Communicating with our library users at the University of Bradford - my Graduate Trainee Project
I know, I know… this is very very late. I could give many excuses (starting a new job, my LIS course…) but I’ll just get on with it!
As you may know (I’ve gone on about it lots!), I’ve fairly recently started a new job as a School Librarian(ish – still working on the MSc). Advocacy in school libraries is HUGE, and is a bit of a hot potato at the moment. I’m still getting my head around it really, so I decided to cheat a little and start small – advocating the library in my own school. Which essentially is the most important thing really, as the students and staff at the school are my library users after all!
October is International School Libraries Month, which gave me a great excuse to try a bit of self-promotion. Because I work with kids, I thought it would be essential to get them involved. This allowed me to (rather lazily I suppose) turn school library advocacy into a competition, and let the pupils do the promotion for me! I did think it was really important to get the user voice, and for me (as the new librarian) to hear what the students love about their library. Librarians can go on about how great libraries are until the cows come home, but it’s the user perspective that really matters.
So I created a display about International School Libraries Month and asked the students to write, draw or create something to represent why they love their school library. I’ve even added some jazzy colour photographs of my display and some of their responses below!
It’s the last day of my traineeship tomorrow so I thought this would be a good time to look at thing 15, as this is the only library job I’ve had yet where I’ve been lucky enough not only to be allowed to attend events, but to be actively encouraged to go.
Before I did this job, I worked in libraries but I had no idea that so many library-themed events existed. Yes, some are very expensive (particularly the huge conferences, where you would also most likely need accommodation) – but the Lis-Cilip-Reg mailing list advertises loads of cheaper events all over the country.
I’ve attended quite a few of these, and others that I came across on Twitter or via colleagues too. Although I am as yet quite inexperienced, and don’t always feel that I have enough to contribute, I find events really beneficial. Sometimes I have just been in awe of the knowledge and experience of the people around me, but every event I’ve been to has allowed me to take something valuable back to my job. Because I’m a graduate trainee, I haven’t always attended events that were directly applicable to my job – but I think an event is what you make it, and almost any piece of information can be tailored to apply to your role. But overall, I think the most important thing about events is meeting other people. I’ve often learned more from chatting to people during breaks or working in groups than I did from the official speakers. That’s why I also love impromptu ‘unconference’ events like library camp, where everyone gets an equal opportunity to give their opinion.
The only ‘events’ I’ve organised are within the University library and library visits for trainees. I guess you could say my incompetence in this field is matched only by my enthusiasm – although I’m not the most organised person in the world, and my events don’t always go quite according to plan, I absolutely love doing it!
In the library I ran an event for National Libraries day, where we encouraged students to tell us about their own libraries (we have a lot of International students here, so we got some great library stories from all over the world). I also ran a stall at our ‘re-freshers’ fair at the beginning of this term to gather student feedback about the library. I love working with our students, and it’s exciting to be engaging with them in a way that’s slightly more interesting than issuing their books. It gave me loads of confidence in my job and because Bradford is a fairly small University the students I spoke to remembered me and have been greeting me around campus ever since, which is just lovely.
However, this library-fame has come at a price, because now whenever I’m doing any other events outside the library (we are piloting a pop-up library service around campus) students think ‘ooh it’s feedback lady’ and start telling me how the toilet doors bang too loudly and that we need more PCs.
Today I stood up and gave a presentation about how we communicate with our students in front of all my colleagues. My previous job involved demonstrating and promoting a website to large rooms full of people. Somehow this never phased me – I just got on with it. But put me in a room full of people I know quite well and I fall to pieces. As soon as I tried to log in to the PC everything went wrong – I had to restart it to log in, my presentation wouldn’t load in Firefox, there wasn’t enough room for everyone to sit comfortably. I panicked, ignored my carefully planned flash-cards and babbled on incoherently for half an hour. I also forgot to ask the essential ‘any questions?’ at the end and had to be prompted! Despite all this, I think I got away with it – people were so dazzled (or seasick) at my use of Prezi that my rambling paled in insignificance. I even got some complimentary comments!
I really want to make sure that I’m still able to attend relevant events and conferences in my new job. In fact I even asked about it in the interview. I’ve already seen loads on the mailing lists that I’d like to go to, but sadly most of them seem to be on the day I start my new job, which I guess would be slightly inappropriate! Eventually, when I have more experience to draw on, I’d really like to speak at an event. Weirdly, I actually quite enjoy getting up in front of people and talking. It takes me right out of my comfort zone which I guess is a bit of a buzz, and I feel a real sense of achievement afterwards.
