Library Student Day in the Life: Day Three

Welcome to todays chapter of a day in my life! This is my third day of blogging for the Hack Library Student Day in the Life project, sharing what my life is like as a library student.

Today is all about my working life. I work part-time in an academic library when I’m not studying, doing 15 hours a week. This is a bit more than I would ideally like as it means I don’t have much spare time, but I need the money to be able to fund full-time study. I started work at 9am this morning, and given that I didn’t get much sleep last night I wasn’t feeling very happy about it! My job is working within a subject team, to support the Subject Librarians in any jobs that need doing. Something I enjoy about the job is that it can have a variety of tasks, but on the other hand it is often very repetitive which can be a little boring at times.

This morning I started my day by catching up on emails (you tend to have a fairly full inbox when you only work two days a week) and then by completing the weeding task I had started last week. The relevant Subject Librarian had given us a list of periodicals that needed weeding and sending to Store, so I’ve been taking them off the shelves, measuring them (so Store know how much shelf space they’ll take up), documenting and boxing them up ready to go. It doesn’t sound very interesting, but I actually find it strangely satisfying.

Boxes My desk, surrounded by boxes after the morning’s work!

I spent a large proportion of my day doing that for various subjects. It’s quite physical at times, as it requires lifting heavy volumes and then pushing a huge trolley full of them back to my office (which naturally was the opposite end of the building). On the plus side, I now know where to find the German Periodicals! I’ve only been in my job for three months, and the library is a bit of a rabbit warren – I still don’t know where lots of things are!

empty cabinet One of the rather empty cabinets after I’d had a go at it!

After the periodical weeding I had lunch (soup again), then started on a very long reading list. This basically just involved checking the list against our catalogue to see whether we already have them, or whether we need to buy them (budget allowing, obviously). It’s a fairly easy task (although sometimes that catalogue seems to fight you all the way), although todays list had quite a lot of books not in English which made it somewhat more challenging! At 3.30pm I went for tea with some colleagues, and then after that continued with the reading list until I left at 5pm, to catch my train by the skin of my teeth. Then I rushed home so that I could have a quick dinner before my friend came to pick me up – I went to the cinema again. I hate to miss the opportunity of an Orange Wednesday!


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March 6, 2013 · 9:21 pm

Library School Day in the life: day two

So, just a brief post tonight as I’ve been out and I have work in the morning so I want to go to bed! This is day two of my blog for Hack Library School project for the week.

Today I had Uni all day, which started at 10am (thank goodness all of the 9am starts from last term are over!). I had an hour-long lecture for my Management module, which was about HR and the policies you need to think about, such as when employing people. A lot of it was common sense, but I certainly think it’s important to underline these things for when we become professionals. After that we had a half hour break which I spent in the common room with friends, and then a seminar for the same module from 11.30-1pm. In this we had a discussion about the use of volunteers and what you need to think about when considering using them – it was a really interesting discussion and made me consider issues that I hadn’t necessarily thought about before.

We then separated into our groups and started work on our third exercise. To give you some background, as a group we’ve created an imaginary library, which we have been given a budget for. In previous exercises we’ve outlined a mission statement and goals for the organisation, divided up the budget and staffed the library. Today we had to write a job description, person specification and create an advert for the job.

The most frustrating thing that I always find about this is that we don’t have enough time to do it, and working within a group obviously means that a lot of discussion happens – not ideal when you’re pressed for time! I generally find myself in the role of time management – i.e. I hurry everyone up so that we don’t waste time. We did quite well today and ended the session by dividing up the remaining work to do in our own time, with a deadline that we all have to meet. The group work is assessed so it’s important to make sure we’re all working at it.This kind of scenario is, I think, quite important for the course as I aim to be in management one day and it’s nice to consider these issues now, but I do find it a challenge working in such a big group.

After this was lunchtime. Usually I just spend this with my friends, but today I went to talk to one of my lecturers about my dissertation ideas first. One thing I really like about UCL is how approachable the staff are, and how helpful. After the discussion I feel a lot more certain about what I’m going to do for my dissertation now, which is a relief. I can start on my proposal this weekend now; something I’ve been putting off until now!

