Library Camp 2012

Last weekend I travelled to Birmingham in order to attend my second annual Library Camp event. I attended the same event last year and found it really interesting and enjoyable, so I’d booked my tickets early for this one and was looking forward to some inspiring workshops and conversations with the 150 or so other information professionals who would also be attending.

For those who don’t know, Library Camp takes the form of an ‘unconference’, which means that there is no pre-arranged programme of presentations or workshops. Instead, anyone who wants to pitch an idea for a session does so on the day and then we each choose which ones we want to participate in. It’s much more spontaneous and informal than a traditional conference and this usually creates a lively atmosphere of debate and discussion.

Cake at Library Camp 2012

A small selection of the cake and other baked goods on offer.

One of the other traditions of Library Camp events is that there is always a large amount of cake on offer and this year’s event was no exception. I arrived at the venue at around 9am and immediately went to investigate the baked offerings that the attendees had brought with them. There were some absolutely gorgeous vegan chocolate brownies; I don’t know who baked them but they were probably the best brownies I’ve ever eaten!

After I’d sampled some cake and caught up with several of the librarians who I follow on Twitter, we all piled into the main room to hear the session pitches for the day. There were lots of interesting proposals and it was hard to decide which sessions to attend, but I have written some summaries below of the ones which I found most useful.

UKLibChat Live Session on Careers

This was probably my favourite session of the day. Hosted by the uklibchat team who run a regular monthly discussion of library-related issues on Twitter, this session was a simultaneous live chat and tweet-up which focused on the challenges of building a career within the library and information sector.

The first thing we discussed was how much scope there was for career progression within different kinds of libraries. One academic library worker felt that there wasn’t much scope within her own institution for career growth due to budget cuts, but that growth was possible if you were willing to move to another institution. Another person commented that career progression in the public libraries sector could be difficult for new professionals as they often needed to wait for older librarians to retire before they could move up to a managerial post. Someone else suggested that this was similar to the situation in corporate and special libraries, and that special librarians might have to consider changing sector if they wanted to move up to a higher position.

Next, we discussed the best ways to find out about career openings; various job-hunting websites and recruitment agencies were suggested by the group, a list of which can be found here. It was also suggested that job-hunters should keep an eye on the websites of particular institutions that they were interested in working for, as some institutions might only advertise on their own site in order to save on advertising costs.

After this, we considered the importance of having CILIP chartered status and whether this was something that was desired by employers. Many in the group commented that their employers did not see chartership as being an important prerequisite and that some employers did not actually know what it was. However, it was considered that going through the process of chartership could still be useful for those who were keen to engage in continuing professional development. One person commented that her employer was very supportive of her wish to attain chartership, although there was no real incentive for her to do so other than for CPD. Another person argued that attaining a PG Cert teaching qualification had been much more relevant for her than attaining chartership as she did a lot of teaching in her role, and others in the group agreed that the PG Cert was starting to become a more common qualification amongst HE librarians.

Lyle the Crocodile

The uklibchat session was also attended by Lyle the Crocodile, our Library Camp mascot who was brought along to the event by Linsey (@spoontragedy)!

Next, the group considered what types of skills were most wanted by employers and how these requirements might change in the future. Most people agreed that customer service skills were of high importance, and that within academic libraries this importance was likely to increase in view of the rise in tuition fees, which would lead to students having higher expectations of their academic library services. Also of importance was the ability to understand user needs and to help users to develop and improve their information literacy skills. It was agreed that technical skills like coding and web design could become more central to the role of librarians as more and more information would be delivered online in the future.

In the final part of the session, there was a general discussion about the mood of the people in the group and whether most people felt optimistic or pessimistic about being able to find a professional post in the library and information sector. Several people in the group admitted to feeling quite stressed about their job-hunt in the difficult economic climate and many felt that they would have to compromise either on hours or location in order to get a good job. One person expressed frustration about jobs which were advertised externally but for which the employer already had an internal candidate in mind, as this potentially made it more difficult for external applicants to be successful. Another person commented on the high amount of competition for each job and pointed out that qualified librarians were often applying for paraprofessional posts because there weren’t enough posts at the right level for them. From my own experience I’ve found that once you have completed the MA qualification, it can be more difficult to get a paraprofessional post because you may be seen as overqualified, but it can be equally hard to land your first professional post because you may not yet have many years of experience. It’s a difficult position for newly qualified librarians to be in as, at the moment, there is somewhat of a scarcity of entry-level professional posts.

