Sunday, 28 October 2012

Jobs - Boring, Exciting or Adventurous: Sharing Memories

Lorine McGinnis Schulze at is asking us to Share Memories for our descendants.  . This theme here  is Jobs - were they boring, exciting or adventurous?

Does anyone remember the old Smirnoff vodka advert where the librarian (dowdy clothes, hair in a bun and of course wearing spectacles), whips off her glasses, loosens her hair,  shakes it into a tousled look, hitches her skirt and undoes her blouse buttons?

Well. I trained as a librarian and can't say that I fitted the advertising image - though I did wear glasses.  It is a profession generally associated in the popular mind with boredom,  rather than excitement and adventure - but for me it had its moments.  More of that later.

My employment history could be summed up as "Fish Girl to Family Historian ".

Fish Girl - My first job the summer I left school was helping out at a fishmonger's owned by a friend's father who was looking for some one to fill in for staff on holiday. It was totally out of character for me, but I stuck it out gutting some fish (for making herring rolls, I think), washing down the slabs and I managed somehow to cope with the cash side - maths was never my strong point and this was before the days of electronic tills. At home we ate healthily from the left over stocks of fish I took back to Mum.

Shop Girl for Cakes, Books & Tartan Trash -  For future summer and Christmas jobs, I opted for a less messy side of retail life, ranging from a busy bakery counter (dreaded having to make up the cardboard cake boxes in a hurry as I was all thumbs) to selling what we called "tartan trash" to tourists on Princes Street in Edinburgh - think garish red tasteless Stewart tartan souvenirs. 

My favourite was a bookshop where I enjoyed tidying the shelves and making sure everything was in order from the Pan and Penguin paperbacks in their familiar white and orange covers to the Classics, bound in mock midnight blue leather.     One Christmas I worked in a general stationery store that sold calculators and was clueless when facing questions such as "Why was this one more expensive and what did it do?" 

I can't recollect receiving anything that could be called "training" - you were just expected to turn up on time, wear an often ugly uniform, pick up procedures, work hard, have plenty of stamina to be on your feet all day, be respectful to superiors, especially if there was the dreaded visit from Head Office, get on with the job - and sink or swim.In no way could the jobs be termed  exciting or adventurous, though life could  be  boring if there were not many customers around. They were also a good source of anecdotes when I met up with fellow students as we exchanged horror stories of our holiday jobs. 

Stuck in a Snowstorm  - Becoming a librarian had always been in my thoughts as I grew up. I studied history at university, and as a student had various Saturday and holiday jobs in Edinburgh City Libraries, most memorably getting stuck in a mobile library on a hill in a snowstorm. - the excitement (minor)  bit!   

An American Adventure:   Here comes  the adventure (plus excitement) part  - having always lived at home, I took the plunge to move 3000 miles trans-Atlantic.   I had the chance to work in the USA for a year as part of an exchange scheme for trainee librarians and my placement was at Radcliffe College, the sister college to Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. I loved Boston and New England, and took advantage, with another British girl I met, of taking the Greyhound bus offer of "99 dollars for 99 days of travel" around the States - a wonderful time.

At the Cutting Edge - My second professional job after library school  was as Information Officer at the  Edinburgh's College of Education in Edinburgh  with a remit to set up a Modern Studies Information Resource. This was long before the Internet, and the role involved setting up project files of ephemera - mainly press cuttings, and compiling source lists for students. I got to look though all the quality daily papers - a great job and nothing boring about it.    I had always fancied working as a newspaper librarian, or as a BBC researcher, though jobs are few and far between, so this was coming close to it. 

Dumbo to Dinosaurs  - A newsletter from my daughter's primary school announced that a school auxiliary had been asked to set up a library in the school. My professional hackles arose - obviously a job that the head teacher felt anyone could do! So I got in touch, took on the role,  and I was back classifying the school collection  and creating a catalogue. As it was a voluntary task, I could take my time and have a good look through all the books, with dinosaurs seeming to be the most popular topic - not one I could relate to. 

Was the Abbey Bombed?  This was one of the very many quirky queries I faced  when working in the local tourist information centre network for over 20 years.  It was never dull as we helped visitors get the most out of  of their holiday and was a source of many  humorous anecdotes.  And the  answer to the question?   Well - the 12th century Jedburgh Abbey was destroyed in 1544 by Henyr'VIII's army which invaded south Scotland in what was known as the "Rough Wooing" as Henry  tried to enforce the marriage of his son Edward to the young Mary Queen of Scots  - some 400 years before World War Two fighter planes

Back to my Roots - Following redundancy, and a spell of free lancing in tourism,  I went back to my academic roots of history and librarianship,  working in the Library Service's Local Studies Dept. Not quite a full circle, but almost. My final role was as Family History Researcher at the Heritage Hub, Hawick - and how many people can say they found a job linked to a hobby - and we all know that family history can be exciting,  adventurous and never boring!

The Heritage Hub, Hawick, Scottish Borders

And the Most Boring Task? I must be lucky because I had difficulty coming up with this, and it is a relatively recent experience from the last 10 years.  No, it wasn't stamping books - the traditional image of what a librarian does, as that's always the  opportunity to chat to customers.

I had to type on an old style electric typewriter (no spell check) catalogue cards that indexed articles from the local press - somebody else did the interesting bit of going through the newspapers and selecting the items to index.   Even worse,  then I  had to stand  and file the cards in a stack of 56 catalogue drawers   - a tedious job, best done in short stints before lunch and coffee breaks.  And no-one ever consulted them, though the theory was it was an archive for the future.  Nobody seemed to thank  of applying IT to the project!
But, depiste this,  being a librarian has served me very well!




  1. Oh, what a fun post Susan and SO interesting to read of your adventures in "employment". Is on my list of blogs to write. Thanks, Catherine.

  2. T'was a fun post --- and 99 days on a Greyhound bus must have been quite an experience-- that would be a great post in itself.

  3. what an enjoyable post Susan. Radcliffe, 99 days and the Hawick job would certainly have compensated for any boredom at other times. Loved the idea of the tartan trash ;-). Must think on this topic and write something even though it won't be this week.

  4. Thank you to you all for your comments. I am so pleased you found it "fun" as I spent a long time editing it from what initially was rather a long, laborious account. I wanted to break up the heavy text more and make it more readable.


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