Then, after a hurried lunch (I bring in something from home and use the microwave in the common room) I went off to my optional module for this term. I’ve chosen to do Manuscript Studies, as it’s not something I have any experience in so I thought I would see what I think.

So far, I’m really enjoying it. A lot of it is based on palaeography, and is, I have to say, a barrage of information at times considering I have little prior knowledge of this. A visiting lecturer takes the class and it’s very old-school; no PowerPoint, but just the odd word or example on the board and lots of talking! Suffice to say that this week, as always, my brain felt like mush after it! Today we did about Gothic script. We always do some transcription as we have a test on this at the end of the term, and todays examples weren’t horrific so I don’t feel too freaked out about the test. My main quibble with the class is that we only get a 5 minute break in a 3 hour class, so I often find myself flagging towards the end. I’m glad I chose it though, as it’s allowed me to try something completely different.

After class I went for dinner and to the cinema with some friends from the course, and then headed home. And that’s day two in my life!

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Library student Day in the Life: Day One

Ok, so the point of this project is to share a typical day as a library student so that anyone who’s interested will have an idea of what it entails as part of the Hack Library School project. I’ll be sharing all of this week as my days all tend to be different. In case you haven’t read anything in my blog before, I’ll just fill you in on the basic details. I’m a full time student at UCL, doing the MA LIS. I also have a part-time (15 hours a week) job in an academic library.

My day today has consisted of going in to Uni for 10am for a lecture in my Information Sources and Retrieval module. This week it was all about medical information sources, which is completely new to me. Still, it was reassuring to realise that actually a lot of the ways to search for sources are the same, so you don’t necessarily have to be an expert in the field itself. I finished at 12pm (we have a practical until 1pm but I couldn’t make that) and went to see if I could talk to one of my lecturers about my dissertation. Unfortunately that was a no-go, so I’ve emailed instead to try to set up an appointment. We have to submit our dissertation proposal in less than two weeks and I’m not really sure what I want to do so I’m starting to stress out about it. After the failed attempt at a meeting, I went and picked up some returned coursework so that I could see the feedback, and also picked up a past dissertation which I’d requested from the departmental office. I’d like to look at one just to get an idea of what I’m aiming for. I have, of course, already completed a dissertation for my BA, but that was nearly four years ago now so I’m a little rusty! Following along this train of thought, I then went to the library to request a book from the off-site storage which I think I’ll want for my dissertation.

Having finished all these errands, I got the train home, had a small lunch of soup at about 2pm (I’m trying out the intermittent fasting diet and today is one of my fasting days) and have then written a blog post on my work experience. I’ve been meaning to get around to it for ages but haven’t managed to squeeze it in until today – committing to writing this blog has given me the motivation that I needed! After this I’ve finished various things around the house which I didn’t do yesterday because I was hungover – washing, sorting out my post, filing my uni work in the correct folder by date…things like that. After that I did some more research for my dissertation, starting looking into an essay I have to write for Manuscript Studies, began reading the dissertation and then did some research into buying my brother a 30th birthday present. After all of that I relaxed for a bit watching TV and then I’ve written this blog. That’s my day!

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March 4, 2013 · 6:23 pm

MA LIS Work experience placement: the House of Commons Library

HoC pic

So, as part of the full time MA LIS students have the opportunity to do a two week work experience placement in January. UCL provides a list of previous placements or you can choose your own place. Given that I’m currently dithering between several different disciplines or field or librarianship I thought that this was quite a difficult decision. Nonetheless, as all my experience is in academic libraries I was determined to try something new. I should point out here that UCL encourage to try something outside of your particular understanding just to broaden your experience a little so it wasn’t entirely me being gung-ho! Anyway, the House of Commons Library was on the list and I decided that it might be an interesting place to check out – I like that fact that it’s kind of like a law library, but is also fairly specialist, so it gives you a good overview of a different service.

UK pic I thought this picture conveyed quite well how broad-ranging the effect of the House of Commons Library is.

