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New job

As I mentioned in my last post, I have a new job! I’m now a Research Support Advisor, which so far involves teaching PhD students about stuff like literature searching and research impact, as well as answering enquiries about bibliometrics or referencing. So far I haven’t had a huge amount of stuff to actually do, but now that things are settling down and I’ve learned more about stuff I should be able to start getting on with things.

 

The team is practically brand-new; they were only formed in July and only actually started working in the same office as each other about a month ago. My fellow Advisors were mostly faculty support librarians (aka subject or liaison librarians) before they came to this team, which was set up as part of a wider restructuring process. As a result of all this change, nobody has quite worked out how the team operates, or whether everyone’s carrying equal weight in terms of their areas of responsibility, so it’s possible that my role might change slightly as the year goes on. Certainly at the moment I feel like I have a lot less work to do than the other Advisors, one of whom oversees the institutional repository and the e-thesis repository, and another of whom carries out expert literature searches for medical research teams.

 

We are each responsible for providing teaching sessions to PhD students in our faculties; my faculties are Biological Sciences and Environment, and I’m scheduled in to provide several sessions for those students between now and Spring 2015. I’ve already sat in on a few of my colleagues’ sessions and I’m starting to get ideas about what I might do during mine – we are delivering the same content but there’s scope for adapting it to your audience if necessary (e.g. science students and arts students search for different types of literature in different places online).

 

I’m also going to be helping my colleague with the expert searching service she provides, and at the moment I’m practising running a search through several different databases, to familiarise myself with the techniques. Although I’ve got experience of working with medical databases and using advanced searching techniques, the work I’ll be doing is extremely technical and methodical and it’s important that I learn to do the process exactly right. My colleague gave me a three-week deadline which I had initially thought was very generous – but almost a week has passed and I’ve only got through a tiny bit of what I need to. For an example of the type of detailed search strategies I will be using, see the appendices to this Cochrane Collaboration systematic review.


Although I haven’t done much yet, I’m sure I’ll have loads to do as I settle in and become more established in the team. There are ideas floating about to revamp our e-learning offering, which will generate quite a lot of work for me, and when the team becomes more well-known outside the library I will start to get more enquiries from staff and students. For now, I’m just getting used to my new environment and trying not to get too lost!

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Well, I’m glad that’s over.

This summer has been a busy one for me, as I attempted to research and write my MA dissertation, work part-time in Sheffield and buy a house at the same time. Things like “sleep” and “social life” became alien concepts for three months while I concentrated on staying upright, alert and able to speak and write coherently. As is often the way when you’re doing lots of stressful things at once, they all ended up clashing horribly (and exhaustingly) over the same weekend. On the 29th of August I collected the keys to our new house and received an email inviting me to a job interview. On the 30th of August we moved house. And on the 31st of August I finished and submitted the most important piece of academic work I have ever produced.

 

On Monday the 1st of September I woke up feeling extremely happy and carefree!

 

I’m not convinced my dissertation is the world’s best essay (by a very long shot) but I think I made a good attempt at doing research of a topic I didn’t know much about, using techniques I had never used before. I think the stress of juggling so many life events at once might show up in the writing, especially one chapter which corrupted and had to be rewritten from scratch close to the deadline, but I’m pleased that I’ve produced a halfway decent piece of work. People keep asking me about how it went and, honestly, I can’t remember much about it any more (I think this is my brain protecting me from the trauma of the final weeks). I’m mainly glad that it’s all over and I can go to the pub without feeling guilty.

 

I’ve adjusted quite well to being a non-student again – it’s nice that all my spare time is my own and I can spend it watching the Apprentice or wandering around Leeds without thinking “I really should be doing some reading/literature searching/essay writing”. It also helps that my NUS discount card is still valid! For the moment, I’m enjoying a quiet time, without any courses or organised activities to do. I keep toying with the idea of signing up to a MOOC or teaching myself a new skill, but I think I need a bit of a breather before I get stuck in to something new.

