Karen McAulay, Music and Academic Services Librarian at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
I’m Karen McAulay, and I’m Music and Academic Services Librarian at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, in Glasgow. I’ve worked there since the present main building was built and opened in 1988, when we were the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. A couple of years ago, we had a name-change to reflect the fact that we teach far more than music and drama – there’s also ballet, film and TV, theatre production and technical arts, not to mention jazz and Scottish music. Those last two are within my remit as subject librarian for music, and as it happens their course leaders are two of the best and most enthusiastic advocates for the library.
How did I get here? Do you want the long or the short version?! I’m dual-qualified in music and librarianship. After doing a BA in Music at Durham then an MA at Exeter (not completing a PhD), and spending a year in Exeter Uni Library as a graduate trainee, I went to Aberystwyth to do a postgraduate librarianship diploma. From there I went to the University of East Anglia as a senior library assistant in cataloguing, and then to South Shields to be borough music librarian for three years. Acquiring a spouse on the way, we came to Glasgow for my present job, so I effectively went from academic to public and back to academic librarianship. Perhaps not the most usual pattern, but it has worked for me. Since then, I’ve always worked full-time, whilst also raising three sons and completing my second attempt at a PhD in music. Scottish music, to be precise.
I’m currently on a postdoc research secondment two days a week, with a new professional covering my library duties while I’m researching – an arrangement which is working very well indeed.
I’ve always been a keen public library user, as well as visiting any academic library I could gain access to. My father took me to the library in Thorpe St Andrew well before I was five, and once I could read, I’d visit the local branch library at least twice a week – sometimes twice a day. Norwich Central Library was my customary after-school haunt when I became a sixth-former. When we first came to Glasgow, I discovered Springburn Library, which at the time also contained a local history museum. (I found a black and white postcard showing our first tenement flat halfway up Balgrayhill – it’s now the only building surviving from that era, but I made a fabric collage of the scene, using a blown-up photocopy of that postcard.) My husband was keen to introduce me to the Mitchell Library, which he had known since his schoolboy holiday visits to his grandparents, and there we started our family tree research. It won’t surprise you to learn that our sons subsequently got their library cards to Elder Park Library at an early age! And now, in her retirement, my mother is deriving great enjoyment from attending her local library book-club, reading about local history, and just having more time to borrow and read a wider range of books than she’d ever buy. Is it any wonder that I’m totally committed to keeping public libraries open and professionally run?
What makes me tick as a librarian? For me, the job satisfaction is in uniting readers with the information or reading-matter that they require, whatever the format. That means getting the cataloguing accurate so that they can find things – bear in mind that our clientele gets through a lot of sheet music and recordings, too – and also teaching our users how to find what they need. That also extends to information literacy (not all information is equally good!), research skills, or teaching a student how to format a bibliography at the end of an essay or dissertation. After my own doctoral studies, I also have a particular affection for sharing my love of historic Scottish music collections, too – I’ll give talks to undergrads, postgrads or indeed visitors at the first whiff of an invitation!
I’ve always been a member of CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), and I got my CILIP Fellowship – FCLIP – a few years ago. I’m also a member of IAML (the International Association of Music Libraries), and I am Convenor of the Scottish Academic Libraries Training Group. Now, in what I have to admit are the mature years of my career, I’ve recently become a CILIP mentor for young professionals just embarking on their librarianship careers. I see it as a way of giving something back to the profession, and also ensuring that knowledge I’ve gained is passed on. I’m enthusiastic about social media because it allows us to share insights, continue professional discussion, and network in a more informal way. As you’ll find out in due course, I’m also a compulsive writer and blogger, and Whittaker Live* – our performing arts blog at the Whittaker Library – has now been running for well over a decade. I run that blog on behalf of the Library, so I try to ensure that every posting will have relevance to some part of the Conservatoire community. Having said that, my own interests do – unashamedly – come through. It’s useful to have a place where I can write about old Scottish music books, little-known names who were instrumental in establishing the Scottish music repertoire, or intriguing details of our history that wouldn’t otherwise be known to anyone but the odd researcher.
During my week blogging and tweeting for Voices for the Library, I shall be on vacation for the first three days and then back at my library desk for the last two. This’ll give me a bit more time to make my contribution here, after which you’ll witness me opening my work Inbox after two and a half weeks away. (I’m quaking already – it’s going to be huge!)
I’ll try to give you a glimpse into what it’s like being a music librarian in a conservatoire, but I’ll also be tweeting about any more general professional issues that arise during the week.