Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Trials, Tribulations and Applying to Library School: Part 3

Trials Tribulations and Applying to Library School - A talk by 3 former library school students

Post contributed by Katherine Burchell, English Faculty Library (@katherinehelen_)

When I was asked to speak about my experience of Library School I jumped at the chance. I saw it as a great opportunity to talk in more detail about why I chose to study at Sheffield and my recommendations for those who are thinking of going to Library School. It was also a chance to gain more experience of public speaking, which I plan to use as evidence in my later my Chartership portfolio. 

Deciding to apply to Library School was a very early decision that I made in my career, after only having worked in libraries for 3 months. I had always known that I wanted to do a Master's, so it made absolute sense for me to pursue a course in the area that I was extremely interested in and in the field that I knew I'd most likely end up working in and enjoying. I chose to study with The University of Sheffield as I knew that I wanted to continue to work full-time whilst studying and a distance learning course was the only way that I'd be able to do this. The course also had been recommended to me by a few people that I already knew in Cambridge were doing it and the way that the course was taught through "live" lectures appealed to me as a good way to learn. 

There was a good selection of optional modules to choose from, such as Academic and Workplace Libraries to Public Libraries, as well as core modules, which were of interest to me. Although there were good modules, there did seem to be a lack of "practical" elements, such as teaching and information literacy on the course. These are things which I am now seeking to learn more about and gain experience of through work and outside of the course. 

After having completed the course in September 2018, it has given me a lot of time to reflect on the course and its usefulness. I overall would definitely recommend doing a Master's in Librarianship, however, I wish I'd known that there were other ways in to the profession, without having the Master's. If I had known about CILIP's Certification or Chartership options, then I may have explored these and then considered a Master's in a slightly more focused area of Librarianship. That having been said I would not change anything about doing the Master's and now doing Chartership, I see this as an opportunity to guide me into the next stage of my career.

Once again, thank you to the CLG committee for their continuing support and for giving me a platform in which to speak and grow in confidence. I would be very happy to answer any questions about the course and library school, so please do contact me via my Twitter, linked above.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Trials Tribulations and Applying to Library School: Part 2

Trials Tribulations and Applying to Library School - A talk by 3 former library school students

Post contributed by Matthias Ammon, Modern and Medieval Languages Library (@DrMammon)

Matthias works as Research Support Librarian in the Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics Library, where he also manages the German and Film Studies collections. He was previously Project Coordinator in the Office of Scholarly Communication and has worked as an invigilator and Library Assistant in several faculty libraries. Matthias recently submitted his final assignments for a Postgraduate Diploma in Information and Library Studies at Aberystwyth University. He tweets @DrMammon
I would like to thank the Cambridge Library Group for giving me the opportunity to talk about my experience of library school. For me personally, in hindsight doing the degree was probably not the right decision. I started it out of a desire to learn more about librarianship and in order to qualify for higher-level positions. About halfway through my course, when I had worked in library assistant roles for about five years, I got a (higher-level) job in Cambridge’s Office of Scholarly Communication (what one might call a library-adjacent position) on the strength of having done a PhD and some voluntary PPD. This then turned into my current role as Research Support Librarian in the arts and humanities. Working in this area, I would have liked at least the opportunity to learn more formally as part of my degree about some of topics that I had had to learn ‘on the job’; a non-comprehensive list would include teaching (in its broadest sense), digital humanities, scholarly communication (for instance the academic publishing and rewards system), data management, data visualisation etc. These are all perfectly viable topics for a mostly academic Master’s course and are all librarianship issues of increasing importance – without wishing to sound heretical, it is perfectly possible today to be an academic librarian without knowing how to catalogue or how to write a collection development policy.

My scepticism may in part derive from my own experience on my distance-learning course at Aberystwyth which included a lot of course material that felt outdated, but I would encourage anyone interested in a career in academic librarianship to at least consider an alternative qualification path by for instance working towards CILIP certification and chartership first and figuring out which area of librarianship you might want to go into and then doing a more focussed further degree relating to that area a bit later, whether it is in teaching, special collections or scholarly communication. Of course, it may not be possible for everyone to get a foot in the door in the first place or to get a position where it is possible to experience a variety of aspects of librarianship but the broad ‘library degree’ may not be the best kind of preparation for your dream library job.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Trials Tribulations and Applying to Library School: Part 1

Trials Tribulations and Applying to Library School - A talk by 3 former library school students

Post contributed by Piotr Czosnyka, Medical Library (@PiotrCzosnyka)

It was exciting and a bit scary to be asked to speak to the members of the Cambridge Library Group (CLG) about why I choose to apply to University College of London (UCL) to peruse a MA in Library and Information Science. Public speaking is never a walk in the park, no matter how many times I done it. It is an opportunity to further or develop skills, and this is partly what CLG is about. It is a platform that amplifies the voice of information professionals. On a selfish note, participating in CLG events gives me yet another iron on the fire, maintaining my personal career development. It is also essential to highlight the changing role of a librarian into an informational professional. So, debunking the delusion that many still have in our society that a room full of books is a library, nothing can be further from the truth. An empty room with a librarian is a library.