 

As for that job interview I mentioned… I only went and got the job! I left Sheffield two weeks ago and have started my new job – my first “professional librarian” job – in Leeds. I’m going to write more about that soon, but suffice it to say I am enjoying it, especially the (much) shorter commute, and learning huge amounts.

As for right now? I’m going to have a cup of tea and watch the Apprentice.

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All change

It’s the summer!

I’ve made it almost all the way through my MA Librarianship course now. All the teaching and assignments are out of the way, and the dissertation is the only thing left. I’m supposed to be doing the literature review at the moment but can’t quite muster up the enthusiasm for it yet. I know I’ll be much happier about doing the project when I get to move on to the more exciting bits, but while I still have the lit review to get on with I’ve been pulling faces at anyone who asks “so… how’s the dissertation going?”. It’s been really nice to do fun stuff for a bit, only going to Sheffield three days a week instead of five or seven, but I do need to buckle down and get on with it.

This week I’m starting a new job! Today is my last day as a Weekend Customer Services Assistant, and from tomorrow I will be a Capacity Management Assistant instead. I’m not actually allowed to work tomorrow (you can’t do seven days in a row at work) so my first day will be Tuesday. I’m looking forward to this job mainly because I get to work a normal pattern – it’s Monday to Friday mornings, rather than every other weekend plus four hours in the week. I get my weekends back! Weekend working has been the worst thing about this year – I love the actual job and the student interaction and so forth, but public transport is RUBBISH on weekends when you live where I do. The trains don’t start out of my village until 10am – not very useful when I need to be in Sheffield at 10.30!

The routine of the new job will, I hope, help me get on with my dissertation and have a properly scheduled life. Work all morning, go home, do the dissertation all afternoon. I love a routine, so I’m hoping that with a bit of commitment I can be the highly motivated and organised person I always knew I could be…

Capacity Management is a totally different type of library job to what I’m doing now. At Sheffield there are well over 1 million books and other materials, and they’re organised into several different collections, most of which are buried in the lower floors of Western Bank Library. Every so often these collections need to be reorganised or moved, and older books move out of the main collection to the “store” collections downstairs, so that new books can come in. It’s Capacity Management’s job to work out where to put stuff, measuring how much extra space is needed for the books joining store collections, and rearranging everything so it all fits. The library is also part of the UK Research Reserve, which is a group of libraries across the UK who coordinate their journal collections jointly, agreeing that one library will hold a certain journal and all the other libraries can get rid of their copies. This is done for journals with especially low usage – you don’t really need a journal that nobody ever uses taking up space on your shelves, and if one day someone does need it, they can ask another library to send it over. One of my main tasks at Capacity Management will be to go around the shelves with a list of journals we don’t need to keep, finding them, taking them off the shelf, and disposing of them. All this might not sound like a very nice thing to do – I know a lot of people get upset at the thought of throwing away books – but there are always good reasons for doing it, and at libraries like Sheffield we are rapidly running out of space. If we don’t need to keep something, and someone else has a copy of it, then why should we? We’re not an archive (and even archives don’t keep everything).

Although Capacity Management is not exactly the sort of area I want to end up in, I’m glad to have the chance to do it. In Customer Services it sometimes feels like I don’t really know what’s happening behind the scenes, and only ever hear about things that directly affect customers. Working down in the depths of Western Bank with the books rather than the people will, I hope, give me a different perspective on processes and procedures, and provide a new piece of the jigsaw. If I ever manage to become a subject librarian I would expect to have a say in stock management – buying new stuff and deciding about what we don’t need any more – so having spent some time actually moving stock around and disposing of it will give me a bit more knowledge about the mechanics of the whole thing. As I’m still assistant level I won’t be making any judgements myself, but I will be a bit closer to the process.

I’ve really enjoyed being in Customer Services, and it’s helped me realise how much I do know and how capable I can be of answering all sorts of enquiries. I’ve discovered over the last two years that I’m much more of a “people person” than teenage me would ever have predicted, and I’ve really loved interacting with students and staff and helping them solve their problems. But equally, I’m looking forward to a new department and the chance to use the other side of me, the side that loves spreadsheets and repetitive tasks and finding stuff on shelves, and I’m especially looking forward to getting to do it all during normal office hours. Here’s to new challenges!

