Instant Ideas and Collaboration

Feature #07a: Across Library Sectors – Academic Library to School Library

For this month’s topic, Across Library Sectors, we are bringing you a week of blog posts in which people share their experiences of working in different library sectors. Our first post of the week is from Siobhan Cottam on her experience going from an academic library role to being a solo school librarian.

Thanks to Siobhan for writing for us. Join us on Tuesday 9 July between 6.30 & 8.30pm UK time for the #uklibchat. (you can add your questions to the agenda here).

Academic Library to School Library

I worked as a library assistant in the Periodical Acquisitions Group at the University of Nottingham before getting my MA and my first professional post is as a solo school librarian. The solo aspect of my current role is the biggest difference for me. I miss being part of a team, and being able to bounce ideas off other people. Having said that, it is nice to be totally autonomous – if I decide to do something in the library then I can go ahead without having to OK it with anyone e.g. volunteering to run Premier League Reading Stars literacy booster lessons, or taking my laptop to the 6th form resource centre as roving reference.

A Halloween display from the school library

A Halloween display from the school library

Among other things, I am responsible for collection development and promotion; I don’t think I would have been able to develop these skills at this point in my career if I was working in an academic library.

In both sectors, you need to be proactive but I think this is particularly important for solo school librarians because any ideas that you have (e.g. running a Poetry Slam) will need to be supported by other members of staff, and it is up to you to get their support. This has led to me becoming slightly demoralised and demotivated at times when the support hasn’t been there – something I didn’t struggle with in my previous library role.

Reader development skills are important in my current role, whereas my previous role was more focussed on research support (I was responsible for responding to e-resource access emails). Customer service skills are important, especially when dealing with challenging users: “Miss, I hate reading, can’t I just watch the film?”; “Dear E-resources, why is this not available? SORT IT OUT.” Knowing your stock is important in both scenarios and using information literacy skills to make suggestions is something I find very satisfying.

In terms of moving sector, I didn’t find it difficult. But the school I work at didn’t get many applicants for this job (school librarians tend not to be very well paid; I currently earn less than I did as a library assistant) so it wasn’t a very competitive process. If I was to try to move sector again, I would spend time thinking about transferable skills (such as the customer service skills mentioned above) and tailoring the work I’ve done here to other scenarios e.g. running Year 7 library induction sessions, and Extended Project Qualification research skills sessions mean I am now a confident presenter and am used to creating presentations.

A display promoting graphic novels in the school library

A display promoting graphic novels in the school library

Professional engagement is also useful, I follow a lot of academic librarians on Twitter so I’m aware of their current concerns and could comment on these if required to at interview. My work with ManchesterNLPN also helps to keep me abreast of other library sectors, we try to engage speakers from a variety of roles in order to appeal to a wider audience. Finding out about the day-to-day work of librarians in the sector you want to move to will help you to decide if it is for you, and which skills you need to work on in order to get there.

By Siobhan Cottam @shibshabs

Co-founder of ManchesterNLPN, a network for new and aspiring library professionals in Manchester, on twitter @ManchesterNLPN


About spoontragedy

Former public library Children's Librarian, now working as a Careers Information Officer in a London university. Nearly finished being an #aberils student.

2 comments on “Feature #07a: Across Library Sectors – Academic Library to School Library

  1. Pingback: Want to move sectors? | Formal shade of grey

  2. Siobhan
    September 6, 2015

    Since writing this blogpost, I have been successful in my aim of returning to working in academic libraries. The solo school librarian job was a maternity cover; after the contract ended I did a bit of travelling then started job-hunting. I now work at the University of Leicester in the Learning & Teaching Services team, which is part of Academic Liaison. A lot of what I wrote two years ago still rings true: the advantages and disadvantages to each type of role have not changed. So now, I have people to bounce ideas off but do have to get approval before charging off and trying something new! One example of this has been implementing the use of Vines in the Library’s social media presence. I decided I wanted to try it out so I asked the other members of the Marketing and Communications group for their support. Luckily they said yes so I have been able to start filming Vines with a colleague. If I had done this as a solo librarian, I would have been able to make the decision myself but would not have had others’ creative input.

    My knowledge of transition needs has been useful in my current role; I had worked directly with A Level students so had an awareness of their general levels of information literacy when they start University. This has been helpful when my team have been developing induction content and research skills teaching sessions.

    One aspect of my work that is different now is my use of online learning tools. I had studied online learning as one of my MA modules but had not had the opportunity to develop online learning resources as a school librarian. I have learnt to use a variety of different software, which enables me to create appropriate learning resources for students and staff.

    I am glad I made the move back to academic libraries but I wouldn’t rule out moving sector again. My advice for people hoping to move would be to think carefully about the type of role you want, including the activities you particularly enjoy, then look for opportunities that meet those needs – the sector is then a secondary consideration.

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