Friday, 27 February 2015

18 - Kara Orford, Denbighshire Libraries

This week we hear from Kara on her role as a Community Librarian in Denbighshire.

My career in libraries began quite accidentally when I applied for a Saturday Assistant’s post in a local public library to help pay the bills while studying for my MA in American Literature. What a revelation that was! I have always loved reading but had never really used public libraries. This is something that I constantly harangue my mum about now! How on earth did you not think to take a child that loves reading to the library? Anyway, I digress… I distinctly remember thinking ‘I love this job and would still do it even if they didn’t pay me.’ That can’t be a bad thing surely? My MA soon finished and I thought that seeing as though I was so happy with my job, I would start applying for full time library assistant posts.

I was very lucky as Manchester Libraries were advertising a whole host of posts across the city and I was offered a full time post in the Miles Platting group, working across 4 libraries. It was during my time in Manchester that I had my first opportunity to help out with class visits and story time and I absolutely loved the experience. From then on, I was hooked and knew that working with children was something that I really wanted to develop as my career progressed.

I moved from Manchester back to Doncaster, where I was Assistant in Charge of my very own library. Management was a new challenge for me and, at only 23, I felt pretty overwhelmed at the time. Blocked toilets? Staff sickness? Leaking roofs? These had always been someone else’s problem and all of a sudden they were mine. To say this was a steep learning curve would be an understatement, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! I was thriving and learning so much! It was whilst working in this post that I decided l was in libraries for the long haul.

I combined my mid 20s travelling itch with library work and worked as a Children’s Library Assistant for the rather beautifully named ‘Petticoat Creek Library’ in Ontario, Canada before returning to the UK and working as a School Librarian in a Yorkshire comprehensive. After a brief spell as a Community Librarian in East Yorkshire I made the move to the North West and have been in post here in Denbighshire for four and a half years now. I was awarded Chartership status via Pathway 2 back in 2012.

My role as Community Librarian for Prestatyn and St Asaph is extremely varied and no two days are the same. I make up part of our county’s Library Management Team, so attending those meetings ensures that wider, strategic aspects of the service are fed down and actioned in our libraries. As Community Librarian I am responsible for line management of our team of library and one-stop-shop assistants across both sites and the associated admin that comes with that. Appraisals, annual leave, buildings matters and e-mails seem to take up a significant chunk of my week but I can’t say that they are the thing that I most love about my job. They’re very necessary though that’s for sure!

The inspiring stuff? The things that still make me happy every morning to get out of bed and drive to work? Children’s stock purchasing for the county is one area of my responsibility, as is the programming of community reading groups in the libraries that I manage. We have several reading groups, a Chatterbooks group and a Carnegie Medal focussed reading group that I run at the nearby high school. If ever I am having a bad day, an hour spent with any of those groups will soon turn my mood around and remind me why I love my job. I schedule and lead class visits to the library on a regular basis (a real boost to issues and membership that I spend a lot of my time pursuing) I am also often found visiting school assemblies or classes to promote our service and try to instil that all important love of reading for pleasure.

Organising, promoting and delivering special events for World Book Night, National Libraries Day and one-off author events provides me with another opportunity to engage with readers and excite them about what their library can offer. I am also very lucky in that both Prestatyn & St Asaph libraries have recently undergone refurbishment (following the St Asaph floods and relocation in the case of Prestatyn). Having modern and attractive libraries that I want to shout about and keep well used has been very motivating. I could fill an entire blog entry with the trials and tribulations of those projects but I won’t bore you with woes of hard hats and missing shelving!  We got there in the end!

Of course, it isn’t all sunshine at present, we are all well aware of the cuts facing library services (I’m sorry, I really struggle to euphemise them as ‘efficiencies’, we all know what they are!) and it can be easy to get weighed down with the despair that comes from feeling that your profession and everything that you stand for is under threat. At times like this, I feel branching out, and getting involved in wider professional groups and working parties has been a godsend. I attend and contribute to the All Wales Marketing Team meetings, I am on the Wales Youth Libraries Group Committee and I am also involved in the Estyn Allan project across North Wales. Getting together with colleagues and undertaking work in addition to and alongside my role in Denbighshire has really contributed to my professional development and re-instilled that drive and belief that what librarians do is both important and relevant! I can’t speak highly enough of Wales Youth Libraries Group. Becoming a committee member has given me the opportunity to be involved in arranging training days for fellow professionals, meeting and working with colleagues from across several counties and perhaps most exciting of all, the opportunity to act as Wales YLG’s current Carnegie and Greenaway Medal judge. Such a variety of opportunities have come about from this professional working party and I would encourage any librarians working in Wales to get involved if they can.

Will I work in public libraries forever? After a decade of loving my work, it is hard coming to terms with the fact that progression is less and less likely as each year passes. Posts are deleted and jobs just aren’t advertised anymore. This can be frustrating when I see friends from university working in the private sector who are on the up and up. One thing’s for sure, nobody is a librarian because they want to be rich. We do it because we love it and we believe fervently in what we do. If I can’t work in libraries forever, I know one thing for certain, I won’t regret a second of the time I have spent in them!

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