Monthly Archives: January 2013

I Got Skills, They’re Multiplyin’

Excuse the terrible title but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I’ve been doing some self-reflection lately, because it is a Thing Librarians Do, and it’s good for personal and professional development and stuff. Not that I’m a professional yet, but I like to get into habits early. So I thought I’d just write down some of the things I’ve achieved so far as a Graduate Trainee, so I’ve got a record of them for later on.

I think it’s amazing to look back at what I was like when I started this job and compare that to how I am now. I have always thought of myself as someone who is quite confident and self-sufficient, but obviously when you start a new job in a field you have no experience in, you’re not going to be relaxed and confident straight away. In fact I’d go as far as to say I experienced some “culture shock” – I’ve never worked in a library or indeed any kind of office environment before so there was a lot of adjusting to be done. The development from September to now is huge – I’m a lot better at dealing with customers and their enquiries, and that’s just the start of it. I think the most important thing that’s happened is that I’ve actually learned what it is that librarians do all day. I’m not talking about any of the stereotypical images here – they don’t just stamp books, or “shh” people, and they definitely don’t sit around behind the counter reading books all day. I’ve learnt about cataloguing, book ordering, budgeting, management, teaching, stock maintenance/editing, and much more. Here are some of my highlights from the last few months:

I made some instructional podcasts! One is here and there are two more waiting to go up.

I learned to digitise articles and chapters using online software, I reorganised the filing system and wrote an instruction manual detailing the digitisation process from start to finish. I also helped with a project to stamp all the copies of books that have had chapters digitised, and record the progress on a spreadsheet. Librarians love spreadsheets.


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I wrote a helpsheet about accessing theses and articles online, which is available at the enquiry and issue desks for students to take. Sadly it’s not online for me to show it off to you (but the information is).

I’m still doing this mammoth withdrawals list. It’s really useful work (so I keep reminding myself) as we prepare the library stock for the move to All Saints in 2014, as when I’m finished, we will have an accurate count of how many books are in stock here. I’ve found a few that were “withdrawn” but still sitting on the shelf, so it’s a good way of creating space and keeping things tidy.

I’ve attended training sessions which are giving me a great insight on how the library works, including ones on policies and procedures, customer service skills, presenting, teaching InfoSkills, and Endnote. I’ve also been able to go behind the scenes at Library Support Services and Special Collections to hear about the work they do.

I’ve sat in on teaching sessions, both inductions and InfoSkills, and have helped out with hands-on sections in these sessions, helping students work through the tasks we set them. In March I’ll be team-teaching a session, which I’m really excited about.

I’ve done some networking – not much, admittedly, but I am part of some groups on Facebook, connecting with other library trainees, and I follow other people’s blogs and Twitter accounts. This is all helping me get an idea of what’s happening in the wider world of librarianship, with updates from established professionals, students and other GTs. I’ve also met some library people face-to-face!

I’ve learned the basics of Talis, the library management software, and can now issue and discharge books like a pro.

I’ve created and updated reading lists, keeping them up-to-date with new books that we get in stock.

I’ve learned to receipt new books, adding them to the system and checking that their details are correct.

I’ve helped people with enquiries, which can range from “how do I use the printer” to “how can I find articles on my really obscure dissertation topic” to “where is the nearest NHS walk-in centre”.

The other day I used the typewriter for the first time. I’ve never used a working typewriter before and I quite enjoyed it – even if my first go didn’t quite work properly! Here is my first ever attempt at making a spine label for a book with the typewriter. I had to do it again after I realised I hadn’t done the letters in capitals:

My first attempt at using the typewriter

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I’ve probably left loads of stuff off that list, but it’s long enough already for you to get an idea of how much I’ve learned in four and a half months. I think the main thing is that I’m a lot more confident in my abilities now – I don’t have to ask other people for confirmation that I’m doing the right thing as much any more (although I still ask about the really weird stuff!). I’ve also got over my fear of speaking to people on the phone, which is handy. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with my progress and am looking forward to seeing what the rest of the year will bring.

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January News

So I’m at the end of week 19 already. I’m more than a third of the way in to my traineeship now, which is crazy. This week the university started advertising for next year’s graduate trainees, which made me think about how different life is now from a year ago. I was so stressed out last year, after having finally chosen a career path, and then finding it actually really difficult to get a job that would get me into librarianship. I sent out tons of applications, and it was quite demoralising to get rejection letter after rejection letter (or worse, silence). And look at me now! I’m here in Manchester and I’m loving it. I won’t say I’m loving every minute, because I definitely did not love discovering that part of the ceiling had fallen in on Monday morning, and I won’t pretend I’ve loved every single second of this withdrawals odyssey, but on the whole I am absolutely ecstatic to be in this job. If you are reading this and considering applying for my job, DO IT. It’s been a great learning experience.

