Category Archives: Life

*dust dust, cough cough*


Dusting off the blog

Just dust of Mr Sykes’ blog will you, he wants the bloody thing back on the internet for some reason.

*dust, dust, cough cough* The great thing about blogs is that even if you make them private and stash them away in your sock drawer for three years, the pages don’t go all foxed and yellow and you’re only ever one button press away from sharing your amateur history ramblings with the world all over again.

This blog has been hidden away largely because I’ve spent the last three years encased in a library cacoon, emerging earlier this year as a beautiful qualified librarian butterfly (moth). I hated the idea of being sat here unloved and unupdated so I stashed it away, oh and some bugger stole the domain name.

Recently, I had the idea to track my very early efforts in learning to code  in the form of a blog. I’m still considering this but it did also make me stupidly Nostalgic for this old history blog, which charted a massively important part of my life during which I met some wonderful people interested in history (on the twitter and in real life) and drastically changed my life. So here it is. It’s under a new name: ‘History Botherer’ (formerly ‘In Pursuit of History’, formerly formerly ‘The Gentleman Administrator’).

Will I update it? Meh, dunno. Maybe. But rest assured, if I do, all I will subsequently do on twitter will be to pimp the living hell out of it until I lose all my followers ;)


A quick hello from library land

Library trainee caught mid-scan

Library trainee caught mid-scan

Hello. This poor little blog has been in hibernation since the summer, which is a polite way of saying ignored. If you read the post below you’ll understand why. I started my new job in Cambridge on 3rd September and so far it has been fantastic. The downside though is that the job, and accompanying commute, has sapped my time and quite frankly the blog slipped down the list of things to do. I’ve also become addicted to ‘Masterchef: The Professionals’, which doesn’t help.

I still don’t have any time to write anything but this brief missive for the blog, but my fellow Cambridge library trainees have begun to blog about their experiences on our very own Cambridge trainee website. I thought I’d advertise it here as some of you might be interested in our exploits or curious as to what library trainees get to do (aside from the above, entirely unrepresentative and deliberately cliched photo, which was in no way posed for).

So I recommend popping over to:

Or click on the lovely picture of frosty Cambridge:

Frosty Cambridge

Frosty Cambridge

For those of you really interested in libraries here is my review of a talk on Cambridgeshire Library Service’s restructure (it’s more interesting than you’d think): Roots, Branches and Llama Biscuits.

Veni, Vidi, Vici – New Job!

Classic, innit.

Having signed & returned the job contract I finally feel that I can announce that I’ve got myself a new job, and I am very excited about it. Starting in a weeks time, and for the next twelve months, I will be the new Library Trainee at the Classical Faculty Library at Cambridge University. As first steps into library careers go, this one is pretty good. It’s particularly gratifying as there have been times over the last six months when I doubted I’d ever get that first break into this new career.

Any regular readers of this blog (are there regular readers of this blog anymore?) will have noticed that it’s been a bit quiet this year, particularly since March. As I mentioned in this previous post, this was due to me moving into full-on job hunting mode, and in particular job hunting for a potential new career. With building up voluntary experience, researching the job market and applying for posts eating up every available day this has essentially been a full-time job in itself. I’ve barely been in the mood to muster the enthusiasm to tweet at times, let alone pursue much history. The effort was undoubtably worth it, but I am sad that it has come at the expense of my history bloggings. I’m hoping that once settled in the new job I’ll be in the mood to share my thoughts in writing again.

So what am I going to be doing as a library trainee? Library traineeships are offered at many University libraries, with differing regularity, but Cambridge recruits several trainees each year (I think it’s six this year). Essentially I’ll be doing a library assistant job in an academic library (in my case a specialist faculty library) but with an additional programme of support and the benefit of being part of a group of fellow trainees who will be working in other college libraries. This year will include opportunities to visit other libraries and possibly training events and courses. After the year is up the trainees usually go on to study for a Masters in Library studies. Looking at what past students have done, it seems like a lot go on to do this part-time or via distance learning courses.