I am currently writing up my Graduate Trainee project (almost there now!), so if ever there was a good time to experiment with referencing software, this is it!
When I wrote my undergrad dissertation I didn’t use any type of referencing software, I just wrote my own reference list. I find this easy as when I am taking notes from a source I include a full reference anyway, so can just copy and paste.
We use Endnote at the University, and although I haven’t used it in my own essays I have helped students with it and feel like I have got to know it pretty well.
I was planning to use Endnote for my project but this was a good excuse to try something new, so I had a go with Mendeley. I found it easy to use and very intuitive. It also contained lots of different possible referencing styles, which is useful here as the University has a different style for each school (and sometimes even different styles within schools!). I like the drag and drop function and the simple no-nonsense layout.
However, my project included lots of sources about social media in libraries, many of which were blog posts and websites. Obviously Mendeley was not able to find details for most of these, so I kind of gave up and went back to creating my reference list manually.
I feel like I really should be persevering with this, but I just find it simpler to do it myself! Maybe I’ll give it another go when I’m a student again. I can certainly see how it could save time – and time is something I’ll need when I am working full time as well as studying!
I also had a little look at CiteULike. I thought the noseying-at-other-people’s-references aspect was interesting, and it could be a good way to remember what you’ve already used. I can’t see any immediate personal uses for it though.
Another interesting tool I found while looking at this was Citethisforme.com. I love the idea of this -it could be a great interactive way for students to learn how to cite more unusual items, such as interviews and dissertations. You can also download your references into word when you’ve finished. However, I’m not sure about it’s reliability as my results were a bit hit and miss. I tried an interview which didn’t seem to work very well – it only has options for TV, Radio or in person (mine was online) and I’m almost certain that the resulting reference wasn’t accurate. I also tried a blog though which seemed to work absolutely fine. The site currently only generates Harvard style references, although the website advertises some changes from Friday (24th August) – so watch this space…maybe?!
I have Google Docs as I signed up when I got my Gmail account. However, I have to admit that I have not yet got around to using it. It’s not that I don’t collaborate with others on work – my current job requires me to do that a lot, and I often share my written work with others to get their opinions. Unfortunately, it just never occurs to me to use Google Docs for this. I guess by the time I’ve logged into Google Docs and created my work, I might as well have emailed it to them. I know, I know – it will save me time in the long run, but my mind works on impatience rather than forward-planning. I do think this tool will be really useful when I go back to Uni, as I am now doing the course Distance Learning (starting in September at RGU!), which will require me to share work remotely more often.
I downloaded Dropbox a while ago and have only just started using it properly. It’s a real godsend at the moment as I am working on my Graduate Trainee Project and it means I can access and update my research both at home and at work. It is great for working from home, which I have only done once so far but it went very well, because I could access all my work documents at home via Dropbox. It also serves as an excellent storage space when your flash drive is getting full (which mine always seems to be!)
I have only contributed to one Wiki so far, the one for Library Camp Leeds, but I am fascinated by the idea that anyone can contribute (and say what they like)! As a soon-to-be-Library-School-student, I probably shouldn’t say this – but I love Wikipedia. I know it shouldn’t be used in an academic context, but if you just want an idea of what oleaginous means it’s great. It has also revolutionised the idea of an encyclopedia.
In a work context, I think that wikis are a great way for staff to communicate changes to everyone who needs to know. At the University Library where I work, there is a divide between library Customer Services and Librarians, so a Wiki could be used to quickly update everyone on new procedures etc that might affect both services. But this of course relies on everyone contributing and checking the Wiki regularly, which many people may not have time to do.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve only quite recently come back to using social media. I now realise that it is essential for my job. I’m currently doing my Graduate Trainee project, which is about how we communicate with our students, and it would be impossible for me to advise on this if I am not using these communication methods myself.
I love the collaborative aspect of social media, and the fact that library users can comment on announcements made and really feel involved in the communication process (despite the problems this can cause, I do think it is a very positive way of getting feedback and opinions). People simply do not have time in their busy lives to answer lengthy questionnaires or have a conversation with strangers in the street – social media is a way to guage people’s reaction to any given subject in a non-intrusive way.
