I have been working as a Learning Facilitator (fancy name for librarian) at a Sixth Form College since October 2015. I worked part-time for a while and then moved onto a full-time, term time only contract.
This job has taught me so much about being a librarian. I started the job at the same time as my MA in Librarianship. It was the first job I applied for after completing my Graduate Traineeship and I was so lucky to bag a professional position before I was actually qualified. It really was perfect because it was relatively close to home and it was part-time which allowed me to work and study. The great thing about this role was that I was able to put theory into practice and really learn about libraries in a supportive environment. I had an amazing line manager who supported me as a new professional. She gave me the freedom and guidance required to try new ideas and to develop my skills.
Some highlights from my time as an FE librarian:
- Receiving a special award from the HE & Skills department for supporting the needs of their students. I genuinely feel that I am valued by this department and their students. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been thanked for just doing my job with cards and flowers. I love working with HE students!
- Writing the library documentation/ representing the Library at the recent HE partnership re-validation panel. Sounds boring but it was a big deal for me. I wrote a huge document detailing how the Library supports staff and students who are studying for courses validated by our partner university.
- Becoming an administrator for Canvas/ being responsible for the Library Management System. Trailing and implementing a new VLE, delivering training to staff & students and being an admin for Canvas and Heritage has been a huge learning curve and really developed my technical knowledge and my ability to answer queries remotely.
- Representing the Library on the Equality & Diversity Committee. I have loved promoting resources to support BAME and LGBT+ students. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some wonderful kids who are not afraid to be true to themselves and represent their community. I have authored two reports detailing how the Library promotes Equality & Diversity (something library staff had not done before) which forms part of the overall E & D report for the College. We are now a Stonewall School Champion which is amazing. I love buying and promoting books to students that help them to own and celebrate their identities.
- Increasing the number of information literacy sessions delivered annually. In 2016-17, we delivered 41 sessions to 643 students with four Learning Facilitators. In 2017-18 we delivered 83 sessions to 1100 students with three Learning Facilitators. This year we have so far delivered 84 sessions to 1296 students with just two Learning Facilitators. I am very proud of the Discover @Asfclibrary Info Lit workshops that we have developed and I absolutely love teaching info skills! Next year we are FINALLY going to become more embedded in the College curriculum.
- Being recommended for and completing the Leadership Development Programme
- Running the Excelsior Award for the first time. The Excelsior Award is the only nationwide book award for comic books and graphic novels and aims to encourage kids to read and it also raises the profile of comic books. They deserve a place in all schools, colleges and libraries. I worked my butt off putting this display together and entered us for the ‘Nuff Said Award which is given to the library with the best Excelsior display.
- Making friends and developing relationships with colleagues that will last a life-time. I’ve had the privilege of working with some lovely librarians and teachers. My colleague Penny has been especially wonderful. She has been a mentor and a role model for me these past three+ years. She will always listen to my complaints and predicaments, both professional and personal. Plus, she is an AMAZING librarian! She knows everything!
- Making a difference even for one student makes it all worth it!
Some challenges I’ve encountered:
- Increasing workload. We have fewer team members, we have more students than ever, we have lost library space, we are delivering more info literacy skills training sessions, and we now look after the College’s VLE. On top of this we have less money. I know decreasing budgets are common across the entire public sector and I could go on and on… but I won’t. FE is a rewarding but challenging sector in this respect!
- Lack of engagement. Some departments and students do not engage with the Library. There are groups of users who do not engage with libraries in all sectors but this does not make it any less frustrating. It’s really difficult to determine why they don’t engage, especially when we are shouting from the rooftops about how we can help them.
- Student behaviour. I researched behaviour management for dissertation as it was the most challenging aspect of my role. It is still a struggle for me and the team. As a result we decided to make the Library a silent study space which has been VERY difficult to implement. We are everything librarians shouldn’t be – we are constantly nagging students to stop talking. The other room which is a Learning Commons style room is the bane of my existence. I get virtually no library/ research enquiries. It’s basically PC/ printer issues or I am having to deal with challenging behaviour/ students who are just using the space to socialise. I hate to say it but on some days the negative experiences have outweighed the positive.
I always said once I graduated, I’d start looking for a new job. My graduation coupled with the challenges listed above, prompted me to officially start my job search a few months ago.
I applied for about six different jobs including a few in the health sector. I consider myself very lucky to have been invited to attend three interviews. As far as job hunting goes, I was mentally prepared to be in it for the long haul. You have to spend time looking for jobs (far and few between in this sector and there are even fewer in the North West!). You then have to spend hours applying for each job; crafting your CV, cover letters and applications accordingly. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to interview, it takes time and effort to prepare. The act of preparing for, attending and calming down after interviews is stressful and draining! Being able to reflect positively and demonstrate resilience when being turned down is the icing on the cake (this is the least appetising cake ever by the way).
