Housed in a quiet corner of the lovely Blackheath in London, on the aptly named Tranquil Vale, sits the wonderful Mary Evans Picture Library that you may have heard me mention here on the blog before.
An archive full of historical images, illustrations, photographs and fine art, there isn't much that the picture library can't offer you in terms of beautifully visualising the world that has gone before us. It offers some of the most famous and truly wonderful imagery that you could hope to find that can be licensed for commercial use in books, magazines, newspapers, adverts, websites and on television.
You will in fact have been privy to their images in many a documentary, book and magazine article probably without even realising it. Nowadays, since becoming aware of the library and their work, I see the name Mary Evans roll up in the credits of so many programmes and often pick it out on posters and in magazines where once it would have perhaps passed un-noticed by me.
So having become aware of, and fascinated by the imagery and the work that this world famous library do - and have been doing for over 50 years on a daily basis, of course I was intrigued to find out a little more about what goes on behind the scenes as well as learn exactly how you get to carve out a career in such a unique and fascinating arena.
I was very happy when the libraries Sales Managers Luci Gosling agreed to an interview for the blog to let us in on a little insider information, as well as offering some really useful advice for just how you go about finding yourself working in such an interesting and really quite remarkably wonderful role. So today on the blog I share a little more about Luci and her career.
Hi Luci thanks for taking part in today's interview - please could you give us a little lowdown on what it is that you do and what your job involves?
I work at Mary Evans Picture Library. We're a long established picture library specialising in history, supplying images to a wide range of clients from newspapers and book publishers to greetings card companies or museums. The library was started in 1964 by Mary and her husband Hilary who amassed a fantastic collection of books, periodicals, prints, photographs and ephemera and eventually turned their hobby into a business. Today we employ 12 staff, and represent over 350 archive collections covering all genres and periods of history, supplementing the unique library collated by the founders.
My job as Sales Manager sees me involved in a variety of aspects of the business from contacting and visiting new and existing clients, identifying images with commercial potential, attending trade shows, coming up with new business ideas or writing press releases and blog posts. I also write books and articles based on content in the archive on a freelance basis, regularly give talks and have made the odd radio appearance promoting Mary Evans.
Could you guide us through your early career path and the training required to get involved in this type of career?
Although I studied history at Liverpool University, I left with little inkling about what I wanted to do. I remember once vaguely thinking I'd like to be the person who selected pictures for books! I was particularly interested in art history and so had a feeling I wanted to do something creative that also suited my personality. I applied for a job as a picture researcher at a stock photo library called Pictor (long since gone) and although I didn't get that role, they called me back and asked if I'd be interested in a sales assistant job. There I spent a couple of years as an account executive before leaving to have my first child.
My next job was at a well-respected library specialising in science imagery (not a subject I knew much about but they had faith in me anyway!) I began as a commercial sales executive dealing with design and advertising agencies, when much of the job was spent on the phone (this is pre-email era) and stock photography was going through something of a golden age. I worked my way up to a sales manager role looking after a team of 8-10 picture researchers and sales people and eventually left after seven years to take up an exciting post of Picture Library Manager at a smaller historical magazine archive, the Illustrated London News Picture Library. Here I was able to blend my commercial experience with a reignited love for history but considering there was no website and only a handful of images digitised, it was a steep learning curve. It was an exciting challenge though and gave me the opportunity to gain experience in marketing, image digitisation, content management and PR. No day was the same! Three years later, I joined Mary Evans Picture Library and I've been here eight years now.
What is it that drew you to this career, what kind of skills and interests does it require and suit?
I could easily say today that my job at Mary Evans combines my passion for history and images with commercial skills, but when I first started out in my career it wasn't in any way part of a master plan. As with many people I sort of fell into doing what I do, and here I am, 22 years later, still working in the picture library industry though I've worked for a variety of companies.
To do my specific role at Mary Evans it's beneficial to have a sales background, but I think combining it with a genuine passion for the material and a good, broad historical general knowledge really helps. If you truly love something, it doesn't feel like you're trying to sell it. It's just a case of encouraging others to share your enthusiasm! But the bottom line is that we are a commercial business. Mary Evans has a great reputation and many people often say how much they'd like to work at the library, but we have to work hard to ensure clients come to us first and continue to do so.
Important qualities are confidence, good communication, opportunism and creativity, but gaining some grass roots experience in sales can be invaluable in boosting these characteristics.
Was is it that you love most about your job?
It's just such a privilege to work in an environment where I'm surrounded by fascinating historical material every day. It's always a thrill to get an exciting new collection in the library and to think how we might promote it, and which clients might be interested in it. I also work with some lovely people.
What advice do you wish you had been given when you were starting out on your own professional journey?
Try to fit in extra skills training, further qualifications or even voluntary experience before you have children. I had my eldest son quite early on in my career and once he came along the main priority was remaining in work and putting food on the table. As much as I love my job, there has rarely been a moment where I've been able to consider anything other than that.
What are your tips for staying motivated when feeling under stress?
Most things are only short-term. Tomorrow is another day.
Is a good work-life balance important to you and how do you try to achieve it?
I'm not sure if I'm the best person to ask about a good work-life balance. If any of your readers out there would like to offer me advice I'm all ears!
I work full-time, have three kids, a hellish commute and in the last couple of years have written nine books or bookazines (plus magazine articles, websites and given several talks) mostly in my 'spare' time. I'm terrible at saying no to things, partly because any additional earnings are useful as we're doing up our house at the moment, and partly because if it's a subject I'm interested in, I just can't resist it. We rarely have holidays and I always feel I should do more with the kids.
I'm trying to be more choosy about what I do in the future and I keep promising myself I'll take up yoga this year. It's just how to fit it in! All I can say is it's a good thing I love my job. It would be miserable to be so busy doing something that I loathe.
For someone interested in working within the area that you do what would be your top advice for getting started?
Get some experience, even if just a few weeks' at a picture library or two of your choice. A number of people these days are doing a short course in picture research offered by the London School of Publishing, and that certainly shows commitment to that aspect of the industry, though the number of research roles at libraries such as ours is small in comparison to the number of people applying.
When applying for jobs I find someone who can write a persuasive and engaging covering email or letter of real interest. If you can catch someone's attention with that chances are you can do it with prospective customers and that can be invaluable.
Well a huge thank you to Luci for such a brilliant insight into her work as well as what I'm sure you'll agree is some really useful advice for building your way up and into such a unique career path.
To learn more about the library make sure you visit their website www.maryevans.com where you will find a wealth of information on their history, what they do and what you can hope to find in their extensive archives.
You can also read more about the Library and their recent 50th Anniversary celebrations in my previous post here: Mary Evans Picture Library Celebrating 50 Years
Thanks for reading everyone and here's to a Happy Monday!
Catch up with me later this week for some more work and life inspired posts. PLUS if you haven't yet had the chance to do so then don't forget to enter the Getaway Giveaway open until Saturday 7th March for your chance to win some stylish weekend break goodies.