Library job-hunting

I finish my current job in mid-September, and being the paranoid kind of person I am I have been job hunting for a couple of weeks. What with tuition fees being what they are I won’t be going on to an MA this year, and I know I’m not the only graduate trainee that is in the position of needing a job. Without a library degree there are lots of amazing jobs I can’t do yet, and I only have two years experience, one of that part-time volunteering.  Add the fact I have to have a full-time job, the 6 or 12 hour contracts I keep seeing advertised are no good for paying rent in London, and there’s a whole raft of jobs there’s no point applying for. However,there are some really useful job sites that I’ve discovered, this list is as much for me to make sure I don’t forget to check a useful site as for anyone else who’s just started looking for a library assistant job.

Total Jobs is the only mainstream job site I’ve found to be any good, I never use anything like Monster or Fish4Jobs, they give me far too many jobs that have nothing to do with libraries or the information profession. This can be the case with Total Jobs, but nowhere near so much, and you can save job titles, so now they send me an email when there is a new job with the description ‘library assistant’, rather than just any kind of assistant, meaning I don’t actually need to arbitrarily check the site.

Lis Job Net  I doubt anyone doesn’t know about this, it’s CILIP’s job site and it’s pretty good, though a lot of the jobs need a degree and it occasionally makes me want to go and work in far-flung countries. I follow @LISNPN on twitter, they tend to tweet when new jobs are added, very handy indeed. is pretty handy, no need to keep searching because there is a information management and librarianship section on the front page. Good for academic jobs, and sometimes has some that aren’t on Lis Job Net.

National Museums Jobs is another sector-specific site, good for museums libraries jobs, obviously. I don’t really like the way it works, you can’t search by sector so I end up scrolling through, which takes quite a long time, especially as there aren’t many library jobs on there.

Lastly, LIS career,  from the site name sounds more aimed at people further on in their career’s than I am, but has a whole load of information. Not a job site, but finding a job to apply for is only the first part of the process.  I will be exploring this more thoroughly over the next few days.


One of the tasks at work is to answer reader enquiries, something I’ve written about before. It’s one of the things I really like dong, at it’s best it is interesting and challenging, and I know I am really helping people, I’ve even had a thank you card to prove it. However, recently I have noticed a trend in the types of enquiries I am getting and the people I am getting them from. Of the last four enquiries I have had three of them have been from undergraduates, and all of them could have been answered without reference to a specialist art library, in fact for one of the answers I referred the reader back to her university library becuase a very quick search showed me several books that would be useful to her. This was the same enquiry I found some very useful sites online, including an exhaustive Wikipedia article which was the first Google result.

I’ve seen quite a few blog posts talking about spoon-feeding, such as this one, and this one, both more about working in an academic library but I’m not surprised it affects people working in specialists libraries too, a lot of the people I serve are students, though mostly postgraduate rather than undergraduate. I spend a lot of time doing stuff for people, some of it is good, I show people how to do something, and afterwards they are able to do it for themselves – how spoon feeding should be. However, there are certainly times I am just carrying out tasks for people who point-blank refuse to let me show them how they can do it themselves, this tends to be on the computer or using the digital camera, and it’s very hard to know how to deal with. I can’t say no, that’s terrible customer service, especially as unlike an academic library the users may not use the library again for several months, or at all, but I would much rather be teaching people to help themselves than doing simple tasks for them.

With my reader enquiry I tried to forge a middle way, I found the information that was wanted, but I also explained how I found the information, and suggested they try using their university campus, as there were several useful looking books there, though I did not directly link to them. Hopefully, the user had the initiative to take my advice and visited their library, found the books, and so did some of their own research. If so, then I have given good customer service and also taught encouraged a student to be more independent. The problem with email enquiries is that I don’t know if I have, in a face-to-face interaction I would have a much better idea of what the user did afterwards.

I agree with Ned Potter, spoon-feeding can be useful, but I also despair of an undergradute who has not checked the internet or their university library catalogue before having to email a specialist library for help. I think dealing with people who don’t want me to teach them, they just want me to do the work for them, has made me more determined to help people by teaching them in the future, I’m trying to use an awkward situation to make my customer service better.

Library camp Brunel

Though I sadly missed last year’s library camp I had heard enough good things about it to immediately sign up to Library Camp Brunel when I heard about it. A mini version of library camp, it fortuitously took place on the same day as LibcampNW, happening in Manchester. LibcampBrunel is an unconference, my first, describes them as ‘like a conference, only better’, and considering my lukewarm opinion of my first conference I had high hopes.

