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Katie Fraser's blog and website

I'm an academic librarian, working in the UK Higher Educational sector, supporting academics and students. Prior to this, I was a researcher, working with social and learning technologies.

My interests include the application of emerging and traditional technologies, research support in libraries, learning spaces, evidence-based practice and the professional development of library and information workers.

You can find out more about more about me from the links to the left. Note that the views expressed on this website/blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other individual or organisation.

From academic to academic librarianship

November 14th, 2007

Oddly enough, one of the most difficult questions I had to answer in the interviews for my traineeship was ‘why don’t you want to be an academic?’ I could talk about why I wanted to be an academic librarian until the cows came home – I’m enthusiastic about ways of sharing information, interested in new technologies, I love working with students and staff, and thinking about the future of learning and technologies. However, saying exactly why I didn’t want to be an academic was more difficult.

A lot of the problem was the answer I didn’t want to give: “Being an academic seemed too stressful for me”. For a start, I didn’t, and don’t think librarianship is an easy ride; research suggests I’d be in for a big disappointment if I’d have thought that. However, the kind of pressure that librarians have to put up with is the kind of pressure I thrive under – doing what I can with limited resources, turning round work quickly under high demand, dealing people and technologies, innovating and communicating innovations to others. In addition, I felt this undersold my enthusiasm for being a librarian – I didn’t pick it because it seemed easy compared to something else, but because it sounded interesting and involving, and I’d already gone to the trouble of trying library work and checking I enjoyed it before committing this far.

If asked now, I’d be able to put into words what, at the time, was a gut feeling. I’d say a central part of being a successful academic is advertising yourself. I am not good at this. I have little confidence in my ability to come up with concepts and theories, and only limited faith in my research. It’s not uncommon for female academics to have what is known as imposter syndrome where they think they will never quite be up to their colleagues’ abilities, but I whether I do or don’t suffer from this, I still prefer a career where I can accurately assess my own success. When it comes to libraries I am good at selling a service, however. I have confidence in my ability to come up with plans and strategies, and my belief in the value of the library and information services I provide is fairly unshakeable. But it’s primarily the immediate feedback I get from a happy customer that makes me love library work, and you just don’t get that in academia – let’s just say academia and I are not a good organisational fit.

Anyway, so I finally have an answer to the big question, too late for the last set of interviews, but in time for the next lot, should I get asked! Now I’ll never have to sit there, nursing the answer I don’t want to give again.