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February 16, 2012 / theatregrad

My (not so new) New Job: Assistant Media Librarian

I have been in my first job since finishing library school for over 4 months now and I’ve not yet taken the time to share what exactly it is that I do.  Until now…

Following on from the brief glimpses of life as a librarian working in television here is a more comprehensive overview of my job.  I’ve written in the style of a fake interview with myself, like the introduction to I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan but this far less funny but a lot more insightful when it comes to media librarianship.

What is the job?

My job title is assistant media librarian and I work for a television company. I work within the library and archive team.

The archive collection is vast, and includes a diverse range of programmes, including news and sport. Programmes are held on tape or film in physical archives in various locations across the country.  As a media librarian I help to manage the content placed in the archive after the programmes initial broadcast.

I work with tapes like these Betacam SP tapes. This is in fact what my desk often looks like. Image credit:

In my role I respond to enquiries about the collection, fulfil requests for our content from within the organisation and external customers.  Our content is requested for reuse in new programmes which are being produced or for repeat broadcast.  I am also involved in several projects including one to clean up the metadata in our database.

What does it involve?

Day to day, my job is extremely varied. Over the course of a day at work I might be dealing with returns and shelving items, or fulfilling requests for material or responding to enquiries about the collection. Enquiry work is diverse; requests to search our collection for material span extremely wide range of subjects, as it can be for anything that someone wants to make a programme or a news feature about.

What skills and expertise do I need?

A library or information qualification was not required. Experience in libraries was a desirable but not essential requirement listed on the job advert. The previous experience I have of working in libraries meant I was able to be thrown in at the deep end and just get on with the job without requiring much training because I already had an understanding of how libraries should work   I’m the only person in my department with a library qualification. However the knowledge and experience I have from my studies has been useful in giving me something extra to draw upon, especially when it comes to seeing the bigger picture. The knowledge gained from my MA helps in looking at how my team and my department fit within the wider organisation, and gives me greater awareness of the overarching issues relating to library work which apply in my role. .

The majority of the new skills and expertise that I’ve had to acquire have been sector specific; knowledge of television, sector specific jargon and terminology, understanding of different media storage formats, how to use our tape viewing equipment.  My knowledge of television production was non-existent so I’ve been required to develop knowledge quickly in order to fully carry out my role.  Learning how to identify different formats, what they are, where they can go and how they can be used has been crucial to be able to do the job.

Knowledge of and a love for TV is of course advantageous. Knowledge of programmes means I can do my job better when it comes to enquiry work.  Plus loving some of the programmes we produce or commission means that I take great joy in the perks of the job such as opportunities to go on studio tours or meet celebrities.

What do you love most about your job?

I love knowing that the work I do helps make television happen.  Tapes that I send out are often used for clips in new programmes which are being produced  I doubt many librarians get to say they are part of television production!

The content of the collection is definitely a favourite part of the work.  As part of my metadata clean up project I am often viewing tapes to work out what programmes are on them because the database doesn’t have any information.  I find the undiscovered potential of our archive exciting; some of the gems hidden away on our tapes are amazing.  Consider all those classics and nostalgic clips on YouTube that are fun to watch and then imagine how many things aren’t on the internet because the only copy is on a tape in my archive or because they were broadcast in the days before the internet and nobody has bothered to make a digital copy to put on the internet yet.

How did you find out about the job?

People often seem curious about this one.  I found out about the vacancy on Twitter.  I saw a tweet  from another LIS professional with a link to the job advert. As soon as I spotted it my attention was caught. I’d been interested and curious about working in media libraries for a while however hadn’t seen any vacancies in my entire time as a librarian (I like to keep an eye on job adverts even when not actively looking for a job out of curiosity) apart from the BBC North talent pool which included possible positions within the Information and Archives department. The only other television library opportunities I had found were BBC work experience placements which could be an excellent opportunity for students or those seeking initial experience in libraries.

Is it different to working in a library of books?

I get asked this question more often than you might think.

The answer? Kind of. But not really.

I have a trolley and a bar-code scanner and all the other paraphernalia you might associate with library work. I shelve, organise and deal with enquiries.  The main differences between this job and my previous library work in an academic library is the format and content of the collection and the customers.  The collection is tape and film not paper and electronic resources. The database or library management system is designed for organisations managing media assets not for libraries.  The customers rarely visit the library office and are usually email addresses or voices at the end of the phone.  There is of course the issue of it technically being an archive rather than a library but my job title says librarian so that is an issue for a different blog post.

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Leave a Comment
  1. colesk / Feb 17 2012 12:16 pm

    This is really interesting, thanks! I’ve been wondering what a media librarian does, and now I know. Plus, it’s interesting that you didn’t need the MA to get the job.
    Mostly, though, it sounds really interesting!

    • Sarah / Dec 8 2013 6:06 am

      This is what I do as well. Maybe we can keep in touch, and update each other on common trends in our industry.

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