Getting to Brunel University, in Uxbridge, took a long time, not helped by the dreaded planned engineering works, but once I got to the campus it was really easy to find the library. The seminar room had a Wild West theme, as did the organisers, lots of checked shirts and cowboy boots, even some chaps. The cowboy-themed schedule and country music playing all helped reinforce the running joke that we were in deepest, darkest West London.

I had seen pictures of #cakecamp at Library Camp, and though the amount of cake didn’t quite equal that there was still a lot of cake, and cookies and a whole variety of savoury food. Being able to have proper coffee and doughnuts while waiting for everyone to arrive meant I spent the next couple of hours on a major caffeine and sugar high.

The unconference style of even became obvious as the introductions spontaneously turned into pitches, but the planning of what sessions took place when was brilliant, rather than having to trust to organiser’s decisions we made the schedule ourselves, and with a bit of haggling settled on something everyone seemed to be happy with. Not only was it fairer than a normal conference, it seemed to break the ice really well, making us work together without having to do stupid co-operation exercises.

The first session I went to was about social media and QR codes, I’ve been trying rather haphazardly to get more into social media so this session made perfect sense. I didn’t write who proposed the session, but that Rob Wannerton, of Brunel university, had wanted to talk about, as did others, and the session was well attended.  The discussion started with talking about Twitter, the problems of having and not having it, and of persuading library management to allow it to be used. The fact that Cilip recommend it is a major way of selling it to management, but the problems of monitoring and updating it, and the need for quick answers were raised.

I was especially interested in the mention of LemonTree, run by the University of Huddersfield, who apparently everyone is in awe of when it comes to social media, especially as I had actually stumbled upon it a few days ago, and am really liking the idea of gamification. Another thing I hadn’t known about was Oxford having an instant messenger in the catalogue so students can ask a librarian questions, and Senate House reducing the number of day’s they closed several floors because of protests by students on their facebook change. This is all social media having a real effect on people.

The second half of the session was about QR codes, and slightly over my head, I’d only fairly recently worked out what they are, and I don’t have a smart phone so I can’t use them. This was one of the points raised, and it seemed to be a generally accepted thing that information should never just be available in one form, though I love the idea of a QR code leading to a map of the library reader’s can  then walk around with. I also like the idea of being able to show visual demonstrations of how to use photocopiers, because misused photocopies is something I spend a lot of time telling readers about.

After the first session we had lunch, which was very tasty, and I found someone to talk to about book moves, so hopefully I’ll be getting some handy hints, I hadn’t even thought about the need for masks because of the dust that might be being raised. The graduate trainees all sat together over lunch, lots of discussion of applications and courses, but also lots of nice general chat.

The second session was held by Andrew Preator, who works at Senate House, and was entitled ‘grouse about next-gen catalogues’. I’ve only briefly used a next-gen catalogue, without really knowing about all the stuff they can do, and what I have at work is not next-gen at all, in fact it’s a bit awkward to use unless you know what you’re doing, but I was interested to hear what other people had to say. I like the idea of improving upon search results, and making better use of metadata, but the problem was raised of not having good quality meta-data in the first places, which brings to mind images of having to re-catalogue thousands of books. A lot of the technical stuff that was talked about was a bit too much for me, though interesting, such as using open-source software to make a nice front-end that the users will see, with the next-gen catalogue behind it. However, that does remind me that I really should learn at least some basic coding skills and so on.

The last section was by Frank Norman, from the National Institute of Medical Research, and was about ebooks. This is something that has been being discussed quite a lot at the NAL recently, so I was interested to hear how libraries that have implamented ebooks are finding them. Frank stated by saying that a large amout of the stock at NMR is journals, which makes a lot of sense, and that they are steadily heading from being paper-based to digital. A lot of the discussion was about the fact that ebooks come in many different formats, and on many different platforms, reading fiction on a KIndle would have a whole different way of setting up to work in a library than using journals with tablets or using a service to create living books of all the information needed from different sources. This was a new idea for me, but I can see how useful it could be in an academic setting, and textbooks becoming outmoded would not be a bad thing for many students I’m sure, I was lucky to not need to buy many or take them to classes with me often. Apple are roumered to be releasing textbook software, with the aim of saving students or schools money, and making textbooks more relevant. The problem of pirating was discussed, apparently there are easily available versions of ebooks on the internet, and the question of ebooks meaning the end of collections was asked. The andswer from several people was no, because especiallly academic libraries already know they won’t be keeping their collections forever. This did sound a bit odd to me, as that is precisely what the NAl has done.

