Tag Archives: postgraduate

Another LILAC blog post: workshop on Hunting Assumptions

So last week I went to LILAC for the day, to present my MA dissertation research to a roomful of enthusiastic librarians, which you can read more about here. I spent the rest of the day being an enthusiastic librarian instead! I went to lots of other parallel sessions during the day, as well as the keynote speech, but for this post I want to focus on just one session I enjoyed, because otherwise this would get far too long and unwieldy.

The session was called “Hunting Assumptions: encouraging creativity and critical reflection through collaboration”. This was a two-pronged workshop – on one hand, it was a fun space to learn about activities that other people use in their teaching, and to swap ideas about how you could use them in your own teaching. There was also a more theoretical and challenging side to the workshop – the “hunting assumptions” bit. This was based on Stephen Brookfield’s 1995 book Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, and was all about being aware of your own assumptions about yourself or your learners – stuff like “this activity is too childish for my learners” or “all adults are self-directed learners”, which can stop you from considering new ideas or different ways of doing things. Once you identify your own assumptions you can start to challenge them, perhaps in collaboration with others who can bring a different perspective to what you’re doing. This idea of being critical and challenging your assumptions is, for me, an extension of what we were taught at library school about being reflective practitioners, looking deeper into the reasons behind the decisions we make and the bubbles we exist in. I’ve taken out a book from the uni library for the first time since graduating and am really looking forward to familiarising myself with Stephen Brookfield’s ideas and hopefully applying them to my own practice.

The practical part of the session centred around an activity called Thought Bombs. The idea is similar to “sinking ship” or “hot air balloon that’s too heavy” questions – you’ve got a certain number of people but can only save one and must decide who to save/kill. In small groups, you get a short description of each person and have to make a snap decision about which one you want to save. The difference with the Thought Bomb exercise is that after you’ve made your decision, the thought bombs start arriving – plastic balls with a bit of paper inside, with a statement about one of the people in it. Look:

This statement might be something trivial, like “Jane had a salad for lunch today”, or it might be something that might have more of an effect on your decision to kill/save that person, like “Jane’s future child will grow up to be an evil dictator”. Once you’ve received a thought bomb and read it, you can throw it over to a different group, so there’s thought bombs flying all over the room. These are intended to spark discussion between participants and get them to argue the merits of saving different people. It’s easy to see how this can a) get people thinking around a topic and b) be adapted for lots of different scenarios. You could go off in all sorts of directions with it – the inclusion of irrelevant statements in the thought bombs is a good starting point for a lesson on evaluating information, for example. We saw one example in the session which was geared towards researchers – the three people were researchers at different stages of their careers, using different methods to share their research (e.g. paywalled journal, open access journal, blog). The thought bombs were things like “Jane was caught bribing peer reviewers”. With a bit of tweaking, you could use this activity to get people thinking about the perceived “value” of different types of scholarly communication, and the different ways to reach an audience and have an impact. You don’t have to save/kill the researchers either! You could ask “who would you choose as your PhD supervisor?” or “who would you ask to collaborate on your research project?”.I really liked this activity, and since seeing the research examples I’ve been thinking of ways to incorporate it, or something like it, into the new “developing your research profile” session we are designing for our PhD students, as we really want it to be a discussion-based session and I think an activity like this would facilitate that. I just need to work out the details so it fits in with the messages we’re trying to get across.

I was really glad I went to this session as (apart from being fun!) it dovetailed nicely with what I’m focusing on at work at the moment, and I’m definitely going to try and think more critically about what I’m doing and why.


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Well, I made it! On Wednesday this week I graduated from Sheffield University with an MA Librarianship (with distinction, no less!). It’s the culmination of a year of hard graft and not much sleep and it feels great to actually have my certificate and be able to say I am a qualified librarian!


Here’s me and the certificate: My graduation


I don’t remember exactly when I decided to pursue librarianship. It feels like a lifetime ago, although it will only have been in mid-2011. Since then I have had four library jobs, moved house three times, and notched up thousands of miles on the railway, commuting between Leeds and Sheffield for the MA course. Despite the last few years being difficult at times (waking up at 5am every day and spending four hours on trains is not my idea of fun) I am so pleased I had a chance thought one day along the lines of “maybe I could be a librarian!”, because it’s been a great experience and I’ve learned so much. I even enjoyed throwing books away for four months!

