My Library School Experience: What a Journey! Part 2

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

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Arranging to leave Trinidad to live abroad for the third time was hectic. I had not yet resigned from my job, nor had I acquired the necessary student visa or completed the banking transactions that I had to undertake. I eventually arrived to begin my programme in Library and Information Studies at UCL, two weeks late on a Friday afternoon in October, on a day in which I experienced the opposite of the lovely autumnal weather I expected. Fortunately for me, I already knew my way around London, and as I stayed with my sister for the duration of the course, I just had to arrive and get down to business.

UCL seemed a bit confusing at first. Surely I had been there during the open day event the year before; but the campus was now teeming with hundreds of students and it looked slightly different. I arrived to my first class which was cataloguing; and after being greeted by my classmate George who somehow knew me before I entered the room, I met Anne, the programme’s director, in person for the first time. In that moment, I realized the necessity of the department’s suggestion for me to gain more practical library experience before my arrival. Had it not been for this, I would have been absolutely clueless about the meaning of simple terms such as Subject Headings, MARC 21, AACR2 and RDA, to name a few. With this knowledge, even though I felt I had a foot-in-the door, the course was not only challenging, but due to my late arrival, I had plenty catching up to do.

Before I started, I was not aware that libraries were run by collection management policies and that they had user centric designs, or that the information seeking behaviour of patrons was integral to accessing information. I was also oblivious of the intricate process that books had to go through before being placed on a shelf, and I never heard of Historical Bibliography. The trip to St Bride Foundation for that particular module was quite engaging, educational and enjoyable. Historical Bibliography instigated my interest in the early Trinidadian printing press, and I eventually chose this topic for my dissertation under the supervision of Professor Vanda Broughton. I thoroughly enjoyed researching this little-known topic about my nation’s history, and I completed the write-up before the stipulated deadline.

For the duration of the programme, I realized that libraries were not just libraries any more, and I noted that librarians can be subject specialists in a particular field. I also noted the difference between the various types of libraries, and with this in mind, I began to think about which type of library I should seek employment with upon completion. It was of no consequence to me that people outside the library field would often express surprise that librarians had degrees. On the other hand, other people were intrigued by my choice of study, including strangely enough, one neuroscientist that I met on campus.

After settling in, life got busier with library talks, visits and events. The fact that the programme only had one written examination was also a deciding factor for me. The assignments came one after the other, and in addition to these, in order to keep abreast, it was necessary to read the recommended course readings. Suffice it to say, I largely read on the bus to and from class. I took the bus everywhere as it was far cheaper than the train with my non-existent student income. On some mornings, I slept and other mornings I read amidst the loud school children, crying babies and quarrelsome adults on buses which were either extremely cold in the winter or too hot in the summer. I eventually got a part-time job as a Library Assistant in Greenwich, and this too added to my busy schedule. Apart from the occasional respite at Caribbean social events in London, I was either always in my secret workspace in the library at UCL as I did not own a laptop, at work, or of course, on a bus. If library school did not teach me anything else, it surely taught me punctuality and how to manage my time in a big fast-paced city.

Three years after I first thought of becoming a librarian, I have worked at the Maughan Library of King’s College in London, the National Library in my home country, and the libraries of the United Nations Secretariat and United Nations Commission on International Trade Law in Vienna, Austria. I am currently a librarian trainee at the Historical Library of the European Parliament in Luxembourg, and I still feel very new to the field of librarianship. As a minority, I have not yet grown accustomed to the looks and stares of people whenever I attend library events or when I visit public libraries in countries wherever I go. Despite these challenges, I am proud of my librarian journey, and I have aspirations of becoming an international librarian in a reputable organization in the not too distant future.

My library school experience has certainly opened up a world of opportunities. I have made lifelong friends, met and worked with a variety of librarians in different settings, touched 15th century books, learned the importance of scrutinizing citations (courtesy Charles Inskip, my personal tutor) and even built a website! Librarians are integral to society and without a doubt, I am sure that my late father would have been happy to see the career path I have chosen. Most importantly, had it not been for my mother, I would not have been able to complete the programme. I am certainly looking forward to what the future in libraries will bring; and I hope to represent well for my family, my country, and without a doubt, for my alma mater, University College London.

Refer 32 (3) Autumn 2016

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