However, despite the worry that many people in the group had about job-hunting, it was generally agreed that the challenges we faced were by no means unique to the library and information profession. One person commented that everyone had to fight for a job and that difficulties existed across all sectors. Someone pointed out that the skills possessed by librarians were widely applicable and relevant in today’s knowledge-based economy and that librarianship was a changing rather than a dying profession.

All in all, it was a very useful and thought-provoking session. For anyone who wants to take part in further #uklibchat discussions on Twitter, the next session is on Tuesday 6th November at 6.30pm UK time and the topic is ‘Supporting Offsite Users’.

Librarians Without Libraries

I found this session very interesting because we considered what librarians should be doing to promote their services to patrons in cases where the service was accessed remotely via telephone or email and where there was no physical library space. One person suggested that frequent users of the service could be encouraged to promote it more widely to their friends or colleagues, while another person pointed out that her organisation had a well developed staff intranet where she was able post information about the library service.

We also discussed the example of a corporate library which employees needed to use as part of their job and we considered whether such a service needed promotion and advocacy in the same way that other types of library did. It was agreed that even if a library service was essential to the organisation in which it was based, it was still important to ensure that patrons were aware of the service and what it could offer them, as well as what it couldn’t offer them. In terms of the latter, it was agreed that gaining user feedback about how the service could be improved was a useful way for corporate library staff to make a case to their organisation for further funding and development of the library service.

After this, we discussed the different ways that libraries based in corporate organisations were labelled. Some people felt that the word ‘library’ could have unhelpful associations in a corporate context, as employees might associate this label with books and traditional academic learning, rather than seeing it as an information service. It was also suggested that some people might automatically associate the word ‘library’ with a physical space, and that for this reason it was not an appropriate label for an email and phone based service. Other people argued that the word ‘library’ had positive connotations for most people and that it was a word which people understood, but it was also suggested that the term might not offer an effective description of the service and that in a corporate context ‘knowledge management’ or ‘information management’ could be more useful labels.

Issues in Academic Libraries

I chose to attend this session because this is the sector that I’ve chosen to work in, so it was highly relevant to me. As expected, the issue of increased student fees came up almost immediately and we discussed how best to manage higher student expectations within the context of the budget cuts that many academic libraries are facing. It was agreed that academic librarians had to demonstrate the value of their library services both to students and academics in order to protect themselves from cuts. Several people mentioned the fact that many students are unaware that the eresources they access online are provided and paid for by the library, and instead they believe that the resources are provided for free. We discussed whether we should make more effort to brand our information access pages to make it clearer that the library was responsible for providing the online content, but it was felt that this could have a negative impact on the user experience by making their access to online resources feel less seamless.

Also discussed was the problem that some academics and students didn’t feel that their University library had anything to offer them, but people in the group argued that this was because these users didn’t know how to find the resources that were most relevant to them. Someone made the important point that if academics were unaware of the wealth of information offered by the library, they would not communicate this to their students. This would mean that new undergraduates wouldn’t see the value in information literacy training because they would want to stick to the limited selection of books on the reading list provided to them by their lecturer. One person argued that librarians should actively seek out academics to explain how the library could benefit them and their students, as we couldn’t just expect them to come to us. It was suggested that librarians also needed to be more visible within institutions, and that one way to achieve this was to ensure that library staff were members of all the important institution committees.

It was generally agreed that senior management in HE institutions could sometimes view the library as a cost to the institution because it doesn’t directly generate income in the same way as fees or research grants. It was suggested that some managers had an outdated view of the services provided by academic libraries, and that this made it even more important to demonstrate the ways in which academic librarians work to support teaching and learning to enable students to improve their grades. One person drew our attention to the JISC Library Impact Data Project, which aims to demonstrate a ‘statistically significant correlation between library usage and student attainment’ by collecting and analysing library usage data from a number of HE institutions. The results from this project could provide valuable data in the future when it comes to demonstrating the worth of well-funded academic libraries.

