Careers get left off the shelf

Philip Schofield finds that local libraries and high street bookshops are a mine of no information when it comes to employment advice
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The Independent Online
WHEN one left school or university there was a comprehensive careers service available, with trained people offering advice and counselling and a vast range of reference material to consult. It was largely one's own fault if the wrong choices were made or applications muffed.

However, selecting a career and applying for one's first job is very different from planning any subsequent career change or applying for a job as an experienced person. There are now far more options open to the adult worker, not only in type and level of work, but in the way one works. More people find themselves choosing or having to work part-time, on short-term contracts, as self-employed workers, as job-sharers, or in other forms of flexible working.

There is an even chance that you will change employer, voluntarily or involuntarily, within three years. And if you work in some areas, such as retailing, hotels or catering, the chances are very much higher. Where do you turn for guidance?

Although a handful of newspapers carry articles on careers, the chances of finding something relevant to your particular needs at a particular moment are not high. An obvious source of material is a library or good bookshop.

Several British publishers produce excellent careers literature. Understandably, much of it is aimed at young people and covers career choice, job applications and careers in a variety of occupations. For example, Trotmans publishes 22 titles in the Getting Into series and 40 Questions and Answers career guides; Kogan Page has 30 titles in its Career In series, Hodder & Stoughton Educational has 29 in its Just the Job series, and the Careers and Occupational Information Centre (COIC) of the Department of Employment produces a vast range of careers literature for schools and careers services. However, there are also books aimed at the adult job changer market.

This is not surprising bearing in mind that about four-and-a-half million adults change employer each year. This is five times greater than the number of young people entering the job market for the first time. However, this literature is only useful if it is readily available. Because it is uneconomic to promote non-fiction widely, it has to be visible on the bookshelves if people are to know it exists.

A search of the main lending and reference library of a regional authority serving a population of over 200,000 was dispiriting. Non-fiction is normally listed in the order of Dewey catalogue numbers. Careers are listed under 331. In Inverness' lending library, under Dewey 331, there were four titles - Surviving Redundancy, Live and Work in Portugal, Finding a Job in Computers and Job Hunting for Women. At the opposite end of the library were a miscellany of careers books with the same Dewey number taking another 18 inches of unlabelled shelf space.

The reference library was worse. Careers occupied four inches. Elsewhere in the section were 13 inches of cardboard files containing COIC leaflets aimed at schoolchildren and five binders holding leaflets on employment law and employee rights.

The bookshops did rather better. Although John Menzies' fairly limited book section only had single copies of eight titles, they had wide application to adult job seekers. Titles included The Perfect Interview, CVs and Applications, How to Pass Selection Tests, and The Complete Job Seekers' Workbook.

James Thin had three feet of shelving on careers books, although arbitrarily split into two sections. In addition, it had a rotating stand with Trotman's Questions and Answers series.

Waterstones was the only bookshop with a section clearly labelled careers. This held almost four feet of relevant titles. Compared with the space given to other topics, this is still meagre. However, it is a big improvement on 15 years ago. A survey in a town with a similar catchment showed less than 12 inches of careers books in a huge WH Smith, eight inches in a large specialist bookshop and none in the polytechnic bookshop.

Bookshops necessarily make decisions on what books to stock and display on commercial grounds. Philip Kogan, managing director of Kogan Page, says the problem for bookshops is that if you have a series of "careers in this, that and the other, it is very difficult to get any bookshop to take the full range. There's too large a range of not very big-selling titles."

Morfydd Jones, Trotman's publishing director, says most bookshops do not treat careers as a distinct area. She cites WH Smith in Richmond which has careers books "lumped under 'business and management' and 'revision guides' ". She believes it is partly tradition, in that many large publishers have no strong careers list and their reps do not push them. Therefore the bookshops do not give them a separate section.

Public libraries are under no such commercial obligations. But Mr Kogan says the last government cut the library service to shreds and this one is doing nothing to correct it. "At one time library suppliers took a thousand copies of every decent book in hardback. Now they take none. A borough like Camden, with several large libraries, will share one careers book between them and circulate it." He adds: "There are now only 130 buying libraries in Britain."

He says if libraries and bookshops cannot help, people should phone publishers for their lists, and if necessary buy direct. The market leaders are Hodder & Stoughton Educational (Vicky Fentiman on 0171 873 6235), Kogan Page (0171 278 0433), and Trotman (0181 940 5668).