Seminar Retrospective - Wednesday, 17 May - Library Careers in Britain & The British Library

Wednesday was actually a fairly light day for the seminar, there were only two presentations (although one was quite long and involved much group participation). Overview of Qualification Routes for UK Librarians/Career Paths

The first presentation concerned qualifications for librarians in the UK and was officially presented by Gill Powell, Staff Development at Oxford University Library System, but also included the chance to talk with several librarians working in Oxford. These folks were: Isabel Holowaty, Faculty Librarian; Diane Bergman, Egyptology Librarian, Gillian Beattie, whose title I didn't catch; and Sue Killoran, Librarian for one of the Coileges (don't remember which).

The UK is actually kind of interesting in that in addition to the route for librarianship we have here in the states (i.e. go get a MLS), they also have several additional/alternative certifications (think of the sorts of certifications they have for, say, accountants or engineers here and the states and you'll get some idea of what I'm talking about). The certification is done through the UK equivalent of ALA, CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals).

However, this is where things get complicated. Really, really complicated. After a morning of talking about librarianship in the UK and the various ways to have your professional qualifications recognized, mostly what I wound up with was a slightly dazed feeling of nearly complete confusion. For those of you who wish to delve further into this subject, head to http://www.cilip.org.uk and wander around CILIP's website for a while. (And if you manage to understand how all the qualifications fit together, perhaps you'd be kind enough to enlighten me.)

It was interesting to hear the different takes the various librarians had on the whole certification system (which if I understand correctly, is relatively new - or has recently been overhauled). Some folks think it's good for the profession, some folks think it's more or less a waste of time, particularly considering that many jobs don't require the certification (the ones that do tend to be in public libraries). This reminds me a bit of the debate that seems to be going on in some circles of librarians here in the states (particularly us younger folk) who don't see that ALA is doing a particularly good job of representing either us or the changes that are occurring in the profession (a perception not helped by our immediate past president - but I'm not going to go off on that rant here, besides, his term is up, so he's a bit of a non-issue now anyway).

More interesting than the talk about qualifications and certifications was the chance to talk to the librarians. Of particular interest to those who may wish to cast a wide net when seeking employment was the fact that one of the librarians we talked with was American (yes, it is possible for us yanks to get jobs in the UK), and for anyone who might be considering career hunting across the pond, here's the advice we got. The Americans who tend to get hired for jobs in the UK (at least in the Universities) are the folks who apply for jobs that are very similar to jobs they already hold and excel at. So, I'd take this to mean, find a job here in the states that you like and are good at, then keep an eye open for similar jobs in the UK.

The British Library: Preservation and Innovation

The second presentation of the day came from John Tuck, Head of British Collections at the British Library. Like the libraries of Oxford University, the British Library has also been undergoing a lot of changes of late. The most obvious change is their recent move to a new facility in London (the new building opened in 1998, according to my Lonely Planet guidebook). However, the library is (as I think I've said before) also making a serious effort to make their collections accessible to everyone who has a need to use them. Part of that is seen in the fact that it's relatively easy to get a Reader's Card for the British Library (heck, they gave me one), something that used to be quite difficult, apparently. Another part of this can be seen in their digitization projects and their document delivery services (and anyone who's poked around the BL website has probably noticed that their document delivery services are extensive).

As an example of one of their more interesting digitization projects, we learned a little bit about the British Newspapers Project, which is digitizing a large number of 18th century national, regional, and county newspapers from all over the UK and providing providing online access to this collection for colleges and universities. For the interested, further information can be found here: http://www.bl.uk/collections/britishnewspapers1800to1900.html

The British Library is also active in digitizing their sound archives, and is taking a small step into achieving the impossible: they're attempting to archive the web. Because copyright issues in the electronic world have yet to be completely sorted out (that is, no one's entirely sure if anyone has the right to just go out and archive web pages without the owners permission - although the BL is a legal deposit library, that legal deposit right does not extent completely into the virtual world) the archiving is fairly small scale at the moment. They're only archiving the sites of people who have agreed to participate in the project at the moment, but there is a hope that they can eventually preserve much more.

(Given the constantly changing nature of the web, I'm personally dubious that *anyone* can actually archive it in its entirety. Think about it - would you want to have to archive every separate permutation of a website that contains many rotating ads? You'd have to catch every variation to technically have archived the whole thing. However, I gotta say, I'd love the see the server farm that could hold that much data.)

On the preservation side of things, one of the big ongoing projects is the preservation, digitization, and research on the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the two earliest Christian Bibles (dated to the 4th century, according to the presentation). This is being done in partnership with St. Catherine's Monastery, Leipzig University Library, and the national Library of Russia, who all hold parts of the text. Anyone who wants to know more about this project can take a look at this press release: http://www.bl.uk/news/2005/pressrelease20050311.html

This presentation was also intended to act as an introduction to the British Library itself, because Thursday's only planned activity was a trip to London to get a tour of the main London branch, of which more shortly.