Applying to Library School… and Receiving an Offer!

After you have decided that librarianship is the right career for you, applying to library school is probably the most important thing you will do during your year as a graduate trainee. As I recently received an offer for a place on the MA Library and Information Studies at UCL, I thought I would use my experience to give some advice to those considering going to library school. As I only applied for the UCL course, this post will necessarily be limited in scope – I suggest that you also have a look at the relevant pages on the Cambridge and Oxford library trainees’ websites.

First of all, it is important to decide which course is right for you. You will find that all courses emphasise different aspects of librarianship. For instance, the course at UCL is known for its traditional content, whereas City University and Loughborough are known to put more emphasis on the latest technological development. Ask yourself what career within the library and information field you are most interested in and choose your course based on those interests. UCL and Aberystwyth run optional modules on Rare Book Librarianship, City offers an Msc in Health Informatics, Sheffield runs optional modules on Government and Media Librarianship, etc.

As I am interested in Rare Book Librarianship and I believe that a balance between traditional skills such as Cat & Class and modern technology is the best foundation for the career I have in mind, I applied for the UCL course. UCL has the earliest closing date for applications, 1st December. It is important that you give yourself enough time to contact your referees, write and rewrite your personal statement, fill in the forms and collect the necessary documents. I started working on the application in the middle of October, and I asked the Director of the University of Surrey Library and the supervisor of my MA dissertation for a reference (remember that you need to give your referees a few weeks to write their references, so contact them in time!).

The hardest part of the application is writing your personal statement. Make sure it conveys your passion about librarianship, demonstrates how your experience as a graduate trainee has allowed you to develop insight in the library and information field, as well as stating what sort of career you are interested in and why you are interested in that particular course. Remember, you are not writing an application letter for a job, so rather than stressing skills and qualities your letter should convey your enthusiasm for the course and librarianship in general.

I heard back from UCL at the end of January. I was invited to attend an interview at the beginning of February. I spent a lot of time reading up on the latest issues and developments in the information field, but at the interview it turned out that this had not been necessary (although it did make me more confident!). The interview was informal, and most questions centred on my personal statement, my interest in rare book librarianship, how I imagined my future career and funding. I talked about what I had learnt so far during my traineeship at Surrey, the events and workshops I had attended and my work at the E.H. Shepard archive. They also gave me the opportunity to ask questions about the course, and told me I would hear whether I had been offered a place a few weeks later.

I was offered a place a week later, and I am very excited about starting my course! If you use your time as a graduate trainee to deepen your insight into the library and information field by attending events and workshops, by visiting libraries you are interested in and by talking to the librarians in your institution, I think the confidence and passion you have developed will show on your statement and during your interview, and will secure you a place at the course of your choice.

Good luck!

Erika Delbecque
University of Surrey

The Wellcome Library

The Wellcome Collection was established by Henry Wellcome, an eccentric medical enthusiast who is probably best described as a “funny sort of chap”. Those of us who had previously had the pleasure of wandering through his collections – where one can find torture chairs, a series of amputation knives, and forceps sitting alongside Florence Nightingale’s moccasins – were excited and intrigued about what could possibly follow.

After leaving the busy Euston Road and negotiating a bag check we were eager to see what awaited us. We were met by Elizabeth Graham of the Wellcome Collection library and after a brief history of the building and the Trust we were taken up to the start of the tour. The Wellcome Collection Library is a library that specialises in medical history and society. While open to the public its collection is reasonably specialised and frequent use is made by researchers and university students. It has a wide ranging collection, which broadly encompasses what we were told was the medical humanities.

Situated in the main site of the Wellcome Trust and recently renovated the layout is a contrast between timely vaulted reading rooms and wooden stacks with the open spaces and glass that often characterise modern library developments. It was a nice visual juxtaposition that highlighted some of the issues facing libraries in the changing information environment.

Throughout our visits so far a number of issues seem to keep cropping up and they were present here as well. We were told, for example, how the library is trying to encourage the public to enter the library as a widening of public engagement. Elizabeth enlightened us on the issues of space and digital resources, where libraries are facing constraints on storage space that are leading to an increase in digital subscriptions as well as user demand. Finally we were told how many library initiatives are often led by user interaction. The Wellcome Library also has some other issues of its own, such as accommodating three classification systems.

I think I speak for the group when I say that special mention must also be made of un-put-downable-cups and the scanners that have replaced the photocopiers. They capture digital images of the pages while allowing users to browse the book, which looks like a space age future in contrast to the mechanical dinosaurs that inhabit most other libraries, coughing out paper copies when not choking on errant sheets stuck somewhere within the machinery. Or perhaps that’s just me.

Anyway, after the tour we were taken past the special collections room to a presentation on the web site. The blog is the main feature of the homepage and rather than being an after-thought provides good information on the features of the Wellcome Collection. We were told how staff are encouraged to develop ideas for the blog and that it functions as a good way for librarians to communicate their findings. The presentation finished with a mention of the digitalisation projects and how they are integrated on the catalogue, especially when the catalogue includes non-textual material, as well as experiments in web 2.0 features like the ability for users to tag within the catalogue.