It’s not just about ME (as the ego is not your amigo), because here in Cambridge we work as a community in a rich landscape and it is not often that we get to meet our colleagues in an informal capacity. What do I mean? Working with someone who was a stranger before simply for the joy that that the labour brings is a good way to get to know somebody. Therefore, after the work is done you have a pro bono feature of knowing a new person.  Working alongside my esteemed colleagues Katherine and Matthias was a gas and a hoot, because we are different, we all did slightly different courses. Hence we aimed to present a balanced set of arguments for why you may wish to choose to attend Information School. This decision is not to be taken lightly, the financial burden alone is enough to put anyone off, because of the context of austerity, brexit, economic uncertainty, the digital divide, and did I mention the Chinese and American trade war? Times are hard, everybody is feeling the pinch.

I choose to attend UCL, because my core values of promoting literacy, knowledge, civil rights matched up with that of the institution, and I believe that in the information age of the 21st century information professionals are responsible in providing equal access at the point of entry to knowledge and thus power. UCL was founded on the ideas of meritocracy and the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham. To advance as a civilized species we need librarians, information professionals, but remember this: how you wish to call us is not as important as what we do. Simples.

Thank you to the committee and the chair of CLG.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Professional Resilience

Professional Resilience – A Talk by Emma Coonan (@LibGoddess)

Post contributed by Katherine Krick-Pridgeon, Christ’s College Library (@KKrick11)

My philosophy of work, as an early career professional, is to learn about a lot of varied topics, especially for helping me understand future situations in which I might find myself. So when this talk on professional resilience was advertised, I thought I would go along so that I could understand what this meant and see if I could learn anything to ensure I would be resilient in future.

Emma began by unpicking the idea of “resilience”, as this is now a very loaded term. A lot of job specifications and interview questions are asking about a candidate’s ability to be resilient. The dictionary definition of resilience is the ability to recover quickly from something bad. For the visual learners in the audience, Emma displayed an image borrowed from Lisa Jeskins Training called the “Reservoir of Well-Being”. The image exemplified an average person’s emotional reserves, with the attendant descriptions of what could top-up your reserves but also what could drain them. The clear warning was that you might be drained to the point of burn-out if you do not keep your reservoir filled. One of the best ways to refill your emotional reserves is to “give time” to something you love, whether that is study, creative activities, being outdoors, or being around other beings.

Now that we had this basic understanding of what helped you maintain resilience, Emma began examining the idea of resilience at work, particularly looking at who is responsible for it. A blog post by Skills To Go was presented as being less than ideal in discussing work-place resilience. The overriding idea is that you are the responsible party: you have to know what you need, you have to incorporate loss into your being, and, though stressful/toxic environments often trigger discussions of resilience, the role of the employer in changing this is rarely discussed. In this, she cited a recent tweet by Twitter account @PatJD:


The key idea is that workplaces are not considering their role in burning out their workforce by demanding too much. Research in higher education acknowledges the many demands being made on the workforce without the benefits of previous generations and is asking whether HE institutions should be preparing students for this situation. Emma recommends pushing back against this by asking “is this the right approach?”. Though those who currently ask this are often considered disruptive, Emma implies that nothing will change unless such questions continue.

Emma then related a story by Emily Rogers from the book The Self as Subject which detailed how a professional librarian was broken by the lack of respect for her time and the (in my opinion) inappropriate response of the institution she worked for. She was set on a “remedial” career path towards tenure after shouting at an academic colleague in a public area of the library, which Emily accepted, and which ultimately led to her becoming the head of the tenure committee of her institution. What this led Emma to note was that “low morale” workplaces are not necessarily generated by active bullying but also by negligence. What has come through in recent research on the subject is that a lack of acknowledgement of success and effort leads to low morale, which consequently leads to an inability to defend one’s self. Resolution of these situations is usually due to someone (often, you) leaving, but that can be difficult if the low morale is causing you to feel low self-worth, which then means you do not come across well in interview.

