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Maria Carnegie, Scottish Poetry Library

Category: Blog, Meet our Members

This blog is part of our Meet Our Members series, focusing on different members and their careers.

My name is Maria Carnegie and currently I’m the Head Librarian for the Scottish Poetry Library (SPL).

We all say in our library jobs that there is no such thing as an average day, and this is true for me. We’re a small organisation so between us we have to do everything, from setting up rooms for venue hire to changing lightbulbs. I don’t just weed the books; in the summer I was pulling weeds up from the balcony decking! But I’m part of a good team, and we all pitch in and help. And let’s face it, most librarians are good at rolling up their sleeves and getting on with whatever needs doing.

Excellent interpersonal and communication skills are needed as the customer base is very varied, from prominent poets, poetry readers to enthusiastic unpublished poets; all equally passionate about the genre. We have lots of visitors and tourists coming into the building, alongside students, researchers and academics. Dealing with enquiries, reuniting people with ‘lost’ poems and finding the perfect poem for a funeral is all part of the normal activity.

Maria with her colleague, Toni Velikova, Assistant Librarian.

I’m part of the senior management team for the SPL, and a lot of my focus this year has been on writing policies and procedures, some of it is ‘library’ stuff like a Collection Management Policy. But also broader policies for the organisation such as working on the People Strategy. I love that being a Librarian means you can bring leadership, management, customer service and project skills to an organisation as well as information literacy, classification, enquiry handling, etc.

One of the fun jobs is, of course, buying new poetry and seeking out the unusual; a braille box of poems, a one-off hand-stitched, handmade paper artist’s poem or a book with a tractor poem in it! It often surprises people that we collect poetry from outside Scotland. Dealing with donations is another aspect of acquisition; and sometimes it is difficult explaining to people why we may not want a relative’s extensive poetry collection. Enthusing about the collection, raising awareness of it and ensuring it is used is a really important part of what I do – whether it’s exploring collaboration opportunities with Historic Environment Scotland or taking a research student through our archive.

The next few appointments in my diary are 1) to talk to someone from the Department of International Trade about an AI and poetry project, 2) a meeting with a poet about our next exhibition that I’m arranging and 3) a discussion on taxonomies with my Assistant Librarian. And having arrived in work today, apparently I’m now off to be filmed reading the nominations and descriptions for the Callum MacDonald Award. I did say there’s lots of variety to my role!

Maria at Edinburgh International Book Festival

Joining CILIP Scotland was definitely an attraction and has provided me with excellent networking opportunities; leading to reciprocal visits and exchange of ideas. The SPL is really supportive of my professional development, and I’ve spoken at and attended the CILIPS conference and gatherings this year. A few weeks into post I was writing a bid with Edinburgh City of Literature to deliver a case-study at the UNESCO Cities of Literature Conference and offered a place to attend. Getting to talk with people from 22 different countries about literature, festivals and reading was a fantastic experience.

I graduated from Aberystwyth University and began my Library career in public libraries. I moved into Further Education, then to Higher Education. Working in the third sector and in the arts has been energising and challenging. The resources available are different, but the application of creativity and seeking out opportunities remains the same. Being a Librarian has allowed me to do many different things, try out ideas, exposure to technology, travel to different countries, handle precious and rare manuscripts and meet the most amazing, inspiring people; colleagues and customers. And the journey is far from over.

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