This is the first in our series of New Professionals stories, hearing from a variety of people new to the LIS profession. If you would like to contribute to this series, please get in touch – drop us a line here

Looking back it seems obvious now – I was always meant to a librarian. I detoured along the way and ended up dipping in my toe into the academic world (research degree in counter-terrorism, anyone?), but libraries are my passion. I never initially wanted to be a librarian. Books have always been an important part of my life from a very young age, yet growing up I wanted to be a journalist. By the time I was eighteen practicalities set in, and I enrolled on anursing diploma course. I became a qualified nurse then realised it wasn’t really what Iwanted to do. I began a Bachelor’s degree in history, before moving on to complete a Masters in counter-terrorism research.

In between studying I started working part time in a library. My first library job was as a library assistant at the local public library. I’ve been working in libraries for over ten years now and never wanted to do anything else. I’ve been fortunate to work in different sectors and see the diverse spectrum of work done by a variety of librarians.

In 2008 I moved into academic libraries as an information specialist at the University of Birmingham. Working in a university library is a completely different experience from a public library. It was during this role that my professional experience increased. As the sole information specialist on a small library site, I was responsible for the day-to-day running of the library, staff supervision and the dreaded journal claims/invoices. My years as an information specialist also made me realize if I wanted to move into professional librarian roles I needed a Masters in library and information studies.

Finally, in 2011 I moved to Leeds and got my current job as a library assistant in a mental health NHS library. This has been my favourite role to date. Compared to academic and public libraries, my current role is much more varied. In academic libraries various areas tend to be centralised, for example, academic libraries will have a cataloguing team, a document supply team, and a journals team. I am currently responsible for cataloguing and document supply. It has been during this role that I acquired a passion for developing our interlibrary loan system. I’ve learnt so many new things working in a small team. Before starting this role I had no knowledge of cataloguing or literature searching. These are core responsibilities of my role now, and of any professional librarian role I may have in the future. I’m teaching information skills training sessions and also developing our collection. I am even covering our assistant librarian post one day a week while she is on maternity leave.

In 2013 I finally started a MSc in Information Studies at the University of Aberystwyth. They have a great distance learning programme! The course gave me the theoretical grounding behind things I’d been doing for years. It also allowed me to develop skills I’ve been learning in my job, not to mention complete two rare books modules which really tested the limits of my knowledge and ignited a passion for manuscripts. In February this year I passed my modules with distinction. However, I still have my dissertation to complete and then on to chartership.

So, after ten long years, I’m now a qualified librarian…almost.

Donna Whitehouse



One thought on “New Professionals Stories #1: Donna Whitehouse

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