Libraries and Volunteers

I had expected this session to raise some controversial issues and I wasn’t disappointed. The group discussed when it was appropriate to make use of volunteers to help deliver a library service and when this crossed a line and began to threaten the jobs of paid staff. One person argued that some library events and activities would no longer be possible without the help of volunteers and that volunteers in turn could gain enormous personal benefits from being able to participate in the running of their community library. However, it was also suggested that allowing volunteers to take over certain aspects of the service could give the impression to government officials that paid library staff were no longer necessary. One person argued that a library was not simply a room full of books, and that a volunteer-run community library should not be confused with a professional library service. She argued that the reason that some people see volunteer-run libraries as a viable alternative to a professional service is because they don’t understand what librarians do, and she pointed out that we need to keep fighting against the misconception that the main job of a professional librarian is to stamp out books.

Final Round-Up

As with last year’s Library Camp event I was pretty exhausted by the end of the day, but also full of lots of useful information (and cake!). I really enjoyed catching up with some of the people who I follow on Twitter, as well as meeting some new and interesting library professionals. Many thanks to this year’s organisers – I’m already making plans to attend Library Camp 2013!

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The End of Library School!

Runner finishing a raceWell, my time at library school has finally come to an end as I have at last managed to complete and submit my dissertation. It was a tough piece of work which demanded all of my time and concentration, which is why this blog has been a bit quiet for the past few months. There were times when I thought that I wasn’t going to get the thing done in time to meet the deadline, but I’ve since learned that this was a pretty common feeling amongst most people on the course. As far as I know, everyone who was panicking about getting it done still managed to submit it on time – it was a bit of a marathon for everyone, but we got there! I’m actually quite glad that we had the Olympic Games this year, as having the races on constantly in the background during my write-up period definitely inspired me to keep working towards my own personal finish line. The results won’t be out until November, of course, but fingers crossed everything has gone according to plan and I will soon be a qualified librarian!

My next big challenge is going to be securing a new job in an academic library. After considering all my options, I’ve decided that this is the best career direction for me as I’m still passionate about education, I want to support students with their research and information literacy skills, and I enjoy working in Universities and Colleges. I’m not too concerned at this stage about securing my first professional post, as I enjoy working as a library assistant and am happy to continue doing this. It will all depend on what opportunities present themselves. Job-hunting is inevitably going to be a little bit nerve-wracking as I’ve never job-hunted in a recession before so I’m unsure how difficult it is going to be, but I know that I’m not the only one in this boat and that makes me feel a bit better about it all. Whatever happens, I will endeavour to remain optimistic!

In the mean-time, I’m going to keep up with my CPD activities and my blogging, and I’m also going to take some time to relax and enjoy a well-earned break!

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CILIP New Professionals Day 2012

On Friday I attended the CILIP New Professionals Day which is a free event aimed at people who have recently entered the library and information profession. This was my second New Professionals Day as I also attended one in 2010 when I was a new graduate trainee. It was at the first of these events that I learned about the growing importance of social media within the information profession, and this was a message that was reiterated in many of the presentations that were delivered at the event this time around.

It was also at the 2010 event that I first learned about personal branding and about the importance of controlling your reputation by creating a positive online identity. This knowledge encouraged me to make myself more visible online by continuing to write posts for my fledgling blog and by building a larger network of fellow library professionals on Twitter. At this year’s event there was another presentation on personal branding, this time delivered by Ned Potter – but this year the message was slightly different. Ned explained that there was no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to personal branding and that the focus of our personal brand would depend on our own individual goals and ambitions. He said that none of us ought to feel the pressure to become ‘super-librarians’ and that although continuing professional development (CPD) could often be valuable for its own sake, it was even more so if it helped us to develop skills that would be relevant for our ideal future job.

Ned Potter's presentation

Ned Potter presenting on personal branding.

For me, this was a welcome message because I know that I’ve often felt under pressure to do as much CPD as possible in order to make myself a more attractive candidate for future job opportunities. However, despite this I think that part of me must have already realised that the most valuable CPD was that which related directly to my career ambitions. At the moment I’m really interested in working in a school library, but as I have limited experience of working with young people, I know that I have a skills gap which needs to be filled. This is why I’ve been volunteering for the last few months to run a school book club rather than investing my time in other CPD opportunities. I agree very much with Ned that although CPD can be valuable for its own sake, it doesn’t make sense to pour all your energies into, say, presenting at conferences or doing committee work if you’re not genuinely interested in doing so. As Ned suggested, your personal brand should be a by-product of doing whatever it is that you feel passionate about, and by pursuing your true interests in a public, networked way you can create a personal brand that is a genuine reflection of your identity, rather than one which is only the result of a strategic effort to make yourself appear more employable. I think that this was the most useful message that I took away from the New Professionals Day this year.

