Saturday, June 05, 2010

I've just signed up to the Library Routes Project, so now I need to tell all my eager readers about how I got to where I am today! Hold onto your hats ...

Mind you, I'm not the first music librarian to participate in the project. Look for Edith Speller from Trinity College of Music, who got there long before me.

I'd better explain that the picture is of a memorable summer when my colleagues did some weeding whilst I was on holiday ...!

What to be

Right. I couldn't decide between music, journalism and law at school in Norwich, but really there wasn't any way of doing all three, so a decision had to be made. I studied music at the University of Durham, with a vague idea that being a music critic would be a great idea. Wrote some concert reviews for the student newspaper, but realised quickly enough that actually, not many people managed to be a full-time music critic. I needed a Plan B.

Arts admin? Orchestral librarianship?

So I thought, maybe arts administration would be good. I'm sure it would have been, but the jobs and even the professional training seemed to need prior experience, and I couldn't find a way in. Which led me to wonder about becoming an orchestral librarian (Plan C). I did get an interview for the Ulster Orchestra - but then I got the opportunity for doctoral research at the University of Exeter, so I put the career ambitions on hold and headed southwest.


Three years later, I'd acquired an MA by research, changed subject, got halfway through a PhD, and decided against a life in academia (couldn't imagine myself standing up in front of a class). Back to Plan C(ii) - I spent a year as a graduate trainee at Exeter University Library, followed up with a postgraduate diploma at College of Librarianship Wales in Aberystwyth (achieving nine months in the Land of My Fathers while I was at it), and headed back to Norfolk and unemployment.

A Career and a Pension Plan

Before long I was a temporary cataloguer at the University of East Anglia. This was nice, but I hadn't planned on ending up back in Norwich, and I needed something permanent.

The North (to quote the road-signs)

I got a job as Music Librarian at the Borough of South Tyneside (South Shields Central Library, to be precise), and remained there for 3 years, acquiring a cat (Fergie), a chartership (Library Association) and a husband (Hugh) while I was there.

Further North

At this point, a job came up at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, so we headed north in 1988 and have been here ever since. We now have three sons (had to give the cat away when the first son had infantile asthma), and are somewhat surprised to find that even the youngest is already leaving primary school).

The irresistible lure of research - and steely determination

Meanwhile, it might have taken me 25 years, but a small-scale research project made me realise that I should actually have finished that PhD - I had forgotten just how fulfilling research can be. Back I went to uni, this time as a part-time student at the University of Glasgow, paying my own way and doing the studying in my "spare" time (ha!), and I graduated five years later in December 2009. My research was into Scottish Song Collecting between 1760 and 1888. I chose the subject partly because we offer a BA in Scottish Music - and I wanted to study something that was relevant this time, having chosen something distinctly obscure the first time round - and partly because I wanted to be sure there would be plenty of primary sources on the doorstep, knowing I wouldn't have much chance to travel around whilst holding down a full-time job. Actually, you'd be surprised how much I've managed, mostly by taking annual leave to do it. (That's where the steely determination comes in. You need it in bucketloads to do a PhD part-time, believe me.)

The 2nd picture is my PhD alcove at home. (A through-route to the kitchen, and not a peaceful corner!)
I've also submitted a portfolio to CILIP for Fellowship, and recently heard that I've been accepted as an FCLIP. I do feel honoured to have this recognition.

Papers, articles, stories and reviews

The joke is that I've now delivered so many papers - not to mention two decades' worth of user education - that standing up in front of a bunch of students really doesn't phase me any more. I've also published several papers, scores of book reviews - and (shh!) before we had the kids, I published 30+ short stories and a serial for the People's Friend magazine. The muse will out! My next aim is to turn my doctoral thesis into a book - and that's probably a bigger challenge than anything I've yet done. Oh, and I'm still carrying on with research (hey, I'm used to researching in my spare time now), and giving the odd conference paper. I was on the Isle of Skye this week - I loved it so much that I threatened to chain myself to the railings outside Sabhal Mor Ostaig and throw the key into the sea...

Good bits and bad

The best thing about my present job? Working with music, working with staff and students, and ensuring that the stuff we acquire can be found easily and effectively. However, I have catalogued more books, scores and recordings than is healthy for any librarian, and I have to confess that the excitement palls after the first decade or so.

My major preoccupation is in ensuring that our students get a thorough grounding in library use and information retrieval, to prepare them for the big scary world outside - wherever in the world they end up. Also in supporting academic colleagues so they have the resources that they and their students need. I must admit it feels good knowing I've got the research background to understand just what they need, and what's important to them.

I've already mentioned CILIP. I should also say that, like Edith, I also value my membership of IAML(UK and Irl) - the UK and Irish branch of the International Association of Music Libraries - where we have a great forum for discussing professional issues with like-minded people. And - to keep in touch with my new research-minded friends as well - I am currently also on Council of the RMA (Royal Musical Assocation).

Postscript, September 2012

This year, I've been following the 23 Things CPD project.  I linked to the present page because Thing 20 suggested participants should engage with the Library Routes project.  So, it seems fitting that I should update my "library routes" to bring us up to today.  

"Mind you, things have moved on a bit.  I mentioned a book?  It's forthcoming in March 2013, with Ashgate.  I'm still writing research papers, and giving occasional lectures - both scholarly and to special interest groups.  And I'm about to be seconded part-time as a post-doc researcher on an AHRC-funded music project at Glasgow University.  All this flows from my research interests, but the Glasgow project particularly plays to both my strengths, as I'll be using my skills as musicologist and music librarian.

In terms of librarianship, I've also given papers at both our national and international music library conferences (2012 and 2011 respectively), experimented with and exploited social media as a professional tool, started working with volunteers in our own library; and am now the chairperson of SALCTG, the Scottish Academic Libraries Cooperative Training Group.

So, what are my professional roots and routes?  It's pretty much all there on my 2010 posting.  I started out as a scholar, became a librarian, and can best describe myself now as a scholar librarian.  At times I've been lucky, though at others I like to think I've made my own luck by embracing opportunities as they came up.  Whether as a scholar or a librarian, you have to work hard at becoming an expert in your field - there really are no shortcuts."
(Apologies to any readers who end up reading this twice!)

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