My Employment History Part 14 (or How I ended up working in a library)

Part fourteen in a series exploring my work history, revealing how I ended up working in a library. This post: being a stay-at-home-dad and discovering the joys of storytime.

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It’s been a while, so here’s a brief re-cap: I moved to the US after marrying an American, became a full-time student again, and had a part-time job working in an art museum. Then one day, my wife gave birth to our son, and suddenly we were parents…

American maternity leave is not as generous as British maternity leave, so just six weeks after the birth, my wife returned to full-time work, leaving me at home with our new baby. This wasn’t a complete surprise; we had discussed what we’d do if we had children, and mutually agreed that my wife would continue to work full-time, in a job that she loved, while I stayed home. Hence, I had to quit my museum job, and took a semester off from my degree course, with the intention of going back part-time at the start of the next semester.

Becoming a parent is life-changing; suddenly there is this helpless little stranger, who you have instantly fallen in love with,  living in your home and needing all your attention, all the time. It is truly magical. It is truly exhausting. At times, it is truly disgusting. In those first few weeks alone with the baby, I would set up camp on the couch; a stack of snacks on the coffee table, some DVDs, a pillow on my lap for the baby to sleep on, and everything I needed within arm’s reach. The baby would sleep, wake up to be fed and changed, then sleep some more.

What on earth does this have to do with my career path? How is this relevant to how I ended up working in a library? Well, there was a small group of local parents that got together once a week for breakfast, followed by a visit to the library. This, as you will see, is how I found a new appreciation for our local public library. Meeting with this group of parents became my main (sometimes only) social event of the week. I first joined them when our son was six weeks old; we met up at a local diner for breakfast, and then took our gang of young children over to the library for storytime.

I carried my sleeping baby into the children’s area and sat down with a large crowd of other parents and their young children. An enthusiastic, smiling, happy lady greeted us with a song; “Welcome, welcome, it’s time for a story! Welcome, welcome, we’re glad to be here!” I appeared to be the only person in the room who didn’t know this song, so I looked on, bewildered, as everyone else sang along and did all the sign language actions. I felt like I had inadvertently wandered into an episode of Sesame Street, and expected Big Bird to come striding into view at any moment. I felt very British and out-of-place; the sleep deprived part of me was thinking what am I doing here? My baby boy is six weeks old and asleep, I could be asleep too. But the sane part of me, the part of my brain that was desperate for some social interaction, was thrilled that I was there, because this was a new experience, and there were all these other parents to talk to, and how wonderful was it to be a part of something like this instead of being home alone? Like the song said, I really was glad to be here. I had no idea at the time, but a year after going to my first storytime, I would have a job working in that library.

Part fifteen to follow.

My Employment History Part 13 (or how I ended up working in a library)

Part thirteen in a series exploring my work history, revealing how I ended up working in a library. This post: curating art exhibitions.

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Why is this so hard to write? I’ve hit a wall. When I worked at an art museum, it was my job to literally hit walls; well, at least drill holes in them and hammer in nails so I could hang pictures up. I was employed as a student worker, to assist with installing (and then removing) temporary art exhibitions; my title: Student Exhibitions Coordinator. I loved that job; I got to put into practice the theory I had learned from my Museum Studies classes, I had the artistic freedom to install exhibitions and use my own judgement to make best use of the gallery spaces. It was wonderful. My main task was to coordinate an annual exhibition of art by local artists; I had to collect submissions, recruit judges, and curate the exhibition itself. I’ll never forget one of the judges one year asking me who had curated the exhibition; he was amazed that a student had done such a professional job. I enjoyed the whole process of curating a show, and was lucky enough to work there for about 18 months. I had to step down, however, in order to undertake perhaps my most important role yet: stay-at-home dad.

Part fourteen to follow.

Library as Laboratory – How can Libraries exist in the future?

Leon's Library Blog

The following guest post has been received from Bedford Creative Arts. The post highlights how libraries and arts can collaborate successfully and provide a powerful and positive experience for users.

Library as Laboratory – How can Libraries exist in the future?

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Bedford Creative Arts has been exploring new ways that libraries can evolve for the future by bringing together artists and libraries. The result is five pioneering projects created by eight artists, ranging from festivals and performances to slot car championships.

The project is funded by Arts Council England Libraries fund and sits in the context of the government spending review which has brought about cuts to spending on libraries by local councils. Libraries are now looking at what services and community offers they can provide in order to stay open and working with other local organisations like BCA is a way to deliver this.handbag-credit-andy-willsher

Library as Laboratory is a brand new…

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My Employment History Part 12 (or how I ended up working in a library)

Part twelve in a series exploring my work history, revealing how I ended up working in a library. This post: back to school.

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So here I was, a full-time student again, in a foreign country, at age 34. I went from having nothing to occupy myself with, to suddenly having a full schedule of classes to attend, lists of books to read and assignment deadlines to meet. How exactly did this happen?