Sadly, I am not so confident in my ability to communicate using my personal social media accounts. Tweeting often leaves me feeling like I’m just shouting meaningless rubbish at people, and I shy away from involving myself in conversations in case my opinion is not relevant or wanted. Facebook is, in my opinion, just a way for people to covertly spy on others, and despite my inquisitive nature, I am now extremely bored of it.
I do enjoy following other people’s conversations on Twitter, and I realise that I need to make more effort to join in (that is what social media is about, after all). At the moment, I am most enjoying writing this blog. I like to go on a lot (as you’ve probably noticed), so 140 characters is not really adequate for me. Overall, I give myself a ‘must try harder’.
Having only ever worked in para-professional roles so far, I think that having a great manager is really important. Especially in my first couple of jobs, having someone (preferably someone who’s ‘been there before’) to give advice, talk things through and support my decisions made a massive difference. My first job after graduating from Uni (as a Public Information Officer – not exactly library-related) was really tough at first – I (an inexperienced writer in her first ‘real’ job) had to go into a social services department where people had years of experience and tell them that their leaflets/posters/website/promotional materials were not up to scratch. Needless to say, they were not thrilled at the prospect of being told what to do by an extremely naive 21 year old.
I can honestly say that I would never have got through this experience at all (never mind getting through it AND actually winning the respect of my colleagues AND ending up loving my job) without my absolutely amazing boss. One of her most admirable qualities was the absolute support she gave our team – almost to the point of being fiercely supportive! If you made a decision and had a good reason for doing so, she would always back you up – even against the highest authorities. That made a real difference to my ability to have confidence in my own judgement, not only in that job but in everything I’ve done since.
As I’ve already mentioned, from September I’m going to be a School Librarian, alongside studying for my Masters distance learning. I’m really anxious not to allow myself to become detached from other ‘library’ people, as one of the most positive things about my traineeship has been the huge library-based support network I’ve been able to build. I think I really need to look into finding myself an ‘official’ mentor. I’ve heard from lots of different people that school librarianship can be very isolated, and I will no longer have the benefit of real-life-Librarian contact on my Masters course. So as much as I dislike the idea of approaching someone and asking them to give their valuable time to help me, I really think one-to-one support will be essential for me to continue to develop.
This time however, not only do I have an almost legitimate excuse, but it has also saved me writing two posts about my career development plans. I did have a career development plan, albeit a rather rudimentary one (it was in my head, but it WAS a plan, okay?) – but more on that later.
I have spent this year doing my Graduate Traineeship, which was the best work-based experience I’ve ever had. I’ve had a go at a bit of everything I ever imagined libraries would involve and far more besides. From customer services to e-resources, my Traineeship has given me a brilliant taster of life as a Librarian – and most importantly, I haven’t gone running for the hills. In fact I have loved every minute and am more excited about having a career in Librarianship than ever before. I know it’s rich at this stage in my career for me to be giving anyone careers advice, but to anyone thinking of starting out in Librarianship, I think being a Graduate Trainee is essential.
It sounds like a tiny thing, but the one of most valuable assets my Traineeship has given me is contacts – Over the past 9 months I’ve met more new people and got more useful careers advice than ever before in my life.
I’m actually feeling ever so slightly tearful writing about my Traineeship now it’s so close to the end!
Back to the future….
In my ideal (purely internal) plan, I was going to find my perfect 4-day-a-week library job starting in September and go to Sheffield part time to study for my Masters. In fact my plan was so advanced that I’d even saved a considerable amount of money to do this.
Sadly, what I hadn’t factored into my plan was ‘real life’ – a place (in case you are as unfamiliar with this as I am) where perfect 4-day-a-week library jobs do not exist. Believe it or not ‘real life’ also happens to be a place where potential employers offering full time jobs do not like to be asked whether you can ‘have Mondays off for two years to go to Uni please’.
The (new improved) Master plan
So obviously, my advanced prototype needed to be altered, and modelled on something quite frankly a little more realistic. And then out of nowhere (as in all good novels) something wonderful, amazing and totally unexpected happened – I got offered not one but two School Librarian (School Library Manager, LRC Manager, whatever else I may get called) jobs!
So it turns out I will be working 5 days a week, from September (this was essential as I was very determined not to leave my Traineeship early), getting hugely varied experience and working with some of the most challenging (and hopefully rewarding) library users possible.
