Trainee profiles 2013-2014

The Courtauld Institute of Art
Bobbie Winter-Burke

Hello, I’m Bobbie, one of two new graduate trainees at The Courtauld Institute of Art. Before starting the traineeship in September I was a library assistant at Middlesex University’s busy Hendon campus, while also working one day a week cataloguing the curatorial collection of art books at the Whitechapel Gallery. I graduated from Sussex University in 2009 with a degree in English Literature, and like many others, did not give much thought to what I would do next. Since graduating I have worked in a fairly odd array of places, including setting up and running a small art bookshop, working in a gallery, a theatre and a museum, and also for a gynaecology journal, a human rights organisation and an archive. Not all of it seems that relevant now, but all of my previous experience has somehow fed into my decision to become a librarian.

So far I am really enjoying my year as a trainee and can’t believe that I am nearly half way through. After four weeks of thorough training, Cait (the other Courtauld trainee) and I are now overseeing a range of daily tasks. A typical day consists of answering enquiries from students and visitors, accessioning new books (of which we’ve had over 2000 since we started), manning the issue desk, and dealing with short loans and reading list items. I also manage the internal side of our inter-library loans service, which means taking requests from students and staff. This has involved a fair bit of research, locating books and journals from around the world, and definitely tests the limits of my language skills from time to time. It has taken quite a while to settle in and get to grips with new library systems, collections, and students, but I am definitely starting to feel like a ‘real’ librarian.

Before starting my traineeship I attended lots of library visits and courses, meeting many librarians and new professionals along the way. These events were a really useful way for me to make sure that I really wanted to be a librarian and essentially that I could commit myself to the huge expense of a postgraduate degree in the subject. Last April I attended the ARLIS event, Taking the Plunge: Art Librarianship as a Career Option, which I would definitely recommend to anyone even vaguely thinking about following this path. What was most interesting about the programme of talks was hearing the different routes people had taken on their way to becoming art librarians. It was reassuring to be told that many librarians working in arts organisations don’t actually come from an art history or fine art background, which made me realise I might stand a chance of getting the job I had applied for at The Courtauld.

What is so great about the traineeship is that as well as receiving a great deal of support and training internally, we are also encouraged to attend courses and visits throughout the year. It is also a huge comfort being part of a group of trainees in London, as not only do we get to visit other libraries across London and beyond, but we can discuss issues that come up along the way… which most recently has been the drama of library school applications. I’m still not sure if I want to study full- or part-time next year, but now that I have applied to a few places, I feel I can relax and enjoy the traineeship and begin to look ahead at what might follow.

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