I wrote about my route into libraries last year. If, like me, you enjoy a good origin story or want something sunnier than this post, you might like to read that.
My graduate traineeship was undertaken at The University of Northampton in what was then its Information Services department – a converged library and IT service. Really, it has ended up being a reboot of my entire life. You know like in the last Star Trek movie where they established a new continuity and rejigged the tone and scope? Or when Doctor Who came back in 2005 and it was sort of different? Or how the Buffy movie was sort of fun but it didn’t really get legitimately great until the TV show came along and really focussed and refined its ideas? Or some other reference that shows that I’m not just some sad genre nerd?
Well, anyway, that’s what happened. I look at it as the year where a series of paths crystallised in front of me and my character and skills started to really emerge. It was a fantastic year where I got to just do everything: cataloguing, enquiries, team-teaching, marketing, open access and repositories, even a bit of archive work. It gave me the kind of workplace freedom I couldn’t dream of ever having again, but at no point did it feel shallow and I wasn’t being spread too thin because it all came together. I ran around two campuses and to various conferences, Linda Blair possessed by the spirit of libraries, but everything made perfect sense and was given a wider context. I got a good feel for where everything fitted in.
Unfortunately, during its recent restructure the university axed the graduate trainee role. It’s understandable from a number-crunching, dollar-signs-for-eyes point of view. But it’s dispiriting to see an institution throw aside such a great leg up programme that had actually been utilised by my line manager at the time (and she’s now responsible for the institutional repository, no small feat), and it’s not as though libraries don’t benefit from having an eager beaver all-rounder to muck in wherever they’re needed.
And of course, without my trainee year I wouldn’t have been at UCL this past year either – another experience that has really shaped me and which I feel privileged to have had. I think the MA is hugely useful in forging your library career: even if it does turn out to just be a piece of paper (heresy!), the experience itself has really pushed forward both my knowledge and my interests. Prior to moving to London I would have said I liked cataloguing, but now I love it. I would have said writing a policy sounds like a nightmare, but now I know it’s actually not so bad and that I’m capable of it. I wouldn’t have mixed with archivists in one of their modules, I wouldn’t have been pushed to spend the summer eating ice cream to soothe the brain pain of a dissertation, and I wouldn’t have met a very lovely and inspiring group of peers.
I said I felt privileged to have studied at UCL, though, and I mean it. It feels as though library school is becoming a pursuit of the privileged, open only to those who can afford to splurge thousands for the recompense of a possible career in libraries – which is an awesome prospect, but not one traditionally known to feature swimming pools full of gold coins a la DuckTales. The raising of fees is in line with everyone else, and it’s in line with the way higher education is going in the UK, but that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t soften the blow that it will have to the diversity within our profession in the future. It doesn’t make me less worried that such extortionate prices could actually damage esteemed library schools and see them become dinosaur graveyards. My lecturers have been awesome, and the last thing I want is for them to be edged out by more competitively priced training options.
If you’re considering a trainee year, I’d definitely recommend it. If you’re considering postgraduate study, I’d recommend it, I’d say to keep your eyes peeled for alternative modes of study, and I’d say that price might be a deciding factor in what you do and where you do it. Both a traineeship and library school present you with a bevy of mentors, role models, and professional friends. Both are a lot of fun. It’s not the only route open to you, of course, and I’ve met some hardcore folk who put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into a variety of other roles and pursuits instead. It’s true that certain paths are more clearly signposted than others, but this is something that we need to rectify as fees increase and the profession changes. There’s a whole lot of uncharted territory on the map and I’m intrigued to see what lies there. Especially when there are toll booths being erected elsewhere.
If you’re looking for more discussion of the financial scariness of postgraduate study, YOU’RE BLOODY CHEERFUL AREN’T YOU. Uh, I mean, others have written about this as well and you’d do well to have a gander. Annie makes an interesting point about distance learning courses being potentially more manageable money-wise, but perhaps this would be at the expense of locking out some learning styles. Siobhan’s experiences are a good read, and she too ponders what the alternatives might be if the current route into the profession fails us. And Jen has made a spreadsheet – I repeat, she has made a spreadsheet.