Before I even got to the placement I was impressed with it – I was emailed a programme in advance and was asked if there was anything in particular that I would like to do. I found having a programme in advance really helpful as it gave me an idea of what to expect and showed me the variety of things I could experience. Some of my friends on the course didn’t get a programme and I know they wished that they had. When I started on the Monday I had to get a security pass (I’d had to apply for clearance months previously) and then I started in the cataloguing department. I was set up on my own computer, shown around, and given a local cataloguing policy document to start on some cataloguing. Now if you’ve read my previous post you’ll know that I wasn’t originally a big fan of cataloguing, but the House of Commons really helped with this. They use an internal thesaurus (so much better than LCSH) and use what Anne Welsh describes as an ‘agile’ cataloguing system. This meant that there was very little use of AACR2 or MARC, which made it quite simple to use. Phew! I met with Dora, the Head of Reference Services, who had organised my programme, the first day; was bought lunch and tea and generally felt reassured that I was going to enjoy the placement after all!

How can you not love being where people buy you tea?!

The rest of that week was spent in a large variety of places, including visits to the House of Lords Library, Reference Services, Enquiries and the Members’ Centre, and an introduction to binding processes. When I wasn’t visiting other sections I was in cataloguing, putting either books or electronic documents onto the system. It’s amazing how much more satisfying cataloguing is when you’re actually creating real records from scratch, and you know that it will stay on the system as a kind of legacy. That may sound strange, but it’s how I feel! Anyway, the point is that I wasn’t exactly stuck for things to do in my first week, and I settled in surprisingly quickly. Everyone was really friendly to me and I got the opportunity to have a quick chat with most of the departments within LRS (Library Resources Section).

Of course, another big plus of the week was that I got to go around the Members’ Library, which, as you may have guessed from the name, is for Members of Parliament only. Of course Library staff are allowed in there, but no other staff members! It was really nice, with lovely big rooms, towering shelves and lots of cosy looking chairs. I have to confess though that I thought the House of Lords Library was a tiny bit better – mainly because it had original bound copies of The Times from the 1800’s which I loved! The ladders up to the shelves were a bit scary though – the staff have to have training from a former fireman to be able to use them!

HoL pic

The House of Lords Library

Anyway, on my second week I was based in IADS (International Affairs and Defence Section) which is one of the many research sections. One of the reasons I found the Library so fascinating was because of this research culture. Coming from an academic library background, I’m accustomed to users finding everything on their own. Not so here. Research sections exist to provide debate packs, brief summaries, current awareness bulletins, and answers to in depth queries. Quite frankly, the amount of knowledge floating around in there is incredible, not to mention a little intimidating! While I was there I had the opportunity to do some indexing which meant trying to get used to a whole new indexing tool; it was fun but also quite challenging. I also did some weeding, attended some meetings and tried to ‘match up’ the various stages of legislation for collation on a database – that was incredibly complicated, but also quite satisfying when I succeeded!

During my second week I also visited the Parliamentary Archives, Preservation and Conservation, the off-site storage facility, the Indexing Section (who index every Hansard – it’s an incredible amount of work) and sat in on several meetings and talks. All in all, I would say that it was far from lacking! I loved the variety of experiences which I got on the placement, in addition to being able to both learn new skills and practice old ones. I also really loved that Dora met with me three times during my two weeks to ensure that the placement was going well and to get my feedback. I genuinely felt valued as a member of staff, and would highly recommend the placement to everyone.

thumbs up!

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The full time MA LIS – the halfway point: an expose (of sorts)

So, the blog has been sitting somewhat silent and forgotten about for the past 6 months, ever since I went back to uni and started my MA LIS. Well I’m now halfway through the course and I’ve finally got time to write a little post on it, so here goes.

Firstly, I’d just like to put it out there that it’s a lot of work. A lot. So in case anyone is reading this and is wondering about doing the MA LIS then consider it long and hard before you commit to it. That’s the first bit of sage advice. Of course, at this point I should probably point out that I’m doing the MA LIS at UCL, so I can’t really speak for the course at any other university. However, I don’t intend this blog to be all doom and gloom – the course may be hard work but I am really enjoying most of it so that’s a big relief.

 I’ve put in a picture of Panizzi here to emphasise my new knowledge of cataloguing and classification.

