Hack Library School Day in the Life: Tuesday

I’m back for the Tuesday installment of Hack Library School Day in the Life.

Before I start, just a quick note on some of the blogs and tweets from over the pond.  It’s really interesting to read what American library schoolers are up to, and the main difference relates to internships.  Library internships seem to be all the rage – perhaps it is compulsory to do a work placement during your masters?  I know a couple of UK schools also encourage them, but as far as I know they’re not an assessed part of the course, and in Sheffield they don’t feature at all.  You can’t get on the course unless you’ve done a year’s experience in a library, so I assume they think it’s not important to have a work placement, but I think a short, structured placement with an assessment to go with it would be a great idea.  It would give me a chance to try something completely new.  I’d like to get some practical experience with institutional repositories and metadata, for example, which isn’t taught on the course.  The downside of internships is that the longer ones encourage the culture of working for free in order to get your foot in the door.  I would hate to see libraries go down the route of publishing, culture & heritage and charities, which rely on interns instead of paid workers.  But a short, educational placement in a different sort of library would be great – I may look at organising myself one in the summer.

Anyway, Tuesday morning: another 11am start (much better than working full-time!)  My lecture today was from the module Library Services for Children and Young People.  It’s been a very interesting module so far, and has included a visit to Sheffield Children’s Libraries, a talk from a school librarian at an independent school and an entire lesson looking at the best picture books to promote diversity (check out And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins raising an egg, aww).  Today’s session was on ethical considerations in collection development, and was presented by Liz Chapman.  She’s a PhD student in the department, and is doing some great research into LGBT resources in public libraries – if you ever need a list of LGBT fiction for children and young people, she’s the one to turn to.  We discussed issues that didn’t really have a definitive answer today: how far should children’s right to intellectual freedom stretch? Should books have age-banding?  Should parents have the right to see what their child is borrowing?  What shouldn’t be included in a children’s collection?  Where should we shelve Jacqueline Wilson?  Liz told us that a lot of frontline library staff didn’t have training on ethical issues, and were poorly equipped for handling complaints or problems – it’s the responsibility of the organisation to have a clear policy and deliver appropriate training.

After lunch, I wandered fruitlessly round our two big university libraries and completely failed to find a computer, which was very irritating.  So I ended up returning to the iSchool to take notes from a hard-copy book on a hard-copy notepad.  So old fashioned.

Here is Sheffield iSchool in the sun!  Long may the sun last.

Sheffield iSchool

Sheffield iSchool in the sun. Photo by me.

I didn’t have a lecture in the afternoon so I worked on my assignment for Children’s Libraries, which is to design a school library, producing an annotated sketch plan and report.  So far, I’ve been reading up about different recommendations for library space for young people.  There’s lots of examples from America about public libraries that have gone for themed areas for young people, as well bean bags, reading towers, gaming areas and all kinds of other exciting things.  I think school libraries probably need to be a bit more toned down though!  Comfy seating still features heavily, and lots of flexibility and natural light.  The most interesting thing that I read was the idea that young people brought up in the age of key-word searching are not interested in learning about how to use a library classification system – tempting them to pick up a book is a lot more useful than trying to teach them “library skills.”  I wonder if people agree?  The book I was reading was a very good recent one –  Library Services for Children and Young People, by Carolyn Rankin and Avril Brock, published by Facet.

In the evening, I went to a meeting in the city centre about saving Sheffield Public Libraries.  Unfortunately, we have just heard that 14 out of our 27 branch libraries in Sheffield are under threat of closure because of cuts to council funding.  Public libraries are in a precarious position in the UK at the moment – the government is keen to save money by handing them over to groups of volunteers to run, meaning that paid staff members will lose their jobs.  Other groups all over the country are fighting against library closures too, as well as severe cuts to other council services.  At times it seems like a losing battle, but the meeting tonight was well attended.  We’ve got a Facebook page set up – odd acronym, I know – and managed to plan some ways to build the campaign before the next meeting in three weeks time.

No lectures tomorrow, so I’m hoping to make headway on this Children’s Libraries assignment before having coffee with my sister in the afternoon and going to an Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer gig. Yay!

Hack Library School Day in the Life: Monday

Hello people!  Emily from the UK here – I’m partway through a full time MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield.

Information Commons

Sheffield University Information Commons. Image attributed to daniel villar onrubia. Shared under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 License.

That’s one of the university libraries here in Sheffield – the Information Commons, or IC for short.  I’m sitting in it and writing this now.  It’s very shiny, open 24 hours a day and has a café, which are plus points for me, but it’s also quite noisy and very difficult to find a computer in the daytime.

I’m taking part in the Hack Library School Day in the Life because I’ve never tried a Day in the Life blog before.  I’m only going to be a library student this year, so I won’t have the chance again, and I saw that the UK didn’t have a lot of representation in the list.  My natural nosiness means I’m looking forward to seeing what library school is like in the States!

Before we start on my incredibly exciting week, a little about me.  You might be aware that there are different ways to “do” library school in the UK, so not everyone studies full time – since the fees have gone up and funding has gone down it is a lot more popular for people to study part time or distance learning whilst working in a library.  However, I’m actually going the more traditional route of graduate traineeship (a paid year in an academic law library) followed by full time MA which lasts one year.  This obviously has pros and cons – it’ll get the masters out of the way quicker, and lets me concentrate on studying, but it’s not so easy to gather up work experience.  We’ll see what happens when it comes to applying to jobs in the summer!

