Trainee Profiles 2013-2014

City University London
Michelle Kaczmarek

Hello, I’m Michelle! 

I’m one of the two trainees at City University London and I thought, as I’m at least three quarters of the way through my year here (how time flies!), it was about time I introduced myself and reflected a little on my experiences as a library graduate trainee…

I came to the traineeship straight out of university. I haven’t always wanted to be a librarian – in fact I’ve never really known what I’ve wanted to do! When I was eight I told my parents that I’d quite like to stack shelves at Tesco when I grew up – needless to say, no matter how many times I try to explain that a librarian’s role is a little more varied, they still joke that I must be living the dream with all those books to shelve…  

Anyway, after completing my Bachelor’s degree in Combined Arts at Durham University, I flirted for a while with the idea of pursuing a career in art history academia; I embarked on a research Master’s degree and spent a year submerged in books about Picasso and Parisian cabaret. I can’t deny that I loved feeling a little bit like an art history detective, delving deep into the subject and uncovering unexpected connections. My experience of postgraduate research, however, made me realise that it wasn’t the specific subject that I loved, but the research process itself. A career in librarianship seemed to me to be the best way to support and inspire research and learning in all subject areas. I applied to traineeships and was lucky enough to secure a position at City University – cue the rather overwhelming transition from medieval Durham to Central London!

The City University traineeship programme is split over two sites; my first six months were spent working at Cass Business School and in March I moved to the main University Library. It’s been a great opportunity to experience and compare work in a large university library as well as a smaller departmental library and I’ve definitely got a greater understanding of academic library operations by seeing how the two interact. I’ll admit that, as an art history graduate, the prospect of working in a business school library didn’t sound like my cup of tea. Thankfully I was proven wrong; while I didn’t emerge from the six months with a new-found understanding of financial markets, I felt that I at least had more awareness of the area and could offer valuable advice and educational support to those who did choose to pursue the topic. My main day-to-day duties at Cass involved processing books (new books, location changes, withdrawals and repairs), dealing with membership and access requests, and assisting with enquiries on the service desk; alongside this, I helped out with various other jobs and projects as and when they came along (editing online reading lists, ordering books, writing up information for a database app, etc.). My training at Cass also gave me a working knowledge of key financial databases such as Bloomberg – skills which I’m sure will be useful in the future. 

With only five members of full-time library staff, my work at Cass was quite different from the Main University library. While I became involved in most areas of the library’s day-to-day operations at Cass, I am now working in the Copyright and Digitisation department.  This involves fulfilling requests for digital course readings – making sure that the request is within the limits of copyright, finding and scanning the extract, and making it available to students via Reading Lists Online – as well as enquiry work on the service desk and a few other bits and bobs. While I was initially quite nervous about moving, everyone at both sites were so friendly and welcoming that it turned out to be a really positive thing; overall, I think this change to a more specific area of library work has ensured that I’ve continued to learn new things throughout the whole year. 

My experience of being a trainee at City has been overwhelmingly positive. Before I started I wasn’t really sure whether working in library services was something I definitely wanted to do or what the role of a librarian even really involved! As I’m sure has been the case in many institutions, this year has not been an easy one for City as cuts in spending force staffing reviews and job insecurity. I feel like this has been a valuable experience, exposing me to some of the realities of working in the field in harsh economic situations. It acted as a reminder to me that libraries must (and do) continue to prove their value to society and I admire the professionalism of my colleagues in working through it. I continue to enjoy my traineeship, especially working with students directly to support their research and education. My experiences so far this year have opened my eyes to the varied roles that the term “librarian” encompasses in an academic institution, and I urge anyone considering a career in librarianship to visit as many libraries as they can – and not just the obvious ones – librarians are everywhere! 

 As for me, I’m enjoying my last couple of months at City and looking forward to the future. I hope to begin studying for the Library and Information Studies Master’s next year and have applied to courses in London but also in Canada! I’m happy with the experience and skills I’ve picked up this year and I’m excited to see where the next stage of my library career takes me!

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.