Monthly Archives: December 2012

Mince Pies, Mulled Wine and No Work until 2013!

It’s Christmas! Or near enough, anyway. I’m writing this from my parents’ house in Croydon, where I’m spending my short break from work. Sadly the Mancunian weather has followed me south and it’s rainy and grim out there. Oh well – we’ve got Christmas music, twinkly lights and more food than you can shake a (tinsel-covered) stick at, so I’m staying inside!

The last couple of weeks at work have been appropriately festive – our staff room was crammed full of tinsel and paper snowflakes, we had roughly 1,000,000 mince pies, and we had a two-hour eating session accompanied by a Kirsty MacColl CD. You can’t get much more Christmassy. Some of our students gave us chocolates and mince pies as well, which was lovely. I basically didn’t need to bring lunch to work for two weeks, there was so much food about.

Sadly I didn’t get to go to our office Christmas do as I came down with a particularly nasty flu and had to spend about three days in bed, but I am told that I missed out on yet more excellent food, which is a shame. One day I’ll experience the joys of an office Christmas party!

The students disappeared a week ago, apart from the nursing students whose term times are different, and so the library was dead quiet last week. Even the last day was fairly relaxed, despite there being a hand-in at 4pm. There were only two students who had computer issues, and apart from them everyone seemed to be organised and problem-free. Hooray! Now if only all hand-in days could be like that…

I went to another training last week on presentation skills, and I will be writing about that during the holidays, but it needs a post of its own to do it justice. In the meantime, have a lovely Christmas, whatever you’re doing, and enjoy the festivities.

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Week Fourteen Already?!

I’m (un)officially past my thirteen-week probation period, so they can’t chuck me out now! I say “unofficially” because I haven’t yet had the thirteen-week review, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t done anything so terribly awful that I’d be asked to leave.

Here’s what I’ve been up to recently:

My big project in the last couple of weeks has been sorting out withdrawn books. These are books that aren’t in the library any more, usually because they’re too old and out of date, but which still show up in the system. I’ve had a couple of enormous print-outs of spreadsheets (the current one has about 2500 items on it) to look at, and I’ve had to check the shelves to make sure that none of the books are still in the library when they shouldn’t be, and then removing them properly from the system. It’s not particularly difficult, but it is time-consuming! I’ve got through all the One Week Loan books and I’m almost done with the 2500 Reference books that don’t exist, and then it’ll be time for Lending copies. That one will take the longest, as that is the type of book that we have most of, but hopefully I’ll be able to get one of my colleagues to help out on that.

I also finished writing my instruction manual for digitisation. I spent a while doing these as I wanted them to be as clear and helpful as possible, and I got one of the Senior Library Assistants to test it out so I could make changes. I was really pleased to see it in use and I only had to add a couple of things before it was finished. I got some great feedback about it as well – it is something to put on my CV, apparently! I’m hoping this will be the start of a long and happy career showing people how to do things. On that subject, I’ve also started creating a new podcast which will show students how to use their NHS Athens accounts and the NHS resources available to them. This podcast is radically different from the last one I did, and neither of them is particularly bog-standard, but it’s the sort of challenge I enjoy and it certainly seems to be becoming one of my strong points.

I also worked with another spreadsheet last week – all the books that we digitised are supposed to be stamped with a stamp so we know not to get rid of them (which would be against CLA rules). However, most of the books have more than one copy, so we compiled a spreadsheet of all the copies of books that have had chapters digitised, and then hunted them down to stamp them and cross them off the list. Lots of the books are out on loan, so we had to go onto the system to put messages on for them to be stamped when they’re returned. It’s been quite successful so far, and we’ve managed to cross off almost all the books on the list, although we’ll still be doing this in the spring as some of the books are on long loan.

Last week was also fairly dramatic in a few ways – on Thursday the system went down first thing in the morning so none of the computers could issue or discharge books, and the self-service machines were also out of action. We almost had to resort to paper for the day, but luckily everything came back online about 5 minutes after we opened the doors to students.

On Friday it was deadline day for a large number of our students, so we were very busy all afternoon and the printers kept running out of paper and ink. The staplers couldn’t handle the pressure and gave up the ghost too, which was an added stress factor. Most of the students managed to sort themselves out in good time, but a couple of them left things until the last minute and we had to literally chase them out of the darkened building at closing time. That definitely didn’t help any of our blood pressures!

We’ve also had a number of “ghostly” goings-on this week. You may remember I’ve mentioned the ghosts before; apparently this building is haunted, although I’ve only just found out the story behind all this. The college was requisitioned by the government during the war and turned into a hospital, and the story goes that the ghosts of children can be heard running through the corridors and giggling. The other morning one of the security guards rushed into the library and said he’d heard a child scream, but there wasn’t anyone else in the building yet. This prompted a whole day of ghost stories and the attribution of recent weird happenings to “the ghosts”. The books upstairs keep getting pushed to the backs of the shelves when we’re not looking, and the display table for new books gets mysteriously rearranged every so often. Some of the library staff are convinced it’s the ghost children, as it’s the sort of mischievous thing kids would do, although there are a couple of flaws to this – a lot of the shelves are too high for children to reach, for a start. There’s also the minor ghosts-don’t-exist thing. It’s probably just bored students, although it’s a bit of a strange hobby.