Finally, there was a summing up session where we said thank you to the organisors, ate more cake, and talked about what we had learnt over the day. I walked to the station with a couple of the other graduate trainees and ended up on a train home with some of them as well, so more talking about trainee stuff. It took nearly two hours to get home, I was glad to be back as I was starting to crash from all the sugar, but it was completely worth it. I had an amazing time, and will be trying my hardest to go to other library camp events, I feel like I learned a lot from this one and it made me talk to lots and lots of people I don’t know, not normally my strong point. The other thing I have taken away is that I want a decent laptop and a smart phone, I was very jealous of everyone sitting around with theirs, and tweeting during the day, I want to be able to join in digital conversations as well as spoken ones at the next event I go to.

New Professional

The title of this post is a little misleading, because I’m not technically a professional yet, as a graduate library trainee I’m a paraprofessional. Still, it’s close enough, and I am a member of the LIS New Professionals Network, something that has already led to one meet-up and has made me feel a lot more like I’m part of a community rather than a there just being all these disparate libraries full of interesting people I’ll never talk to. The meet-up was on monday, and was made up of mostly graduate trainees, it was really nice to just chat about libraries and funding and MA’s. Library conversations can get depressing, I have no money for my MA and there might not be any jobs once I’ve done it anyway, but we managed to keep it lighthearted. The most useful thing was hearing what tasks other graduate trainees do, and how their libraries work, it helped me put what I’ve been learning into a context.

I’ve been at the National Art Library since September, at least a quarter of my year here, and I had been beginning to panic about what I’ll do once  leave. Knowing when I finish is security in one way, but I’m the sort of person who likes to plan ahead and I worry about stuff that won’t happen for months or even years, like paying off loans and finding another job. Luckily, I am beginning to realise just how much valuable experience I’ve gained, and how much I can do. I have a list of all the things I’ve been taught, such as checking in periodicals or making information file records, and it just keeps getting longer.

I’m so ambivalent about the library MA at the moment. I want to do it so much, hearing about people getting their interviews makes me kind of jealous, but I can’t see how I will get the money together in time. I suppose it is better to apply and not have the money than not apply and then have the money, but it will be heartbreaking to have to turn down a place because I can’t pay for it. I’m going to start my applications next week, and just see where I go, but it has got to the point where I’m playing the lottery, and considering taking out a loan, something I really don’t want to have to do.

One of the reasons I can’t give up on doing and MA is the fact I don’t want to have to leave libraries, I really don’t want to find myself working in retail for another two years to save the tuition fees because I can’t get a library job, especially when I’m beginning to feel part of a community. On saturday I’m going to Library Camp Brunel, after reading lots of posts about how good the original Library Camp was, I’m really excited about it, and it’s the sort of experience I don’t want to lose out on.


It’s back to blog post with song titles! Play spot-the-obscure-song with me, actually, this is not so obscure, but I was listening to Operation Ivy this morning and it seems appropriate to my mood.

I’ve been being very good recently and have been reading more non-fiction. I find it far too easy to just read Warhammer novels and other light stuff, but I’ve been trying to challenge myself a bit more. I’ve recently been really enjoying Fringe, and I’ve just started watching Dollhouse, they both have a lot more obvious science elements than my usual TV fare does so I’ve been supporting them by starting to read science books, an odd thing for a literature graduate. I’m struggling through The Science of Discworld, which I am enjoying when I can understand it. I like the bits about space a lot though, that was always my favourite bit in physics at school. The chemistry bits are less good. I will try to read the follow-up books, but slowly. My next thing is to try to read A Brief History of Time, intimidating as that is.

Other good things happening are me keeping up with my resolutions, I’ve been updating my blog and spending time thinking about new posts.  I have more or less finished my personal statement, it just needs checking and then I’ll be ready to start applications. I have also discovered that I should be eligible for a career Development Loan, not that I really want to take out a loan for my MA, but library school is beckoning. Lastly, I have a meetup of people from the LIS New Professional forum next week, basically people who work in libraries are going to sit in a pub and chat. With my limited social life this sounds like the best thing ever, I’m very excited and hope to get to drink gin and talk about books.