After Ned’s presentation in the morning we were all given a short break and then it was on to the day’s workshops. I was pleased to be able to attend my first choice workshop entitled ‘Moving Sectors: Practical Pathways to a Different Role’ because, as mentioned above, I’m interested in moving into the school sector after I graduate from my Masters. The session was facilitated by Adjoa K. Boateng who is the Collections Development Manager at the University of East London and who has worked in several different sectors throughout her career. During the session we were given job descriptions for positions in different sectors and asked to record any similarities between the skills that were required for each position. After this, we were told to identify the skills gaps between the positions and to suggest ways that these could be filled, such as, for example, by engaging in CPD activities. I found the session really useful and it was heartening to see that there were in fact many similarities between the skills required for library positions across the different sectors.

Library Blockbusters game

Megan’s library Blockbusters game.

After this I attended a workshop about working in careers information. This was not one of my first choice workshops but nevertheless I found it pretty interesting. The facilitator, Megan Wiley, explained that although many people working in this sector do not necessarily identify themselves as librarians, there was nevertheless a lot of overlap between careers information roles and more traditional library roles in terms of the skills that were required. Megan is an Information Specialist at the University of Bristol and she helped us to understand what her job entailed by quizzing us on what we thought her responsibilities were and then scoring our answers using a Blockbusters style game, which was quite fun! I think that a job in careers information would be quite rewarding because a lot of time is spent working directly with the students, and this is always the most enjoyable part of library work for me.

My final workshop of the day was also one that I didn’t choose because unfortunately the facilitator for the original workshop on developing professional skills was unable to attend. Instead I attended a session on ‘The Art of Reflection’ which was about the importance of recording and reflecting on our learning experiences to enable us to incorporate new insights into our daily working practice. The workshop reminded me of the blog post on reflective practice that I wrote for CPD23 and it reaffirmed my belief in the value of blogging as an exercise in reflection.

After the workshops were over, everyone gathered back together to hear two final presentations from Bethan Ruddock and CILIP President Phil Bradley. Bethan talked about the need for new information professionals to each assemble their own personal ‘New Professional’s Toolkit’ and she argued that the key elements of such a toolkit were a network, a mentor, resources, a plan and a voice. Bethan emphasised the fact that with these basic things in our toolkits, we would find it easier to carve out our own pathway in the information profession. There was a lot of useful advice and information in this presentation and it was certainly interesting to conceptualise my professional development as a toolkit as Bethan suggested.

Phil Bradley gave the final presentation of the day and he talked about the important role that social media would play in our future careers. He argued that social media was a vital resource for communication and information and that it was our responsibility as information professionals to understand it and use it effectively in our jobs. He argued that more and more information was being made available through social media rather than through traditional websites and that it was up to us to convince wary employers that social media sites were important professional tools that would enable us to help our library users more effectively. Phil suggested that this was an exciting time of change for the information profession.

I really enjoyed the New Professionals Day this year and I came away with lots of new ideas and things to think about. As ever, it was also a great opportunity to meet and chat with other new professionals and I had lots of interesting conversations throughout the day between the workshops and presentations. I hope that there will be another similarly inspiring event next year!

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My Second Term at Library School

It’s difficult to believe how quickly the time has gone, but I’ve already completed the taught element of my librarianship Masters degree. All I have left to do are a couple more assignments, an exam and my dissertation – so still quite a lot of work, but from this point onwards it will be all self-directed study with a few supervision sessions to attend as and when necessary.

My modules this term were Management, Information Sources and Retrieval, and Web Publishing. We had quite a few assignments to complete for the Management module, including a group work portfolio for which we had to produce a budget allocation plan, a staffing structure and a strategic plan for an imaginary library. This was an interesting exercise and it definitely got us thinking about how we might allocate our funds if we were ever put in charge of managing a library in the future. For this module we also had to produce an essay on legal issues in libraries; mine was mostly about copyright law and how this could affect both print and eresources in an academic library. We also had to produce a briefing report which proposed a change in a library service, and for this I opted to propose the introduction of an ebooks service in a public library.

Web Publishing was my optional module this term, and although some of the material we covered had already been covered in my compulsory Principles of Computing and Information Technology module, I found that I learned a lot more about accessibility issues and how these are important to consider when designing web pages. There was no course work for this module and instead we took an exam on the last day of term – we were given a website to evaluate and had to check the HTML code for errors and make recommendations for how the site’s accessibility could be improved.