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I’m Back!

New academic year, new start for Letters from the Library. I’m writing this in Sheffield’s very shiny Information Commons, one of my new homes this year.

I’ve now started both my MA course and my new job, and it’s safe to say I’m going to be pretty busy from here on in!

Last week was Freshers’ Week, which was quite hectic as not only did I attend several welcome meetings and registration events as a student, but also had to attend a training day as a new member of staff. Add to this the faff of getting university admin sorted, and it was a fairly non-stop week for me. It seems to all be settling down into a routine now, which is good at least.

So, first things first – the course. I’m taking four modules this semester, which cover “libraries, information and society”, management, information retrieval and information literacy. I’ve already had an introductory lecture for each of them, so have an idea of which ones I’m going to like and which ones are going to be more difficult! The management module is the one that’s grabbed my attention (surprisingly), as during the first lecture we were shown a job advertisement and told “this module will help you hit each point on the Person Specification”. That’s exactly why I’m doing this course – to get a professional post – so that was quite exciting. I think the module I will struggle with the most this semester is the one about information literacy. While I am interested in information literacy after my practical experiences of it as a GT, the first lecture was quite theory-intensive and dry, so I was not as engaged as I’d hoped. Perhaps it’ll pick up a bit as we go through the term.

I’ve already got quite a lot of work to do – lots of reading and preparation for next week’s lectures, plus a test essay (!) due in a couple of weeks’ time, which I need to research and write. It’s already becoming clear to me how focused I’ll need to be this year in order to stay on top of the workload, as I don’t have very much time in which to get everything done.

I’ve also started work at the University Library – I worked both days at the weekend as overtime (bit keen!) and then worked on Wednesday afternoon as part of my weekday hours requirement. The job is arranged slightly differently to how I thought – I thought you worked one day each weekend and then four hours during the week. It turns out you work both days every other weekend and four hours each week, apart from the first six weeks where I’ll be working eight hours during the week to help me get used to procedures at both library sites. It’s a bit complicated, but I think it’s worked out a bit better as now I can have some weekends to arrange trips, catch up on sleep (and TV) and do some uni work.

My first weekend at work was quite intense – it was definitely a case of going in at the deep end! On Saturday I was based at the Western Bank Library, and after a morning of picking books off the shelf to satisfy reservations, I was posted to the Welcome Desk and then the Issue Counter for the rest of the day. Having never worked at the library before, this meant there was a fair bit of thinking on my feet to be done in order to answer enquiries from people coming in! Luckily nothing was overly complicated and a lot of the things I was asked were quite general enquiries, so I didn’t feel too out of my depth. On Sunday I worked at the Information Commons, which was a completely different experience. I divided my time between the back office, satisfying reservations, and the Welcome Desk, where I mainly showed people how to use the sef-service machines and the printers. The IC is a lot busier than Western Bank (even on a Sunday afternoon), so the three hours I spent as front-of-house were quite full-on. It did mean that the day didn’t drag, though!

The weekday hours I did at the IC on Wednesday surprised me again – after thinking that it was busy on Sunday afternoon, I had to quickly re-evaluate that when faced with the Wednesday afternoon “rush”. I spent part of the afternoon at the Welcome Desk with a colleague, and there was constantly a queue of people waiting for our help. It was never this busy at MMU (at Gaskell, at least), even during dissertation season, so I was a little unprepared for just how busy I would be.

I’m really looking forward to this term – I’ve got some library-related trips planned (Manchester NLPN’s Autumn Event and Library Camp) as well as some trips as part of the MA, which should all be a lot of fun. I’m excited about the stuff we’re going to be learning on the various modules, too, and work is looking very promising. The only problem will be finding the time to fit everything in!

