Tag Archives: information profession

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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