A few months after moving to America, I made the decision that I wanted to be a teacher. This thought had been bubbling under the surface for quite a long time; ever since I had taught English in Japan, I’d been toying with the idea of doing a course to convert my degree to a teaching qualification (in the UK the course is called a PGCE, and takes a year to complete). I even got as far as filling out a course application form, but lingering doubts kept me back from actually submitting it. Now, in America, I suddenly regretted not having that qualification, and tried to find a way to get it. My wife worked at a small liberal arts college, and suggested I meet the Education faculty to see if they could help; free tuition was available to me as the spouse of a college employee.

The college didn’t offer a fast-track education qualification; instead I had to enroll to do a full Education degree, which would take four years to complete. However, I was able to reduce this by transferring in credits from my earlier Media Art and English degree, meaning I could graduate with a new degree in Education & Youth Studies in about two years.

For the most part, the classes were engaging and I appreciated the variety of new experiences; I read stories to young children at an after-school club, supported middle-school students in their study of classic children’s literature, helped disadvantaged teenagers complete their high school diploma, completed an internship with a charity that supported neglected and abused children going through the legal and social services system, taught lessons at elementary and middle schools, and wrote more essays than I care to remember.

Alongside my major in Education, I also declared a minor in Museum Studies, a subject that I had serendipitously discovered a passion for, which in turn, led me to my next job. What I learned from this experience: sometimes it feels like you are in completely the wrong place, but it turns out you are exactly where you need to be.

Part thirteen to follow.

My Employment History Part 11 (or how I ended up working in a library)

Part eleven in a series exploring my work history, revealing how I ended up working in a library. This post: not working in America.

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My visa was finally approved, so I moved from England to America to live with my wife. It was a conditional visa, so I couldn’t work straight away, which meant that I suddenly found myself living in a foreign country with nothing to do except be a husband. To some, this might sound wonderful; imagine being a house-husband with the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want, with the added bonus of exploring a foreign country at the same time. However, I wasn’t living in New York or San Francisco or Seattle or Chicago; I was in a small corner of Wisconsin with no idea what to do to occupy my time. I visited thrift stores. I bought a bicycle. I baked cookies.

I remember walking downtown to the public library, with my official documents to prove that I was eligible to get a library card. The lady behind the desk probably had no idea how much that library card meant to me; here I was, in a new town, in a foreign country, unable to work, with lots of time on my hands. That card gave me access to  free books, free magazines, free music and a place to hang out when I had nothing else to do. More importantly, it made me feel like I was a proper citizen in that community, it gave me a sense of belonging.  I didn’t know it at the time, but within a few years, I would end up working in that library, alongside the same member of staff that issued my library card that day.

Part twelve to follow.

My Employment History Part 10 (or how I ended up working in a library)

Part ten in a series exploring my work history, revealing how I ended up working in a library. This post: the cubicle.

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By the end of my gap-year in Canada my life had been transformed. I returned home to the UK with something completely unexpected: an American fiancee. It would be more accurate, however, to say that I returned home without my fiancee, since we were now conducting a long-distance relationship (me in the UK, she in the US). Our plan was that after getting married we would live in the US, all we had to do was plan the wedding, get married, and then I would move to America.

So how did this influence my employment? I had just spent a year as an office temp in Canada, and now I was going to continue to be an office temp in the UK, because I didn’t see the point in trying to find a permanent job if I was going to be moving to the US in the near future. I registered again with the employment agency in my home town, and after completing a few short-term placements, I was offered a long-term, temporary job with an international pharmaceutical company.

I worked in a huge open plan office, complete with water dispensers, potted plants, grey carpet, grey desks and grey cubicles. On my first day I decided to have lunch in the staff restaurant; I saw a group of friendly-looking people sitting at a table so I asked if I could join them. They glanced at me, said yes, but then continued to ignore my attempts at engaging them in conversation during the meal. That pretty much set the tone for my time working there; the only person who seemed remotely interested in getting to know me was my supervisor. I gave up on the rest, and quietly kept myself occupied in my little grey cubicle. It was a miserable year. Only at my lowest ebb, after the sudden death of my best mate, did going to work become slightly positive; it then became a distraction from grief, a way to get through each day. My fiancee and I got married, but had to wait nine months for my visa to be issued before I could join her in America. I was more than happy to kiss this job goodbye. What I learned from this experience: life is too short to stay in a job that makes you unhappy.

Part eleven to follow. 

Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016 to 2021

The Government Department for Culture, Media and Sport has today published a document written by the Libraries Taskforce, called Libraries Deliver: Ambition which sets out a vision for, and commitment to, public libraries in England. To access the document, please click here. I will be writing a blog post about the document when I have had time to read and digest it.

