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.
- Can you give us an example of when you had to work in a team to complete a task to a deadline?
- Can you give us an example of when you used your initiative to provide excellent customer service in a busy environment?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.