CPD25 'Applying To Study Library And Information Science ... And Beyond: A One-Day Conference

CPD25 conference report.

By Katherine Quinn (IHR)

On Friday graduate library trainees from across the country trooped down to the cpd25 conference on applying to library school (and, added in a slightly Buzz Lightyear esque vibe “and beyond!”) armed with two months of trainee experience and a complementary canvas bag full of pertinent questions. Delivered in the form of several presentations by library professionals, lecturers at library schools, and ending with a panel discussion by recent library school graduates, the day’s objective was to leave us better informed about the Masters qualifications that are available and about what life as a professional librarian might be like. From my own point of view, I was most interested in getting an impression of the realistic prospects of employment post Masters and whether the financial commitment of a library masters would be worthwhile. I was also obviously keen to catch up with the other trainees!
After a predictably awkward coffee and name badge donning session in the venue’s foyer we all piled into the presentation room and kicked off with a keynote speech by Sarah Maule on her journey from an English degree in Sheffield to becoming Physical Resources Manager at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication in North Greenwich. As well as showing us that it wasn’t obligatory to be called a librarian when working in a library, Sarah gave a really engaging and informative view of what to expect during the Masters programme at UCL, and how her studies had gone on to inform her career. The fact that Sarah had taken librarianship seriously as a career option since day one of her undergraduate degree, had worked up to 3 part time jobs during her Masters, and had taken the trouble to create a (really very nice looking) numeric representation of key aspects of the course (including total number of words written, number of times she’d cried down to the phone to her mother, total number of books read etc.) all pointed to the fact that she was a highly disciplined and energetic person who clearly loved her job. Rather than being totally daunted Sarah’s dedication and enthusiasm, I definitely came away from her speech feeling motivated not only look again at UCL’s masters programme but also to investigate ways in which I might enrich my training year by badgering colleagues and different departments for work experience, as she had.
After Sarah came Vanda Broughton, Programme Director for the Diploma/MA in Library and Information Studies at UCL, who gave a presentation combining practical information regarding course content and assessment with informal advice on making a successful application to library school (– note to self, she’s amused but not influenced by achievements in overcoming water phobia). As an academic insider and someone with years of experience working in academic, public and school libraries Vanda made several really interesting points:
-          Unlike some taught Masters (such as Brighton) UCL’s programme  combines compulsory units with optional ones that would allow a more personally tailored experience.
-          When being interviewed for a place UCL (something they currently do for all applicants) it is important to mention particular career interests we have so that the tutors can better advise us on course options.
-          She was keen to emphasise the continued relevance of traditional skills such as Cataloguing and Classification.
-          The value of working part time in a library alongside studying in order to better engage practice with theory was also underlined.
After another talk extolling the virtues of Twitter by Sarah Ison, a lunch break and a course fayre (with stands provided by UCL, Loughborough, Sheffield, Aberystwth, UEA and Brighton – I think…any others?!) we settled back down to more talks from recently qualified librarians. Sophie Pattison was a health care librarian currently working at UCL’s Biomedical Science’s department, and Helen Murphy worked at Trinity College Cambridge. Without wishing to bore on with too many details, my main impressions from these two speakers included, again, their job satisfaction, and also the diversity of roles available in academic libraries. Although it’s not an avenue I see myself going down, it was interesting to hear about Sophie’s transition from a career as an occupational therapist to working in medical libraries since it highlighted the degree of specialisation possible in a library and information sciences career.
I definitely left the event feeling more optimistic and energised about librarianship, but I still don’t think I will be doing the Masters next year. There was a huge emphasis placed throughout the day on the importance of volunteering in order to get first in line for future employment opportunities and promotions and while there may well be time for a bit of this within a full time working week, I fear that this culture of working for free can not only be sometimes unrealistic, but also can lead to the exclusion of those people who are not wealthy enough to fund themselves while they volunteer. It also seems pretty clear that while some grants and bursaries for Masters still exist, the opportunities for such financial help are narrowing with every year. All in all, however, it was a valuable and interesting day, rounded off nicely by a drink at the Marlborough Arms where we discussed our commitment to the ‘noble cause’ of librarianship (...but just don’t call it a business... should we? Hmm...).
To round up this rambling first visit report, I would like invite everyone else that went to comment on what they got from the day and what bits they found most/least helpful.
What did everyone think?
Trainee profiles 2012-2013

Institute of Historical Research

Katherine Quinn

I'm Katherine and I'm the graduate library trainee at the Institute of Historical Research based in Bloomsbury's Senate House. I applied for the post while in my final year studying History at UCL. I was drawn to librarianship as a career option after deciding that although - at least for the time being - postgraduate study in history was not right for me, I still wanted to work in an academic environment in a capacity that kept me connected with historical research. I plumped for the IHR over other academic libraries primarily because I saw the role as perfectly combining my enduring interest in history with a more practical and interactive application. It also helped with the post-university/"AHHH real world" blues that I would be working just down the road from where I had enjoyed studying!