In the meantime, the press release from the government is given below, in full:

New strategy to help public library service prosper in the 21st century

‘Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021’ will help create a sustainable sector

  • £4m library fund to help disadvantaged communities and promote new projects including literacy, reading and digital access schemes
  • Strategy encourages new models of delivery for libraries
  • Ambition underlines Government commitment to the library sector
  • Councils urged to consider using libraries when delivering other public services

Local authorities are being urged to consider how they can best use libraries when delivering vital public services as part of a new vision to reinvigorate the sector, Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson announced today.

Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021 calls on local authorities to make use of the buildings, staff and services, and think innovatively to help increase reading, literacy and digital access in communities.

The report says library buildings should be used to provide access to a range of public services such as employment, health and learning opportunities to make sure libraries have a sustainable future.

The strategy, produced by the Libraries Taskforce, gives local authorities practical and innovative options to improve and develop services across the country, to help it thrive in the 21st century.

This includes a new £4 million ‘Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund’ that will deliver new initiatives for disadvantaged communities across the country.

The fund, to be managed by Arts Council England, will finance new projects such as literacy schemes, improving access to technology or increasing the number of children visiting libraries. The Government is encouraging libraries to work with partners on joint bids and show match-funding as part of the application.

Rob Wilson, Minister for Civil Society and responsible for libraries, said:

If we are going to build a country that works for everyone then we need to recognise that libraries are among our most valuable community assets and they remain hugely popular. More people went to a library in England last year than visited the cinema, Premier League football games and the top 10 UK tourist attractions combined.

But standing still is not an option if libraries are to thrive and work best for communities in the 21st century. Libraries can flourish and prosper but this will take change and new thinking about our service.

This strategy provides a blueprint for how libraries can be better utilised, to make them more resilient while still delivering vital public services to the communities that need them.

The Taskforce will also provide additional support and encourage public libraries in England that want to explore becoming public service mutuals. This will build on the experience of trailblazing library services in Suffolk, York, Devon, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire.

The Taskforce is also piloting new ways for libraries to generate income from government initiatives. From January 2017, it will explore how libraries can be used as part of the National Citizen Service programme to support the participation of young people.

The Taskforce, established in March 2015, reports to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Local Government Association.

Dr Paul Blantern, Chair of the Libraries Taskforce and Chief Executive of Northamptonshire County Council, said:

Libraries are vital community hubs – bringing people together, and giving them access to the services and support they need to help them live better. I’m delighted that our vision for public libraries in England is endorsed and supported by central government and by the Local Government Association on behalf of local government. We want this report to reform through action. We already have some of the best libraries in the world; if we learn from them and deliver the shared ambitions we set out, then we will have a vibrant, thriving and world-class public library network in England.

Brian Ashley, Director of Libraries, Arts Council England said:

Libraries are there for everyone, but their special role in helping people overcome disadvantage is second to none. They are the gateway to opportunity. So it’s great to have an additional £4m coming into the sector to fund new activities in libraries. I look forward to seeing a new wave of innovative projects making these opportunities real in their communities.

Notes to editors:

Libraries Deliver: Ambition for public libraries in England 2016-2021 can be found here

More information about the Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund and how to apply can be found here

Funding awards for the Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund will be announced by 31 March 2017. The programme will complete by March 2018.

There are 3,000 public libraries in England.

More information on the Libraries Taskforce can be found here

My Employment History Part 9 (or how I ended up working in a library)

Part nine in a series exploring my work history, revealing how I ended up working in a library. This post: steering off the career path.

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I was feeling brave; I had quit my job without having a new one lined up, I’d turned thirty, and a romantic relationship had ended. I didn’t see this as failure, but as a new beginning. One of my friends resigned from his job on the same day that I had; we felt a kinship, both walking away from lives that we no longer wanted. There was one big difference, though; he remained focused on developing his career, whereas I made a  decision to deliberately reject all notions of a career path; I wanted to be free, I wanted…  well, I didn’t really know what I wanted. All I knew was that I didn’t want to devote my life to, as I saw it, slavishly following some careerist ideal. Indeed, I didn’t just want to gently steer off the career path, I wanted to rush headlong into the wild, where there were no signposts, no directions, no map.

This sounded fine, as ideals go, but what did I actually do? I thought about going back to teaching English as a foreign language, but I knew my heart was no longer in it. I ended up doing something that I had sworn I would never do; I went back to the employment agency that I had worked for as a student, and registered as an office temp. The positive side of this was I could earn money while I figured out what to do next, and I could enjoy an easy, stress-free working life. The downside, however, was that the work was so boring, dull and lifeless that now I cannot remember a single detail, other than it entailed working 9-5 in some dreary office somewhere, on an anonymous business park or desolate industrial estate. This wasn’t quite what I had meant by steering off the career path; I had apparently pulled over into a service station rather than heading out onto the open road.

