Current Trainees

Introducing the trainees of 2022-2023, describing our various backgrounds, what made us decide to pursue a career in the information sector, and what we hope to do next. Click on the name of each college for the trainee’s bio.

ARU NewnhamPembrokeQueens’St John’sTrinityChrist’s


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Anglia Ruskin University – Lily Swain (she/her)

Where did you study previously? Which subject?

I studied American and Canadian Literature, History and Culture at the University of Nottingham, with a year abroad at Western University, Canada. I enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature of the degree because it encouraged us to pursue our own broad and unique interests. I specialised in North American postfeminism, exploring its paradoxical relationship to ‘empowerment’ and ‘choice’.

Did you have any previous library experience before applying?

The only experience I had was volunteering in my local library over 10 years ago! Although I did try to gain experience prior to my traineeship, all the libraries I approached were not accepting any volunteers due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I did, however, have plenty of transferable experience from working in higher education and customer service roles.

What attracted you to the ARU traineeship?

I have been interested in a career in Librarianship for a while but struggled to find a way in due to a lack of experience. When I saw the Graduate Trainee position advertised, I knew it was the one for me: not only was it designed for individuals without experience, but it was a training post dedicated to exposing you to the varied world of Librarianship. The post includes in-house shadowing opportunities, external visits to a range of different libraries, and the chance to connect with fellow Cambridge trainees. It is an invaluable start to my career.

What are your aspirations for your future career?

I am about to start the process of applying for my Masters in Library and Information Management. What comes after that though, is still to be decided! I am very open to every opportunity thrown my way during this traineeship, so I’m excited to see what I end up being drawn towards by the end of the year.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

Don’t let a lack of experience put you off applying – the whole point of the traineeship is to provide you with experience and knowledge of the library sector. Customer service and IT proficiency are huge parts of the role though, so make sure to draw from your previous positions to showcase these skills. And above all else, make sure that your passion and commitment to a career in Librarianship shines through!

What is your favourite book?

I always find this such a difficult question to answer because it’s hard to choose just one! However, a book I find myself returning to again and again is The Overstory by Richard Powers. It is a novel which changed the way I look at nature and our relationship with trees. Some other favourites include A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and anything written by Donna Tartt or Zadie Smith – their works are truly exceptional.

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Newnham College – Sasha Gardner (she/her)

Where did you study previously? Which subject?

I studied English & Classics at the University of Nottingham, and went on to do a Master’s degree in Ancient Greek at Wadham College, Oxford.

Did you have any previous library experience before applying?

I had a bit of archiving experience from helping out at the Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections Department, but I’ve found that my background as a bookseller has been incredibly useful in terms of customer service skills – not to mention all the reshelving!

What attracted you to the Newnham traineeship?

I knew that I wanted to work in a college library so that I could be involved in all aspects of library work, and having come from two all girls’ schools I knew I would feel right at home here! My grandmother was at Newnham in the ‘40s, so I felt especially drawn to this college, and I have so enjoyed researching her in the context of the college’s fascinating history across the 20th century.

What are your aspirations for your future career?

I plan to apply for a Master’s degree in Librarianship next year, and then continue to work either in a college library or school library. I have a background in children’s bookselling and literacy and I would really love to apply those skills in the context of librarianship.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

I have yet to meet anyone curious about librarianship who tried it out and didn’t like it. If you love books and love helping people, this is absolutely the sector for you!

What is your favourite book?

I have many! One of my all-time favourites is ‘The Wild Robot’ by Peter Brown, which taught me to think differently about the role of nature in the modern world. I also love anything by G. K. Chesterton, Sarah Moss, and Sally Rooney.

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Pembroke College – Nick Nuttall (she/her)

Where did you study previously? Which subject?

I did my undergraduate degree in Ancient History at The University of Manchester, before studying for an MA in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies at The University of Iceland and The University of Oslo.

Did you have any previous library experience before applying?

