my slapdash approach and submit a photo of yourself pretending to be a dinosaur alongside your NLPN interview…
You know what, I can’t even pretend that I didn’t hate the course. It was frustrating, outdated and incredibly demotivating – sorry, that’s rubbish to tell new LIS students! My number one piece of advice is to always remember why you are doing the course, and that it is a means to an end. For me, the enjoyment came from meeting some real friends for life and powering through together.
If you have just graduated then firstly hiya, me too and secondly, don’t panic. It helps not to focus on your dream library job and instead apply for a wider variety of positions – there’s no set path so try not to get caught up in what other people are doing. Experience is also key – if you can, volunteer – and focus on what areas you are weaker in. I had no real experience in teaching or presenting so I read up as much as I could and looked for any opportunities involving speaking in front of people.
I actually left my course before the dissertation and got a PGDip rather than a full MA, which certainly isn’t for everyone but I would really recommend it if you are possibly finding it tough or wanting to get back to library work. I have managed to get two jobs since and so not having the full MA hasn’t held me back.
Guys you are so great – just keep doing what you do! I have especially enjoyed the sessions in which new professionals have given presentations – it really gives you hope for the future of the profession to see what varied and interesting things people have been up to.