The beginning of 2017 to now has been the most professionally fulfilling period of my working life.
One of the first projects I collaborated on with the new library assistant was a complete reclassification of the physical collection. I had simply adopted Bliss from my previous employer and although I found it infuriating, I stuck with it as I was also responsible for cataloguing and classification. When the new assistant asked me to teach him, I found that I couldn’t – one of the things that simply disappeared from my brain when I was ill was (weirdly) Bliss classification. As the physical collection is relatively small we decided to reclassify it ourselves, to Library of Congress. I was resistant at first, but we actually got the project done in 3-4 months, fitting it in around our other work. As well as being a useful project it acted as a good bonding exercise. Two years on I’m glad we did it.
I’m really proud of the Library Management System Project, which accounted for one of my darkest times at work and one of my finest. In early 2016 I put together a project plan to secure funding for the new system. The initial project plan had been rejected, which I later found out was due to reasons beyond my control. In early 2017 I decided to have another go at getting support and funding for the system and this time I got the green light to get on with procurement. While my assistant (now promoted to LIS Officer) concentrated on the systems side of things, I worked with the new LMS provider on the design. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, and we’ve managed to achieve that. The library catalogue is more ‘on brand’ with the rest of the organisation and works much better. The new system went live at the beginning of May 2018 and I can barely remember what the old one was like now, even though I worked with it for 11 years across two organisations.
I feel that the contribution of the library to the organisation is now recognised and appreciated. The library was specifically mentioned in the organisation’s Ofsted report in 2018 and I felt quite emotional when I read it. This came a few months after winning the Link Officer of the Year award from Research in Practice. We now offer access to the library to three external organisations in addition to our own staff.
None of this can be achieved overnight, particularly when you are working within severe constraints. I don’t think I could have squeezed everything I’ve achieved in the last decade into a shorter timeframe. It takes time – years, even – to build up the requisite level of resources, support, respect and contacts to get a library service going. The future of the service is now secure and looks extremely promising. Whatever happens next, I can look back and reflect positively on what I’ve done.
Reflections on a decade
Building and managing a workplace library is incredibly hard. I have fought to get the library recognised and for my skills as an information professional to be valued in my organisation. I have had to surmount the ‘Jo is *just* the librarian, what would *she* know about information/research/referencing/knowledge’ barrier on countless occasions. I have had to shift the organisational narrative from ‘An in-house library would be a nice thing to have’ to ‘This seems to be working, let’s see how it goes’ to ‘The service is so successful and well-used that Jo is off work and we can’t manage without it’.
I have been given the freedom to experiment and chances to fail. If I had stuck to my original plan I would have left the organisation in 2011 when the library moved location for the third time. I would have been absolutely devastated to read an article or attend a conference presentation by someone doing ‘my’ job, reaping the rewards of all my hard work. I don’t feel I’m making a direct difference to anyone’s life, but I know that my library makes the working lives of my colleagues’ much easier. There’s a lot of job satisfaction in that notion when I’m having a bad day.
In 2013, as an act of rebellion against the constraints at work at that time I spotted a job that looked interesting, applied, and was offered the role. It would have been my dream job when I was younger, but it required me to be in the office five days a week. I simply couldn’t manage it around childcare. I agonised for a while before, reluctantly, turning it down. When I was ill in 2016 I simply couldn’t contemplate doing my own job, let alone seek career progression somewhere else. I firmly believed that I was a hopeless information professional, that I was a failure, that I should go away and find something – anything – else to do.
I didn’t imagine for a second that I would qualify and set up a brand-new library service from scratch when I was firmly in the new professional stage of my career. When you pay half the rent, you need to work to help keep your family alive, and you don’t have family childcare on the doorstep, you do what you can with the resources you have.
None of my achievements over the last decade are unique or particularly special. I know a lot of library workers have been though similar, or had to deal with much worse, in their careers. The path I’ve taken is not the easy one and I’m not sure I’d be able to recommend it to someone coming into the profession. The highs have been wonderful and the lows have been horrific. I didn’t think it was possible to care about or cry so much over a library service. I currently describe myself as ‘Enjoyably stuck’. If my dream job came along tomorrow I’d be an idiot to turn it down (I absolutely wouldn’t at this point) but there’s a lot of satisfaction to be found in creating, building, cultivating and innovating a library service. That’s not something you can do in 2-3 years. Looking back, a decade feels about right.