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A Tale of Two Interviews

After writing about my five top tips for interviews and interview prep for the Manchester NLPN, which will be on their blog very soon, I thought I’d write about my own interview experiences for Library Graduate Trainee positions. I found the application process initially pretty disheartening – the first few applications I sent off didn’t even get a reply, which isn’t great when you’ve set your heart on a career in librarianship. But after taking on board some good advice and tweaking my CV and applications, I managed to get two interviews within a week of each other, one for MMU, and the other for a library based in Oxford. Here’s how they went.

Interview One: I arrived at MMU with about an hour to kill, which was annoying – obviously being early is far better than being late, but when it’s so early that I’ve got time to get more nervous, it doesn’t feel great. I hung around in a café until it was a more acceptable time, and then headed in. There were two interview panels running at the same time, so I was sat outside the interview rooms with a couple of other applicants, and we all did that thing where you try not to stare at the competition too much. When eventually it was time to go in, I chatted a little bit about my journey and the weather with the woman who had come to collect me, who turned out to be one of the three interviewers. She instantly put me at ease and I was only feeling a little bit shaky when I sat down.

After the introductions, we got straight in to the interview. The first few questions were pretty standard – what do you do now, why do you want to work here, that sort of thing. They asked for more detail about some of the things on my application form, which I was prepared for. But then the questions veered off into unknown territory: “what is the best and worst thing about your university library?” I hadn’t anticipated this question at all, but luckily had recently spoken to one of the librarians at my uni and was able to talk about what I thought about the improvements that were planned there. They also asked me to explain how I would help someone who came to me with a query about searching on the library catalogue.

After these questions, it was my turn to ask some. I asked about who is responsible for the library’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, and a couple of other questions that I can’t for the life of me remember!

The whole interview probably took about 20 minutes or half an hour, but it felt really quick. I had felt quite relaxed and was aware that I had been speaking animatedly but not too quickly or nervously (or at least I hoped that was how it came across!). I was happy that it had felt more like a chat, and that I hadn’t run out of things to say. All in all, considering this was my first ever job interview (!), I thought it went rather well.

This led to quite high hopes about Interview Two, and maybe a tiny bit of complacency too. I was feeling like the Interview Queen after MMU, and so when the Oxford one did not quite go as well as expected, I was caught off guard.

Sweet Sorrow by Caro Wallis on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/carowallis1/4463478302/

Sweet Sorrow by Caro Wallis on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/carowallis1/4463478302/

 

Interview Two: On arriving at the library I was given a tour by the current GT, which I felt was a really nice touch, as I had the opportunity to hear about the job first-hand as well as seeing the library. I then went in for the interview. The room they’d chosen for this was quite a large, oak-panelled room, with the three interviewers sitting round a longish table in the middle and me at the end of the table, at a distance from them. This produced an entirely different atmosphere to the MMU interview, which was held in a small, cosy office, with us all sat around a small desk. Instead, I was in quite an imposing room, and felt more on edge.

The interview proceeded as normal, with the usual questions about why I wanted to work there and so on, but as I was not feeling as comfortable as before, I felt that I was having to force my enthusiasm a little bit, and was not getting much of a reaction from the interviewers, which was quite disconcerting. Then I was completely blindsided by a question that I should have been prepared for. They asked whether I had had any previous committee experience – something which would be important for this post, as part of it was to act as a secretary for the library committee. I went completely blank and ended up saying something not very convincing about how I was on the school council during secondary school (which is true, although we didn’t really have to do very much). I was taken completely by surprise by this question, even though I really shouldn’t have been, and I think it put me off my stride. I felt sort of defeated during the remainder of the interview and I just don’t think my heart was in it any more. I think at this stage in the interview I knew it was unlikely they’d offer me the job, but I also think I didn’t really mind too much. I don’t think I would have fitted in as well with the staff at that library and it wasn’t really my kind of place – it was a lovely building, but a larger team in a modern university library is more my thing,I think.

The story, of course, has a happy ending, because as you know I am now one of the Graduate Trainees at MMU. After leaving the second interview and walking through Oxford in the pouring rain, I got back to the house where I was staying and no sooner had I walked through the door than my phone rang – and it was one of my interviewers from MMU, calling to offer me the job. I was so relieved I cried! She said to me that I had been really personable and enthusiastic during the interview, which I was really pleased to hear. I accepted the job offer right then, and a week later I got the letter I had been expecting from Oxford letting me know I didn’t get the job there.