As I mentioned on Twitter earlier in the week, this is where the nerves come in. I’ve been freelance for nearly two years now, working from my home office (desk in our bedroom) like a hermit, but I’m actually not worried about moving back into a formal working environment, in fact I can’t wait. I’ve enjoyed the last year or so, but it will be nice to have co-workers again, actual people, not just these lot:

Some of the Study Buddies

I guess the nerves are the same as at the beginning of any new job, a mix of anticipation and healthy self-doubt, but they’re still there none the less. Nerves manifest themselves in odd way and so I’ve left a fair few cups of distractedly made and un-drunk cups of coffee around the house and generally required more naps than normal over the last week. Starting at the bottom and learning a new career largely from scratch is daunting, but I take comfort from the fact that I do enjoy learning and that I’m going to at least get to do the thing I’ve chosen to do over the next twelve months. Having rather fallen into university administration while I wasn’t paying attention (though not doing too badly at it *ahem, Gentleman Administrator, Ahem*) this opportunity to follow something I really want to do is pretty cool and at least motivation won’t be a problem.

To avoid rambling on about myself for too much longer I should mention the obviously cool thing about the job (well for those less interested in libraries), I’ll be working in the Classics Faculty at Cambridge! It’s a pretty cool place, I mean it has its own freakin’ museum… While I love Early Modern history, I have mentioned a few times here on the blog that the bulk of my Degree and Masters were focused on ancient Jewish history, so I won’t be completely lost working to support students and staff studying the ancient world, and I certainly wont be at a loss for interest and motivation from the subject matter. Coincidently I was blathering on about how cool ancient history is earlier in the year, here. That said, it is eleven years since my Masters so I might be a little rusty. Luckily I’ve had time to get some revision in:

A Classicists handbook.

So, there will be more blogging here in the future, but it might be more of a mix of Early Modern, Ancient and Libraries. It may also be about commuting, as one sacrifice I’m making is time away from my wife and child each week. That, above anything else, will be the hardest thing. Yet at least it will serve to put every other worry nicely in perspective.

Job Hunting Wordle

I did promise that this blog wouldn’t become a job hunting blog, and I’d like to stick to that. Unfortunately, the pursuit of jobs is entirely engulfing my life at the moment, which explains the absence of any writing here. So I just did a job hunt wordle and I thought I’d share.

When filling in the ‘personal statement’ section of a job application it’s always useful to run it through Wordle, once you’ve done a full draft. Wordle is great at giving you an immediate feel for the key themes in your writing and most importantly will show up needless repetativity.

In this case, I’m quite pleased with the outcome, for the job I’m applying to it looks like the words I’m repeating show that I’m focusing on the right things. The one thing I’m going to go back and fix though is the word ‘believe’, I suspect I’ve said ‘I believe I am/can/will’ too many times. I am generally self effacing in life, but there isn’t really room for that in a job application, and usually its not even accurate, just pointless modesty. I’ll be replacing it with ‘I am/can/will’ which is actually what I feel (I wouldn’t be applying if I didn’t).

Love Triangle – Libraries, Archives and Writing Fight It Out.

I’m caught in a love triangle, a love triangle between archives, libraries and writing. Yet, it all boils down to a very simple question;  how do I earn a living in the future? Or an even simpler question; what next?

[ok technically not a ‘love triangle’, but ‘love square’ sounds rubbish]

A lot has happened since the last time I did a ‘career’ update, it was back in January 2011 (here) and while I never intended this blog to be a diary it is sometimes nice to think out loud, so forgive me now if I indulge in a little self-reflection. I’m certainly not the first person to find themselves at a career crossroads, and in this economic climate I’m certainly not alone in needing to rethink my options in the face of high competition for jobs. Any advice, notes of caution, encouragement you can throw my way would be appreciated.

