Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

12 July 2017

Bricks and knowledge: my week of work experience at the British Library

Sorcha Vieyra - blog

I would say I’m not particularly a shy person, yet it’s strange how daunting the British Library can seem, partly because of its immense size, but also due to the constant hum of noise from the public going in and out of the Library – confirming just how loved it is by the public of not only London, but by people from all over the world. The British Library is, essentially, a national treasure in itself.

My week of work experience at the British Library was one that helped me both to understand the reality of the working world, and also helped me to engage with my thoughts and ambitions for the future. Although walking in admittedly terrified, due to the sheer size of the Library alone, my nerves quickly faded as I was greeted with my supervisor, Ella Snell (pictured above, right, with Sorcha, left), who instantly made me feel welcome and at ease. My first day felt like the start of secondary school all over again, the excitement of a new beginning, and the nervous butterflies of the unknown – feeling so small in such a vast area of bricks and knowledge.

My first morning consisted of the typical routine of learning the basics: what to do if a fire alarm sounds and where the exits are, what was expected of me and what opportunities the Library has to offer – in which I can safely say that the British Library provides countless opportunities as it covers so many broad areas. I worked in Corporate Affairs, and from this team alone I had meetings with the staff from marketing, the press office, staff from public and international affairs, all explaining their involvement in the library and what their jobs actually consist of. They also introduced me to curators.

The meetings were mostly 1:1’s and would usually occur over a cup of coffee and would be casual, which I greatly appreciated. It allowed me to be myself and not feel intimidated about learning something completely new, but comfortable enough to be able to interact with the team and ask questions in order to gain as much experience as I could before the week ended.

I was almost overwhelmed by how lovely everyone in the Library was, not only making me feel welcome on just the first day, but throughout the whole week, and I owe the whole team a massive thank you for really making me feel like I was part of the team and not the ‘rookie’. Throughout the entire week I was constantly kept active and accompanied with events or tasks to complete, such as touring the Library, filling in spread-sheets or learning how the library works together to keep such an impressive building, the second largest in the world, running – it’s now in its 44th year. During one of my days throughout this week, I was placed in the Humanities 1, in which I shadowed the Reading Room team and learned the process behind giving out and retrieving books, and what to do if a problem occurs, understanding the process of overcoming the problem, and in turn acknowledging how much the British Library has developed, now relying heavily on modern technology to speed up situations that would have otherwise taken days and even months to overcome manually.

Being able to do my work experience in such a positive and warm-natured atmosphere made it feel like I wasn’t actually completing the strenuous task of ‘doing work’, but was as if I was achieving a goal that I had set for myself, and inspired me to want to complete my tasks in order to feel a sense of proud accomplishment. Perhaps the frequent reminders of my “school years” being the “best of my life” may not be entirely true. Being as welcomed as I did into the Library this week, caused me to become accustomed very quickly to this new way of life I’d been routinely doing, and to say that I’ll no longer be an active part of this amazing group of people installs a sense of great sadness, but also gratitude for being able to have experienced this inspiring and thought-provoking work placement.

However, upon reflection of leaving the Library, I’ve realised that I’ll never really leave, I can always come back as a visitor or a studying student and familiarise myself with the same geometrical design of each floor, or the long corridors, or the ever-changing countless wonders and treasures that the British Library holds, all of which I will miss seeing every day. But to Ella, my supervisor, (and basically mentor that helped me through the entire week), I owe the biggest thank you possible, as I would never have been able to achieve what I have done through this experience without her guidance. Her support and kindness made this already fantastic opportunity into something that can only be described as a week of fulfilment of learning, creativity, and positivity.

So, as I leave the British Library having come to an end of my very first and very eye-opening work experience, I gain a new perspective of the ‘working world’, something I could never have been given without coming here and experiencing what exactly ‘working’ is all about. Before coming here, I was scared of starting something completely new, I was worried I wouldn’t fit in, and fearful of not being able to do whatever it was they were going to give me, but having gone through the week with such an amazing team and work placement in the Corporate Affairs Team, I can promise that my apprehensions were completely irrelevant, my experience here was the most inspiring, informative and thought-provoking week I’ve encountered. So, to my team, and all of the British Library, thank you for giving me this opportunity, and thank you for the lessons you provided alongside it – I had an amazing week.

Sorcha Vieyra

Work experience student