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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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