The tour was an interesting insight into the latest developments in libraries as well as an exciting and innovative place to work. We left clutching free pens and pencils and before stepping back into the noisy modern world on Euston Road, a couple of us returned to the public collection of Henry Wellcome, who was definitely a funny sort of chap.

Matthew Seddon City University Library

Web 2.0

The term Web 2.0 seems to confuse people to the point of being counter productive, so I thought I’d try to get some kind of definition out of the way to begin with. For most people who use the internet regularly for business and leisure, Web 2.0 is something that comes naturally, and I personally find it quite difficult to express, other than by giving examples.

So, as I understand it, Web 1.0 is a term associated with providers simply posting pages on the web and users then accessing those pages. Web 2.0 seems to be the next logical step from there, where users have the ability to add, edit and indeed argue with the providers. A good example of this is Wikipedia, which I’m sure we’ve all used. This eliminates static content, making it much more dynamic and shareable, and allows for better communication between the user and the provider. A
Wikipedia link might help here…

By the by, feel free to comment and let me know if you think I’ve got something wrong – in the true spirit of Web 2.0!

Colin Homiski explained this in a far more succinct and clear manner when we went to hear him speak in the Institute of Historical Studies. Colin is the Music, Art and Romance Languages & Literatures Librarian for Senate House Library. The bulk of his talk involved discussing the different ways that this kind of application is used on the web today, and how this can be useful in (mainly academic) libraries.

Rather than write a blow by blow account of Colin’s presentation*, I’ll try to touch on a few of the key ideas and web sites briefly.

The potential of using Web 2.0 based applications in libraries seems huge. One aspect of Web 2.0 that Colin discussed in some depth was social bookmarking and tagging.

Perhaps the first idea which would spring to mind would be inviting members to tag the library catalogue. One of the advantages of this approach is that the role of (often) stuffy and thus limited vocabulary can be reduced, allowing members to tag with words that they would be more inclined to associate with a particular resource. Further, this allows students or academics to tag a number of resources onto a reading list for a course, essay question, seminar, etc. This would be a huge timesaver for both academics and students, allowing the professor to tag the resources (paper-free), and the students to locate them with the click of a button.

One library that has tried out tagging using Encore is the Wellcome Library.
An example: a book about Gray’s Anatomy is tagged with ‘wellcome collection further reading dissection’, which, when selected, will then take users to the rest of that reading list.

When some of the trainees visited the Wellcome Collection, Elizabeth Graham, the Education, Training & Resources Team Leader, expressed her initial worries that users would tag with nonsense and inappropriate vocabulary – however, this has yet to catch on; hopefully it never will!
Delicious is an example of a social bookmarking site which allows users to manage their bookmarks both for themselves and for others to see. Using Delicious, libraries could bookmark anything with a URL, which can be more than just static websites! Internally, libraries can use this type of site to allow for better communication and interface between members and staff, but they can also introduce this service to their members as a research tool. This type of site also relies on tagging, and can therefore be extremely useful for quickly finding out how others have explored a certain subject. Colin’s Delicious page is a good example of how librarians can use these resources. Librarians can also publish their tag clouds on their own websites, as Stanford University library has done. This allows users to access tagged e-resources easily and directly from their library website.
Scribd is another resource similar to Delicious; however, rather than managing and tagging bookmarks, Scribd is a way of managing documents. Librarians can use this independently to publish and tag their own documents, or libraries can draw together documents which they feel are useful for their members.

Personally, working in an academic library, I have found it extremely useful to be able to do a full-text search on
Google Books. This has allowed me to assess the suitability of a book for a member, as well as to help members find out the exact text from which they copied a quote. The next step from this might be that libraries work with sites such as Google Books in order to incorporate full text searches into their catalogue – perhaps they do, my library certainly doesn’t! In my experience, this would be extremely beneficial to both members and library staff.

University-run digital repositories like
SAS-Space are an invaluable resource for academics to publish their theses, articles etc, so that others can access them. This holds obvious advantages for those who publish and those who want to use articles for research. OAIster is a digital harvester which can search across these repositories – which Colin described as an academic Google (and is better in many ways than Google Scholar). Colin pointed out that this also keeps the price of journals down, which is always a good thing!

All of the examples of Web 2.0 in libraries given above explore the ways in which resources can be are collected, searched for, and the ways in which things can be described; which is what Web 2.0 is all about. There is so much more to this than the above, and I couldn’t possibly explore any more aspects (RSS feeds, wikis, blogging and Creative Commons licensing etc.) without far surpassing the 1,000 word mark! Some other these were discussed in Colin’s presentation, *the slides for which can be found on
his Scribd page, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you email him with any questions.

Alice Milner
Institute of Classical Studies
Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies