In this next chapter in our Careers Breakers series, Stephen King shares how he has challenged stereotypes in librarianship. From his start as a History graduate to School Librarian, Careers Leader and School Chaplain, Stephen shares his unconventional journey – offering insights and breaking down misconceptions regarding his integral role in providing subject and curriculum support and shaping young minds.
Name: Stephen King
Job title: School Librarian
I graduated with an honours degree in History from the University of Leicester, and although I can remember looking at a post-graduate qualification in Librarianship, I was eager to enter the graduate employment market as soon as possible. I obtained a place on a graduate management training scheme with a major high street retailer and spent the next 20 years working in a variety of occupations – retail and industrial sales management, exports, freight forwarding, airfreight, and logistics. However, after two redundancies, I re-evaluated my long-term career aspirations, and took a Masters degree in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield whilst working part time as a library counter assistant, and later as a mobile library driver.
I originally felt drawn towards management within public libraries but, seeing that a School Librarian position was available for which I was qualified, decided to apply. That was some 16 years ago, and I still enjoy the unique challenges of the position.
Librarianship as a profession – whether as a Public, Medical, Legal, Prison, Children’s, Youth, or School Librarian – will never be the best paid career, and is constantly under pressure from authorities, employers, and non-librarian colleagues who do not understand the vital services, support, and inspiration that are offered to clients on a daily basis. However, as customer facing “fonts of all knowledge”, librarians know they can and do make real differences to people’s lives.
The main challenge a School Librarian can face is to be accepted as an equal by teaching staff. Librarians are often viewed as simply “book-stampers”, and the library can often become a depository for students with behavioural or attitude issues. I have found it important to be able to demonstrate the unique and personal relationships that School Librarians can build up with individual students, and to become as involved as possible with heads of academic departments to offer subject and curriculum support.
Producing the right book or electronic resource “at the drop of a hat” is easier if the Librarian has full and prior knowledge of subjects being taught at all Key Stages, and many teachers in most subject areas will be amazed how much support the Librarian can offer with cooperation and prior planning. Eventually, faculty or subject heads will welcome the support a good School Librarian can offer, but this can sometime take some time to establish.
School Librarianship in general is an overwhelmingly female dominated profession, but as a male School Librarian of now many years standing, I feel that becoming involved in other pastoral roles within a school can be a great help to break down barriers. I am now both the Careers Leader and School Chaplain, as well as School Librarian, at my Boarding School, and the three roles often are complimentary to each other. Never think that you are worth less than any individual teacher – your role should always be much more far-reaching and holistic than simply teaching one subject. The variety and flexibility encountered daily means that the life of a School Librarian should never become repetitive or boring.
Continually push your professional qualifications, your knowledge of both children’s and adult literature, your online researching skills, your ability to connect on a personal basis with students, your ability to teach safe internet usage, referencing and speed-reading capabilities, and how to avoid plagiarism. In my experience, misconceptions and biases are brought about more because of misunderstandings of the role of School Librarians, rather than gender.
There is little doubt, however, that the (now very outdated) view of the School Librarian is of a quiet, small woman, with grey hair tied back in a bun, glasses on a chain around their neck, sitting quietly behind a desk wearing twinset and pearls, waiting for someone – anyone! – to come into the library to borrow a book. It is up to School Librarians of all genders – or none – to smash this old-fashioned myth once and for all!
A good School Library should be at the heart of every school. And an inspirational, outgoing, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, conciliatory and stimulating professional School Librarian should be a vital part of every school staff. Join the School Library Association Home (sla.org.uk) for professional support and advice.
Follow the Career Breakers series on our website throughout January to stay connected with these empowering stories of individuals who have reshaped their careers and challenged gender stereotypes. For real-time updates, connect with us on social media using the hashtag #CareerBreakers.
The National Careers Service provides free, up to date, impartial information, advice and guidance on careers, skills and the labour market in England to anyone aged 13 and upwards. To speak to a National Careers Service adviser, call 0800 100 900 or use our webchat. Lines are available from: 8am – 8pm Monday – Friday, and 10am – 5pm Saturday