My Library School Experience: What a Journey! Part 1

Simone Charles, M.A. Library and Information Studies, University College London 2015

 Simone2

As a child, my earliest memory of the library was when my mother ensured that I went to the Carnegie Free Library in my hometown of San Fernando in Trinidad and Tobago every Saturday. Whether she took me herself, sent me with my older sister, or sent me alone, I had little choice or say in the matter. From passion fruit juice making classes to craft, there was always something going on and I greatly anticipated these weekly activities more so than the actual borrowing of books. I studied history for O-Levels, A-Levels and at the undergraduate level followed by a heritage studies postgraduate qualification. This therefore guaranteed a mandatory reliance on the library for research purposes. Consequently, my experimentation as an independent genealogical researcher for a few years attributed to my unrelenting use of the library. As a result, I became aware of the importance of libraries from an early age which began during my teenage years and continued into adulthood.

After some very frustrating times working within the heritage sector, I re-considered my career options and the field of libraries came to mind. My mentor at university was a librarian and as I had some prior experience at a special library as a graduate researcher, becoming a librarian would be easy as 1-2-3. It was only when I began an active search for employment that I came to understand that this was not the case. What was the “MLS” (Master of Library Science) or “LIS” (Library and Information Science/Studies) qualification that appeared to be an essential requirement? Did I really need it to work at a library? Wasn’t my previous educational background enough? It was only after this realization proved to be true that I began the search for an institution that offered such a programme.

On a visit to London in November 2013, I noticed a newspaper advertisement for an Open Day event at University College London (UCL). I was always intrigued by this institution’s heritage based programmes and on seeing that they offered the seemingly enigmatic LIS post graduate degree, I decided to use the opportunity to see first-hand what it entailed. After all, London was one of my favourite places and I started getting used to the idea of living there for the one year duration of the programme. When the day arrived, I made a brief stop at the Caribbean Studies Department and found the courses to be enticing. I even stopped at the Archives and Records Management table and spoke with someone from Publishing about that programme before I finally arrived at the Library and Information Studies room. Although these alternative fields looked interesting, I was determined to stay focused on my original ambitions of becoming a librarian. As I met with Professor Vanda Broughton (Senior Lecturer) and some other potential students, the thought was becoming more of a reality. Soon after the event, the deadline for the programme was imminent. Apart from frequent visits to Primark and various museums, I spent the rest of my time in London writing, re-writing, formatting my personal statement and exploring the various options that the course offered.

When I returned home early the following year, my father passed away and I didn’t think much about my application until I received an invitation to a Skype interview for a place on the programme. If I was not sure of my potential career change before, while Anne Welsh (Programme Manager) and Charles Inskip (Lecturer) were interviewing me, my resolve to become a librarian became stronger. The interview was not particularly difficult and I remember them commenting on my sunny and tropical background after which I spontaneously pulled the curtains to show them outside. Despite their contrastingly dark and grey weather, I had no qualms about leaving for UCL to pursue studies in librarianship. Though I succeeded at the interview, my aforementioned special library stint (in which I had a very dedicated and encouraging supervisor) was my only library experience. I also served as a committee member for the restoration of the former public library at home and though I was surrounded by some very passionate librarians, my practical experience was limited. Anne and Charlie therefore suggested that I find a voluntary post at a local library to supplement the studies that I would undertake at UCL. After five months of working as a paraprofessional at the Heritage Library Division in Trinidad, I packed my bags and headed to London for the start of a yearlong programme in Library and Information Studies. Thus began my quest to become a qualified librarian but it was only just the beginning….

Refer 32(2) Summer 2016

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