Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ask A Librarian: Sara Slack from Inspired Quill

A while back, I mentioned that I'm considering the possibility of becoming a librarian, but that I realized I didn't actually know that much about what the library sciences entailed. Thankfully, several knowledgeable ladies stepped up and agreed to answer a few questions! This week (while I'm getting caught up on all the schoolwork I missed), I thought I would share what they had to say. I'm sure I'm not the only book blogger considering this path!

Today's interviewee is Sara Slack, general assistant at an award-winning university library, owner of her own publishing house, and blogger at my affiliate Inspired Quill!

First off, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Well, I'm currently a 22-year-old English Masters Student here in the UK. My hobbies range from reading (such a surprise!), to woodworking and participating within the theatre. My love of literature (or 'lol', as I like to call it), has always been a passion.You can usually find me either with friends, at the gym, or working away in front of my laptop on Inspired Quill. (I also hold the belief that 'to-do' lists breed when you're not looking).

Did you always want to work in a library and run a publishing house? What first drew you to these careers? What other options did you consider?

Not at all! Up until fairly recently, I wanted to become a University Lecturer or teacher. Before that, I wanted to be a lawyer. I also considered going to stage or film school as an actress, but that obviously never materialised. I knew from last year that I wanted to work in publishing, but it was getting an Entrepreneur grant from my University which really cemented the fact that I wanted to run my own company. I saw a huge gap in the market for a people-orientated, quality driven publisher...so I sort of dived in head first! The library job was a bit of luck, really. It was on campus and I'd been applying for the same job for about two years...(talk about competative!) Finally they caved and let me have it!

What does being a general assistant at a university library entail? How is working in a university library different from a public library or elementary/high school library?

At the moment, I simply work with moving the books around, restocking the shelves and making sure things are neat and tidy. I didn't realise so much work went into it! At the end of September, I'm being trained to be more of a 'people-person' on the information desk, which I'm really looking forward to. That sort of work entails dealing with queries...and resetting the alarm when people forget to swipe their books. In terms of the difference...I guess it's more to do with the information you have to deal with. Service desk operators don't just have to know where each section of books are. They also have to be very up to speed with all of the computer systems...including the catalogue, and academic resources such as EEBO and JSTOR.

How is the current economic market and the transition to digital media affecting traditional libraries and traditional publishing?

For libraries, it's a bit of a double-edged sword. I daresay a University library is a bit different to a government-run library with regards to their budget and workforce security. I'm 22 and I was asked if I wanted to take out their pension plan! The University of Leicester library, where I work, has recently undergone a lot of system upgrades and website redesign. I feel sorry for the techies who have to keep everything up to date and running smoothly! Traditional publishing has really taken a beating. I personally think that the main reason huge chains of bookshops are closing is that they're not adapting. The publishing industry is this big giant of tradition, which needs to be taken down a peg or two, stripped of everything and rebuilt from the ground up, otherwise even the larger companies are really going to hurt...or start pumping out absolute rubbish just to get a few more sales. And in all of this, it's going to be the readers and the authors who suffer the most. That really isn't at all how it should be.

What is a typical day like for you?

I get up at around 9am, then after cup of coffee I'm online and checking my emails and social media platforms. After that, I spend most of the day sorting emails and reading...I have found that I have to do a LOT of reading in order to keep up with the industry. On the days I work in the library, I'm usually on an evening shift, so it's nice and quiet. I go in and just get stuck in sorting out the books. There's a lot of 'back and forth' in book shelving. Then I get home and usually work on some editing until about 10pm. After that, I allow myself a TV episode of something (I have a lot of shows I enjoy watching), and then crash until the next day.

What is your favorite part of your jobs? Your least favorite?

The favourite part of both of my jobs has got to be meeting people. Especially in publishing. Any excuse to get to chat to people over skype or email and I'm right there. The personal interaction is really important in an age where everyone high-up in a company is always too busy. Inspired Quill prides itself in being people-orientated. My least favourite is probably sending out rejection letters...or dealing with financial aspects of the business. Cash flow forecasts are EVIL!

Can you tell us about running your own publishing house? How did your house get its start?

It's a true labour of love. I put in at least 5 hours of work a day (bearing in mind I have a small part-time job and I'm currently writing my dissertation for my Masters Degree!) and I don't get paid for it at the moment. It's still pretty new, you see. It's incredibly interesting though, and for a 'Jack-of-all-Trades' like myself, no two days are quite the same, which keeps me motivated. Inspired Quill was a regular book review blog, set up in September 2009. Initially, I wanted to expand it to offer paid content to writers and the like. I was awarded an Entrepreneur grant and business training through the 'Enterprise Inc' scheme at my university. Part of the way through, I realised my initial idea wasn't viable...then came up with a plan to create a Publishing house which was also a Social Enterprise. The rest, as they say, is history.

What kind of degree is required for your work? Can you tell us what school was like?

It's kinda irritating, but I didn't need a degree (and certainly not a Masters) to be where I am now. What Uni did for me, was to open a lot of doors...after all, without my MA, I wouldn't have been here to go on the business course, and without that...IQ wouldn't be a business! I do have to have a keen eye for detail and a passion for literature though. My English BA gave me a lot of transferrable skills. The University of Leicester is a place that I genuinely cannot praise highly enough. I think however, that it's the lecturers who make it what it is. They're so passionate about their specialities that it's rather infectious, and it drives you to do your absolute best, all the time. My speciality at University is actually Medieval Codicology! Although that does tie in with the 'history of the book', which is what fascinates me at the moment. (They say the best way to get ahead in business is to be an expert in your field...and it's absolutely correct).

What books are you currently looking to publish?

Inspired Quill is still sort of testing the water at the moment, so we're looking to publish ANY genre, except Children's Literature, Romance and Biographies (although we do take other forms of non-fiction). For us, it isn't an issue of genre, so much as an issue of quality and skills development for our authors.

Any additional comments?

Only that we're currently looking for submissions! Also, I would just like to say that if /I/ can get to where I am today (I have been told, though I still need to confirm, that I'm the youngest female publishing house owner in the world), then anyone reading this can too. The industry is notoriously difficult to get a break in these days, but it CAN be done...it just takes a lot of work. I'd like to tell people that they are more than welcome to send me an email if they have any questions about Inspired Quill, or the industry in general. I may not know all the answers, but I can certainly point people in the direction they need to go. :)

It's been a pleasure, thank you!

Contact Sara:

Thanks so much to Sara for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to answer my questions! It's been very insightful!

Come back every day this week for a new interview!


StephTheBookworm said...

Cool feature! I am working on my MLS right now. I really like it. One more year to go!

Lauren M said...

Okay, I'm officially in love with this feature! For someone who still isn't quite sure what she wants to do, this is very enlightening. :)
Sara's career sounds fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing!

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