I’m in my second term of the MA – having got three and a half modules completed in the autumn, I’m doing four and a half this semester.  The dissertation looms over the summer months, and I’ll be all handed in by the beginning of September (fingers crossed).  To get a bit of experience, I volunteer at a feminist archive in Leeds one day a week – happily this Friday should be an exciting one, as it’s International Women’s Day so we’re having an exhibition.  But not to jump ahead of myself, let’s start with…

MONDAY 4th March

Today started at 11am for me with the module Archives and Records Management.  I chose to take this optional module because I’m volunteering in an archive, and I was tempted by one of the assignments (think up a question and go and research it in an archive of your choice).  Although archiving is a separate discipline from librarianship, it’s been very interesting so far, and the records management part actually has a lot in common with information management, research data management and other more librarian-y topics.

The session today was in a computer lab, and was basically a chance for us to explore some online archives.  We looked at the National Archives, which is the official archive of the UK government.  Then we explored an eclectic collection of archives – including the Knitting Archive at the V&A, and the Science Fiction Hub at Liverpool University  . I also had a quick look at the Derbyshire Record Office, which is the local council archive for the area where I grew up.  I found the archive websites often to be confusing – it’s not always clear when items are digitised and when they aren’t.  Browsing the National Archives seemed to lead to dead ends where you either had to pay for downloading something, or a message appeared saying “the National Archives are not the best places to search for this.”  There is such an enormous amount of material out there that it’s really hard to know where to start exploring, and only a tiny portion of it has been digitised.

The second half of the session was held in the ilab, a room in the Information School which is used for information systems testing – it’s got a one way mirror, laptops that track your search behaviour and all kinds of snazzy things like that.  An undergrad student was evaluating “Discovery,” the new search interface for the National Archives, so we were helping her out with her research.  We  had to fill in a short survey, complete three tasks on the Discovery interface, and then fill in another questionnaire about our experiences.  It was interesting to see this kind of research in action, as we’d learnt about it in our module on “Information Retrieval” last semester.  The advanced search function on the Discovery system was quite easy to use, but there were loads of other tools that I didn’t think of using – maybe this makes me a bad information professional! I’ll have to have a play around with them afterwards.

After lunch it was the Library Management module.  Today’s session was a bit different from normal, as we have spent the last few weeks preparing for fake interviews.  We all submitted a CV and covering letter for a professional librarian’s post, and then split into groups to shortlist each other’s applications.  It helped me really look at the person spec for jobs, and realise the necessity of tailoring your CV and covering letter to every single job I apply for.  We picked out someone from the other group to interview, and they picked someone from our group (not me, which I have to say was a bit depressing – if I can’t even get a fake job, what are my chances with a real one?!).  But for the sake of the exercise, the people who weren’t interviewed probably had more fun as we got to be the interview panel.  We prepared questions and ran the session like a proper interview.  If anyone is interested, here are the questions we prepared for H’s interview.

  1. Can you give us an example of when you had to work in a team to complete a task to a deadline?
  2. Can you give us an example of when you used your initiative to provide excellent customer service in a busy environment?
  3. What action would you take if an undergraduate student approached you in the library and told you that they could not get access to an electronic database?
  4. You mentioned in your application that you work as a digital champion to adult learners. How do you feel that you could apply the skills developed in that role to an academic librarian position?
  5. The library is committed to providing equitable access to services for all students. Could you give an example of how you, as an academic librarian could improve access to services for distance learning students?
  6. How do you feel you have demonstrated your commitment to the information profession up till now, and how do you intend to continue if you get this role?

It was very interesting to be on the interviewing side of things, as I’ve always been the interviewee before.  It was a lot less stressful, I have to say, even if you did really want the candidate to do well.  I think it would be pretty hard to choose between good candidates though, as both H and P did so well that I would have struggled to choose between them!

Management over, I went to the IC to drink tea and do a bit more work.  I got a book called The Future of Archives and Recordkeeping out of the library, and read the first chapter to see if I could get any ideas for my archives essay.  It strikes me that archivists are a lot more theoretical than librarians – after months of learning about collection management, e-resources, search strategies, web 2.0, budgeting and supporting social inclusion in public libraries, I open the archives book and see

“Postmodernism is nothing new, and in fact some would argue that it is already over” (Lane & Hill, 2011, p.6)

It’s like being back reading literary and cultural studies again!  They’re even quoting Derrida. I’m not sure why there is such a difference between disciplines… I’ll have to find an archivist and ask them.

Finally, I set some time aside to write this blog. My plan now is to do a tiny bit of research for a “Save Public Libraries” meeting I have tomorrow (I need to look for details of other UK groups who have successfully fought local council cuts to libraries), and then to give up on libraries for the day and head home.

Looking forward to reading about everyone else’s day!  See you tomorrow.


Lane, V., & Hill, J. (2011). Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? Situating the archive and archivists. In J. Hill (Ed.), The Future of Archives and Recordkeeping: a Reader (pp. 3-22). London: Facet.