At the IHR I work with a small (but perfectly formed) team of librarians and work on both long term projects and more "task" based work. Because only about 30% of the Institute collection is on open access in the library, I spend a fair amount of every day going up in the tower of Senate House to locate and retrieve requested items for readers. While I generally don't mind this duty at all, my heart sinks when I see a form requesting a Journal of the House of Commons/Lords - huge, incredibly dusty, and disintegrating folios, many of which have a habit of hurling themselves off the shelves at you in a desperate bid to escape their general disarray. I also lost the keys to the tower lift  in my second week in the job and had an interesting time wandering about on the 18th floor wondering how long it would take for anyone in the office to notice I was missing (turns out, about forty minutes). Aside from these daily duties, my main longer term project at the moment is in creating individual records for the hundreds of seventeenth and eighteenth century British poll books held by the IHR. So far it's been a really valuable task not only because at the end of the day I can observe with satisfaction a growing stack of logically and usefully classified books, but also because the relative simplicity of their records has given me a useful introduction to cataloguing. When I am finished with the poll books I will be moving on to help reclassify the US States collection - ideal, since it will represent not only a graduation in record complexity, but also should bolster my pub quiz utility since I'll hopefully pick up a bit of US geography general knowledge along the way.

While my short time at the IHR has confirmed librarianship as a career goal for me, working here has also opened my eyes to the huge diversity of jobs that exist within the information sector - and specifically within academic researcg libraries - meaning that at this stage I am undecided about the avenue I will end up going down in the long term. While it's not part of present my job in the library, I'm really interested in the digital publications provided by the IHR and would also like to learn about electronic archives and special collections in the future. With that in mind, I am really looking forward to the trainee librarian trips that are coming up since they should better inform my thoughts regarding what next after the IHR.

Trainee Profile: Katharine Williams

I’m Kat, one of two graduate trainees based at City University. Right now I’m working in the Cyril Kleinwort Learning Resource Centre at Cass Business School, but halfway through the year I’ll swap with Catherine and move to the main library site at Northampton Square. The six month exchange is a great system as it really gives us two-traineeships-in-one. We’ve been updating each other on our experiences and so far they seem quite different.
The LRC has a library of over 30,000 books and ebooks, thousands of journals and an extensive portfolio of databases, all pertaining to business and finance. It’s not a subject I had much background in, but I’ve learned a lot (it’s impressive what you can do with a Bloomberg machine!) and besides, specialist knowledge is not necessary; it’s my customer-service skills that get the most practice. The library is used primarily by postgraduate students of Cass Business School, but also by undergraduates, staff and alumni. Its relatively small size makes it an ideal place to begin training as I get to experience all the general library tasks as well as see what the other librarians are working on. I was originally a little disappointed that there would be no rare book collection to moon over, but actually this high-spec library, with more computer terminals than bookcases, offers thrills of its own, and has opened my eyes to a more modern definition of the academic library.
My own background, as I’ve said, is not in business. In fact it’s not even in libraries, unless you count the many hours I’ve spent as a patron. So how did I get here?! I read Classics, English and Theology at Durham and was in charge of communications for my college student union. I was looking at a range of jobs in the information/communication field when I came across the CILIP website. Librarianship ticks all the boxes for me as a career – books, customer-service, innovation (social media!) and organisation to the point of obsession - while the trainee system offers a valuable support network and the opportunity to attend visits and courses. I applied for a number of the graduate traineeships listed on the website, and was lucky enough to be offered a place at City. I’m now learning as much as I can and making plans for library school next year.

Trainee Profile: Catherine Gregory

Hi, I'm Catherine and I'm one of two graduates currently undertaking the training scheme at City University London. I'm planning on studying my Master's in Library Science or Information Science next year, but haven't quite made up my mind which would be the most suitable yet!

Having studied History at Cambridge University, I have spent many years of my life in libraries and it's brilliant to glimpse what takes place behind the scenes. My love of books and my passion for learning inspired me to seek a career in this sector.

I previously volunteered at my local library back home in Yorkshire, enjoying the opportunity to work with a small but well-loved collection of books and being part of the community. I also undertook a period of work experience at the Thackray Medical Museum, working in the historic medical library behind the scenes. It was a true insight into the amount of literature and research that goes into each exhibition and it also brought me face-to-face with the realities of librarianship, as well as rather a lot of dust!

Last year, I worked as Caseworker for a Member of Parliament. My role included undertaking research into both local and Parliamentary issues, and communicating findings with constituents. A great deal of my role was customer service-based, with answering the phones to constituents who wished to discuss a wide range of problems, from imminent homelessness to strong feelings on the legalisation of gay marriage. I enjoyed attending surgeries with the MP, meeting constituents face to face, and was determined to continue working in a customer-facing role. However, I wanted to find a long-term career that I was truly interested in. I turned to the library - where I've always felt at home.