The site we were given to evaluate was one that I happened to be already familiar with – The Women’s Library in London. Unfortunately, it has recently been announced that this library is under threat of closure, which is really bad news because the library’s collections are of outstanding national and international importance and it is a key resource for women’s history. There is a petition circulating at the moment to keep the library open, which is here for anyone who wishes to sign it.

The UCL Portico in the sunshine

The UCL Portico in the sunshine.

The final module which I took this term was Information Sources and Retrieval, and I am still currently working on the assignment for this module. We have to produce a resource guide for a subject of our choice which evaluates different kinds of information sources and identifies all the key resources for the subject. I’ve chosen to do mine on Jane Austen as I studied a module on her during my undergraduate degree and I’m already pretty familiar with some of the resources in this area.

In addition to taking the above modules, this was the term during which I also had to submit my dissertation proposal. This is still very much in the early stages, but I’m hoping to build my topic around the idea of measuring the impact of public libraries on communities. I thought that this would be a highly relevant topic to look at given the current climate of austerity which is causing library cuts and closures. I’ll aim to blog about this in a bit more detail once I start the writing process in earnest. In the meantime, my immediate priorities are to finish my resource guide and then start revising hard for my Professional Awareness exam in May – plenty to keep me busy!

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Our School Book Club: the story so far…

I have been running a weekly school book club (jointly with a fellow UCL student) for one whole month now and so I thought that I would write a blog post on my experiences so far.

Having never run any kind of reading group before, this has been a really valuable learning experience for me, although running the book club has not been without its ups and downs! After our first successful session, we ordered copies of the chosen book for the girls and planned to start reading it the following week. However, we had a brief crisis when the school contacted us the day before the next session to say that the books hadn’t arrived in time! Luckily, I already owned a copy of the text so we used this to make copies of the first few pages for the students. However, we didn’t think that this would fill the time sufficiently so we also prepared some handouts about the historical context of the novel – the Blitz in London – and we made a short quiz for the girls to do in teams based on this subject.

As it turned out, the quiz was really successful and all the girls in the group seemed to engage with what they were asked to do, which was really positive. I have since come to the conclusion that putting the girls into smaller groups and setting them specific tasks is much more effective than putting them all in a circle together and having everyone discuss the book at once. What I have discovered is that when the girls are together in one group, the keen girls will do all the talking and the quieter girls – or the girls that haven’t done the work! – will not engage with the group.

We have had some unexpected problems with some of the girls not doing the required reading, which perhaps in retrospect shouldn’t have been unexpected given that the book club is compulsory for them and not voluntary. We also had some quite bad attendance problems when we ran our third session – several of the girls came late, and it transpired that some of the other girls had deliberately tried to skip the session! This was not encouraging for us, and that particular session also suffered a great deal of disruption when the teacher went to look for the missing girls and then told them off very loudly in the corridor just outside the room before sending them in one by one in disgrace! Nevertheless, we persevered and managed to get a good discussion going towards the end of the session, despite several of the girls having not done the reading.

I tried to emphasise to the girls that the reading was for their benefit and that it was in their own interest to do it for the sake of their exam next year. This seemed to get through to some of them but clearly not all of them as we had similar problems the following week with some girls having not done the reading – although at least this time everyone was sufficiently chastened to show up! For our fourth session, we decided to take a different approach as it had become clear by this point that the girls who weren’t doing the work were just sitting silently in the circle and not engaging. We divided everyone into groups and my partner gave them an exercise which she had prepared. Each group had to look at a particular section of the book and examine the relevant characters’ relationships in that section. They were also asked to put the scene in context by looking at what had just previously occurred in the novel.

I would say that this exercise had mixed success. Two of the groups had obviously done the required reading, and so could begin their discussion almost straight away, but the other two groups were clearly playing catch-up as they tried to read the section they had been given, while also reading back over the previous scenes. However, this at least forced them to engage with the book and myself and my partner spent some time talking to each group individually and encouraging them to share their ideas with us. Afterwards, everyone came back into the circle and was asked to share their thoughts with the whole group.

Today was the most recent session of our book group and it was a little bit nerve-wracking this time because I had to run the session completely by myself! My partner is currently away on a research trip over the Easter break, so I will be running the next session on my own too. Even though it’s a bit scary, I’m really pleased that I have the opportunity to do this because I think that it will really boost my confidence for leading group sessions in the future.

