Diary of a Library School Work Placement: Part I

All full-time students taking the MA in Library and Information Studies at UCL are required to do a two week work placement in a library of their choice as part of the course. I decided that I would do mine at University College School, which is an independent school for boys in Hampstead. It turned out to be a packed two weeks in which I took part in lots of different activities, so in order to break it down a little I have decided to split this blog entry into four separate posts which focus on the things that I found most interesting.

The Enav Library

UCS Enav Library

The Enav Library

The Enav Library at University College School holds approximately 18,000 books which are classified using a slightly adapted version of Dewey. The Library also subscribes to electronic resources such as EBSCO and JSTOR. There are two floors with seating for 69 pupils, as well as a dedicated reading room with additional seating and beanbags. There are 11 PC terminals and 2 OPAC terminals for the pupils to use, and the Library is staffed by a full-time professional Librarian and Assistant Librarian, as well as a term-time Library Assistant who takes responsibility for managing all the serials to which the Library subscribes. The school itself caters for pupils aged between 11 and 18 years old, but UCS also has a separate primary school, the Junior Branch, for pupils aged between 7 and 10 years, as well as an infant school, known as The Phoenix.

Teacher Training Day

When I first arrived at the school, the pupils were still on their Christmas vacation which meant that I was given the opportunity to attend a teacher training day before the start of the new term. As part of the teacher training day, I attended a fascinating lecture from Matthew Syed who had recently published a book called Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice. In the lecture, Matthew Syed criticised the idea of ‘natural talent’ and instead argued that a person’s skill and success came about as a result of hard work and practice. Syed himself had been a three-time commonwealth table tennis champion, but he claimed that his success was not as a result of a natural talent but was instead because he had spent his childhood playing the sport every day from a very young age, and because he was coached by a local teacher who was fanatical about table tennis. He criticised the concept of the ‘child prodigy’ and cited Mozart as an example, arguing that Mozart had completed 3,500 hours of piano practice before he had even turned six years old and that it was this which made him appear so talented when compared to his peers. Syed claimed that this stood as evidence that child prodigies were made and not born.

Turning to the subject of education, Syed argued that the myth of ‘natural talent’ was potentially a very damaging one for young people. He argued that pupils who perceived themselves as having no talent for a subject would have no motivation to work hard at that subject. Conversely, he suggested that pupils who saw themselves as naturally talented would be unlikely to view hard work as being important to their success. Often, the idea of being talented is linked to the idea of effortlessly achieving things which other people find difficult. Syed argued that ‘talented’ pupils would not want to challenge themselves with difficult work, because they would be afraid of losing their ‘talented’ status if they had to work hard to achieve their goals. Syed argued that it was extremely important, therefore, to avoid praising pupils for their talent and he pointed out that teachers should instead be praising pupils for their hard work and emphasising the fact that it was hard work and not talent alone which would bring them success in their studies.

It was a really interesting and thought-provoking lecture and definitely one of the highlights of my placement!

Shadowing the Library Assistant

I spent some time during my placement helping the Library Assistant with her daily tasks. As mentioned above, the Library Assistant is responsible for managing the library’s serial subscriptions, and as she only works during term-time there was quite a backlog of journals for us to process on the first day of term! Because the Library doesn’t subscribe to an overly large number of journals, a card catalogue is used to keep a record of every issue received. Once everything has been recorded and processed, the contents pages of certain journals are photocopied and placed in the relevant teachers’ pigeon holes. The teachers then highlight any useful articles and the Library Assistant catalogues these articles so that pupils can find them on the OPAC. I thought that this was a really good idea, because it is unlikely that many pupils would think to search through journal back copies on the off-chance that they might find relevant material for their homework.

One other task that I helped the Library Assistant with was the creation of a display celebrating the centenary of Captain Scott’s voyage to the South Pole. The Library Assistant frequently creates displays for the Library based on current events, or literary prizes, or topics that she thinks might be interesting for the pupils. I had never created a display before so I approached the task with a little bit of trepidation; however, it turned out to be quite fun doing the necessary research, creating some eye catching pictures and putting it all together – I think that it looked quite good in the end!

Captain Scott Display

Our Captain Scott Centenary Display

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