career development

My first library job

There have been a few posts floating around #blogjune about first library jobs. I’d like to join in and share my story about my first library job – how I landed it, my first experiences and my advice to new information professionals.

Was it in a public library? Nope.
Was it in an academic library? Nope.

My first library job was in aviation. I was a Technical Librarian for a regional airline. A lot of people in my personal learning network will know this, it’s also in my biography on the ‘About’ page of this blog. But I’m not sure if I’ve shared the story about how I landed (no pun intended) and the circumstances around my finding the job.

I had been looking for my first library job for about four months. All of Semester 1 of my first year in my Masters course was spent job hunting. I arrived at a point where I felt much despair and I literally entered “librarian jobs” into Google. An advertisement for a Technical Librarian caught my eye and as I read the position description, my first thoughts were “Oh what the hell. I probably won’t get it but I’ll apply anyway.” I nailed the interview and my would-be boss saw my potential and I was offered a maternity fill-in contract.

On my first day I was delighted to have my own office space, though I shared the room with the Tools Coordinator for the aircraft hangar. Yep, I was located on the hangar floor. Right there with the engineers and the aircraft that came in and out for maintenance. There were boxes piled up on my desk and on the floor of the office. They were manual revisions yet to be incorporated into the collection. I had a compactus of manuals, as well as a similar sized collection at the airport terminal with the tarmac engineers. Shortly before I started my contract, my counterpart in the Sydney office resigned. I was ‘it’ for the regional airline by way of managing the technical library collection. eeep! My boss dedicated a whole afternoon to introducing me to the company’s history and the aviation context – legislation, the role of CASA, ATA chapters, everything. I very much appreciated my boss’ time and patience with ‘showing me the ropes’. I won’t forget the kind gesture. This was before he left for long service leave. The majority of the time I was with the company, I was on my own. I was pretty much trusted to be left to my own devices. I loved it.

A typical day for me (geez, let’s see if I remember it correctly) was arriving in my office and the first thing I’d do was scoop up all the copies of pages from manuals in the hangar and put them in the recycling bin. Engineers would leave it all scattered about after completing maintenance overnight. If a copy of a manual was made, once it was used for a task, it had to be discarded. This was to ensure the engineers would always be working with the current revision of a manual. Apart from normal office things like email, my role was to ensure the currency, accuracy and availability of the technical library collection for the aircraft fleet. The collection was available in electronic and paper formats. New manual revisions in paper format had to be inserted into the folders page by page. My dewey decimals had become ATA chapters. I also updated the intranet manually, using HTML. Part of my day involved receiving new documentation and inputting it into the system for allocation to fleet engineers for analysis and processing. This had to be done before new items could be incorporated into the library collection. I didn’t use a typical library management system but I did have experience with something of the sort, specific to aviation to maintain tight controls over the collection. External contractors also required copies of manuals for maintenance work, so I had a system of updating what they needed. In library land speak, this might be “interlibrary loans” or “document delivery”. I showed engineers how to use the library collection, helped them with finding what they needed and liaised with them to find ways I could improve how they accessed the collection and how the library could better meet their needs. Collection development and management was largely determined by the aircraft types and their parts, and relevant legislation. Vendors would sometimes pop in and come to see me about their services and general relationship building.

My time in my first library job was unfortunately cut short, when the incumbent wanted to return to work earlier than planned. I was devastated. This happened while my boss was on leave. I loved my work and I was making headway towards making improvements to the library. My work didn’t go unnoticed. Engineers and the Maintenance Manager were sorry to see me leave, the latter submitting a business case to keep me there for a bit longer. My boss almost brought me to tears with his words of praise. But when one door closes, another opens. I quickly landed my next aviation role in a similar position.

To Students and New Graduates,

My lessons from my first library job were these:
1. When on the job hunt, don’t limit yourself to the usual library contexts. Keep an open mind. There are opportunities out there where you can gain experience without the need for the qualification. My working towards the Masters wasn’t needed but was appreciated. My previous work experience demonstrated the skills I needed to get started.
2. Gaining experience in a special library provided an opportunity to hit the ground running, jump in the deep end and learn on the go. My experience may not have directly related to what you’d normally find and the language may not even be similar, but you can ‘translate’ the skills you learn to demonstrate your knowledge and experience.
3. In a special library, you can learn so much more in a period of time than in an entry level position in a usual library context, such as an academic library. Why not accelerate your progression?

My first experiences in this profession may have been unusual and people are still surprised and a little taken aback when I share my story with them. I’ll admit it was difficult at times to feel included in the profession at first, as well as have others I networked with relate to my experiences. It seemed people were talking about the same challenges in their academic or public library and would almost diss me because ‘what would I know?’. The key I think, is to be open to having conversation with other sectors. You may not be experiencing the same industry challenges per se, but you will experience similar challenges on a professional level. Tap into this.

So there you go. My first library job and the inspiration for the title of this blog, ‘Flight Path’.

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