This week we welcome Carrie as the 24th Former Librarian to the blog. I'm particularly excited about this interview as her role as a Funeral Director is not one of the more obvious routes out of librarianship!
Independent undertaker at A Natural Undertaking
I started at Birmingham University library, moved to Further Education and ended up at Birmingham Central Reference Library as a Business Information Specialist. Before taking up my current role, I was working in the voluntary sector as a communications and information specialist, helping businesses and organisations.
What led you to move on from libraries?
I worked for a local council and felt there was no opportunity for movement. I wanted to develop new services around IT and the Internet, and this proved impossible. It was impossible to get decisions made. There was a lack of imagination and they did not take advantage of the brilliant resources known as librarians. Librarianship is a creative job at heart, although no one thinks it is. I thought, “I can take these skills and put them to work in a different way”.
What do you do in your current role?
I’m an undertaker, so I look after the dead and help the living arrange funerals which are personal and meaningful. I set up my own business with a friend two years ago, because the funeral business itself had become formulaic, dominated by big, inflexible companies that were often not giving people the funerals they deserved. People are more interesting than the funerals they’re allowed to buy, and we wanted to offer more choices. But underpinning it all is good quality information – giving the consumer good quality information.
What library skills do you use in your current role?
If someone says, “Can I do this?” I find out for them. I find that people say, “Is this a stupid idea?” – but it’s the same thing as the old library adage that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. I go all out to find the answer, as I did as a reference librarian. I know where to find out whether something is legal, or good practice. I know where to find good quality suppliers. I know which networks and professional organisations will give me the information I need.
People skills learned in libraries are also important. There’s no question anyone can ask me that I’m scared of, because I’ve worked in a public library!
Do you think that your library skills helped you to get this position?
I had helped people to do business plans (in my last library position and in my interstitial position before I set up on my own), but you still rely there on knowing what the best quality documents are for the task. Even on the Internet, I look for their provenance and background. My business partner, Fran, had also run her own business before. In general terms, although we overlap, too, I’m a reader and researcher and she’s task-orientated.
I also don’t rely just on social networks: I still have subscriptions to trade journals and academic, peer-reviewed journals, and know how to search and refer to government regulations.
In our strategic planning, it’s important to read and keep up to date, giving ourselves continuous professional development. We are a member of the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors, which included a rigorous application process, and we have access to their materials. We had to provide full policies and procedures for that.
If my policies are up to date and I remain aware and understand the sources and what’s recommended, then I can be creative within that framework.
What other skills have you had to acquire since leaving the library profession in order to enable you to carry out your work?
I trained with a funeral director to acquire the specific skills to do the work. I had to brush up my driving skills for negotiating tricky situations like attending the local coroner’s office, involving reversing in a straight line.
I have developed my abilities in community development (these grew out of my work outside libraries, but I also did study community librarianship at Library School) and have set up Brumyodo (Brum You Only Die Once), a voluntary collective forming a loose network run by a committee which is all about helping people in Birmingham talk about death and dying. I’ve learned how to run pop-up shops, death discos, and we’ve made a film which we’re piloting into GP surgeries, all done to help people be aware of the choices they have.
Do you maintain any professional memberships or are there new ones which are more appropriate?
I’m no longer a member of any library associations. I’m a member of the Society for Allied and Independent Funeral Directors and the Good Funeral Guild, as well as being a member of several networks.
Do you have any future plans/aspirations?
We’re looking at moving into premises, which will require lots of good research and gathering information. I also look forward to continuing my public education work, teaming up with the Birmingham Museums and Art Galleries for some exciting new projects.
Anything else that you’d like to tell us?
I’ve recently done a panel talk at the Cheltenham Literary Festival with Barbra Chalmers called It’s Your Funeral. We also recently won the Modern Funeral Director of the Year 2016 award.