I have recently decided to go ahead with a library postgraduate qualification and have an unconditional place starting in September. I will be doing it part-time, distance learning, while I continue to work 32.5 hours a week. I definitely think that this is the right study choice for me for various reasons.
- I have already done a Masters, which I paid for using the career-development loan. I have now paid this bank loan off but am therefore ineligible for the new postgraduate student loan scheme.
- As you may know, I already work in a library. I feel that working in a library while doing the course is the way to come out of a library qualification strongest. I appreciate not everyone is able to enter the sector and be able to do the course simultaneously, but it is in my opinion, the wisest course of action. (an alternative that I feel is equally valuable for recent graduates, is to do the paid traineeship then follow on with the masters but that is not an option for me at this point)
The prompt I have chosen to answer is:
Why is having good technical or job-specific skills important and how will this make you more employable?
Personally I got my work ethic from my Dad. He left school at 16 and was not an academic person, but he has inspired me to work hard and be my true, honest self my whole life. To ‘do my best’. He regularly said all he wanted was for me to ‘be happy’, which can sometimes feel a bit like an unachievable goal, but has given me the angle that academic excellence isn’t the be all and the end all.
I got my first role in a library with no library experience at all. All of my jobs have lead on from the last one, with one element of the role being useful for the next job. I worked retail, which helped me get a receptionist job, and a call centre job, both of which helped me get an office job. NHS temp work helped me get a job in an NHS library, because they valued my understanding of the workforce and hospital environment. They valued my transferable skills, which as a Geography Graduate, I may as well have tattooed on my forehead by now. I had experience of the core day to day expectations of a library assistant, even if I demonstrated them in non-library examples.
I am really excited to finally be doing a library qualification, I have thought about doing one since 2011. Even when I have finally achieved it, I know that what will set me apart from other candidates for library jobs in the end will be my experiences. I have had a paying job in some form since I was 13 and am not above any kind of work. So much of my work experience has been agency work, low paid and unstable, often dull or repetitive, but it has helped me prove my resilience. I have shown I am capable of fitting into different work environments, pitching in, navigating different challenges and being part of different teams with the drive to undertake any challenge. I have proven I can speak to all sorts of people, help identify what they need from a service, and make the process of finding that information accessible to them. Oh wait, that is what librarians do! I have also done volunteering which is a fantastic way to get experience of real world technical skills required at work, in an actual work place. I volunteered in a school library for a year, helping with basic tasks and a few events, and later on in my life, when a role came up as a FE College librarian, I was able to use many examples from that volunteering experience in the job interview, which I was successful in and then offered the job. I know having that work experience was integral to my success. My degree was also appreciated and useful but could not have fully prepared me for it.
Academic qualifications are great but in job interviews, you need to bring real world examples, not just hypothetical knowledge. The library qualification is recognised as a professional qualification and referred to in many person specifications, so I know I will need it to apply for jobs and be shortlisted, yet in a lot of ways it is a benchmarking qualification, a tick box I need to tick. I am excited to expand on what I already know from my experiences of working in libraries, through attending the lectures via e-learning, and connecting with the course leaders and other students on the course, but ultimately it will be my real life experience that will set me apart.
This course expects you to have some work experience of libraries before applying, whether it is paid or voluntary, so it is quite unique in that it values real life experience highly and integral to the process of transitioning from being in library school to securing a paid role in a library. Quite right in my opinion. How do you know a career path is right for you if you have no experience of what it will actually be like! Again, volunteering is a great way to suss this out and provide examples of projects and tasks you have done.
I have always been committed to continuing professional development (CPD) which is valued highly and talked about a lot in the library profession. I believe that I am good enough to apply for senior library roles already, based on my experience, and sometimes over the past few years, I have wondered if I should try and make it in the sector without a postgraduate library qualification, on my own merit. I am motivated and career-minded; continuously learning and developing my skills. I care deeply about what I do in my working life, and the sort of organisation I want to work for, and assess my motivations on a day to day basis. I currently work in an NHS library and absolutely love it. I care so much about what NHS professionals strive to deliver on a 24/7 basis, and by working in the library I can support them and their educational needs so they can be better at what they do.
My personal understanding of the NHS workforce comes from a lot of work experience on the ‘coalface’ of the health service, temping in administrative roles where I have communicated directly with clinical staff and patients and I understand their day to day priorities and pressures. No education could have taught me the experience in making decisions and taking action in the moment, when an urgent fax arrives and I have had to make a call and ensure the doctor can make the right decision based on the information to hand. I have always sought to be a better, more knowledgeable and understanding human being. So much of what I learn is through interactions with people on the job, conversations with colleagues, peers and people who come to use the service I provide at work. I don’t think I will ever stop learning while at work, and I do believe learning through formal education is also a great opportunity and one which I look forward to.
Many of the technical skills I use on a day to day basis at work have become innate, and I do not appreciate them from a theoretical point of view because I just DO them. I learnt and developed my working and technical knowledge over time, under the mentorship of my supervisors and mentors (both in paid and unpaid work), colleagues and the wider library community, through day to day repetition and enhancement, asking questions as they come up. I think the postgraduate course will help me to contextualise what I do and reframe it in a language I perhaps don’t have the confidence to use in job interviews when I describe what I do.
In particular, so much of library work is process-driven and we just love procedures. You can memorise a document on using software or cataloguing stock but nothing is as valuable as doing it, in the moment, talking about it with colleagues and learning from mistakes. Acknowledging this is key to understanding what it is like to work in a team and delivering a reflexive and dynamic service where every single day is different and who knows what question might get asked.
I still do what my Dad advised; I do my best, every single day. Even if some days my best isn’t the best. I feel that I bring as much as I can to the workplace, and with support from Activia I would be able to progress and drive positive change in libraries going forward, in decision making roles using this postgraduate qualification as a springboard without as much of a financial barrier.