To round off this post, here are a couple of things that made me laugh this week: first, a funny thing someone said to me the other day at a party. I’d just told her what I do and she said “oh, that sounds so PEACEFUL. How LOVELY.” (yes, in that exact voice) I thought, if only you knew the truth…! Yes, the library might not be full of students with enquiries all the time, but we’re always busy behind the scenes! Secondly, I noticed that someone found my blog by Googling “MMU Graduate Trainee Salary”.  I hope they weren’t expecting to find me blogging about my champagne-drinking lifestyle. It’s strictly fizzy water on a GT salary!

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Applying to Library School

There are probably lots of people who’ve done blog posts about applying to library school, but you can never have too much advice (probably?) so I thought I’d chip in with my own thoughts on the whole thing.

First things first: choose your library school. There are tons of options: part-time, full-time, distance learning, that diploma thing, etc. Do you want to go to London and pay £8,000? Do you want to get a job and take a bit longer doing the course? Have a look at the prospectuses as well to see whether the actual course would suit you. I’ve chosen Sheffield not only because it’s in the North and that’s where I want to be, but also because it’s strongly focused on information retrieval, management and literacy, which are things I’m interested in. Other courses have different strengths that might appeal more to you.

Once you’ve decided where you want to go (and how many you’re applying for – I went for the all-your-eggs-in-one-library-school approach, but other people prefer to apply to a few and see what happens), it’s time to do the application. I only have experience of doing this for Sheffield, but I’m sure the process is similar for most places. So. The first bit of the application is easy – who are you? What qualifications do you already have? That sort of thing. Form-filling. The bit that’s obviously tougher is the personal statement. I hate stuff like this, because I feel like there’s only so many ways you can say “I’m really good, please accept me” before you start hitting the really weird words in the thesaurus. However, I usually find that once I’ve started it, it’s actually not as bad as I was expecting.

The first thing I did when I was thinking about my application was decide what they would want from me. You want to show that you’d be suitable for the job, which in this case is “Masters Student”. What is the job specification for a MA student? You’ve got to have good research skills, be good at independent study but also group work, be an effective communicator and be motivated, for starters. Make a big list of this stuff.

A good tip my housemate came up with once (and which was reiterated by Bethan Ruddock in her presentation to us) is to write down absolutely everything you can do in a big list. You can speak French? Put it down. You can ride a unicycle? Put it down. You once helped put up a marquee? Put it on the list. Then start thinking about how that stuff fits the sorts of qualities you need for the job/course/whatever. Speaking a different language = versatility, good communication skills, ability to think on your feet (when you’re translating), ability to pick up new things quickly, the list goes on. Riding a unicycle = determination and persistence, overcoming challenges, etc. Putting up a marquee = teamwork, communication skills. Seriously. You could probably shoehorn anything in and it’d work. Update your list every time you do something new, so it’s constantly up to date and you’ve got something to instantly refer to when you’re applying for stuff. It’s like a really in-depth CV.

The main bit of writing the application is then matching the stuff from list 1 (what they want) to the stuff from list 2 (what you’ve got). Don’t forget that anything and everything counts as experience. I struggled with writing job applications until I realised I could write about pretty much anything and make it relevant. I always talk about climbing mountains in my applications because it shows determination and motivation.

Obviously you also need to talk about your future plans – MA Librarianship or similar courses are there for career progression. You need to show that you’ve got an idea, even if you’ve not really thought about it a huge amount. As long as you sound convincing – “I intend to do X” rather than “I am considering X” or “I’d like to do X”, it doesn’t matter if your plans change later on. This is also a good place to talk about issues faced by the profession. Maybe throw in something about the economy or new technology or something similar, to show you’re interested in current events and you’re engaged in what’s going on.

Don’t forget to mention why you want to study at this particular place, on this particular course. Don’t let your application sound like you’ve sent it out to ten places without changing any of the words!

The only other tips I have are: have a beginning, middle and end – sum up your statement with something that’s going to make you sound good, like “I feel that this is the right course for me because X”; spellcheck! and read it through to make sure the spellcheck hasn’t missed anything; use a thesaurus so that you’re not saying the same three words over and over; make sure it still sounds like you. Using elevated language does nobody any favours.

I’ve just said “spellcheck” and remembered something I discovered after sending off my application – my CV still had my old address on it. Seriously, people, read your writing carefully.

I hope this is of some use to someone out there! Below you’ll find links to websites I used when writing my applications (and some more that I found on Google earlier). I really like the Newcastle University link (although I may be slightly biased), but they’re all useful. Your own university or workplace might also provide careers guidance that is also helpful here, so do look at their website too.

http://www.ncl.ac.uk/careers/study/apply/pgStatements.php
http://www.findamasters.com/students/studyguide/applying-for-a-masters.aspx
http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki/Taught_Masters_Courses_-_Tips_and_advice_for_making_your_application
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/feb/17/postgraduate-application
http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/shared/shared_careers/leaflets/pdf/Preparing___Writing_a_Personal_Statement.pdf
http://www.bath.ac.uk/careers/postgradstudy/statements.html
http://www.exeter.ac.uk/media/universityofexeter/careersandemployability/pdfs/pgstudy/pg_application_personal_statement_example.pdf
http://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/cv/PersonalStatement.htm
http://www.bris.ac.uk/careers/postgrad/AppForm.asp

Here’s a useful page on the Sheffield Librarianship MA http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/postgraduate/taught/courses/sscience/is/librarianship-ma . If you want to sound like you really know what you’re talking about, look at the list of modules, choose one and Google it (try “shef.ac.uk Educational Informatics module”, for example) and you should be able to find the website that describes the actual structure of the module. I’m sure this works for other universities as well.

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