Today’s session actually went really, really well and I’m very pleased with the girls and how well they engaged with the work. I decided to create a group work exercise similar to last week, but I gave them handouts of specific sections of the text to analyse so that even the girls who were behind with the reading would be able to quickly read these short extracts and then join in with the discussion. Each group was given two extracts and asked to compare them – specifically, they were asked to look at two particular relationships between different couples in the novel and then to find similarities and differences between these two relationships. I thought that this would be a useful exercise for them as it is quite similar to what they will have to do for their exam. I then spent quite a bit of time with each group, making sure they understood the task and asking them questions relating to the two extracts. I think that I managed to get everyone in each group to make some contribution towards the discussion, which was really positive – most of the girls were even quite enthusiastic and one group had quite a debate going about the motives of one particular character, which was great!

I let them discuss their ideas in groups for about 25-30 minutes, and then we came back into a circle and each group described their extract to the others and gave us their thoughts. Nearly everyone seemed engaged and interested so I think that I’m definitely going to stick to a structure of group work exercises followed by feedback in the circle for future sessions. I also made sure to tell them that I would be asking them questions about the book when they got back from their Easter break and that therefore I expected them all to have done the reading – we’ll see how effective this has been during the next session! To be honest, though, I don’t really mind that some of the girls don’t want to engage properly with the work; it means that the sessions are more challenging and interesting for me because I have to figure out ways of motivating these girls to read. I don’t think that this would be as valuable a learning experience for me if all the girls were already keen readers – so I welcome the challenge of having reluctant readers in the group. I do however hope that the next session is as successful as this one has been! 🙂

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UCL Schools Book Club

Last term I signed up to the UCL Schools Book Club volunteering group because I wanted to try my hand at running a book club for young people. During our book club training session a few weeks ago we were put into pairs and assigned to a school, and this afternoon was the very first session of our new book club!

When myself and my book club partner arrived at the school, we were a little unsure what to expect because the school happens to be Catholic and we did wonder whether this would affect the kinds of reading material that we could use in the group. However, it soon transpired that there would be no censorship of this type and that we were free to read anything that we wanted – in fact, we were even encouraged to choose literature which dealt with controversial issues, as the English teacher we spoke to felt that this would promote debate and discussion. I found this really positive and it has definitely inspired us to add a few more books to our reading list!

Our reading group is made up of fifteen girls who are currently in their first year of sixth form and the group is being run to encourage them to read more widely in preparation for their A-Level exam next year. The exam they have to take is vastly different from the one we studied for when I was at school – there are no set texts for them to study, and instead they must each choose several of their own texts to read for the exam. The idea behind this approach is that it prepares them for the kind of independent study which takes place at University. I thought that this was a really exciting way to approach an English Literature A-Level and I would definitely have relished this kind of independent study when I was in sixth form.

However, the English teacher we spoke to informed us that many of the girls were not in the habit of doing independent reading and some of them had been coerced into attending our reading group in order to get themselves into the habit of reading more widely before their next school year. I was a little worried by this as I was unsure as to whether I would be able to inspire them if they weren’t already fond of reading! As it turned out, there were quite a few members of the group who were enthusiastic about reading the books that we had suggested for them, although there were also several girls who admitted that they didn’t like reading at all.

The English teacher who we spoke to prior to the session had informed us that the theme of the girls’ A-Level exam was going to be ‘Love Through the Ages’, so we tried to select titles that would fit well within this theme. Our list included romantic novels from the eighteenth century to the present day, incorporating quite a few classics such as Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice but also some more contemporary historical fiction. We let the girls vote on which book they wanted to read first and I was really pleased that they opted for The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. I think that this will be a really good first text, not only because it’s a great read but also because it isn’t too difficult – I was a bit concerned about choosing a challenging first text in case this alienated the girls who didn’t like to read.

The UCL Schools Book Club group has a small budget which means that we can buy a copy of The Night Watch for everyone in the group. Hopefully these should arrive in time for next week’s session, which will mean that we can get started straight away. Luckily for me, I already have my own copy so I should be able to make a start on re-reading this before next week!

