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!
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.
For my reflective practice post, I’ve decided to ponder on a Graduate Trainee visit that I organised to the Leeds Library, which is both a charity and a proprietary subscription library. Along with the trainee from Leeds Met University and the trainees from the University of Leeds, I have been on a number of visits to wonderful and varied libraries over the past 6 months (#thisiswhyilovemyjob). The basic purpose of our visits is to see as many different libraries and speak to as many librarians as possible – to find out how they got there, what is important to their library, what is different about their job etc. So here goes…
What did I learn?
Before visiting the Leeds Library, I admit that I knew very little or almost nothing about this type of library, so this was a real learning curve for me. Most importantly, I learnt that subscription libraries are rich in history and hidden treasures, and that I would definitely like to gain experience of working in one at some point.
In terms of factual learning, we were given details of the history of the library, how a subscription library is funded, how they market their services to attract new members and their collection and preservation policies.
What did I enjoy?
Basically – all of it! But I realise that I need to be selective here… I enjoyed the planning of the event more than I imagined. I’m not the most organised of people (my life is messy, but I know where everything is…honestly!), so I often shy away from this kind of thing. However, I now realise how satisfying it is to see a project through successfully from start to finish.
During the actual visit, the part I enjoyed the most was talking the the Librarian and the Assistant Librarian, who were two of the most lovely people I’ve ever met, and reaffirmed my faith that Librarians are inherently nice. They spoke very openly about both their roles and the library, which was both refreshing and intriguing. I also loved exploring the library, with it’s winding staircases and hidden spy-holes. The building has so much character – including it’s own ghost (allegedly a previous Librarian)!
What worked well?
I think the discussion part of the visit worked really well as everyone felt relaxed and although I hadn’t prepared any specific questions I found that there was a lot I wanted to know more about. I think this was successful because the Assistant Librarian and I had discussed beforehand what was expected from the visit and what we would talk about, which helped all of us prepare.
What went wrong?
Thankfully, nothing went terribly wrong on the day. I ended up feeling a bit guilty for making everyone meet quite early, as I wasn’t sure how far the Library was from the station – it turns out it was a two minute walk! But it did mean we got breakfast at Starbucks, so hey-ho.
One thing I did do wrong was go on holiday for a week in between my correspondence with the Assistant Librarian, and forget to put my Out of Office message on (or let her know). This was rude of me and I’m sure made me look very unprofessional – I’m just lucky that she was too lovely to say!
What would you change?
As above really. I would find out exactly where the destination was and plan journey times in advance.
What (potential) impact could this have at my workplace?
Speaking to the people at the Leeds Library taught me an awful lot about marketing and communications and how it’s done differently in other libraries (and for a different audience and purpose). This will be especially useful for my Graduate Trainee project as I am focussing on how we communicate with our students (and hopefully how it can be improved).
Overall, I think this visit really reminded me why I want to work in Libraries – the Leeds Library is very focussed on it’s members, because it has to be. Everything is about what the reader wants – sadly, I think sometimes that is forgotten in non-subscription libraries.