It’s become rather fashionable to judge those that have been working for the same employer, in arguably the same role, for more than five years as being ‘lesser’ mortals. Certainly, when I was qualifying I was (arrogantly) adamant that I would stay in a role for a maximum of two years and each move I made would move me up the ladder to…well, as far as I could go.
Life changes. I qualified in 2006 and got my first professional post shortly afterwards. I had twins at the end of 2007. In 2009 I started my new role with my current employer. My children were sixteen months old when I started this role. They will be 12 this year and off to secondary school in the autumn.
As I am shortly to celebrate a decade with the same employer I thought I would document some reflections on what it’s like to…stay put. A critically reflective version of this document is one of the pieces of evidence in my FCLIP portfolio. There’s also a much longer version with gory details that I gloss over here. Here’s the version I can tell.
In April 2009 I stood in a room overlooking HMS Belfast in London, with 200 books on the floor, no IT equipment, no journal subscriptions, no library catalogue, no databases, no copyright licence, no shelving and no other library infrastructure to speak of. I did, however, have a small amount of stationery, which included a tiny date stamp, a desk and a chair. I had six weeks to get a skeleton library service up and running for c.1,500 staff based in (then) 60+ offices across England. I was in an outpost, housed with several social care organisations but with no direct colleagues.
I’d been transferred over from my previous employer with whom my new employer had worked in partnership for the previous two and a half years. I’d got the partnership between them up and running in my first professional post after qualifying. The partnership had been an immediate success but was left without a home when my previous employer decided to close their library. My new employer and I spent considerable time looking for new external partners, but many organisations in the sector had already downsized or deleted their information departments. Having exhausted all external options, the decision was made to bring the library service in-house. This meant that I was responsible for setting up the service from scratch, as the only information professional in the organisation and we rented office space from an external body.
As I had limited time I focused on replicating the successful processes that my previous employer had implemented for their library. This meant having the same library system as them, albeit the newer version. We were given permission (for a fee) to transfer catalogue data over. Getting the IT infrastructure in place was a challenge. For several months after the library opened I had to use my personal laptop to access the staff side of the system as the work computers blocked it. IT gave permission for both sides of the system to be made accessible – eventually – after my line manager and I endlessly explained that the library couldn’t function without it.
I got a skeleton version of the library service working in the time I’d been given, but I worked a lot of long days (and nights), regularly switching on my laptop and answering emails when my toddlers were asleep. The first version of the physical library collection was made up of books donated by libraries that had closed down. I felt like I was feasting on the carcasses of newly defunct libraries, but I was giving a home to collections that would have been disposed of otherwise and ensuring that they had a second life. Boxes of books from offices around England would turn up at my office unannounced. I ended up having to put out a message that I wouldn’t be accepting any more donations.
I had to win a lot of hearts and minds, which was exhausting on top of running the rapidly growing library service. I learned to fight the battles I had a decent chance of winning. There were some people that I would never be able to win over and it took me a long time to accept that. I used to travel to different offices, attending team meetings and banging the library drum. Most of the time my little spiel about the library was well-received but I encountered some hostility. A few incidents really stand out and even now I find them difficult to talk about.
In the first workspace I had, my library shared its office with several organisations that weren’t affiliated to my employer. I lost my view of HMS Belfast when a new organisation moved in and their Chief Exec decreed that she wanted my library as her office. This was granted because her organisation paid more in rent to the host. [Side note: this organisation had a huge turnover of (largely unhappy) staff – the CEO went in the first year – amalgamated with another organisation shortly afterwards and has now disappeared]
Some of what I encountered could reasonably be described as bullying but as I was so isolated I didn’t have anyone to report incidents to after my first line manager left. I’m a union member but the rep had given me incredibly bad advice when I was being TUPEd over from my previous employer, so I didn’t feel I could take issues to them. Moreover, I needed the job. My employer offers flexible working and as I was fitting my full-time job in with looking after twins (they went to nursery three days a week) and a partner doing shift work, I couldn’t afford to move to an organisation that would expect me to be in the office five days a week, from 9-5 every day. (No, I couldn’t afford to give up work. No, I couldn’t afford to work part-time.) I was regularly working 40-50 hours a week rather than my contracted 37 hours. Any time the girls napped or slept, I worked.