ia play

the good life in a digital age

my first Guardian job

So I’ve left the Guardian again.  Maybe it’s a sign of age but I’ve been thinking more about my previous jobs at the Guardian than the last 2 years.

I began my first stint at the Guardian in the last century (just). The role was a library trainee. During the interview it was casually mentioned that the rota for Millennium new year had already been completed and the successful candidate would have the pleasure of working new years day. So my century began in the Guardian office, with a hangover and a sense of being hard done by.

The interview day had kicked off with a general knowledge quiz in which I was fine with the names of shadow cabinet members but only knew half of “who are Barak and Mubarak?”. Later we had a group interview. It was not as terrifying as I’d assumed, for the depressing reason that seeing other people give terrible answers reassures you that at least you didn’t say that. The individual interview was memorable too, not least for the question “how do you cope with boring work”.

I got the job and moved to London to live with my grandparents which added a surreal air to it (my grandad would warm my gloves in the morning before I went to work).

In the mornings we filed newspaper cuttings. In the afternoon we checked the automatic feed for the digital archive, shifting bylines out of standfirsts and reintroducing ampersands where they’d been garbled.

The electronic archive interface, 2001


Sometimes a journalist would come by. Only Gary Younge left a good impression.

There was the odd side project, sifting through microfiche for original serialisations of Dickens novel or contemporary World War Two reports. Absorbing, hypnotic stuff.

We answered enquiries from the readers, tracking down articles from just the flimsiest of recollections. Going further than we were supposed to made the work into something more akin to a game. I still remember the lovely surprised thank-you letter from a reader when we sent him a copy of an old Telegraph article that he’d remembered as being in the Guardian.

By the time I left, I’d learned the surnames of all the Spice Girls, developed a fleeting interest in football, and had an invaluable body of knowledge about personal finance. Most things are interesting once you read about them everyday.

I’d also made contact with the fledgling Guardian Unlimited team, which turned out to be more useful than the Spice Girls and the football but arguably less useful than the finance.

I never worked in a library again but I still feel on some deep infrastructure level that I am a librarian.



Written by Karen

August 28th, 2012 at 6:40 am

Posted in guardian