We decided to spend the rest of our first session reading a little bit of poetry, as my book club partner had brought along copies of La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Keats. I think that we managed to get quite a good discussion going by the end of the session and I hope that the girls found it useful and interesting. Many of them are still quite shy with us, but I hope that they’ll become more comfortable and relaxed during the coming sessions. This was the first time that I’d ever volunteered to work with young people so I was a little out of my comfort zone too – however, I’m looking forward to next week and I hope that we can manage to create a fun and inspiring book club!

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Diary of a Library School Work Placement: Part IV

This blog entry is part of a series of four posts about my two week work placement at University College School’s Enav Library.

Information Literacy

It was very encouraging to see how well information literacy training was embedded into the curriculum at UCS. I was able to observe a Year 8 History lesson which took place in the Library and which was partially delivered by the Librarian. The pupils had to prepare a presentation on the history and culture of Roman Bath and the Librarian had prepared a number of online resources for them which they could access from the Library’s page on the VLE. They were encouraged to use textbooks which could be found in the Library, but the Librarian also encouraged them to join their local public library in order to make use of the books and eresources there as well.

After the Librarian had finished her presentation, the teacher emphasised to the boys how lucky they were to have such a good Library as a resource and he instructed them to speak to the Library staff if they needed any help with their research. I thought that this was really positive and it was great to see the boys being taught information literacy skills within the context of their normal school work, as it meant that they were far more likely to appreciate the relevance of these skills.

Later in my placement, I was also able to observe a lesson with some AS Level students who were preparing to undertake a self-directed research project for their Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). This session was run solely by the Library staff who introduced the students to JSTOR for the first time and taught them about the differences between the material that they might find on Google and the peer-reviewed, full-text material that they would find in an electronic journal. It was great to see the students being introduced to these sorts of resources so early, as many first year undergraduates find online journal databases quite complex to get to grips with when they encounter them for the first time.

At the start of this academic year, the Librarian and the Head of IT had agreed to issue a questionnaire for new Year 7 pupils in order to assess the boys’ reading and information literacy skills. This was a new initiative which had not been tried before, and one of my tasks during my placement was to set up a spreadsheet to collate the data which had been gathered from the questionnaires. The Librarian hoped that the information would prove useful when she was planning further information literacy training sessions in the future.

Lesson Observations

As well as the lessons which I observed in the Library, the Librarian arranged for me to observe some English lessons so that I could gain an insight into how teaching was done at the school. One lesson that I observed was a Year 9 lesson on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, where the students were taught to identify elements of Shakespeare’s language which revealed the personality traits of the main characters. I also observed a Year 7 lesson on Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, where the students were taught how to structure a paragraph in a piece of descriptive writing. Finally, I was able to sit in on an A-Level lesson on Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath, possibly my least favourite text from when I myself studied English at A-Level. However, the teacher made it much more interesting than I remember it being the first time around and there was a great deal of insightful discussion about feminist theory and the perception of women in the Medieval period, which I really enjoyed.

Conclusion: an absorbing and jam-packed two weeks!

I have to say that I really enjoyed my placement at UCS and the Library staff were all absolutely fantastic in finding so many varied and interesting things for me to do, and they were also extremely patient in answering my endless questions! I feel that I’ve gained a valuable insight into a sector of Librarianship which I didn’t really know much about before, and I would definitely recommend UCS to any future UCL student who is wondering where to do their two week placement next year 🙂

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Diary of a Library School Work Placement: Part III

This blog entry is part of a series of four posts about my two week work placement at University College School’s Enav Library.

Visit to the Junior Branch

The Junior Branch Library

The Junior Branch Library.

During the second week of my placement at UCS, I spent one day shadowing the Librarian at the school’s Junior Branch which caters for pupils aged between 7 and 10. The Library at the Junior Branch was much smaller than the Library at the Senior School, but it was still well-equipped with reading material, working space and Macs for the children to use.

Unlike at the Senior School, the children were responsible for checking out any books that they wanted to borrow using the self-issue system. The library management system was very child-friendly, but I was quite impressed with the level of detail which the children were able to apply to their searches when they looked for books using the OPAC. I did a search for ‘Harry Potter’ and was offered the option to search by title, author, keywords, series, classification, genre and more. This seemed to me to be quite advanced for primary school level, but I suppose that I have no point of comparison given that the only computer we had at my primary school was an Acorn that played Pac-Man and not much else!

