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Librarian Jane Burke

Jane Burke's (BA History, 1975) career has fuelled a passion to promote the joy of reading and access to books for all.


What attracted you to study History at Warwick?

Warwick had been in the news in the early 1970s and when I spotted the prospectus in the careers library, it caught my attention. The new, modern buildings including the library looked attractive and I was drawn to the idea of a campus university with lots of facilities and the promise of plenty of student accommodation.

History had always been a favourite subject and the course at Warwick offered a variety of options from within and outside the Department, providing the opportunity to pursue new areas of study. The prospect of studying Renaissance history for a term in Venice was very exciting too.


What are your fondest memories of your course and time at Warwick?

My time at Warwick remains dear to me. I shall always be grateful I had the opportunity to study there. I arrived a sheltered and naive teenager and graduated a self-reliant, confident and perhaps a wiser adult. Warwick in the early 1970s could be summed up by the three Ps - Politics, Protests and Parties!

I mixed with people from many different backgrounds, which broadened my outlook and understanding of others and opened my eyes to new ideas. I remember marches in London and sit-ins on campus. My social life was filled with parties, discos, drama, and live music. Graduation at Coventry Cathedral was thrilling. I had so many great experiences and made lifelong friends.

Academic life at Warwick was excellent. It was demanding and a huge leap from A-level study for first year students, but we were well supported to become independent learners. I have many good memories of the staff in the department, particularly my personal tutor, Lionel Kochan with whom I also studied Jewish history. Social history seminars with Robin Clifton were wonderful and my time in Venice with dear Martin Lowry and Humfrey Butters was a highlight and an experience I shall always treasure. Oh, and as well as being an eminent academic, Professor Scarisbrick could really rock and roll!


What inspired you to become a librarian, and what do you enjoy about it?

Librarianship was one of the careers I considered whilst I was an undergraduate. The university library was my second home, a treasure trove providing such a rich and extensive collection to dip in to. I joined Westminster Public Libraries as a graduate trainee for a year, before studying for a PG Diploma in Librarianship at Loughborough University. From there I joined Teesside Polytechnic (now Teesside University), where I pursued my career in higher education for 34 years, becoming an Academic Librarian in 1990.

My role as Academic Librarian was interesting and varied. Being able to support students to exploit the vast array of information at their disposal was a thrill to me and so rewarding. The constant changes in higher education and in the world of information provision were challenging but exciting too.


What did you learn at Warwick that has helped in your career?

Firstly, I knew what it was like to be a student using a large university library for the first time. I remembered the support I’d received. Warwick gave me a great academic grounding and, although I worked with students from a range of subject areas, I had the skills and knowledge to be able to teach various research techniques - literature searching, use of indexes and abstracts, and referencing.

Being a Warwick graduate gave me a belief in myself to be effective in my job and to further my career. I had the confidence to work with departmental teaching and research staff as their equal.


How have you seen the role of libraries change?

During my career, I’ve seen a huge number of changes in higher education and information provision. The tradition of a paper collection has moved on enormously with physical materials replaced by online alternatives and supplemented by new digitised resources. Students have been able to access materials from home with the library as a hub. Librarians have a role in supporting students off campus to access resources, as well as dealing with other challenges of copyright, plagiarism, increasing costs of academic resources and diverse needs of students.

Despite the use of remote online learning, the library building itself has remained key to academic study, evidenced by the demand for 24-hour access.


What advice would you give to someone starting a career as a librarian?

As an information specialist, you need to be flexible and prepared for change. This is not the career for shy retiring types – you need to be a good communicator and deal with some difficult situations. You will acquire so many skills along the way which is an exciting prospect.


Jane's graduation photo from the 1970s