Three main points really stood out for me. First was the really helpful idea of “giving” time. Though Emma had referred to it first in relation to the “Reservoir of Well-Being”, it was her clarification towards the end of her talk of the importance of this phrase in reminding one’s self that it is not selfish (as implied by saying you “spend” or “take” time) to care for your own emotional well-being. Second was her conclusion where she noted that she could not give solutions, as solutions that do not work lead to further feelings of low self-worth. This was something she wanted to avoid and it fit with the idea that there is no one magical way to counter a low morale environment. Third was a response to the question of what recovery from a low morale situation might look like. This was intensely personal to me, as it turns out I am recovering from the low morale situation of completing a PhD. What spoke to me most was her point that to some it might sound like “compulsive bitching”, but repeatedly telling your story helps you come to terms with what happened, helps you get distance, and helps you regain agency over the situation. She also mentioned that this could take from one to two years at least, so I expect that anyone who asks about my PhD in the next 18 months will hear my story, but just know it is because I am trying to recover my resilience!

Emma had concluded her talk by offering a few tools and tips for improving on low self-worth, all of which supported Jane Kenyon’s notion that you should “[b]e a good steward of your gifts”. She especially encouraged us to do at least one thing we love by Sunday and I would echo her by saying you should do at least one thing you love by the end of the week in which you read this blog post!

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Visit to TWI Ltd (The Welding Institute)

Post contributed by - Helen Snelling CLG Membership Secretary

On Wednesday 20th March 2019 a group of 10 of us set off after work from Cambridge to Granta Park to visit the library at TWI Ltd at the invitation of Alison Chew, a fellow CLG member.

The Library team at TWI (The Welding Institute) comprises six, soon to be seven members, a mix of both librarians and information scientists.  TWI has approximately 950 staff and just over half of them are engineers.  TWI – a non-profit company - has been based in Cambridgeshire since 1946, the first spin-out from the University and based originally in Abington Hall, where the sheds in the grounds were used for testing.

Information Scientist Alison Chew and Paul Jones, Library Manager welcomed us to the library and gave us some insight into the work of the Institute and the role the library plays.  There has been a library at TWI for over 80 years, and 30% of TWI income comes from publicly funded work.  Standards take up two-thirds of the library budget with many written by TWI following testing processes.  The library also plays a large part in the current NSIRC programme supporting 530 Master and PhD students over 10 years, and there is a shared programme with other Innovation Centres and Universities exposing students to Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs).

We toured the Exhibition space, showing the huge variety of welding, which was quite a revelation. Apart from metal welding which is the first thing that springs to mind, we saw examples of the technologies used to weld composites to metals, such as electron beam Surfi-Sculpt.  This is a bit like metal Velcro and can be used for joining metal to composite, such as on a racing car.  Basically if something has a join in it, it will have been manufactured using a specific sort of weld, so we saw examples on of welds attaching metal to bone (in replacement hips), or fabric joins in a high-performance swimsuit!  We saw videos of lasers being used to cut things up at the end of life – such as decommissioning of nuclear plants, where a robotic laser arm can operate with a high power beam density, and little contaminating fumes.

We were also shown a timeline charting the history of TWI  in The Street  - which stretches the length of a wide corridor with room to expand, promoting a good deal of exhibition space envy amongst our visiting group!

Back in the library, Alison explained about Weldasearch the which has been going since 1960 and houses in excess of 240,000 records.  It is a unique and valuable resource, but very labour-intensive.  The database is externally hosted with librarians as editors and a team of external abstractors.  Weldasearch commands a high level of trust, with complete, accurate and unbiased results compared to online search engines, and the library maintains a thesaurus of keywords used in abstracting.
An important part of the library’s work is to understand what the enquirer is trying to achieve, and the search and source expertise of library staff is invaluable here.  Library staff try to capture the true value of information by asking questions such as “did this enable you to develop your proposal?” or “Did it lead to you getting funding for it?”  Every member of the library team supports an industry sector such as the power sector.  They do a lot of 1:1 information literacy training with staff and student groups, and go out to work in different sections of the building.  They are doing more information searches than ever, but don’t have the budget to purchase all the full-texts that exist.

There is a huge emphasis on copyright and intellectual property.  There is a publications policy to make sure that TWI retains the copyright on papers written whilst someone is working there.  All papers have to be validated through the library before presentations and there is no open access policy.

A huge thanks to Alison and Paul for making us so welcome and for hosting our visit. It was interesting to see the difference between a library such as this and a purely academic library, but also to see the way the commercial and academic combine and complement each other.

                                                         Alison Chew, information Scientist, TWI Ltd.