Now obviously this does not factor in the part of my plan that says I will do my Masters next year, but I’m coming to that…
Fortunately for me, I was in a strong enough position (having been offered two jobs) to ‘encourage’ (barter with) the School to offer me considerably more money than was initially proposed. This means that I can (hopefully) afford to save enough extra money to pay the substantially higher fees to do my Masters distance learning.
Distance learning is far from the ideal option for me, especially whilst working full time. But unfortunately I do not have the luxury of unlimited time and money, and I’m really keen to work alongside my studies so that I can put what I learn into practice (in my humble opinion Library School should be far more practical anyway, so here I get the best of both worlds). Any feedback from anyone who has done a distance learning course (good or bad please!) would be very much appreciated. I would also love to hear from anyone who is/has been a School Librarian.
Putting the new plan into action
So, in no particular order, here is a list of career development options I hope to pursue in the near future:
- Masters in Librarianship/Library and Information Management
- Getting more involved with the School Library Association in my new job (I have signed up but not pursued it yet)
- Join the School Libraries Network
- Eventually Chartership
So here’s to new beginnings!
Ode to Evernote
Just a short post today, to bear witness to my new found but undying love of Evernote.
Oh Evernote, where hast thou been all my life? I have long been searching for a tool like this, oft times resorting to emailing myself links to unearthed treasures. This is usually followed by confusion (normal people do not email themselves) and the resulting deletion of anything useful.
I am sad to say that I have not experienced the same lustful longings for Google Calendar. I am a user of so many different Google products that I’m becoming rather dispassionate about them. I have an online ‘work’ calendar via MeetingMaker, which is not the most exciting interface ever developed, but I have spent time adding all my comings and goings to my calendar, and have become quite attached to it. It can also be accessed at work or home, so I tend to use this for everything, and where is the sense in duplicating information?
Weaving a web-based network
Despite my apprehensions about social networking and promoting myself online on a personal level (the gory details of which can be read here), I am a member of many online ‘professional’ groups, mailing lists and forums. Since starting my traineeship, I’ve made a concerted effort to join and contribute to groups that are of particular interest – including LISNPN, Lis-International, Lis CILIP reg and numerous groups for specific events such as National Libraries Day.
This has had a beneficial impact on my ‘real life’ connections in a number of ways. I’ve met people who I first spoke to on LISNPN, I’ve been to a number of meet-ups and events first arranged or advertised on these networks, I’ve attended library visits organised by groups, and have had national feedback on work I was involved in via the mailing lists.
For some reason (unknown even to myself) I seem to shy away from networks with a more ‘social’ basis, where I am required to add personal details. I joined Twitter fairly recently, but have quickly become an avid user (where else would I catch such intriguing escapades as #tropicallibrarian?!). Twitter is extremely useful for keeping up to date – but so far I seem to use it more as a news feed than a social tool, which suits me just fine.
However, for me, Facebook is an entirely different beast. I do have a Facebook account, but I use it very rarely. The only function I still find useful on Facebook is the ability to publicise and invite people to events. Having said that, I can definitely see how Facebook is a useful promotional tool for organisations and companies – The audience is already there and already engaged, so the scope for creative advertising is huge.
I haven’t yet set up a LinkedIn account, as I feel that I’m still too early on in my career to make proper use of it. There is also the danger that I would forget to update my profile when I changed jobs or gain qualifications.
venturing into the real library world…
Personally, I still get far more out of actually meeting people and speaking to them in person than I do from online communities. As previously mentioned, I mainly use the groups and lists that I am a member of to get involved with and initiate ‘real life’ meetings.
Recently I’ve been along to Library Camp Leeds, The Oxford trainee library visit and CDG’s Tackling social inclusion & disability issues event – all of which I found out about via my online connections.
However, I also try to arrange trips and events myself – such as the Leeds Library visit (which you can read about here). Talking to people about their library experience and how they got there is always fascinating and encouraging, but I don’t feel like I could do that so easily online. It is much harder to approach someone you’ve never met before and start asking them personal questions about their job!
Like most people, I do feel apprehensive before meeting someone new, particularly in a group situation – but I just sign up for everything I can and hope that I’ll have found the courage to do it by the time it comes round (and I always have so far!)
So basically, I use online networking to find out what’s going on, and then go out and do it!