During sixth form at my high school, I spent several hours a week volunteering at the school library, where I helped students with borrowing and finding books, as well as creating displays and processing new acquisitions. It was a very small library and aimed at a different audience than a higher education library – at least 50% of our holdings were young adult or teenage fiction. It did prepare me for some aspects of library work, but I also found my experience in a customer service job was valuable for the user-facing elements of the Graduate Trainee job. Experience as a library user at different libraries can also help if you have no work or volunteer experience; understanding how they can vary and what you liked or didn’t like as a user can bring a lot of valuable insight to the team!

What attracted you to the Pembroke traineeship?

I had always been curious about librarianship as a career since my volunteering at school. During my MA I returned to the idea and set about looking for ways to gain more experience before pursuing a librarianship qualification. After discovering the graduate trainee positions I was delighted by the sound of working in a higher education library in a role designed to teach you everything about the career. I liked Pembroke in particular due to the ability to work at a beautiful, historic College that also had significant Special Collections I could work with. At Pembroke I get to pursue my own project with the rare books which delighted me as I’d like to work more with rare books and manuscripts in the future. The library team is small which means many opportunities to work with and get to know all different aspects of roles in the Library, and even the Archive. Being a Cambridge trainee, you also have access to a great network of events and extra training to take advantage of the sheer number and variety of different libraries in Cambridge.

What are your aspirations for your future career?

At the moment I love the idea of working with Special Collections, particularly medieval manuscripts. I also like the idea of being a subject librarian for Medieval studies, so I can continue to use my knowledge and love for academia more directly within the job. However I’m also happy to be surprised by other areas of librarianship that I haven’t discovered or considered yet, so I’m keeping an open mind and aiming to take any interesting opportunities that come my way. For now, the next step is applying to an MA in Librarianship.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

Transferable skills are your best friend in a graduate trainee application, especially if you’ve never worked or volunteered in a library. Customer service, IT and data management roles, admin jobs, working with social media, or even creative positions can all add something to your CV that would be useful in a library context.

Additionally, do your research on each library you apply to. Try to find out what makes them unique, or how the job may differ from place to place, and tailor your application accordingly. Being aware of current issues facing libraries and especially the higher education library sector can also help you prepare – websites like CILIP or following libraries and librarians on Twitter are great resources for this. You don’t need to be an expert, but having one or two things you could mention in an interview shows that you are engaged with the sector and the career.

What is your favourite book?

It can change week by week! Right now I’m loving The Locked Tomb Series by Tamsyn Muir. I’m currently reading the third instalment, Nona the Ninth. Muir’s character work is excellent, and the large tone shifts from book to book show her strength writing in different styles while still feeling appropriate for the world as a whole.

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Queens’ CollegeEmma Sibbald (she/her)

Where did you study previously? Which subject?

I studied English Literature at the University of St Andrews, and then read for a Master’s in English (1700-1830) at the University of Oxford.

Did you have any previous library experience before applying?

I volunteered in a primary school library as a teenager, which I greatly enjoyed, and at various museum libraries in London. Many cultural heritage institutions have volunteer programs, or are open to student researchers utilising the collections for small projects or essays, so if you’re curious about a particular collection or library then definitely ask if you can participate in some way. As an undergraduate, I interned in the St Andrews University Library Special Collections, examining eighteenth-century student borrowing records, which really lit the flame of my interest in historic libraries.

What attracted you to the Queens’ traineeship?

Trainees at Queens’ are, quite unusually, trained in rare books cataloguing and historical bibliography, and I was very eager to learn these skills. Queens’ collections of early printed books are utterly fascinating and I still can’t quite believe I get to work with them every day! Cambridge is a wonderful place to live and work, and the students, staff and library network have been unfailingly warm and welcoming.

What are your aspirations for your future career?

I hope to find my way into Special Collections or academic librarianship, rare books cataloguing, or further postgraduate research in Library History.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

Research librarianship as a profession, and the institution you are applying for, and trust in your own enthusiasm. No matter your academic or professional background, librarianship requires so many different skills, and everything you have done previously is likely uniquely suitable for some element of the role.

What is your favourite book?

So tough! My favourite book I’ve read recently is ‘Wild’, by Amy Jeffs, a collection of essays on the world of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is a deeply moving exploration of ancient stories that have endured in the landscape around us.

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St. John’s College –

Where did you study previously? Which subject?

Did you have any previous library experience before applying?