Harry Potter search results on the OPAC

Harry Potter search results on the OPAC

The Junior Branch Library supports an initiative called the Renaissance reading scheme, the aim of which is to enable the boys to improve their reading ability. The books within the scheme are divided into different levels (rather than ages) and the boys have to read a certain number of books at their level before completing multiple choice quizzes about these books on the computer. The quizzes aim to test the boys’ comprehension of the books’ content, and they must score between 90-100% on a given number of books before they can move up to the next reading level. The software which is used for this scheme is also able to count the number of words within each book, and when a boy has read a million words he is given the status of ‘Word Millionaire’ and has his picture displayed on the Library notice board, which I thought was a lovely idea.

While I was shadowing the Librarian, I had the opportunity to observe a couple of English lessons because the children often take their English lessons in the Library and they are encouraged to use the Library’s resources. During one lesson I was lucky enough to hear the children reading aloud from their own pieces of creative writing, which I have to say were of an extremely high standard!

All in all, it was a very interesting day and I’m very grateful to the Librarian for taking the time to show me around and talk to me about the Library 🙂

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Diary of a Library School Work Placement: Part II

This blog entry is part of a series of four posts about my two week work placement at University College School’s Enav Library.

The Entry Reading Challenge

The Entry Reading Challenge is a scheme run by the Library to encourage Year 7 boys to read more widely. Each boy has to complete a chart which looks like this:

Entry Reading Challenge Chart

Each boy must agree with the Library staff which books he is going to read, and then once he has read them he must come back and tell the Library staff what he thought and whether he enjoyed them. Each book is worth a certain number of points, and once a boy earns seven points he is given a commendation. Once he earns a certain number of commendations, he is eligible to receive a new school tie which bears a different design to the standard tie which is worn with the school uniform. The Library staff explained to me that the new tie symbolises the fact that the boy has accomplished a high amount of reading. I thought that this was a really fun idea, and the fact that the boys can ‘level-up’ their ties in this way must add a certain element of competition to the reading scheme, which hopefully improves their motivation to read!

I was able to sit in one of the Reading Challenge sessions during my placement and it was very rewarding to have discussions with the boys about which books they had enjoyed reading. One particular favourite for many of the boys was Stephen King’s The Shining, which was interesting given the conversation that I’d had earlier in the week with the Librarian about age-appropriate reading material for children. The Librarian had explained that the Library had a policy of not lending any material to Year 7 boys which was deemed to be disturbing or which contained adult themes which the boys might not be ready to cope with. Stephen King’s The Shining was an example of one such text, and indeed at one point while I was there a boy came to the issue desk to request the book and was told that he would be unable to borrow it.

Enav Library reading room

The Library reading room where the boys take part in the Entry Reading Challenge.

I have to admit that I struggled with the idea that a child should ever be refused a book if they ask for one, because I believe that children’s reading should always be strongly encouraged and supported. However, I do understand that the school stands in loco parentis and that it is the responsibility of the Library staff to make sure that children aren’t loaned reading material which they might find upsetting. The fact that so many of the Year 7 boys in the reading group had already read and enjoyed The Shining was interesting though, and it suggests that age alone isn’t enough to determine whether a child is emotionally mature enough to read something. However, it is clearly a challenge for the Library staff to be aware of each individual child’s level of emotional development, and therefore it is obviously safer, easier (and probably fairer overall) to enforce a blanket restriction on the basis of age.


At one point during my two week placement I had the opportunity to sit in on a visit from one of the Library’s book suppliers. It was very interesting to observe how the Library staff selected suitable fiction and non-fiction for the Library’s collection. As it happened, much of the material which the supplier had brought with him was unsuitable for the boys at UCS, despite the fact that the books were targeted towards secondary school pupils. The Librarian explained that the boys at UCS had been encouraged to attain a much higher reading level than was average for most secondary school pupils, and so much of the material was not challenging enough for them.

There was a further difficulty in picking out suitable fiction for the boys, because most of the books on offer were clearly intended specifically for either boys or girls. Boys were likely to be put off by any books which had pink or sparkly covers and which featured female protagonists. The book supplier explained that publishers often marketed books at either boys or girls because the aim was to sell as many books as possible. However, this severely restricted the choice of fiction on offer and it also meant that a lot of the fiction aimed at boys was overtly masculine, which encouraged the idea of gender stereotypes. It was quite frustrating that there wasn’t much fiction to choose from which wasn’t gendered in this way, but I found the session very useful nonetheless and it raised some interesting issues about children’s literature.

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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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