Career Strategies for Librarians
Becoming a Library Studies Student in the U.K.
by Jonathan Crowhurst
In this article I hope to be able to share some of the knowledge I gained during the process of going
from being unemployed and uncertain of my future career direction to being accepted on a library
traineeship and now a student at one of the leading library schools in the UK.
The Reason Why
I left my previous job at the end of 2001, deciding that insurance was definitely not the area in which I
wanted to work. As I had been working in one job or another since leaving university after my first degree,
I felt that some time out from this succession of dead-end jobs was necessary so I could think about
what I wanted for the future.
I was of course fortunate in being financially secure and living at home, without a family to support, and I
quite understand that this is not an option for many people. I disliked the job I was working in so much
that I could not make any rational decision while in that environment. I was on the point of nervous
breakdown so I decided a new year was a time for a new start.
The normal route to library school in the UK, if you have not done a first degree in librarianship, is
(usually) at least a year’s relevant work experience. I recognised that one of the main things I had done
since leaving university was to have gained valuable work experience.
I had actually wanted to be a librarian then, and had applied for at least a dozen posts from the CILIP
annual Graduate Training Opportunities job booklet, a list of organisations across the UK who recruits
for Library Traineeships. These typically last from six months to a year. It’s a great chance to work for
leading companies in fields as diverse as law, heritage and culture, the public sector, academic
libraries and big business. You may decide after your traineeship you want to remain in this sector
during your career, or decide on something else. I got around half a dozen interviews the first time I
looked at the library profession, but they did not end up in a job offer so I gave up the hunt.
After taking time out at the beginning of 2002 when I did not think about jobs at all, I considered several
options. Self-employment seemed an attractive proposition, and I explored several business ideas. I
bought a copy of the famous What Colour is Your Parachute. Although focused on the American job
market (as it seemed to me), the information in it and the exercises it contained really helped me focus
my thinking. I still think it is the best £14.99 I have spent.
I took advantage of the Vocational Guidance Service Morrisby assessment, basically a battery of
psychometric tests that assess things like verbal ability, spatial awareness, dexterity and other
aptitudes. A profile is then formed of your overall ability in these areas, and to which careers this might
suit you. Since I was unemployed at the time I was able to do this for free through my local careers
service. Interestingly, librarianship or information science came up at this stage. As I wanted a career
where I could help people and use my IT and research skills, this settled the argument. I decided the
library profession was for me in spite of my earlier failure to get into it.
Recruitment – the Job is Out There
I wrote to CILP for their job sheet and registered with a number of web sites – Prospects, Workthing and
Monster were the main ones. The advantage with these sites is that you can upload your CV, as well as
select fields and types of work that interest you. They have tons of links and good careers advice. I had a
neighbour, who is a recruitment consultant for senior civil service appointments, look at and suggest a
fresh approach to my CV.
The first time I considered a library career I did not know of the specialist recruitment consultants like
TFPL, InfoMatch, Sue Hill, Glen Recruitment, RecruitMedia and Instant Library Recruitment. Definitely
consider these if you are applying for part time, full time, permanent or contractual positions. You may
either apply online or send in your CV by snail mail.
Coming to the UK from Abroad?
At this stage, if you are coming into the UK from overseas to work, live or study, please check on any
immigration and nationality requirements for visas and work permits. The best place to look for current
information is the Home Office, and in particular the Immigration and Nationality Directorate who oversee
the applications for those documents where they are required. There are leaflets and forms for students
and other categories of applicant providing advice on your application, and forms can be downloaded
from the IND site. The UKVisas web site, run jointly with the Home and Foreign and Commonwealth
Office, will also provide information about current requirements. You can use a handy form that will tell
you if your current nationality and place of residence will mean a visa is required for entry into the UK,
and will describe the relevant procedures that should be followed. For example, if you are a student and
a US national you will require a visa; there is also information about the relevant form and where you
should submit your application. This information will also apply in the following advice about university
Around June 2002 I got a call from a law firm in London – to this day I do not remember how they got my
CV – asking I wanted to come for interview. Does a one-legged duck swim in circles? I had the interview
with the head of library services, and was invited for a second interview for the post of trainee library
assistant. This usually leads to the candidate entering library school the following year. To my delight I
was accepted for one of the three vacancies and started at the beginning of August.
I was in charge of managing the Taxation and Competition department resource rooms, in conjunction
with the Professional Support Lawyers who were the real founts of all knowledge for those departments.