I shared a blog post a while back about my first interview post-graduation. *Spoiler alert* it was my worst interview experience to date!
I realised during/ after these two interviews that I was applying for jobs that were probably above me… I was paying too much attention to the salary. Realistically, I did not have the experience or the skills required to do the job (interview 1) or I had some of the skills and experience, but not enough (interview 2). I was desperate to find jobs to apply for so I was going off the advice someone once gave me; if you meet two thirds of the criteria on a job spec, go for it! You might get lucky, you might fail. You win regardless. You either have a new job or you walk away with an enhanced CV and valuable interview experience.
Interview 2 was like a dream compared to interview 1. They were so nice, professional and friendly. They explained everything clearly, they really put me at ease and there were no nasty surprises like there were in interview 1.
During my reflections after interview 2, I knew I could have done better. I definitely wasn’t clear enough with some of my answers and I rushed through them. I now remember seeing their written notes and on one occasion, the box was only half full. The hiring manager offered to give me some feedback when they gave me the bad news.
I am so thankful that I got the feedback. She was actually amazing – she took 25 minutes out of her busy day to call me and go through each question with me. Here is some of the feedback she gave which was specific to the questions but I’ve highlighted the advice which is transferable to most library interview questions:
- Do not be disheartened, encouraged me to continue applying in HE. She said it was a good starter interview for the sector. I should be happy with my performance and be proud of myself.
- I gave a solid, thoughtful interview. I am appointable, I have transferable skills and good experience. It was obvious I had done my research and that I wanted to role and I showed an awareness which they liked.
- Always link my experiences and knowledge back to the job spec and role and drill down more on my experience and skills (e.g. organisation, supervisory etc) and how they relate to the job. Be specific!
- Don’t be scared to be theoretical – How do we motivate staff? Take them aside, communicate, what is the problem? What can I do to help? Offer well-being support and help, anything within the organisation on hand to help? Do they need training? Are they bored? Do they need stretching? Explain the steps 1-2-1s, escalations to manager, being visible and accessible.
- Bigger context would have helped, e.g. mailing lists, colleagues at other institutions using the same suppliers, service level agreements – evidence of what is going wrong and the impacts on the service, internal colleagues and communication – letting them know what’s going on, escalate to someone higher if need be.
This was one of those moments where the perfect job vacancy pops up. I did not have to convince myself that I could maybe do everything listed on the job spec – I could do everything listed on the job spec, I want to do everything on the job spec plus it’s close enough to home. I’ve been wanting to work in HE since starting my career in libraries and my partner works there too which is a bonus!
I was so pleased when I was invited for an interview. I used the feedback from interview 2 and I did a lot more preparation. During some practice interviews, my partner fed back to me that I was rushing through some of the questions – a problem I encountered in interview 2.
During interview 3, I was very conscious to make sure I talked and talked until I literally had nothing left to say. I tried to notice how much they had written down. If their notes were overflowing the note box, I took this as a good sign. I smiled a lot and I was honest about my experiences. I kept the job spec in mind. I asked them four questions based on my research of the organisation at the end and I left feeling like we had a really nice conversation. I felt like I had done that “building rapport” thing that all of the interview prep websites tell you about!
As you’ve probably guessed by the title of this blog, I got the job!
I am going to be working at Manchester Metropolitan University as an Assistant Librarian and I’ll be looking after staff/students on fashion programmes. I am beyond excited to move into HE and to be working in the city again. Commuting on the train isn’t my fave but it will give me so much more time to read and listen to podcasts (priorities, right?). I am hoping to begin CILIP Chartership when I get settled. I am also hoping to have more money to put towards our house deposit. I am excited to start exploring art librarianship and learn all about fashion. I’ve found a sweet Fashion, Textiles & Costume Librarians blog to get me started. Finally, I can’t wait to meet new friends and colleagues. If the MMU Library Twitter account is anything to go by, they seem like a good bunch.
I am really proud of myself and I am excited to get started. I am super thankful for my time at ASFC, for the colleagues who have supported me and for the advice and words of encouragement from my mum, my mates and my partner.
Anyone would think I’ve won an Oscar or something…
I am no expert but I’d be more than happy to give some tips and advice based on my job hunting experience.
I’ve found Natasha Chowdory’s blog especially helpful during my job hunt.