On 3 January I start a new job, as Resources Co-ordinator at the Sussex Language Institute, running their Language Learning Centre while the permanent post-holder is on maternity leave. The Centre supports undergraduate teaching and learning in French, German, Italian and Spanish, as well as Open Learning courses in a variety of other languages, English for international students and postgraduate courses in English language teaching. The centre is not a library per se, but my background and skills will be useful in enquiry work and cataloguing. But I have worked in libraries for too long: I started in Child's Hill public library in the London Borough of Barnet in 1978, by accident, without any plan to make it my career, and, having devoted over twenty-eight years to it, I now want to do something different. This temporary job is an attempt to reach escape velocity, to leave the orbit of the library world. Rather than organise the knowledge generated by other intellects, I want to try creating something myself.
This is not the first time I have changed subject areas in my career. As well as working in a number of different sectors (public, national, special, leaned society, university) I have been a subject specialist in education, physical sciences, aeronautical engineering, as well as medicine and veterinary medicine. As I iron shirts and polish shoes for Wednesday, I reflect that one of the advantages of a librarian's 's training is that it teaches one to understand a new subject area quickly, through its bibliography. So my first attempt to master this new area was to have been based on Walford; unfortunately the volume I need, volume 3, Humanities and general reference is not yet published in the new Walford series, and only announced for 2008, so I shall have to rely on the 1991 edition (coincidentally the year I came into health librarianship). I remember from my public library days a fascinating hand-list of language dictionaries, grammars and textbooks, but I would be surprised if it were still current. The site of the Higher Education Academy's Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies is useful, as is that of the National Centre for Languages. There's also supposed to be a portal, Research in Modern Languages in the UK, at http://www.languagesresearch.ac.uk/ but it seems to be unavailable at the moment. I have not yet found any bibliographic mapping of the literature of the literature, along the lines of the exercises that have been carried out in health, notably for some of the professions supplementary to medicine.
A search of LISA, at least that segment of the databases available online to CILIP members, found very little on the field. There is a professional network, the Association of University Language Centres. Outside higher education, apart from specialists serving ethnic minorities in some public libraries, and cataloguers of foreign language material, I have not come across many library and information professionals working in this field.
Language learning in British schools, which cannot but have implications for universities, is a matter for debate at the moment, as the Dearing Review of language teaching policy made an interim report in December, with a final report due in February.
Mu own background in this subject area is this: at school I like to think I was reasonably adept, studying French to A level and French, German and Latin to O level, as well as Russian and Italian, though these last were not examined. In later years I tried to learn Welsh and Spanish and am currently learning Classical Greek.