My firm was a high tech firm and I was exposed to various electronic resources. I was left to organise my
own day as long as I completed the tasks I was assigned – current awareness circulars, passing on
enquires I could not deal with to the Enquiry Desk, performing web searches, managing indexes, loose
leafing, abstracting, web development. I also benefited from excellent training.
Professional Bodies and Networking
I joined CILP, but would encourage you to also consider joining ASLIB and the British Computer Society
to keep abreast of professional developments and make contacts. All have great rates if you are a
student or library trainee. At the beginning of 2002 I started writing for Freepint, the online newsletter for
those who use information in their work, to share the web sites I had found useful for various subjects.
Writing for journals like Freepint is a great way to get your name known, by the way, and there are now
many opportunities on the web for this type of writing.
Applying to Library School
I was also looking at library schools. There is a list of UK library schools here, maintained by Professor
Tom Wilson. I focused on three schools – City University, Sheffield University and Loughborough
University. The normal procedure is to apply in the autumn before year of entry – in my case, 2002 for
October 2003 entry. I sent all my applications off by Christmas 2002. I was thinking about schools
almost as soon as I had settled into my job, sent for prospectuses in October 2002, and made my
applications in November. I also talked to my colleagues in the main library who had already been
through library school about the process and the courses they took. The main task was to get my
academic referees involved in the process as early as possible, as they would also be dealing with my
funding application (more on that in a moment).
Don’t forget you will need referees. Allow time in the applications process for them to be contacted and
sent the reference forms included in the application pack, which they normally return to you to send with
your application, or may send directly to the library school you are applying to, depending on individual
University prospectuses and library school information will state the deadlines you need to take heed of,
so pay attention to these as they are strictly enforced. You can avoid “deadline surfing” by applying in
good time, especially considering the state of the UK postal service. Admissions policies for the
departments and the university itself, such as educational requirements and any work experience
expected, are also outlined in application pack documents, so check these thoroughly when making your
application. They will also contain information about visas and any other nationality requirements to
study in the UK. Please allow plenty of time for forms and so on to be processed.
Postgraduate funding in the UK is a minefield. Individual university prospectuses will state which kind of
funding you may be eligible for, as there is no state funding for postgraduate courses. Pay particular
attention to the course fees, as these seem to vary from institution to institution. It goes without saying
that living costs must also be taken into consideration. Some cities may be more expensive than others
in which to live and study. London is notoriously expensive. Expect accommodation to take a big chunk of
your budget, especially if using the private sector. Any textbooks and special equipment should not be
overlooked. Please also bear in mind that if you are classed as an overseas student that the course fees
themselves can be twice as much (or more) than UK home students pay.
For UK-based students, the most relevant public funding bodies are the Arts and Humanities Research
Board (AHRB), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Bear in mind that these grants are
extremely competitive – you need to have an excellent first degree to have a chance. Other funding
options might include:
Being funded by your employer (as some colleagues on my course are)
Loans, from banks or the Student Loans Company
Competitions and prizes
There is some excellent Postgraduate funding information on the Prospects web site referred to above. If
you are a disabled student, there may be special funding available nationally, or via the institution you
apply to. Investigate all funding opportunities in your home country (if applying from overseas) fully, and
any special funds individual universities may offer. The whole area of financing postgraduate library
school would make an article in itself, so I can only make the very general points above.
I applied for an AHRB Professional Vocational Award. The process was quite Byzantine, but essentially I
applied through the University I was applying to – I had chosen City after being offered a place on
condition of being self financed at the beginning of 2003. There was lots of paperwork flying around in
the first quarter 2003 between referees, City University and myself in order to meet the very strict May
deadline AHRB enforces. The School of Informatics at City decided which applicants they would put
forward for the funding. I only heard about my success in the middle of August -- so there can be a long
wait for funding news. The best advice I can give is to save as much money from your traineeship (if
possible) in case any funding deals fall through.
A Student’s Life for Me
To cut a long story short I finished my traineeship at the end of September 2003 after my contract was
extended several times. I then began life as a postgraduate student at City University, which I am now a
quarter of the way through. Time flies, as they say.
About the Author:
Jonathan Crowhurst graduated from the University of Leicester in 1998 with a Bachelor’s degree in
Ancient History and Archaeology. He is now a postgraduate student reading an MA in Library and
Information Studies at City University. He has also written for Freepint.
Article published Feb 2004
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.