Anyway, what did I do this week? Take a wild guess. Yep, more withdrawals. This project is taking a long time but it’s the sort of job where it’s easy to measure progress, so it doesn’t feel like it’s interminable (well, only a little bit). I’ve almost finished checking the books in the small book room (small room, not small books), which means I’m just about up to 302 in the Dewey sequence. In terms of physical location that feels pretty good, but in reality I know I’ve got about 300 pages of the spreadsheet to go, so I’m not kidding myself that I’m going to be finished any time soon. We’re getting a placement student in February so I will be able to palm some of the workload off onto him/her. I’ve said before that I don’t mind doing this stuff, and it’s true, and that’s partly because I get to explore the shelves. I’m finding all sorts of weird stuff up there, including an English-Chinese dictionary of psychology (we don’t have the Chinese-English part) and the Handbook of Butter and Cheese Making, which is really out of place in a nursing and psychology library! We’re considering compiling a list of our favourites. I’d be interested to hear from any other library people who’ve discovered interesting titles on their shelves. Anyone?

I haven’t been doing withdrawals completely non-stop this week. It was back to term-time hours this week so I got to spend part of Monday on the enquiry desk, which is one of my favourite parts of the week. Helping people is an easy way to feel good about yourself, so 10.45-12.45 on a Monday is basically a two-hour feel-good fest for me. I did have some odd enquiries this week, which made it an interesting session. One girl kept topping up her print allowance without ever being able to actually use the money, which was a strange one.

The other thing I’ve mentioned which happened on Monday was my discovery of the leaky roof upstairs. As I’ve said before, the building is lovely but very old and absolutely falling apart. The poor thing needs some good care and attention, although sadly I think it’s going to be abandoned after the university vacates it next year. So on Monday morning I went up into the small book room to get some withdrawal work done, and realised I could hear a dripping noise. And there was debris on the floor, and wait, was that a large damp patch on the carpet? *eyes creep upward* Oh… Half a ceiling tile was missing. Annoyingly there’s not much that can be done about this, it seems, and so we just have to hope it doesn’t rain too much! The books are fine, thankfully.

Monday was pretty hectic all round – it was the first day of term, and loads of assignments were due in. There were absolute hordes of students coming through the library and just hanging around near printers and stuff. There wasn’t as much chaos as some hand-in days, although apparently the printers did go offline for a bit in the evening, which must have been nerve-wracking.

The rest of the week has been fairly normal; I’ve had some stints on the issue desk and lots of time for withdrawals, and that’s pretty much it. On Friday we went to a training session on Endnote Web, and while it was good for me to learn how it works so I can help students on the enquiry desk, I’m still not convinced I will ever use it for myself. Plus, it didn’t work as seamlessly as promised with the library catalogue, so I’m not sold on its usefulness.

Next week I’m going to shake things up a bit and record a couple of podcasts, which will break up the week a little. It’s been a while since I’ve had more than one thing on my to-do list!

Everyone’s talking about the potential for a snow-day in the next couple of weeks. I’d like to see a little bit of snow, but not so much that it gets inconvenient. Snow for weekends only, I think. We shall see what happens – I’m not sure a heavy snowfall would be good for the structural integrity of the poor old building!

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December Training Session: Presentation Skills

I’ve just done a very brave thing. Well – not very brave, but still, it took some guts to do this, and I’ve never been brave enough to do it before. You may have already guessed that it’s something to do with presentation skills, and you’d be right – I just watched myself doing a presentation on camera. Like, probably, most people (everyone I’ve spoken to about it, anyway), I hate seeing or hearing recorded versions of myself. I never ever watched the DVDs they made of us doing our mock Spanish oral exams, because it would have just been unbearable. However, I watched this one. Why? Because I felt good giving this presentation. For possibly the first time ever, I felt relaxed and unpressured while talking, and I thought it’d be interesting to see what that looks like. Turns out it looks alright. I mean, it wasn’t perfect by a long shot, like, seriously, what was my hair doing?! And why can’t I stand upright properly? And I still went bright red. But the actual talking and giving people information bit, that was pretty good. And I think that’s partly down to the fact that we’d had a really good training the week before about giving good presentations, which I will now proceed to tell you about.

