Easter break has meant a more relaxed time at the library, and to celebrate this (or at least, as a consequence of this) we went on some trips to other libraries as the region as part of our training scheme. This involved Colchester Institute Library – the local vocational college – Essex Public Library Headquarters and Chelmsford Public Library. This was a pretty mixed bag of places to go, but here’s my initial thoughts.
Colchester Institute, while it’s broadly in the same game of academic librarianship, is quite a different cup of tea to a university library. The staff were keen to talk about making their library as welcome as possible for their students, and one of the ways they did this was to make their library as appealing and welcoming as possible – along the lines, in fact, of a public library. It feels weird to admit that the place you work at isn’t that welcoming, but I guess it makes sense for a university to have a more weighty academy-of-learning feeling to it than a place that offers vocational courses. Interestingly, Colchester Institute does have a staff with a large proportion of subject librarians (although on a much smaller scale than here), and it certainly made me think more about the range of academic library posts that were on offer to see it.
Essex Public Library Headquarters made me think in a different way about public libraries. On one hand it was fairly inspirational to see the range of activities supported across the county. The number of books that were passing through were simply phenomenal, and there were lots of interesting projects underway, such as one to provide picture books to nursery schools across the county, various tie-ins with the Essex Book Festival and Year of Reading, and it was staggering to see the sheer number of books that pass through its system. On the other hand, it felt a little under-funded and under-staffed: leavers did not seem to have been replaced, and it really highlighted the budget crunches that this sector has faced.
Chelmsford Public Library on the other hand seemed to be thriving on the changing world of librarianship. It housed a number of services which tied into the library ethos, such as a Learn Direct centre promoting skills acquisition and the county’s Answers Direct service, a phone service which answered complex library queries from across Essex. The Answers Direct offices also included a homework help instant messaging service, which was particularly interesting for me, given my PhD topic of homework technologies.
All in all, then, these were valuable experiences, and a great way to get a picture of the range of library careers that are available to me. However, I’m yet to be convinced away from a career in university libraries: I think they’re where I’m most useful and where I feel most at home.