During my time at City University London so far, I've been specialising in Digitisation. My work includes requesting digitised extracts from the British Library to add to our Reading Lists Online, and ensuring that all online information complies with our copyright licensing agreement. My background is in the arts rather than technology, so it's been a good introduction to new software and technology as part of my training. I also spend part of my day on the library service desk, serving students, assisting them with their enquiries and keeping an eye on printers and photocopiers. I hope to gain more responsibility as time goes on and to visit many other libraries.

Trainee Profile: Eleanor Keane

Trainee Profile:  Eleanor Keane

Hello, I’m Eleanor and I work with Harriet (Lam) as a Graduate Trainee Library Assistant in the Courtauld Institute of Art Book Library. I started here in September after working at Goldsmiths College Library, City University Library, and City Law School Library. I’ve also done volunteer work in the specialist Women’s Art Library and volunteer work and training at the Feminist Library (both very useful resources with diverse collections) that educated me on aspects of ‘radical’ independent librarianship . (I even ended up writing an article for their newsletter!)

After working in Goldsmiths College Library, I decided that I really liked working in that environment, that I enjoyed helping students with their enquiries and that I wanted to learn more about what was happening in the information sector.  After doing some more research into information studies courses and the information sector, I decided to do an MSc in Library Science at City University. I chose this course because I thought it would be a good grounding in the fundamentals of library science, because it was accredited by CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) and because it was situated in London where there are many different and interesting libraries to research.  I really enjoyed my course and would recommend it to anyone thinking of undertaking a course in information studies/library studies. I felt it was particularly strong on Web 2.0, digital libraries, and the publishing sector, plus it gave students a lot of scope when it came to choosing the topic of their final dissertation. Whilst studying I was also lucky enough to get a post working as a shelving assistant in City University Library, where I learnt a lot about working in a law library, and dealing with a range of user enquiries.  I also did the ’23 Things’ programme on e-resources.

I  was thrilled when I saw this post advertised. I was keen to learn more about art librarianship and about working for an art library. I have always loved visiting art galleries and museums, so I felt that this post would fit well into that, too. The Courtauld Institute is one of the most prestigious art institutes in the UK, and I felt that this post would be an excellent opportunity to train, learn and grow as an information professional. So far I’ve learnt about dealing with interlibrary loans, cataloguing, handling closed-access material and had the chance to see some truly rare books. (The Courtauld has a Closed-Access section of books dating from before 1850, and many have interesting provenances.) I also work with people who are passionate about art and about preserving and maintaining these collections for future use. My work involves doing interlibrary loans, (wo)manning the issue desk,  collecting Closed-Access material, processing short loan books, handling telephone enquiries and informing students about things like our opening hours  and our collection times. I feel very lucky to have a full-time position here at the Courtauld, where I feel I can make a positive contribution to this art library, and find out more about its extensive and fascinating collections.
The Courtauld Institute Book Library:  http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/booklibrary/index.shtml
The Courtauld Institute Book Library Blog: hhttp://www.courtauldbooklibrary.wordpress.com/
Women's Art Library: http://www.gold.ac.uk/make/
The Women's Library: http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/thewomenslibrary/  (From 2013 the Women's Library will be based at LSE)
City University Library Science Home Page: http://www.city.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate/library-science

Trainee Profile: Harriet Lam

Hi, I’m Harriet, one of two trainees from The Courtauld Institute of Art Book Library. Unlike many previous trainees from the Courtauld I don’t have an arts background. I studied English literature at Leeds University, followed by a masters specialising in gothic & postmodern literature, with as many visual art elements as I could get away with. After graduating it took me a year & a bit of working in restaurant kitchens to realise that I actually wanted to work in libraries. Having spent four years studying in libraries but never thinking to get behind the issue desk, I found it difficult to get any work in the academic sector, so opted to go back to school & get my masters in Library & Information Management at MMU. This was an invaluable experience, not least because it finally got me some work at the end of it. It also provided me with a placement at the North West Film Archive, which really got me interested in working in the arts sector; & I made a lot of amazing friends – because as we all know, librarians are the best. Since then I have done various bits & bobs, volunteering in the third sector doing image library / digital asset management systems work, most notably at Médecins Sans Frontières; working Sundays in a public library in Westminster; & doing digitisation work at Birkbeck College as part of the e-services team. 

All of which brings me up to date, to the Courtauld. For me, one of the huge benefits of working here is getting to learn more about art – through reader enquiries, acquisitions work, nosing around in special collections, attending events hosted by the research forum, and working with hugely knowledgeable colleagues in the book library. My general duties include running the internal half of the interlibrary loan service, accessioning purchases & donations, issue desk shifts, managing our monthly new books display, photocopier maintenance… & more. I still have lots more to learn, so I look forward to all the training sessions & library visits in the coming year!