Artist enquiries

National Art Library

One of the parts of my job is answering questions from the public, usually enquiries for information about little-known artists, though I have also tracked down catalogues so obscure even the British Library doesn’t have them, and am currently hunting for information about a 19th century engraver. These enquiries are one of the most enjoyable and infuriating parts of my job, and they can also be very time-consuming and involved. I thought it would be interesting to show exactly how I go about finding information, especially as sometimes all I have is a name, not even a nationality or approximate date.

My initial starting point is always the National Art Library’s catalogue, though with most enquiries there is very little information available. One of the times I have found books about the artist I’ve been looking for they were both in Spanish, internet translaters and a Spanish-speaking colleague are both very handy. Then I look in Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon Online , the world’s largest artist’s biographical dictionary. This has made me very good at desciphering information in German, though less obscure artists sometimes have a translated English entry. AKL normally gives fairly accurate birth and death dates, type of artist, country and maybe a city within that country.

For 19th century artists, especially male artists, the records of the Royal Academy are a very resource. I use the book version, by Algernon Graves, which lists all the paintings in the RA’s annual winter and summer exhibitions, giving the painter’s name, address given to the academy, title of painting and year exhibited. However, this this can occasionally be confusing, as exhibiting a picture at the RA was not the same thing as being a member of the RA, a Royal Academian. For that the artist had to be elected by their peers after another member had died or retired. Also, until after 1900 only two women were members of the RA, and most exhibteres were men.

For women artists there are some good separate resources, such as the Dictionary of Women Artists: an international dictionary of women artists born before 1900, as well as several versions covering more contempoary women artists. There also exist several good dictionaries of black artists, including the St James Guide to Black artists. later artists can also often be more easily traced through the internet and the NAL artist information files, I think because of this all artists I have been asked to find information about have been born before 1900.

From here it really depends what sort of information I’m looking for, but one site I use a lot is Free BMD, which has a free database of most church records in England, very useful for finding basic information, especially if the artist being reasearched has an unusual name. In the best cases, it has given me an exact birth and death date, and the county those were registered in. The marriage records also give the woman’s surname, though not first name, useful in family history related enquiries.

Another of my favourite resources are old Post Office and commercial directories. Though the NAL doesn’t have complete runs it does have a large number of directories going back as far as the late 18th century, and covering many areas of Great Britain. If there is an artist’s address in a Royal Academy submission then I can follow it up in the directory, to find out exactly how long the artist lived there. I can also look up artists in the trades section of the directory to find out where they lived, this also applies to arts related professions such as engravers and architects. The directories themselves are absolutely fascinating, full of useful information such as post office rates, train timetables and even descriptions of many of the towns and villages included.

Something I haven’t used much yet but keep meaning to investigate properly is Archives Hub, which brings together archives from England, Scotland and Wales, and looks like a really useful tool for all sort of enquiries, not just artist based ones. These are not all the resources available by any means, however they are the ones I use most often, and are an excellent starting point. Enquiries are an important part of my work, and most of the ones I carry out are of such a specific nature that I thought it might be interesting for other people working with information to see how I go about finding information from many sources to try and build up a detailed picture of an artist’s life.


The New Year and the rebirth of my blog have tied in quite nicely, so I pretty much have to do a resolutions/ New Year post. I don’t normally make resolutions, but this year will be one that will massively affect the rest of my life, at least as far as my career goes, and if I write my goals down it will be harder for me to read comics instead of achieving them.

So, my resolutions for 2012 are:

1- Make my applications for my library MA. It’s taken me two months to write my personal statement, and it’s not even nearly done, but every time I think about how much an MA will cost I get all depressed and stop working on applying for any. So, despite the fact I doubt I will actually be able to afford to start an MA this year I’m going to apply for them, that way if I do somehow get the money together I won’t have completely screwed myself over.

2- Write at least one blog post a week. This should be pretty easy, I managed it before, and I have a couple of ideas for posts, plus I’ll be going on interesting library visits in the upcoming weeks I can write about.

3- Read a wider variety of comics. I tend to read lots of superhero and Vertigo comics, and not much else, but I’ve been trying to change that. I’m loving Morning Glories and Chew, and I’ve read a few indie comics at work, I figure if I keep moving in that direction my knowledge of comics will be a lot broader than it is now.

4- Get a second job. This is more achievable than winning the lottery, and I can’t think of another way that will enable me to raise enough money to pay the tuition fees for my MA.

So, fun times ahead.