Work Stories: Jack, The National Portrait Gallery Library and Archives

Interview

I think that the programme is great in that it offers such a variety of roles for all different people.

This Is It! speaks to Jack about working on the Creative Employment Programme at the National Portrait Gallery Archive and Library.

 

What were you doing before you started working here?

Before I was working here I was doing voluntary work in a charity bookshop, which I started just after I graduated. I wanted to get in to libraries, so it meant I had some relevant experience when I came for my interview at the National Portrait Gallery Library.

 

Had you thought about working in the Creative Industry before you started working here?

Yeah absolutely, my degree was in film studies so I had been initially looking to go in to something film based, but then I started finding more of an interest in books, so it worked out perfectly really.

It can either be very quiet with no visitors to deal with or crazy with 50 things in your hands trying to juggle

What interested you most about applying for this position?

It perfectly lined up with my interests as it was in the library services. Six months also seemed like a good length of time to be introductory as well as fit you in to a working environment, which I hadn’t been in properly before.

NPG Gallery Record - Gallery Interior Photograph – Born Digital

NPG Gallery Record – Gallery Interior Photograph – Born Digital

Can you tell us a little bit about your role at the National Portrait Gallery Library and Archives?

I started as a Library Assistant trainee and intern, doing a variety of things round the library. I worked with the collections by retrieving and labelling items, looking after books that had been damaged and generally managing things.

A large part of my role was also working on the archive reception desk. This involved helping visitors use the library, booking appointments and dealing with enquiries. It can either be very quiet with no visitors to deal with or crazy with 50 things in your hands trying to juggle, but it’s good. I enjoy working with people; I don’t like particularly being solitary at my desk for long periods of time. Some people like that, I like to get out and talk to people.

One of the main things I got in to doing was cataloguing, and cataloguing training with the Librarian. This means getting volumes of books and making sure their records are right on the computer. You need a degree in Librarianship to be able to do that properly but I was lucky in that Joseph, the Librarian, was able to spare the time to teach me, which I enjoyed doing. That’s a large part of what I do now. I spend half my day on the reception desk and the other half I spend heading up a sales cataloguing project that we’re doing.

I’ve learnt practical things like dealing with books, working with the collections and learning to look after archive and library materials properly.

What skills have you learnt so far on your placement?

One of the main skills has been confidence. I started the scheme with five other people across the institutions. It was good to start at the same time as other people at the same level to you, rather than being thrown in at the deep end.

I’ve learnt practical things like dealing with books, working with the collections and learning to look after archive and library materials properly. Also using the library management system, which is something you can’t really learn without looking at it and dealing with it yourself. As I wanted to continue working in libraries, working with the researchers, the type of people I would be dealing with in a full role, was really helpful.

I have been given transferable skills in both helping casual visitors and working with researchers. Without these skills I would not have had the opportunity to work at the Natural History Museum, which I now do along side the National Portrait Gallery.

NPG Gallery Record - Gallery Interior Photograph – Born Digital

NPG Gallery Record – Gallery Interior Photograph – Born Digital

Can you think of a moment or day that has been a particular highlight?

I really enjoyed the collaborative training we did as part of the programme with the other interns from St. Martins and Somerset House. The other staff members were all around my age and job level, so in terms of confidence it was quite nice to be learning things with that group. I really like that sort of thing, learning new things and contributing things from my workplace that other people might not be so familiar with.

I like days where it’s quite busy at the desk and there are lots of things to do. I’m lucky in the library that there are members of staff from all different departments working in the reading room. These include records management, archive staff and a couple of Curators. So I like days where I get to speak to them learning about what they do and they can help me with my work.

 

Have you come across anything in the archives that stood out to you?

The archives have got some pretty cool stuff in. There are journals and notebooks down there with hand drawn sketches from George Scharf, who was an early director of the National Portrait Gallery.

My internship was good in that it gave me the skills I needed to progress. I’ve now got two proper posts in highly esteemed institutions, which is great!

Have you faced any challenges during your time here?

As I wasn’t a very outspoken person when I came in, being suddenly in an office with all these people who are very good at their jobs, talking about things that I don’t know was a learning curve. It’s also quite exciting as it’s interesting to learn about people and their jobs.

The real challenge having come out of doing voluntary work and being unemployed was getting to grips with the working environment. This is something that will vary from place to place but luckily here it was made less of a challenge

if I want to go anywhere else in the future, I’ve got the experience that I wouldn’t have had without the internship.

Has working at the National Portrait Gallery Library helped influence your future career?

Yes absolutely, the programme was great in that it was a good stepping-stone. Coming out of voluntary work I had a few interviews to go straight in to working a full time post in a library but I still didn’t have the experience that was necessary for it. My internship was good in that it gave me the skills I needed to progress. I’ve now got two proper posts in highly esteemed institutions, which is great! So now if I want to go anywhere else in the future, I’ve got the experience that I wouldn’t have had without the internship.

NPG Gallery Record - Gallery Interior Photograph – Born Digital

NPG Gallery Record – Gallery Interior Photograph – Born Digital

Can you give any advice to someone who could be starting a similar role, or starting a placement?

I’d advise that if you’re interested in specific areas, ask people about it.

As I wasn’t so self-assured, I wasn’t doing that at first but as I got in to it I started asking about areas I hadn’t been initially introduced to. I think that the programme is great in that it offers such a variety of roles for all different people.


You can find out more about the National Portrait Gallery Library here and more about the Creative Employment Programme here.

 

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