I find it quite interesting that I could tell straight away whether I’d done well at each of the interviews, and my colleagues have all got similar stories of interviews where they just knew either that they definitely had the job, or they’d definitely hate the job. Some places just don’t suit some people. I’m really glad that I was able to come across well in my MMU interview, and my first impressions of the people and the place turned out to be correct – I love working here!

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First Day

I’ve now finished my first week as a Graduate Trainee at MMU and I’ve loved it so far. I intended to write a blog post each evening after work to document what I’ve been getting up to but things didn’t quite work out, so I’m writing them now instead. There’ll be a separate post for each day as otherwise this will get unreadably long! So here’s Day One…

It was my first day today and I think it went quite well. I arrived to find that I’m the only GT starting at my site, instead of one of a pair as I’d previously thought – the library is hiring a Senior Library Assistant instead so the other GT has moved to a different campus. Being the only new person was a bit nerve-racking at first but I was quickly made to feel welcome. I was given a timetable for the week which was jam-packed with different activities in order to let me see as much as possible of what goes on in the library. The first thing was a tour of the campus, which revealed how much of a maze the building is, but luckily the actual library area is quite straightforward and I’ve been able to get to grips with it quite easily. I was promised a ghost story about the third floor of the building, but have yet to actually hear it. I’ll let you know when I do…! I also was given a map of the library, which instantly intrigued me as I spotted “morgue” and “graveyard” on the top floor. Perhaps it tied in with the ghost story! (The actual explanation is a little more mundane and will be revealed in the post for Day Five.)

Next up was an introduction to print journals, which was also my first introduction to TALIS, the library management software. I was shown how to log in to the system and how to add new journals to the catalogue – my first taste of librarian work! I had a go at stamping the journals and adding stickers to them, which all passed without a hitch, reassuringly. All through the first few days I’ve had a terrible fear of doing something horrendously wrong, but it’s been unfounded so far (touch wood).

After lunch I had a chat with the deputy manager and learned about such things as annual leave, sickness and TOIL – fairly straightforward stuff, but it was good to have everything explained to me.

I was then introduced to the library catalogue and saw the different search options that can be used, as well as the reservation and renewals systems. Again, it was all quite simple and also quite familiar (most library catalogues being vaguely along the same lines), but it was a good opportunity to get familiar with the library resources and see what is available for customers.

The final task of the day was to print some helpsheets on coloured paper, which was my first experience of using the multi-function printers. They take a bit of getting used to! You can swipe your student/staff card and use them to print, copy and scan to email (which is quite impressive). I don’t have my ID card yet so had to borrow another librarian’s to do the job, and had to keep swiping it because the MFPs log you out if you’re too slow. I think it will take me a little while to become friends with the printers, but I’m gradually becoming accustomed to their quirks.
Hometime came a lot quicker than I was expecting, and I finished my first day with a good feeling about the rest of the week and indeed the rest of the year. The rest of the staff are really lovely to me and will put up with a lot of questions! I’m really looking forward to settling in and becoming more of a part of the team.

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The Big Day

Well, this is it. I’ve packed up all my stuff and in two hours’ time I’ll be leaving the family home, never to return (until Christmas). Of course, I did this every September during my time at university, but this time it’s a bit more final. Monday will be the first day of my new job and I’m excited but apprehensive about how it’s going to go. MMU has four libraries in Manchester and each library has one or two trainees, which means there’ll be six other people in my position on Monday. I’m glad that I won’t be the only new person in the library, as there will be another trainee at my site, and I’m looking forward to meeting the others and experiencing it all with them. This is my first real job since graduating (and in fact, it’s my first ever paid job apart from the couple of hours a week I spent tutoring Spanish teenagers in 2010) so I’m really very new to the whole thing – it feels like I’m taking my first steps into the adult world! On Tuesday we will have an induction day where I’m sure all my questions will be answered, and I’m looking forward to getting settled in. Wish me luck!

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