So what’s next? Well… chartership, I suppose. I’m holding off on starting the chartership process because I haven’t got a permanent or long-term contract in my current job, and I’d like to get a bit of stability before I get going with chartership. After the stress of summer 2014, where I tried to hold down a job, research and write a dissertation, and buy a house all at the same time, I’d quite like to have a quieter summer this year! Instead of pursuing another qualification or certificate, I’m going to do more informal things like going to networking events and one-off training sessions. I’ve been to a couple of seminars recently and it’s nice to dip into interesting topics without having to commit to lengthy or expensive courses. This week I’m going to a talk about technology-enhanced learning, which I’m really looking forward to. My first year as a qualified librarian is turning out quite nicely so far 🙂

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Looking to the Future

On Wednesday I went to the University of Sheffield’s Postgraduate Open Day to see the place I’d applied to and get a feel for the course. Of course, as with all open days I’ve ever been to, the weather was atrocious, but I think this can be a good thing – after all, if you like the place when it’s grey and miserable, you’ll definitely like it when it’s sunny and warm. I’d never been to Sheffield before but I liked what little I saw of it.

My first stop was to the main exhibition, where they had stands from all sorts of University services. I picked up a ton of leaflets and three pens, so it was quite a success. There was also supposed to be a welcome talk, but I couldn’t find that. No matter though, as I was straight off to the Information Commons for a tour. The IC is Sheffield’s main library, and it’s very shiny and exciting. It’s quite similar to the All Saints library here at MMU, what with its 24-hour opening and self-service issue, returns and reservations. However, there are some parts of it that are quite exciting and different, including the “flexispace” where all the furniture is on wheels so you can design your own group study space, and the private study rooms with whiteboard walls. I can see why they were top of the table for university libraries in 2011.

Sheffield University Information Commons http://www.flickr.com/photos/paolomargari/786017449/

Afterwards, I wandered down towards my next appointment, stopping off at a University café for some beef goulash which was very tasty and affordable. Another point to Sheffield! I then attended a talk which was not really what was advertised (or maybe I just got the wrong end of the stick) – it was sort of a “why should you do postgraduate taught study” session aimed at people who hadn’t made up their minds yet, rather than a session for people who knew what they were doing and wanted some more specific information. The speaker, an Economics lecturer, was engaging though, so it was still a fairly interesting half-hour, even if I didn’t learn anything new (perhaps this just means I’ve done good research already though!).

I then looked around another of Sheffield’s libraries, the St George’s Library, which the librarians at the main exhibition had said was the subject library for library and information students. I don’t think it is any more, but it was still interesting to get a look at a different library. This one was a lot smaller, and felt more like Elizabeth Gaskell Library. It was nice, although not nearly as shiny and exciting as the Information Commons!

After this, it was time to go to the Information School for a meeting with a senior lecturer. I was instantly impressed with the iSchool because they’d laid on Party Rings for us – that’s the best biscuit I’ve ever been given by a university. These are the things that matter. There were two other people there who were looking at the MA Librarianship, although I didn’t chat much with them as we were met by Sheila Webber, the senior lecturer, quite quickly. She took us to her office and gave us an overview of the course and the different modules, and the sorts of opportunities we would get. There’s something called Essential Computing Skills which sounds like it’ll be great on my CV, as well as some really interesting modules to choose from in the second semester. There was also a handy part of her presentation which set out what they were looking for from potential students – most useful what with the interview I was going to the next day!

After visiting the iSchool and being thoroughly impressed with it and the course, I left, to go and prepare myself for the interview the next day. I applied to the course at Sheffield a couple of weeks ago and got an invite to an interview with them about three days later – not bad going at all. I had a bit of a look on Google to see if anyone had written about their Sheffield interview experience, and lo and behold, a few people had, because if there is any group of people that likes to write about things and post it on the internet, it’s librarians. Librarians have got self-reflection down to a T, and it’s really useful for times like this. Everyone seemed to say that the interview was quite relaxed and informal, so I wasn’t too nervous going in, although I had to stop myself from getting too complacent – I still had to prove my worth!

The interview was with Sheila Webber, who I’d met (and questioned rather a lot) the day before, so I was instantly at ease. We talked about why I wanted to come to Sheffield, and why I wanted to study on the course. These were questions I was prepared for, so that was ok. Then we got on to the future of librarianship and I’d handily been following some stuff on Twitter the night before about how Croydon Council has put the library service out to tender, so I could speak a bit about my thoughts on the financial situation, and the public (and political) opinions on what libraries are for and how they should be run. It was all very easy and comfortable, and I asked some questions about some of the modules and dissertations, and then Sheila said “well, we’ll definitely be offering you a place” and I was so happy I sort of got stuck and said thank you about 50 times. And then after I left and went to get the tram back to the train station, this happened:

So that was good.

Anyway, I’m going to Sheffield! As long as I can get some money together to pay for it, of course.  I’m going to send off the AHRC funding application this week and keep all my fingers crossed that they’ll like me enough to give me lots of money. Back up plans at the ready!




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