Queen Elizabeth Hospital Library Visit February 25th 2014

The visits so far have covered a great range of sectors and specialisms, and this one added the field of healthcare libraries to the list. We ventured east to Woolwich’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where the library is housed within an ‘Education Centre’ on the edge of the site. On arrival we were greeted by a very friendly team of four library staff, and given a tour and overview of the library’s holdings by Stephen, Electronic Resources Librarian.

As we learned, the library is part of a consortium of five libraries within what is now known as the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, with a shared catalogue and an effective intra-library loan system, meaning they can divide their acquisitions and club together to subscribe to electronic resources. Although electronic journals have become popular, when it comes to books the majority of users still prefer to use the printed version, and for the most popular textbooks the library holds several copies. I was initially surprised by the relatively small size of the physical holdings in the library (around 6200 books), and the fact that they were in the process of disposing of a large amount of print journals to allow for more seating space. Stephen explained that not only have electronic journals become increasingly popular, but also that the older printed journals had become obsolete as medical knowledge has advanced – so much so that they couldn't even give them away!

By freeing up space, and some tactical positioning of shelving, the library staff are hoping to create a partially blocked off quiet study area towards the rear, and more space for general seating. The library is frequented by a mixture of users, including nurses, doctors, and medical students on placement, and Stephen explained that as well as those who need to carry out serious research for exams or actual medical cases, a lot of staff like to come to the library as a place to get away from the stress of the main hospital.   

After our tour we were handed over to Sian, the Deputy Library Services Manager and Nora, Library Assistant, for a useful and informative presentation on how they found themselves working in health librarianship, their roles in the library, and on the field in general. Sian’s role consists of a range of responsibilities, including running training courses, marketing and promotion, attending meetings and committees (such as the Clinical Librarians Group) and the day-to-day supervision of the library’s two Library Assistants. Nora’s role as one of the Library Assistants is also varied, including spending time on the front desk dealing with general enquiries, processing a large amount of inter-library loans, stock checking and other on-going projects, and she was just starting the certification process with CILIP, which offers a route into professional librarianship.

Sian outlined the skills she thought were essential in health librarianship, including adaptability, flexibility, IT skills, and communication skills, but reassuringly advised that prior medical expertise was not an essential prerequisite for the job – as with most specialist library roles this is something you can pick up as you go along. Despite continuing uncertainty in terms of funding and restructuring within the NHS, and the function of libraries within it, I got the impression that working in a hospital library is a highly rewarding and varied career choice. It was clear that you are given genuine opportunities to make a positive impact in the treatment and care of hospital patients, as well as more broadly assisting with medical professionals’ research and career development. As a practical demonstration of this Sian gave us the chance to test out some of the electronic resources used by the hospital staff, which she runs regular training sessions on to help users search more effectively and ensure they find the most up-to-date and valid research.

We had a go on several approved databases, including NICE Evidence Search and Trip, attempting to find answers to questions such as: “is cranberry juice an effective treatment for bladder infections?” It was interesting, and actually quite fun, to put ourselves in the position of a healthcare library user, and Sian really highlighted the important role librarians in all fields can play as educators in a world where people are increasingly using a range of online resources for their research. Hospital library staff may not be directly saving lives like the medical professionals they work with, but it’s as close as a librarian can get - and that sounds pretty good to me!


Thank you very much to Sian, Stephen, Nora, and Keith.

Library Safari

I know this is out of London - but thought some people may be interested in the Library Safaris from CILIP....could be fun! best wishes, Alex

Trainee profiles 2013-2014

The Courtauld Institute of Art
Bobbie Winter-Burke

Hello, I’m Bobbie, one of two new graduate trainees at The Courtauld Institute of Art. Before starting the traineeship in September I was a library assistant at Middlesex University’s busy Hendon campus, while also working one day a week cataloguing the curatorial collection of art books at the Whitechapel Gallery. I graduated from Sussex University in 2009 with a degree in English Literature, and like many others, did not give much thought to what I would do next. Since graduating I have worked in a fairly odd array of places, including setting up and running a small art bookshop, working in a gallery, a theatre and a museum, and also for a gynaecology journal, a human rights organisation and an archive. Not all of it seems that relevant now, but all of my previous experience has somehow fed into my decision to become a librarian.

So far I am really enjoying my year as a trainee and can’t believe that I am nearly half way through. After four weeks of thorough training, Cait (the other Courtauld trainee) and I are now overseeing a range of daily tasks. A typical day consists of answering enquiries from students and visitors, accessioning new books (of which we’ve had over 2000 since we started), manning the issue desk, and dealing with short loans and reading list items. I also manage the internal side of our inter-library loans service, which means taking requests from students and staff. This has involved a fair bit of research, locating books and journals from around the world, and definitely tests the limits of my language skills from time to time. It has taken quite a while to settle in and get to grips with new library systems, collections, and students, but I am definitely starting to feel like a ‘real’ librarian.