What attracted you to the St John’s traineeship?

What are your aspirations for your future career?

What advice would you give to future applicants?

What is your favourite book?

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Trinity College – Madeline Birnbaum (she/her)

Where did you study previously? Which subject?

The sole American of the group, I did my undergrad at Carleton College in beautiful, snowy Minnesota, majoring in English and minoring in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Last year, I completed a master’s in Early Modern English Literature at King’s College London. One reason I loved my master’s program was the opportunity to take a module taught at the British Library, where I had my first experience working in-depth with rare books.

Did you have any previous library experience before applying?

Not very much! Apart from becoming comfortable as a reader in the British Library while doing research for my master’s, I volunteered at the British Jesuit Archives for several months, where my central project was creating abstracts of a series of eighteenth-century letters. After I had already gotten the job, I also did a month-long work experience placement at the Lambeth Palace Library, which was useful for opening my mind up to project ideas for my year at Trinity.

What attracted you to the Trinity traineeship?

I was interested in the breadth of work the trainee is able to experience, and of course I was thrilled about the idea of having access to the Wren Library and eventually undertaking my own project there. I have loved how this year thus far has given me the opportunity to see how both academic and special collections/rare books librarianship work. Trinity has a larger staff than most other libraries, and I enjoy how this creates a really lively, dynamic environment with many people to learn from. Finally, the larger network of events, tours, and talks that Cambridge trainees are encouraged to take advantage of seemed like (and has been!) a great opportunity.

What are your aspirations for your future career?

I’m currently applying for library school, which I hope will be the next step into a career working in special collections or archives (luckily, in the US the archives path isn’t as siloed from librarianship). However, while my love of rare books and early modern print culture is still strong, the traineeship has also gotten me excited about academic librarianship, and I’ll try to keep that path open to myself for as long as possible as well.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

Get to know the specific library to which you’re applying as well as possible. Which unique aspects of the job and/or work environment appeal to you? Does the library hold any collections you’re particularly interested in? Show that you’re excited, that you’d be a good fit, and that you care.

As others have said, highlight any transferable experience: this is meant to be an introductory role, so don’t worry if you don’t have much experience working in libraries : )

What is your favourite book?

A difficult question, but two of my favorites I’ve read this year have been Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett and The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald. I love how both books play beautifully with people’s relationships with their environments in times of isolation, but also how the scales are so different: Pond is wonderfully domestic and The Rings of Saturn is almost cosmic.

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Christ’s College – Rebekah Cohen (she/her)

Where did you study previously? Which subject?

I studied English at the University of Oxford, and then read for a masters degree in Victorian literature, also at Oxford.

Did you have any previous library experience before applying?

My only experience was as a frequent user of academic libraries – throughout my studies, I became very familiar with many of the libraries at Oxford! Other than that, I didn’t have any library work or volunteering experience. I used to work as a bookseller though, and this gave me many transferable skills to talk about in my application.

What attracted you to the Christ’s traineeship?

Since hearing about library graduate traineeships a couple of years ago, I was really keen to apply, as it is such a great way to experience library work. College libraries are particularly ideal for this, and Christ’s is no exception. I get to experience many different sides of library work on a daily basis – from helping with reader enquiries, to processing new books, and working with rare books and manuscript materials too. I was attracted by the varied nature of the role at Christ’s, and excited to get involved with the extensive Old Library collections.

What are your aspirations for your future career?

I’m excited to see what opportunities I will encounter throughout this year, and I’m sure my trainee experience will be really helpful in what I do next!

What advice would you give to future applicants?

Don’t worry if you don’t have any directly library-related work experience – graduate trainee roles are designed with this in mind. Think about how the knowledge you already have would help you learn and accomplish the skills libraries are looking for. I think it is helpful to do some research into what is unique about the particular library you are applying to (such as their specific collections, anything distinctive about how the library operates, or recent projects and initiatives), so that you can concentrate your interest and enthusiasm around specific examples. Demonstrating that you are already thinking about how libraries work, and some of the debates and issues in the field, is also worthwhile!

What is your favourite book?

I have many favourite books! One of my all-time favourites has to be Middlemarch – I have read it three or four times now, and notice new details with every read!

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