Advertising Library Careers to Schools

Sam Wiggins, one of SLA Europe’s Early Career Conference Award winners for 2011, shares his thoughts on promoting the information profession to schools.

The idea first occurred to me during a question posed at the CILIP New Professionals Conference earlier this year – how to school leavers know about the information profession? What is it that brings people into the profession? For most at the conference, the answer was a series of happy coincidences.  This made me realise that little publicity is given or promoted to schools about what librarians do now, not what they did in old fashioned romantic stereotypes. I had become aware of the issue, but had little opportunity start correcting it. Until last month.

My job as a law librarian has since provided me with the opportunity to reach out to a sixth form cohort in a deprived London area to explain the work that I do. The aim of the visit was not only to help redefine their conceptions of the information professional, but to help them to aim higher and broaden their ideas of possible future careers. Following the talk, the students had the opportunity to ask questions and subsequently apply for work experience placements within the law firm’s library.

During the talk, I avoided library acronyms or colloquial phrases that were likely to confuse my audience at 9am on a Monday morning. This was achieved by running what I was going to say past a non-librarian friend on a Friday evening, thereby re-creating a similar state of mind to the audience I would face when talking for real! Thankfully, my test-subject seemed mildly interested, and so the introduction was set. It went a little something like this…

The Library and Information Service is not just about books! We are about knowledge, facts and PEOPLE! You can forget sitting quietly in a corner reading, we act in a fast-paced, sometimes pressured environment, providing a legal and business research service to lawyers. We use complex databases to search specialist information. We search the internet to a professional standard. We provide training, often teaching lawyers how to do their own research! We do maintain a hardcopy collection, but rest assured, it certainly isn’t dusty! We even do web design; creating and maintaining our own intranet pages.

So what do you need to become a librarian? A keen interest in technology and an interest in helping people is certainly a pre-requisite. I have an undergraduate degree in history, and many of my team have degrees from subjects considered to be in the “arts” camp. I do not have a law degree, so if you have an interest in law, but do not fancy spending your day drafting documents, law librarianship could be a good mix for you. You will need a degree in information science; I recently completed an MA in Librarianship. It is also possible to become a Chartered Information Professional, a process not dissimilar to becoming a Chartered Accountant or Chartered Engineer.

The feedback received was positive, thought it is always difficult to gauge true reactions when students are amongst their peers. The library service will receive applications for work experience over the coming months, and we hope to accommodate as many as students as our team numbers can support.

The process also acted as a way to bolster the library service within the firm, highlighting to several partners and other departments who also attended the sixth form presentation just exactly what the library service does. Several were surprised at the high level of qualifications needed, and the levels of expertise that our team possess! The event therefore achieved two positive outcomes!

I hope that some of the students will be inspired and convinced of the merits of the profession; future proofing the profession into the next generation. Hopefully there will be several future SLA members amongst them!