Before starting my traineeship I attended lots of library visits and courses, meeting many librarians and new professionals along the way. These events were a really useful way for me to make sure that I really wanted to be a librarian and essentially that I could commit myself to the huge expense of a postgraduate degree in the subject. Last April I attended the ARLIS event, Taking the Plunge: Art Librarianship as a Career Option, which I would definitely recommend to anyone even vaguely thinking about following this path. What was most interesting about the programme of talks was hearing the different routes people had taken on their way to becoming art librarians. It was reassuring to be told that many librarians working in arts organisations don’t actually come from an art history or fine art background, which made me realise I might stand a chance of getting the job I had applied for at The Courtauld.


What is so great about the traineeship is that as well as receiving a great deal of support and training internally, we are also encouraged to attend courses and visits throughout the year. It is also a huge comfort being part of a group of trainees in London, as not only do we get to visit other libraries across London and beyond, but we can discuss issues that come up along the way… which most recently has been the drama of library school applications. I’m still not sure if I want to study full- or part-time next year, but now that I have applied to a few places, I feel I can relax and enjoy the traineeship and begin to look ahead at what might follow.

Trainee profiles 2013-2014

Brunel University Library
Joanne McPhie

Introduction- Initiation in the knowledge of a subject; instruction in rudiments, elementary teaching. OED. Hello, my name is Joanne McPhie and I am the current graduate trainee at Brunel University Library. This is my introduction to you, but also an account of my own initiation into the world of libraries. I have come to the role via a fairly circuitous route. After graduation from the University of Glasgow, with an undergraduate degree in History and English Literature and a Masters in American Studies I felt I had had enough of the esoteric world of academia and I wanted to meet some people! I went into bookselling, working for a national chain, in one of those temporary roles “while I decide what to do next” and ended up staying for ten years. I had a wonderful time, read and discussed a lot of books (I think there are more arts graduates in the book trade than I met at university!) and met quite a lot of librarians. Talking to them and seeing their satisfaction with their roles, made me rethink my own career and I began to investigate the possibility of shifting professions. A graduate trainee year made a lot of sense, not only would it let me test the water by exploring what a job in a library actually meant, but it was a good background when applying for a qualification in library studies.

So far my time at Brunel has been amazing. I might be biased, but I think that being a graduate trainee at a university library, and in particular a dynamic institution like Brunel, is an excellent grounding for working in libraries, because it allows you to experience so many different roles and responsibilities. Brunel Library is very proactive and involved in everything going on in the university. It incorporates many non-traditional roles, including things like Copyright or Research Data Management, which I believe means the library is crucial to the success of any new initiatives like Open Access, but it also houses typical departments like cataloguing. My schedule here has been structured, with different rotations with all the departments of the library, but I have also been encouraged to pursue my own interests and feedback on where I would like to develop. My rotation began with the Customer Services team, manning the welcome and help desk, assisting students with enquiries and problems, which is where most of the more generic skills I already had came in handy. I moved on to spend time with Academic Services, working with and observing the Subject Librarians in action and especially, assisting the Special Collections Librarian with archiving and preparing the collection for cataloguing. This access has been a real highlight for me and in an older and more traditional institution I may have encountered more barriers to helping with it. I am currently with Collection Services, where I am getting some solid experience with cataloguing and acquisitions. Brunel librarians are a friendly bunch and have been incredibly encouraging and patient in explaining to me, for the third time, what exactly happens when I press that button. I really feel like I understand the way the library is structured and what is required of all the different roles within it.

It has also been great to be part of CPD25 Graduate Trainee programme, not only so I can talk (and moan!) to other trainees and learn about their experiences, but also because it has enabled me to meet other library professionals. Having been on a few visits to other institutions including the British Museum libraries and the Natural History Museum library I have a greater sense of what it means to be a librarian and what the job actually entails. It has also been useful to assist me in applying to Library and Information Studies courses, putting on seminars where we could speak to the course conveners and past students.

Being at Brunel has brought back a lot of happy memories of my own time of study. I will be a mature student when I return and complete my qualification, which comes with its own adjustments, but due to my great experience at Brunel I feel sure I have made the right decision, it just took me ten years!

Trainee profiles 2013-2014

David Phillips

Hi I’m David the current trainee at the Institute of Historical Research Library. This is my first library job and after nearly three months in the post I can safely say librarianship is the career for me. I’ve worked in a wide range of not so appealing jobs in the past, from door to door salesman to dishwasher, so it’s been great to find something that I enjoy and has genuine opportunities for professional advancement. I graduated from Exeter in 2011 with a degree in History and not much idea what I wanted (or was able) to do with it. I had always planned to go travelling after uni to delay the inevitable entry into the ‘real’ world and, while I had always had woolly ideas that working in a library would be nice, it was only when I got back to the UK in December last year that I really looked into it as a career. I soon found myself on the CILIP website, and frantically applied for as many Graduate Trainee roles as possible.

