From the frying-pan into the fire risk

19th September 1997 at 01:00
Providing careers libraries has always been a problem. Elaine Carlton looks at how one area copes.

When Debbie Reynolds took up her post as information officer at the Careers Guidance Shop in Cambridge Central Library she found the place in absolute chaos.

"People had heard there was a careers adviser at the general library and basically just threw stuff at her," she said.

"There was a lot of information here but in no formalised order and a lot of people in the area didn't know about it."

That was three and a half years ago. Since then Ms Reynolds has worked hard to establish the guidance shop in one corner of the library.

She has negotiated with the library service about which publications to supply and worked out with library assistants where books should be shelved.

In the past, careers interviews had been a drop-in affair - informal chats carried out in public. Under Ms Reynolds' instruction the guidance shop now has its own private interview rooms.

The shop - the name given to the careers section of the library - receives more than 15,000 visitors a year. In the space of one lunch-hour up to 200 people may turn up at once.

The project is managed by Cambridgeshire Careers Guidance Ltd which receives a contribution from Cambridgeshire Training and Enterprise Council. The General Library also pays for about half the books in the careers section. Instead of using the strict categorisation laid out in the Careers Library Classification Index which is employed by most careers libraries, the guidance shop has created its own "logical" system.

"Before the guidance shop began the careers information was all over the place. Careers in law were in the general library's law section while careers in agriculture were under agriculture," said Ms Reynolds.

It took 12 months and much negotiation with the manager of the reference library to sort out the books.

"I had to ask the manager whether books on subjects such as jobs abroad could go in the careers guidance shop and constantly react to feedback from the public to decide how books should be shelved.

"I found that I was constantly sending people into the depths of the library to find the Chamber of Commerce Cambridge Directory which lists all the local employers, so I asked if we could have a second copy." The shop has two full-time guidance advisers who carry out careers interviews with both the unemployed and those in work.

"If they are employed then they usually want some form of redirection. They no longer feel satisfied at work and they want a change."

It is the advisers' job to pin them down and suggest possibilities. The employment service at the JobCentre also refers everyone claiming unemployment benefit to the library. Other visitors find their way through word of mouth.

Sadly the guidance shop and the library may not be there for much longer. No sooner had the books been sorted when news came that the entire library was a fire risk and would have to be shut for nine months at some point over the next two years to allow for considerable structural work. The general library and the Guidance Shop are currently looking for a temporary home.

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