Fast forward a few months, and  I was still working as an office temp, but I was now living in Vancouver, Canada. I was just within the age bracket for a twelve-month work visa through BUNAC, so I seized the opportunity with both hands, packed a bag, and two weeks after arriving in Vancouver I’d found a job and was living in a shared apartment, just five minutes from the beach. I stripped my life down to the bare essentials; one backpack with enough clothes to get by, a guidebook to Vancouver, my laptop, and a slate wiped clean. I didn’t even have a bed, I slept on a mattress on the floor. The temp jobs I did were still menial and less than exciting, but I earned a higher wage in Canada than in the UK; I worked mainly at the University of British Columbia, and for various government departments, including the liquor distribution centre. Yes, the work was boring, but I was living in one of the best cities in the world. What I learned from this experience: Sometimes it is not what you do, but where you do it.

Part ten to follow.

My Employment History Part 8 (or how I ended up working in a library)

Part eight in a series  exploring my work history, revealing how I ended up working in a library. This post: I left Japan, but Japan didn’t leave me.

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Returning home to the UK after three years in Japan was harder than expected. I felt like I had climbed a mountain, and after standing for a while at the summit to admire the wonderful view, I was now ready to smoothly, gracefully ski down the gentle snowy slopes on the other side. I had been warned about reverse culture shock, but that didn’t make it any easier. Back home, I found myself bowing to the bus driver after buying my ticket, my ears were overwhelmed by hearing all the English conversations everywhere, I couldn’t handle the enormous amount of choice in the supermarket, and struggled to catch up on the three years of popular culture that I had missed (I had never seen Big Brother, for example, and couldn’t understand why everyone kept talking about it). I missed Japan and my life there.

I was really happy, therefore, to get a job working for an Anglo-Japanese company, whose business was bringing Japanese students over to the UK to study English and to live with British host families. At the time, this really was my dream job, and I couldn’t quite believe my luck. My position had the title Programme Director, and I was responsible for designing English language courses, recruiting and managing English teachers, coordinating local host families, as well as planning social activities for students during their homestay programmes. I worked closely with a couple of Japanese and English colleagues, and liaised with our office in Japan. The downside was that I was often stressed and had to work long hours during the homestay programmes when the students were actually in the UK. I was constantly trying to match the right student to the right host family, recruiting enough teachers, finding more host families, arranging transport for social activities, sorting out catering for students and staff, finding and booking teaching locations, and sometimes standing in if a teacher was off sick. I found myself wanting to do more of the actual teaching, so I took a month out of the office to complete a CELTA  course (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). As a result of that, I was able to shift the focus of my job away from the host family side of things so I could concentrate more on teaching and developing English language courses. It was a great experience, and I stayed in the job for two years, but by the end I was burnt out. I had spent five years of my life either in Japan or working within Japanese culture, and I needed a change. What I learned from this experience: even dream jobs aren’t perfect.

Part nine to follow.

My Employment History Part 7 (or how I ended up working in a library)

Part seven in a series  exploring my work history, revealing how I ended up working in a library. This post: teaching English in Japan.

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How to sum up three years in Japan? I have written extensively about my time teaching English in Japan here so please check it out if you’re interested to learn more. I was a participant on the JET (Japan Exchange Teaching) Programme, working as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in elementary and junior high schools. Initially, I went there on a 12 month contract, which I subsequently renewed and ended up staying for three years.

In brief, the job  involved team-teaching English lessons with Japanese members of staff  and participating in school life. Typically, this meant teaching for two or three periods a day, eating school lunch with students, lesson planning in the staff room, and helping out during school activities such as cleaning time, meetings, and special events like sports day, culture day, and school trips.

For the first two years, I lived in a small seaside town and worked in four different schools each week; one junior high school, one elementary school, and two small hybrid elementary-junior high schools in rural areas outside the town. For my final year, I moved to a mountainous area near a ski resort and taught in just one junior high school, although I also had about twelve elementary schools that I had to visit once a term.

The JET Programme was a wonderful opportunity, but it wasn’t always easy; I got homesick sometimes, learning Japanese was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, and I experienced all the various cycles of culture shock. However, the highs were amazing; going to Australia with a group of my students on their home-stay programme, spending the day skiing with one of my schools, helping to devise the English curriculum for an elementary school, teaching students about British culture, having snowball fights with students, spending a month in Hokkaido learning Japanese one summer, getting to know the teachers and staff at my schools, learning about and experiencing Japanese culture, visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Sapporo, presenting seminars at JET conferences, and learning to navigate the Japanese education system. As I said in one of my farewell speeches at school, my job was to teach English to the students, but really, they taught me more than I could ever have taught them. What I learned from this experience: working in a different culture is challenging, but flexibility and adaptability make everything easier.

Part eight to follow.