Jude England is Head of Social Science at the British Library.

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

Three things: a forensic scientist, a vet, an air hostess.

When did you first turn towards a social research career?

I was drawn to sociology at school. My North London comprehensive was pretty unique at that time in offering Sociology at GSE as well as A level. Then on to Sociology at university.

What was your first professional job? 

In the Social Survey Division at OPCS (Office of Population Censuses and Surveys for younger readers, now ONS) working on survey design, checking returned questionnaires and primary analysis.

What followed before you came to the BL?

Many jobs – as a Research Assistant at LSE (on a project on the profile of National Front supporters), five years or so at SCPR, now NatCen (on a wide variety of projects – my formative experience), in a succession of research consultancies in the employee relations and communications fields, a period of freelancing, then five years at ECOTEC Research and Consulting (doing social policy research and consultancy, latterly leading on children and young people). Then the BL beckoned.

What does your BL role involve?

I came in 2006 to a new post with a new department, the response to a conviction that the awareness and usefulness of the Library to the broad social science community wasn’t as strong as it could be.  Now we work on three priorities:  developing the collection, increasingly with digital material; improving access and services for social science users; and helping to build capacity – for PhD students, for researchers in general and for the public, for whom our exhibitions and lectures are important.

In your work what has given you the most satisfaction?

I’ve always welcomed breadth of experience.  The range of research I’ve done has been enormous, from investigating benefit take-up, to visits to coalmines and breweries, to views on surgical footwear, focus groups in pubs looking at the working conditions of pub staff and work with children as researchers.  It’s not just the variety per se that pleases; it’s that all these experiences provide lessons transferable to other work.

Do you have a social research hero/heroine?

I have to name Jane Richie. She was my boss and mentor at SCPR who taught me so much about how to design, conduct and manage research and clients – and have lots of fun in the process.

What would your advice be to new social researchers?

You must do fieldwork.  You can’t be a real social researcher until you’ve walked up a path to a front door wondering what you’re going to hear and find out about when the door opens…


Interview by William Solesbury, November 2011

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