We turned up to the session having been told to bring a three-minute presentation about anything we wanted, and I’ll admit to being pretty nervous about this, because my preparation style is somewhat haphazard, and I’m a big fan of such concepts as “leaving things to the last minute” and “winging it”. So I had put some photos of tapas together on some slides the night before, done a rough scripty thing in my head, and just trusted myself that I’d remember who Alfonso the Wise was. When the time came for presenting to the group, we all did quite well, and gave each other some good feedback. I really enjoyed this part of the session as we’ve built up a good group atmosphere in our trainings that means we can feel comfortable with each other. It was really interesting watching everyone’s presentations and finding out about everyone’s specialist subjects, which ranged from Doctor Who to British cinema to Scarborough. The other interesting part was getting the feedback. It’s easy to be critical of yourself and so it was good to get other people’s perspectives. I was convinced I was speaking at about 100000 mph but everyone wrote that I was enthusiastic and energetic, so that made me feel better about being quite a “lively” speaker.

After this we had the theory part of the session, where we picked up some helpful tips from Paul the trainer, who seems to have had a hundred jobs and who knows a lot of useful people. Paul is a very engaging presenter, even once getting a room full of people excited about some old University buildings at our new staff induction session, so I think we all felt like we were getting some very reliable advice here. Paul had done some good research on what makes a good presenter, and according to him these qualities include competence, poise, commitment and dynamism. Apparently the more you like someone, the more receptive you will be to their message, so it’s important not to be a distant or closed-off presenter. We’ve all had those presentations where the speaker is talking to their shoes or the screen more than they’re engaging with you, and we all know how tedious and uncomfortable those presentations can get.

Paul’s tips for a good PowerPoint or similar presentation are: keep it simple. Clean text and not too much of it. A good rule is the 6×7 rule: no more than 6 lines per slide, and no more than 7 words per line. Make your visuals interesting – the “full bleed” picture option on PowerPoint is one of my new favourite things – and don’t go crazy with slide transitions.

As far as content goes, the lesson was that structure is very important. Have a beginning, middle and end. Use a “hook” and a “promise” at the beginning – the hook is something impactful, like a controversial statement, a statistic, or a question, followed by the promise, which has a handy acronym: INTRO. Interest your audience with the hook, then tell them why they Need to listen to you, give them a Title, outline the Range of key themes, and give them an Objective: “by the end of this presentation, …”. The key is to interest people with all types of learning styles, so you need to answer these four questions – Why am I here? What are you talking about? How will this work? What if…? This ensures that you’ve got planners, reflectors, and everyone else onside. The end of your presentation is the part that people will remember, so you’ve got to reinforce the message here. Revisit the promise and show how you’ve fulfilled it, then give the audience something like a summary statement or a “thank you” so that they know you’re finished.

The really interesting part of the session was when Paul shared the stuff he’d learned from teacher training and from a lecturer in acting. In teaching you are taught to stand by the door of the classroom to welcome the pupils in the morning, and this shows that you’re welcoming them into your environment. This is a technique you can use as a presenter – arrive early, and be in the room before the audience. Acknowledge them when they arrive so they know it’s your space they’re coming into. Moving a piece of furniture can show ownership of the space as well. A useful acting tip was on grounding yourself – a natural reaction to the pressure of presenting is for adrenaline to rush to your extremities (the fight or flight response), making you fidget with nervous energy. This can be distracting, so you should teach yourself to stay “grounded”, or rooted to the spot, by adopting a stance that is very balanced. Apparently actors stand on pencils to make themselves more aware of where their feet are!

There are loads of other things I could mention that we learned, but you get the general idea. The session was really informative and helpful, and we went away feeling a lot better about the next session, where we would be filmed giving another presentation. For this one I tried to take some of the lessons we’d learned on board, especially making the PowerPoint slides look pretty. Of course I didn’t do much more preparation than usual, but I did make sure I was informed enough to speak confidently about the topic (the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary, if you’re interested. It’s a really good story, especially the bits about William Chester Minor). Having now watched it back, I think I did a good job of it. I need to work on grounding myself still, and the ending was weak (this is definitely down to my off-the-cuff haven’t-thought-about-a-proper-ending preparation technique, which I’m willing to admit needs refining), but the speed and pacing were good, and I didn’t even sound like I was from the West Country (I’m not), unlike on my podcasts.

I’m really glad I got the chance to go to this training and to get some really great advice which I know will be indispensable in the future. My next go at presenting will be to real, live, actual students, when I get to team-teach a Library Induction session. I’m excited to present to strangers, as I haven’t done it much, and I love a challenge. Of course I’ll let you know how it goes!

One of my pretty slides from my OED presentation.

One of my pretty slides from my OED presentation.

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