We’ve got something a bit different for this edition of Meet the Librarian. We spoke to Pete Bowles Barrett, the Kortext Librarian.
Read on to find out how Pete’s career in higher education is invaluable in his current role.
How and when did you decide to become a librarian?
I think the answer is that I didn’t decide to become a librarian. I was studying a fine arts degree at the Arts Institute in Bournemouth (now Arts University Bournemouth). I had friends who were library shelvers and they said, ‘it’s a lovely job, you get to be around all the books’.
I did that for a year or two then, after my degree, I moved to Bristol. There was lots of head scratching while I asked myself, ‘what do you want to do with your life, Pete, while you try to become a famous artist?’. Someone asked me what jobs I had done in the past and which was my favourite. I said I had really liked shelving.
I started working as a library assistant at the University of Bristol, then moved to being a Document Supply Supervisor, then a Senior Library Supervisor, and finally a Library Purchasing Supervisor. In between I had secondments to other roles, such as Career Information Specialist.
“I did my library MSc at the University of the West of England, and I suppose it was about career security for me.”
I was at the University of Bristol for 15 years, before joining Kortext in 2021 as a Customer Experience Manager for KeyLinks, our reading list management system.
What does your current role involve?
Lots of different things! My current role is Kortext Librarian. A large part of my work is still based around managing and maintaining the experience of KeyLinks customers.
“There’s a very, very heavy focus on supporting librarians, making sure that their views are fed back … and helping them with processes and workflows …”
I remember when I did my first case study with a KeyLinks customer. They said, ‘it was great because we could talk to you about the acquisitions process. We could talk to you about MARC records. You knew what we were talking about immediately, rather than us having to explain not only the process, but also the aim of the process’. So that was good.
There’s another side of my role which involves discussing librarians’ needs within the wider business at Kortext. I advise colleagues on questions like ‘how would librarians feel about this?’ or ‘what is the primary focus for librarians?’.
I was expecting there to be some differences when I moved to the commercial sector – and there definitely are some – but what has really surprised me are the similarities. I realised how similar the people are, for example, and what an incredible difference colleagues can make to your working day.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I like being a know it all! I like knowing things. It was struggle moving from an organisation where I’d worked for 15 years to somewhere new. I felt like ‘I’m not sure I know enough’ initially. So, the best thing is that nice feeling of knowing something and being able to resolve an issue.
Are there any challenges that you face?
The hardest part of the job is recognising that you won’t be able to solve everyone’s problems immediately.
No one likes saying to a customer, ‘we can’t do that for you right now’, but it’s always for a good reason – there are things we need put in place to make that solution happen.
Besides, there are some situations where giving an answer straightaway wouldn’t be giving the issue the diligence it deserves to make sure the solution works for the customer and it’s future-proof.
How do you think academic libraries might evolve over the next decade?
I think there’s been change ever since I started working in academic libraries.
Prior to that, maybe 25 years ago, there was a certain level of expectation about how things would move forward. Then we started talking about e-resources and everything started to change slowly. That rate of change has sped up as we’ve moved forward.
“I think people will have more changeable jobs within librarianship rather than the traditional cataloguing or subject librarian roles.”
AI will speed up that change as well, and the movement we’ve seen toward more teaching and engagement focused roles within librarianship is a response to that.
“We will show our worth through our human capabilities, rather than our processing power as we may have done in the past.”
The library is a welcoming entry point on campus. Anyone can approach the library and expect an interaction, whether that’s signposting to assistance, to resources, or to services. That not only applies to the physical space, but also to online chats, emails and telephone queries. This is going to become all the more important in the future.
How do you relax outside work?
I do a lot of indoor rowing. I’m possibly one of the few people who’s a member of a rowing club and can’t swim!
My husband and I are very keen walkers, we have a cat called Pepper who takes up a lot of our attention, and we’ve also gotten into pottery over the last few years.
“We have a regular pottery class that we attend and there’s a nice community and culture in the group. It’s like libraries – full of people who are lovely to be around.”
I do a lot of cross stitch. It’s so pleasing and it makes you feel like you’re doing something productive while you’re watching television.
It was really good going to SUPC and being asked to join the librarians for some crafting on the Sunday morning.
I remember someone saying that it was great working in libraries and amongst librarians because everyone always had something else they did in their spare time. I’ve known writers, artists, musicians and historians, and they’ve all got something they’re enthusiastic about.
What’s your favourite book?
I love Iris Murdoch. She’s wonderful and it’s painful that she’s no longer with us. I’m holding on to one of her books because once I read it, that’s the last one I’ll ever read for the first time.
Do you have a favourite song or album or artist?
It’s hard to choose just one because it depends on how I’m feeling. I’m going to say Courtney Love’s band, Hole, because I’ve listened to them consistently since I was a teenager.
If you could send one message to library users, what would it be?
Ask questions! Please ask lots of questions! I’ve never met a member of library staff who was frustrated by being asked a question, even if it’s one they’ve been asked a thousand times before.
Thank you, Pete, for a really enjoyable conversation!
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