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Friday, 23 February 2018

On the Job - Fish Girl to Family HIstorian

'Lorine of Olive Genealogy invites us to list the paying jobs we have held, as part of a project to record our own life for future generations. 

So what was my working life like?
  My employment history could be summed up as
 "Fish Girl to Family Historian"

1.  Fish Girl 
My first job the summer I left school was helping out at a fishmonger's  in Leith, Edinburgh,  owned by a friend's father who was looking for some one to fill in for holiday cover. I was way out of my comfort zone, but I stuck it out for the short period -  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.

2. Shop Girl for Cakes, Books & Tartan Trash 
For future holiday jobs, as a student I opted for a less messy side of retail, 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 overall, 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. Life could  be  boring if there were not many customers around, but if the shop was busy,  it became a good source of anecdotes when I met up with fellow students,  as we exchanged horror stories of our holiday jobs. 

3. Library Assistant  
I had various Saturday and holiday jobs in Edinburgh City Libraries, most memorably getting stuck in a mobile library on a hill in a snowstorm one Easter!   My colleague was desperate to get back into the city, as he had tickets for a Beatles concert - this was the time of Beatlemania.

4.Trainee Librarian  - On An American Adventure   
Having always lived at home, I took the plunge to spread my wings move 3000 miles trans-Atlantic to work in the USA for a year as part of an exchange scheme for trainee librarians.  My  placement was at Radcliffe College, the sister college to Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., near Boston. I loved New England, and before I retunred home  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. 

Radcliffe Library, Cambridge, Mass.  
 Setting Out on a Journey across America

5. Information Officer 
My first professional job after a year at Library School was back in Edinburgh where my task was to set up an resource centre for a small organisation involved in youth and community work.   After two years, it was time to move on and widen my experience.

6.Referene Librarian - At the Cutting Edge
My second professional job  was  at  Edinburgh's College of Education 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 leaflets, and compiling source lists for students. I got to look through 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, so this was coming close to it.  

7.School Auxiliary 
I moved to the rural Scottish Borders on my marriage and could not get a library post, so worked as an infant school auxiliary, where  my key aptitude was the fact I could play the piano.   This was just before the introduction of paid maternity leave, so I had to give it up six month’s into my pregnancy.

8. Tourist Information Assistant at Hawick

Note no computer, an old fashioned telephone and no uniform - just a name badge.  I was working in the town's main car park, in  a portacabin with no electricity and you had to make use of the public toilets across the car park.   One year the season was extended  into October and I was given a gas light which terrified me.  I was so afraid I would knock it over and set the cabin alight.

8.Tourist Information Centre Manager
A promotion to the largest and busiest centre in the Borders at Jedburgh - a gateway to Scotland. I was no longer working on my own there and I had a  company of colleagues who remain friends today.  Things had moved on a bit,  though we were not yet into the computer age.  We now had a stylish uniform - which echoed the fashion then for all things tartan.

It was never dull as we helped visitors get the most out of  of their holiday and the work was a source of many  humorous anecdotes. I loved this job - meeting people from all over the world, answering questions, preparing displays, promoting retail sales, and compiling fact sheets.  I was in the right place!

9. Visitor Service Manager
I was head hunted to Head Office - so a promotion!   I must admit I missed the contact with visitors and the satisfaction gained from answering enquiries. I struggled a bit with the strategic aspects of the role e.g.   "Susan, What is your vision for the future of the information network?"   But computers came in and I  benefited from an excellent training programme and qualified as a Trainer and Assessor for the Scottish Qualifications Authority. I served on two national committees and appreciated the supportive network I was part of  across Scotland.

But the work environment does not stand still - restructuring took place and I found myself facing redundancy - devastating!  I felt "on the shelf",  "past my sell by date" etc. etc.   (I  could write at some length on that experience!)

10. Freelance Tourism Administrator
I had a lot of support from the industry  at my position (or rather lack of it! and I quickly set up a small business providing administrative support to three local tourism bodies  - organising meetings, training sessions, and projects etc. plus being  a mystery shopper, visiting  tourist information centres across Scotland. 

11. Archive Assistant - Back to My Roots.
But fate was also on my side!  Within six weeks of unemployment, I had a part-time job in the local studies department  of the library service - so my background in librarianship and history still counted for something and I was able to combine it with the freelance work. 

12, Enquiry Researcher - my final post. 

The local studies transferred to the Heritage Hub, at Hawick as part of a new major town regeneration project.  My role involved dealing with the more in-depth enquiries through the remote research service - the majority of them  family history.   Ny previous training was not wasted,  as I presented public FH workshops, and staff training sessions,   served on an Ancestral Tourism committee and wrote a series of Source Lists that I was particularly proud of.  

It was at the Heritage Hub that I was first introduced to the idea of blogging  - and here I am eight years later with my own blogs!

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 last ten years of my working life were great - and redundancy turned out to be  one of  the best things workwise that happened to me.  

So History, Librarianship and Tourism served me very well. 


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