Since I left my job in university administration in December 2010 I have been working as a freelance writer, mostly part-time. The first half of 2011 was largely taken up with helping raise my newborn son, simply because I couldn’t resist spending time with him, and quite frankly I have no regrets there. The second half of the year was spent on some freelance jobs and my own independent writing and research. I have thoroughly enjoyed the jobs I’ve worked on and I have loved the opportunity to work on my own research, which I hope will bear fruit in future. I’m a much better writer and researcher than I was, and I have learnt a great deal about life as a freelancer. I can certainly confirm that looking for freelance writing work is a job in itself, building up a reputation and building contacts takes a long time and I still feel very much at the beginning (though at least over the starting line). It’s not the line of business to get into unless you’re brutally honest and willing to hunker down for the long run, and I guess that’s what I’m doing now.

Over this last year (or so) I’ve reconnected with archives and libraries in a way that reminded me of how interesting (and important) they are. I found that a niggling thought was increasingly playing on my mind: there are careers there that I could get a great deal of pleasure from. In truth, I’ve always sneaked a look at that section of the job pages, but I’ve always been held back by a perceived lack of experience or real knowledge of what the work entailed. But making the step out of an established, ‘regular’ job has taught me that lack of experience and knowledge can be resolved relatively quickly, if you just get on with it. Go look, go find out. So that’s what I’ve been doing over the last few months.

I’ve begun volunteering, meeting with librarians and archivists, and generally offering myself for free to whatever libraries or archives need a hand at. Thanks to some very kind people I now know infinitely more about both careers in a short space of time and am beginning to understand what it takes to break into these professions. Overwhelmingly the message is that it is very competitive but if you get in, and get qualified, it is very rewarding. I’ve also learnt that I can’t lump the two careers together as I had been, they are similar in some respects yet fundamentally different in others. The historian in me can’t help but be attracted to archives but then the lure of academic libraries is also strong. I’ve never wanted to be an academic, but I’ve made a pretty good career in supporting ‘the academy’, it’s something I believe in, so why not? That said I spent an afternoon last week in a very, very small local library, there weren’t many customers, but helping those that did come in felt good. After a fairly long period of writerly seclusion it was nice to know that I haven’t entirely turned into Gollum, I may still be human after all.

There are a lot of good, reflective blogs about library careers, which I am leaping on for guidance. There seem to be less about archives, although it might be that I have yet to discover them. I’m excited about the possibilities but tempered with realism about the hard slog ahead if I choose to go down either route. I seem to be making a habit of difficult career choices, but then, so what? It’s better than feeling directionless, and it keeps life interesting.

Where does that leave the writing? I’ll always write, but the type of things I want to write has been clarified over the last year. Having to write to make a living, writing to order, has its own challenges and anyone who is halfway serious about their writing should most definitely try it, even if its only a few times.  There is a huge chasm between writing what the hell you like and writing what an audience or client needs. It has also helped remind me of what I want to write. Perhaps some great projects will come along, and if so I’ll enjoy working on them. Writing about history will always be my passion, so this blog and other outlets for that will continue (don’t worry this is not about to become a ‘new career’ blog).

If this odd, exciting, unique year has taught me anything its that pursuing new adventures in life is a risky business, but if the opportunity arises, do it. Give yourself a bit of freedom and you’ll be surprised where it leads you.

If anyone has any advice on pursuing a career in libraries or archives then let me know.

Confessions of a Gamer

As a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, and outspoken critic of tabloid journalism, the Labour MP Tom Watson had a high-profile, last week. Obviously, I was amused by his baiting of James Murdoch, and while he managed to lay a finger on Murdoch’s reputation, sadly he came nowhere nearer to exposing the truth. Yet, while all this high drama was being played out one thing that Tom Watson tweeted on the morning of the Murdoch Committee session caught my attention: Continue reading

The Eagle Bookshop -an historical adventure

The Eagle Bookshop on a sunny day

A good second-hand bookshop is balm to the soul for those of us who love research and love books. While the internet has widened access to out-of-print books, it is no substitute for the feeling of browsing in a real shop. The element of chance, of serendipitous discovery, when perusing the eclectic stock of  independent bookshops is what it is all about. Continue reading