The position at the IHR in particular was ideal for me for the obvious reason – it requires a History degree, and I liked the thought of being able to work with a collection I already had an interest in. While I did not have any previous library experience it was reassuring to see that many of the skills asked for in the job spec were things I had gained from previous jobs, which at the time I did not necessarily think would be particularly useful in future – particularly on the customer service side of things. I was extremely chuffed to be offered the role back in February and spent the following months counting down the days to September.

My first few months have been an excellent introduction to the world of librarianship. I feel lucky to be part of quite a small team, which means I can be involved in all different aspects of the running of the library (albeit on quite a basic level to start with). While I have received a lot of support and guidance from my colleagues, I have also appreciated being given a lot of freedom to structure my own days. It is a nice feeling after only ever working in roles where you constantly have management breathing down your neck to have that independence.

Alongside the more basic tasks, such as shelving and fetching books from the top of Senate House tower (great view), I have also been introduced to cataloguing, classification, acquisitions (of French books), inter-library loans, sending books/journals to be bound, and web design, as well as looking after the Library’s Facebook page (please like!). Something I am really excited about is the refurbishment of the Library in its previous home in the North block of Senate House. We are in temporary accommodation at the moment, which is why only a third of our collection is on open access (a great source of discontent for a lot of our readers who hark back to the ‘good old days’ when the full collection was available for their perusal). All being well the building work should be finished by the end of the academic year and I will be able to help with the move back to a brand new shiny IHR.

As well as working in the IHR it’s also been great to meet fellow trainees from different institutions, and to start to get an idea together of the range of options available in the library profession. I’m very open-minded about which sector I may end up in so I’m really looking forward to visiting different kinds of libraries and seeing what each has to offer. While it may seem a bit of a depressing time, with Public Library closures and a lack of funding for professional qualifications, I have been reassured by the range of options seemingly still available – from traditional Librarian roles, to jobs in digitisation, and information management more broadly. I’m not sure at this point whether I will be able to carry straight on to do a Master’s or Diploma course next year, but I will definitely be applying and keeping my options open.

Applying to study library science CPD25 November 8th 2013 : Alex Giles

What better way to cheer yourself up on  a wet day in November, nursing a cold as I was, than to spend it in the company of some wise  and inspiring individuals generously sharing their passion and expertise with some keen but naive young acolytes…. No, not an episode of The Karate Kid – none of us were quite as cool as Jaden Smith (hey, we’re aspiring librarians…), or as young – but  the Applying to study Library Science day run by CPD25.
We were taken on a journey - it’s always a journey, isn’t it? - from a wide-ranging overview of where the profession is right now, with all its challenges and opportunities incisively explained by Stephen Pinfield from Sheffield iSchool, to individual students’ experiences of current courses and recent employment. Along the way we heard from Vanda Broughton of UCL about what to expect from a Masters course in library science and some top tips on how to apply for one, and Bethan Ruddock who, as author of “The New Professional’s Toolkit”, was expertly placed to point us in the right direction of developing our skills and confidence, as well as promoting  a myriad of groups for us to contribute to; exhorting us to speak out loud and proud as Library advocates! Of course we didn’t have to join everything , and we were allowed to say “no”-  but was that a bit feeble? Not strict enough? Shameful even? 
  Just as some of us were beginning to feel slightly overwhelmed, and distinctly worried that entering the cult of the champion librarian was going to take up rather more time (and stamina...) than  we’d planned, the lunch gong sounded and we dived into some first –rate sandwiches, juice etc.  This was an opportunity to find out more about some of the various programmes on offer in the UK from the informal “course fair” and their “stallholders”, and make some new friends as Bethan had suggested; network, but not in a nasty  way...
In the afternoon we heard experiences from recent graduates and those still studying, which made the morning session that much more specific and concrete for us. Alexandra Burton, who has just started as an Assistant Librarian at University College School, recently completed a Post-Grad Diploma at UCL; just stopping short of writing the dissertation and gaining the traditional Master’s, but still ably qualified. This was an option I hadn’t heard of before, and one that provided much food for thought and debate.
 Ian Clark, now employed as a Library Systems Officer at Canterbury Christ  Church  University , shared the benefits of  a modular  study programme within distance learning (Aberystwyth) , and there were other experiences of part-time study whilst working full-time. A lot of the discussion centred around finding a course that suited your aspirations, and your pocket...With fees increasing at an alarming rate, and little help available, the cost of funding a library course proved a major issue in the Q & A, and subsequent chat in the pub....
As I wended my way to my part-time evening job I reflected on what I’d learnt, and what I hadn’t learnt (always useful...), and mused that rather than being daunted by the monastic commitment  to professional development ,or the array of choices before me, I  would remember what Vanda had said: “We don’t expect you to do all of it, just some  of it...” Right then... Now, where to start? Join CILIP?

Many thanks to Samantha Halford  and  Helen Williamson of the CPD25 for organising not just a very interesting and useful day, but also for creating such a warm and comfortable atmosphere; very conducive...