29 March 2022
'Passion is essential. You cannot be a half-hearted librarian!’
This month we meet Katie Kinnear, Strategic Manager for Development and Support Services at Surrey Library Service, based at Camberley Library.
Tell us about your role
Many people still have a traditional view of libraries and librarians: that we stamp books all day and sit behind a desk in a dusty library. I love to take them for a day in my life at work so they can see how exciting it can be.
This week I’ve interviewed candidates for a new job overseeing our programme of improvements to library buildings; met with our resources team, who are responsible for purchasing our books and publicising them to our users, to discuss book promotions to support the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and our audio suppliers, to review our offer to residents; attended the launch of a literary festival I’ve been working on; worked on a library relocation; written an update on our property transformation; attended Leadership team meetings where we focused on what we could deliver in terms of outreach to help promote library use, raise skills and support wellbeing in a deprived area of the county; and planned how we can help raise the awareness of carers in our community through our social media channels... no day is ever the same.
Where was your local library growing up?
Living on the borders of Surrey and Hampshire, I used several libraries. At the time my mum owned a toyshop in Farnborough, where I used to help out, and when I got bored I’d go to the library. I loved the fact I could explore the books and I wasn’t questioned; I was a shy child and I really felt at home in that safe space. I would use the local library in our village, run by Surrey Library Services. It’s great to be developing that same library now.
Why did you want to become a librarian?
I really didn’t know what I wanted to be when I left school. I did a degree at St Mary’s University College in Twickenham, and one day when studying in the library I realised what I loved was the library itself rather than the essays! The librarian on duty recommended I look up the Graduate Trainee Librarian scheme run by CILIP, which is similar to the current apprenticeship scheme.
I soon secured a role at The London Library, which was an amazing experience. I had the chance to work with different teams to build my knowledge of the profession, while completing a Masters in Library and Information Studies at UCL. I later became a Chartered member with CILIP. As my career developed, I’ve realised what I love is helping people and making a difference to their lives. Libraries mean so much to residents.
Do you have a favourite item in your library’s collection?
I think it’s actually our staff. It doesn’t really matter how good your collection is if you don’t have great staff to bring that to life. From the weekend assistant to the head of service, we want residents to leave with a great book and a great experience. Our staff are fantastic. We’ve been part of a transformation programme to future-proof our libraries and our staff have been to key to this.
We also recently joined the British Library Living Knowledge Network and live-streamed the launch of the Breaking the News exhibition a few weeks ago at Dorking Library. The team put on a fantastic event that was really well attended, adding a local flavour with a talk from Surrey Heritage Centre. They have been so imaginative at using this exhibition to promote the service to new audiences.
What is your favourite query that you have helped someone with?
Reopening after the first lockdown sticks in my mind: the first two customers in the door were so pleased the library had reopened. The first was desperate to use the computer – with nearly three months of closure due to government restrictions they had been unable to apply for any jobs or universal credit.
The second said that the library, the act of reading and getting out of the house to a safe neutral space, was key to her wellbeing and mental health. They were both so grateful for the service and it really proved what an essential role the library plays in people’s lives.
What's your favourite thing you can do in a library?
I think it’s probably Rhyme Time – song and rhyme sessions for under-fives. My first profession role was as a children’s librarian. I love to hear the singing echoing through the library – it lifts everyone’s mood.
Other than your own, where's your favourite library, or one you would most like to visit?
I had the chance to visit Norway and speak at a conference on library design, and I fell in love with Tromso library. Set slightly higher than other buildings, it has an amazing curved roof and is lit up at night, making it a beacon for the town. You can see right into the library from quite far away and that really entices you towards it.
We recently secured funding to develop our own libraries, something I’m leading on as part of our transformation programme. It will mean big changes and modernisation for many libraries in Surrey, so I feel it’s really important to get out and see other libraries to spark your creativity for design.
Sum up being a librarian in three words
Creativity. Passion. Dedication.
What do you think makes a good librarian?
Someone with good partnership and collaboration skills, good project management and good team working skills. Also passion for the service and profession is essential. You cannot be a half-hearted librarian!
Outside of work...
Sewing is my superpower! My favourite place is at my sewing machine. Dressmaking is a particular love: the act of immersing yourself in a craft that occupies your hands and your mind is a real stress buster, and at the end of the day you have something incredible to wear. I love making clothes for my young sons and I’m working towards a mostly handmade wardrobe for myself, but there are exceptions – I draw the line at making my own socks!
Favourite fictional librarian?
I think it’s the packhorse librarians in The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes – such as a strong band of women delivering books on horseback across Kentucky. I work with a group of amazing women and whilst we don’t travel on horseback much in Surrey, their dedication to the service is equally incredible.
Interview by Ellen Morgan.
We’re interviewing people who have professional registration status as a librarian via the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals or who have an academic qualification such as a first degree, a postgraduate diploma or a Master’s degree in library and information studies or librarianship.
Is this you? If you’d like to feature in Library Lives, get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org
Would you like this to be you? Find out more about becoming a librarian on the CILIP website.