One of the reasons I chose UCL (apart from its reputation of course) is because it has Cataloguing and Classification as a compulsory module. Now don’t get me wrong – before I started this course I was in no way enthusiastic about either cataloguing or classification; in fact I was kind of dreading learning about them as I thought it’d be dry and boring. Nonetheless, having had limited experience of them in my graduate traineeship I felt it was important that I should have a grounding of these for my future career. Having said that, I knew it was unlikely that I would choose it as a module if it were optional (as I think it is at other universities) and so I went for UCL. And now I’d like to say how pleased I am that I did! Not only were my lecturers fantastic and entertaining, but I now have the skills I think are essential in a librarian, in addition to having discovered I can actually quite enjoy Cat and Class. Bonus! In addition to this, I did a fair amount of this in my placement (I’ll get to that in a later blog) so it was very helpful to have a good grounding in them.

UCL also have a great range of optional modules on offer (great for someone like me who is dithering between disciplines) and some brilliant staff. In addition to this, I’ve learnt a lot of new things and made some new friends so all in all so far I’d say it’s working out well, despite the extortionate tuition fees.

Now for the sort-of expose. It’s not really an expose at all (don’t scream false advertising, please – I just couldn’t think what else to call it), just a brief run down of hints and tips that I wish someone had told me before I started the course, in addition to a brief run down of the modules.

So, the modules first (and these are just going to be the first term ones at the minute – I’ve only had three weeks in this term so it seems a bit unfair to pass judgement just yet). Firstly, PCIT – I thought some of this module was outdated and a little irrelevant, but some parts of it were very interesting which helped to balance it out. I can’t say that I’m convinced that I’ll ever use all of the XHTML and HTML knowledge that I’ve learnt, but I’m actually quite pleased to know it. This, of course, is after the fact – during the coursework I was cursing it like no ones business! Handy tip – pick up an Idiots Guide to HTML and it’ll help you no end!

Secondly, Collection Management – this had some useful information in it, but it was a bit dry at times, although I quite enjoyed the coursework funnily enough. Top tip – in the group work exercises give yourselves an extortionate amount of money (I’m talking millions) and hopefully that’ll help you out in term 2.

Thirdly, Cataloguing and Classification – as I said before I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed this – they’re both a bit like doing a puzzle; you just have to make sure everything fits together properly. Top tip – for cataloguing, really do find your examples along the way like you’re advised to, it definitely saves time before the deadline. For classification, you start with the hardest scheme (Library of Congress) so don’t despair, it gets easier and more logical in time!

Lastly was the optional module. I chose Services to Children and Schools as this is where my experience lies, and really enjoyed it. It had some really interesting topics, some great coursework and the chance to choose your own essay title. Top tip – don’t leave the essay choice until the last minute. Also (and not that this was a factor or anything…) we were provided with tea and biscuits every week, which as you can imagine helped to make it even better!

Now on to a few tips which are not directly module related.

  1. Be organised with your coursework. I am not naturally an organised person – I generally leave things to the last minute, but I’ve had to get out of this wherever possible this year. There’s just not enough time to be rushing!
  2. If you can possibly avoid having a job (or at the very least only have a small number of hours) then do so, at least for the first term. I started my job in December (fifteen hours a week) and have found my life manic ever since – there are sometimes literally not enough hours in the day.
  3. Go out on a limb for your work experience placement if you’re not focussed on one discipline. I chose to go to the House of Commons Library which is completely outside my comfort zone (all my experience is in academic libraries) and absolutely loved it!
  4. Don’t forget to enjoy it! Although it’s really hard work and quite stressful at times, I can honestly say that if I could go back and change my mind, I wouldn’t. I’m really enjoying being back in academia (despite all the deadlines) and I feel like I’m learning invaluable things for my future career.

And so, to use a much-beloved saying, that’s all folks!

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Why functional libraries should die a quiet death…

This picture, right here, is the precise reason why functional libraries should die quietly in the night. Look at it – it is, quite simply, beautiful. Who can look at this picture and not feel instantly that libraries are places of wonder and joy? I certainly can’t! This, for those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to experience it, is the New York City Public Library – famous from movies such as The Day After Tomorrow, and advocate the world over for why libraries should look better. I can’t think of a better argument against pure functionality, than to just show photos of some of the world’s most beautiful libraries. So here is installment number one:ImageI made sure to visit this library when I was in NYC this summer – something that does, I concur, make me a bit of a geek…but so what? As a budding librarian I think it’s important to realise that sometimes you can, in fact, aim high – and nowhere does this need to be emphasised more than in libraries. I’m not for one minute suggesting that every library in the world can aim for such glory as some of the ones which I love, but can’t we at least try?? Would it be a bad thing if libraries had better, brighter spaces, and maybe the occasional piece of inspirational art or architecture? I say no! I say that we should go forth and celebrate our libraries. Just because something is a place of learning and study it doesn’t mean that it can’t also be a place of imagination and inspiration – and it doesn’t mean that it can’t be pretty! Take exhibit number two:

ImageThis is the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. (can you tell that my latest holiday was to America?!). It is, without question, a place of knowledge. I was reliably informed that it holds every PhD thesis written throughout all of the USA – that’s pretty impressive! Nonetheless, it is also, for lack of a better word, pretty! Just looking at it makes me smile – and I had real trouble tearing myself away when I was there. It just gives me a feeling of such enormous comfort, which is hard to replicate in other, less exciting, libraries. I mean, don’t get me wrong – for me, being surrounded by books is about as heavenly as it gets – but these libraries just take it that bit further! For me, if we want to increase library usage then part of the way to do this is to make libraries physically more attractive.

I understand that, in the real world, we cannot make all libraries look as spectacular as the examples I am currently giving, and yes, functionality is important. Let’s not make it the be all and end all though. Let’s temper it with the idea that libraries are, essentially, about inspiring people to learn, to do better and to discover new things, and what better way to do this than with the decor and architecture when they walk in? And on that note, here is exhibit number three:

ImageThis one, I think I should point out, is not taken by my own fair hands (the last time I went to the British Library I didn’t have an IPhone and therefore didn’t take photos of everything), but it had to be included, if only because I wanted to have an English example to illustrate my point. It is yet another example of a breathtakingly beautiful library though – yet something which also functions as a busy, working library.

So please, I implore you, take my cause on, and, wherever possible, push for libraries to inspire people not just through their stock and services, but also through their site.

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Life in cardboard city library; or, we will not go quietly into the night!

The library where I work in a FE/HE College is currently undergoing refurbishment which has led me to ponder the importance of said library as seen through the eyes of people who neither work there, nor make use of it. Does anyone really care?

Certainly, my experience of moving tells me that this seems unlikely. While the library is comparatively small (betweend 16-20,000 books probably), packing up an entire library is no mean feat! I was flabbergasted when one of the students asked me why we were making such a fuss about ‘packing up a few books’ on our own – they were soon sorry they’d said that! I explained, in somewhat patronising terms admittedly, that not only were we packing up 20,000 books (in dewey order, in numbered boxes), but also several hundred back copies of periodicals, stationary stock, items for repairing books, cat/class tools, numerous manuals, folders and records, and an entire office which houses eight staff members and all their paraphernalia… The list, in fact, goes on and on! However, I think that particular student now appreciates more fully the intricacies of moving an entire library, so I’m one convert down!

However, worse is yet to come…it would appear that several staff members were of the same perusuasion – yes, that’s right; mature, intelligent adults, who would, one assumes, understand that packing up an entire floor of a building is somewhat complicated, also struggled to see our difficulties. Quelle horreur! So, instead of the help which we had confidently expected, the 7 of us within the LRC proceeded to pack everything up on our own. With no help. Whatsoever. Is it any wonder that I question if anyone cares?!

And then, having worked our fingers to the bone, we were told that we had packed ‘inefficiently’ (i.e. with the books spine up) and so had run out of boxes! Words fail me. Yet again, an example of how little other people either know or care! The reason, for those of you who are wondering, that we packed the books spine up is because in our temporary home we have absolutely no shelving, so the books are displayed in the boxes, as they would be on shelves, so that you can see them. This, so we think, is ingenious! Cardboard city it may be, but the books are there, they are accessible, and they are in Dewey order (thanks to our carefully labelled boxes)! You can’t keep a good librarian down!

So while this post is, unashamedly, somewhat of a rant, it is also (in a small sense – I don’t want to seem too full of my own importance!) a story of triumph against the odds, and a fight for survival! Yes, I now work in cardboard city, and yes, it is chaos, but we are still doing our jobs, and helping students to access information at a time when they are inundated with assignment deadlines and exams. Go us!

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