Thank you to Jen Smith, M.Sc. Electronic and Digital Library Management student at the University of Sheffield, for writing the following report of our recent event 'Taking the Plunge':
On a drizzly Saturday morning, a group of working and would-be librarians gathered in The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square to test the waters at “Taking the Plunge: Art Librarianship as a Career Option”. We heard from a diverse range of people at all stages of their careers, and while everyone agreed that the job market isn't as vibrant as it could be, there's no shortage of options for (pre)professional development.
Our first speaker was Richard Daniels, Senior Archivist at the University of the Arts, London. Although he summed up his job as “looking after older stuff and getting it out for younger people”, the rest of his presentation proved to be a little more complicated than that.
Next, Natasha Held, Learning Resources Manager and Librarian at Christie's Education London shared with us the challenges and rewards of working as a nearly-solo librarian in a private institution. Held interacts with global stakeholders on a regular basis: Christie’s in both London and New York, the University of Glasgow (their accrediting body), the tutors, and—of course—the students.
Sarah Maule took us on a whirlwind tour of her career from volunteer cataloguer at Sheffield Hallam University to Library Services Manager at Ravensbourne, a London design college. In addition to a string of library jobs, a SCONUL placement, and an M.A. in LIS, Maule also used social media to keep herself up-to-date and to network. Maule cited Twitter as her most helpful career tool, and she encouraged us all to develop our online presences to make sure that our prospective employers find us interesting when they Google us.
Sarah Currant, Reader Services Librarian at the British Film Institute, also studied in Sheffield, and her path to the BFI had twists and turns of its own. Currant announced the end of the paid membership scheme for the BFI, proudly declaring, “We’re free, which is the dream of all libraries”.
From the other side of the employment table, Donald Lickley brought us a wealth of experience from Sue Hill Recruitment. He reiterated Sarah Maule’s exhortation to use social media to our advantage. Lickley also reviewed the standard rules of CV preparation (identify your skills, list your accomplishments in reverse chronological order, use bullet points, and proofread, proofread, proofread before submission!).
Joseph Ripp, Librarian at the National Portrait Gallery, rounded out the day’s structured sessions with practical advice for applications and interviews. The applicant’s work doesn’t end with securing an interview: it’s essential not only to keep yourself informed about the industry as a whole, but also to research the institution you want to work for so you can make intelligent, enthusiastic responses to their questions and demonstrate that you’re the ideal candidate.
One of the highlights of the day was Elspeth Hector’s tour of the library of the National Gallery. After letting us leaf through treasures such as the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and the original card catalogue, which was constructed by cutting out pages from the first list of Sir Charles Eastlake, Hector led us to the elegantly designed slide library and told us the sad tale of its impending demise.
Budget cuts and hiring restrictions across the sector can be disheartening, but as Ripp said at the beginning of his presentation, with “a bit of luck and a lot of applications”, we’ll find the right jobs.