Alumni of the Month: August 2010

CAROL BARKER (JACKSON): 1995 ENGLISH & FRENCH, CERTIFICATE IN EDUCATION

How did you get to where you are now? (Qualified Chartered Librarian)

After Keele I worked as a library assistant in Stafford for a year to gain experience, and was allocated special duties in the Music and Arts department, which was fantastic. I had a very supportive senior colleague who saw my enthusiasm for libraries and gave me many opportunities to visit other service points, for example a prison library, mobile library, and the County Information Service, to see the range of services they provided. Before long I knew that I wanted to go on and become a qualified librarian. I went to Loughborough to do my MSc in 1996, and in 1997 I started work for the Web Team at Staffordshire County Council, then worked at the County Information Service before taking up a professional role at Leek in the Staffordshire Moorlands as a Children’s Librarian. Since then I have worked with Adult Lending Services, been a County Specialist for Information, and am now in a role that encompasses Information/Reference stock, ICT and local studies. Sometimes I have applied for a post and been successful, but as anyone who works within the public sector will know, my job changes have sometimes been due to restructuring, which happens in local authorities approximately every 3-4 years!

Alumni of the Month August 2010 What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Apart from my degrees, I am most proud of my Chartership award. I submitted my portfolio in 2001 to our professional body CILIP (the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and was thrilled to learn that my submission was successful, which meant that I received my Chartered Librarian status. This not only meant that my pay went up slightly, but within three months a great promotion opportunity came up, which I could not have applied for had I not been Chartered.

And your biggest mistake?
I wish I had gained a post in the academic or specialist library sector earlier on in my career, to contrast with my public library experience, as it can be difficult to move sectors without previous experience in the field.

What are your ambitions now?
I would like to develop a specialism and work in the academic or health sector, or a specialist library, as I used to enjoy the detailed enquiry work that I used to do at the County Information Service (which no longer exists). With the availability of the internet, enquiries in public libraries are not as frequent or as involved as they used to be.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
Be prepared for a lot of change, not only the structure of the organisation but its focus , every couple of years (implementing IT, getting boys reading, working with older people, getting parents reading with babies and toddlers etc). Public libraries have changed enormously in the past 15 years, and my role nowadays involves a lot of promotional and marketing work, to raise awareness of the library service and what we can offer, in order to attract new customers as well as retain our existing ones. There is less stock management and detailed enquiry work, so it’s not quite the same job that I started out in! I would suggest that someone who wanted to work in libraries and information should get a relevant first or second degree as it will increase your opportunities greatly, and will give you more flexibility if you wish to change sector. Also, try to  gain a range of experience in different service points or sectors (try volunteering if you can, or arrange a visit to chat to a member of staff), to see which type suits you and your skills best. If you are not geographically tied to one area, again you will be able to apply for a wider range of opportunities (many are in London). Develop your IT skills, as they will be invaluable.

What made you choose Keele University?
I am not ashamed to admit that I loved the trees and green spaces! After my first visit I knew it was where I wanted to be. Having lived in a village from 10 to 25 years of age, I couldn’t see myself in a bustling city, and wanted to be surrounded by nature. The fact that Keele was quite a small campus on a hill made it even more like a village: you could never go far without seeing someone you knew, which I thought was great, but some people found it claustrophobic.  The girl in the room opposite mine (in Harrowby House) introduced herself on day one and 20 years later we are still best friends and meet up several times a year. My other best friend is someone who lived in Sneyd House next door and we just became great friends over the years. So my closest friends today are the ones I met at Keele in my first year.

What kind of a student were you?
Very keen! As I was 25 and had given up my job at the bank (and I have never regretted that!) to come to Keele, I wanted to do well. And I just loved learning: there was so much to discover, particularly in the Foundation Year with a multitude of subjects to choose from (I chose Astronomy as my ‘subsid’ subject, which was brilliant). At the end of FY I swapped from my first choices of English and Psychology to study English and French, and loved both. In France in my year out I taught in a school and learned to ski in the Pyrenees, and am still in touch with three of the friends I made out there. But I also partied hard: nights out at the Highwayman on the Rock Soc minibus, or in the Pig and Rat bar in Horwood, or gate crashing the Chemistry lecturer’s party, it was never a dull moment (and lager was cheap in the Union at 50p a half pint…)

How has Keele influenced your life?
Enormously! I have gained two best friends, a good degree, a broader knowledge of the world, and some of the very best years of my life. My MSc was an intense and challenging year but nothing like as much fun.

What is your favourite memory of Keele?
Hard to choose one but I will go for my degree day, 3 July 1995. Pimms on the lawns of beautiful Keele Hall after the ceremony at Kings Hall in Stoke, wearing the cap and gown. When it snowed in 1991 the campus was cut off, the power and heating went off, the shop sold out of everything and so all we had to eat was what we had stashed in our rooms (lager and rice pudding, in my case). We made snowmen and snow angels in the fields near Keele Hall: it was a fantastic day (one of many on campus).

What is your impression of Keele now?
Having attended Homecoming a couple of weeks ago, I am pleased that the centre of campus has not changed beyond recognition, and there seem to be great improvements in the Union, which was really rough in the 90s! I am sad to hear that there are no seminars or tutorials in Keele Hall anymore, which was a great privilege, and very atmospheric on a winter’s afternoon.

Anything else you would like to add?
On a nostalgic note, I am pleased that I went to Keele when I did. I think that not having mobile phones and email made me focus more on the people and environment directly around me, although it meant that we all had to join the queues for the public payphones to ring home (but it was a good way to make new friends). Without the internet we were forced to make full use of the library too, which was a rich and wonderful experience: I miss those late night study sessions! Having said that I wish could have known how to use a PC then, to type up my assignments rather than having to hand-write them!