Hello, I’m Michelle!
I’m one of the two trainees at City University London and I thought, as I’m at least three quarters of the way through my year here (how time flies!), it was about time I introduced myself and reflected a little on my experiences as a library graduate trainee…
I came to the traineeship straight out of university. I haven’t always wanted to be a librarian – in fact I’ve never really known what I’ve wanted to do! When I was eight I told my parents that I’d quite like to stack shelves at Tesco when I grew up – needless to say, no matter how many times I try to explain that a librarian’s role is a little more varied, they still joke that I must be living the dream with all those books to shelve…
Anyway, after completing my Bachelor’s degree in Combined Arts at Durham University, I flirted for a while with the idea of pursuing a career in art history academia; I embarked on a research Master’s degree and spent a year submerged in books about Picasso and Parisian cabaret. I can’t deny that I loved feeling a little bit like an art history detective, delving deep into the subject and uncovering unexpected connections. My experience of postgraduate research, however, made me realise that it wasn’t the specific subject that I loved, but the research process itself. A career in librarianship seemed to me to be the best way to support and inspire research and learning in all subject areas. I applied to traineeships and was lucky enough to secure a position at City University – cue the rather overwhelming transition from medieval Durham to Central London!
The City University traineeship programme is split over two sites; my first six months were spent working at Cass Business School and in March I moved to the main University Library. It’s been a great opportunity to experience and compare work in a large university library as well as a smaller departmental library and I’ve definitely got a greater understanding of academic library operations by seeing how the two interact. I’ll admit that, as an art history graduate, the prospect of working in a business school library didn’t sound like my cup of tea. Thankfully I was proven wrong; while I didn’t emerge from the six months with a new-found understanding of financial markets, I felt that I at least had more awareness of the area and could offer valuable advice and educational support to those who did choose to pursue the topic. My main day-to-day duties at Cass involved processing books (new books, location changes, withdrawals and repairs), dealing with membership and access requests, and assisting with enquiries on the service desk; alongside this, I helped out with various other jobs and projects as and when they came along (editing online reading lists, ordering books, writing up information for a database app, etc.). My training at Cass also gave me a working knowledge of key financial databases such as Bloomberg – skills which I’m sure will be useful in the future.
With only five members of full-time library staff, my work at Cass was quite different from the Main University library. While I became involved in most areas of the library’s day-to-day operations at Cass, I am now working in the Copyright and Digitisation department. This involves fulfilling requests for digital course readings – making sure that the request is within the limits of copyright, finding and scanning the extract, and making it available to students via Reading Lists Online – as well as enquiry work on the service desk and a few other bits and bobs. While I was initially quite nervous about moving, everyone at both sites were so friendly and welcoming that it turned out to be a really positive thing; overall, I think this change to a more specific area of library work has ensured that I’ve continued to learn new things throughout the whole year.
My experience of being a trainee at City has been overwhelmingly positive. Before I started I wasn’t really sure whether working in library services was something I definitely wanted to do or what the role of a librarian even really involved! As I’m sure has been the case in many institutions, this year has not been an easy one for City as cuts in spending force staffing reviews and job insecurity. I feel like this has been a valuable experience, exposing me to some of the realities of working in the field in harsh economic situations. It acted as a reminder to me that libraries must (and do) continue to prove their value to society and I admire the professionalism of my colleagues in working through it. I continue to enjoy my traineeship, especially working with students directly to support their research and education. My experiences so far this year have opened my eyes to the varied roles that the term “librarian” encompasses in an academic institution, and I urge anyone considering a career in librarianship to visit as many libraries as they can – and not just the obvious ones – librarians are everywhere!
As for me, I’m enjoying my last couple of months at City and looking forward to the future. I hope to begin studying for the Library and Information Studies Master’s next year and have applied to courses in London but also in Canada! I’m happy with the experience and skills I’ve picked up this year and I’m excited to see where the next stage of my library career takes me!