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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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New Year, Same Old Resolutions

I can’t believe it’s practically mid-January already. Time is flying on this course! I’ve been terrible at updating the blog thanks to all the other stuff I’ve been trying to keep on top of, but (as is tradition round these parts) I’ve resolved to do a better job of blogging this year. It’s helpful for me to take some time to think back over what I’ve been doing and what I’ve learned recently, so I’m going to make more of an effort to write about what’s going on more often than every two months!

What’s been happening? Well, loads of stuff.

1) The Course

We’ve finished the first semester of lectures and have handed in all the coursework bar one piece. This got a little bit stressful before Christmas, what with two deadlines falling in the same week (and a group presentation the week before), but it was good to get everything done and out of the way. I got a pretty good mark on the assignment we handed in in Week 6, and we got a great mark on our group presentation, so I’m pleased with how everything’s going so far. I know I won’t have failed any of the first semester modules, which is good enough for me! Aiming for a Distinction, while it would be lovely, would be one stress too many, I think. I’m happy just to get the qualification at all.

2) The Job

Going back to work was a bit of a wake-up call (literally) after Christmas – I got out of the habit of being a commuter incredibly quickly over the holidays, and leaving the house before 8am felt pretty terrible. The actual job is going fine, though; it’s nice working across two sites with such different atmospheres, and I do enjoy talking to students and solving their problems. I don’t have to do weekday shifts until February, which I’m happy about – the less time I have to spend on trains, the better!

3) Library Society

Library Society is doing really well! Our first event was a huge success and I was really pleased to see students from other degree programmes and not just Librarianship there. We held a Christmas Do at a bar in Sheffield which was pretty well-attended for the last week of term, and people had a great time. We’re currently planning our first trip of the year, to Manchester in February, and I’m feeling really optimistic about how the Society is going so far.

4) Campaigning

Part of the Society’s aim is to campaign for local libraries in Sheffield, which are under threat of closure. We’ve been in talks with officers at the Students’ Union about getting them to make supporting libraries an official policy, and hopefully this will be in place soon, meaning there will be more money available for the campaign, and a stronger voice. Yesterday we attended a protest outside the Town Hall before going to a City Council meeting where libraries were on the agenda. You can read the Library Society report here. It was great to see over 250 people demonstrating their support for their local libraries, and the questions and petitions put to the Council during the meeting were well-argued. It’s a shame that the councillors were more interested in laying blame on each other’s political parties for the cuts, than in finding appropriate and agreeable solutions to the problems. I’ve never enjoyed watching political debates in Parliament, and this was a similar experience – lots of sneering and snide remarks focusing on who spent what and whose MP was worse (Nick Clegg took a bit of a beating), with councillors shouting each other down and jeering while people were trying to speak. It was not a pretty sight. I wanted to tell them that nobody cares who got us into this mess and we’d all like to hear about what we’re going to do to get out of it, but you’re not allowed to speak from the public gallery. Hopefully the Council will recognise the strength of feeling of Sheffielders about libraries and work with them to find a better way of making savings.

I think that’s everything that’s been happening recently. I’m enjoying having a bit of a quieter month than the last one, and hopefully I will arrive at the start of the new term feeling refreshed and ready to start again!

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33%

We’ve just finished Week 7 and are about to start Week 8. This means that I’m roughly 33% of the way through the taught portion of the course already, which is a scary thought. It’s going so quickly! We handed in our first piece of assessed work, a literature review, in Week 6, and there are two other essays and a group presentation to do before Christmas. Eek! We also exhibited posters about information literacy during a module last week, which you can read about on our team blog. To say that we have lots of work to do would be an understatement. Despite the workload, though, I’m feeling really positive about life as a library student at the moment. I even had to boast about it on Twitter, I just couldn’t help myself (annoying, I know!).

Last week, as part of our Libraries, Information and Society module, we went to visit Chesterfield Library. It is a fantastic public library and is absolutely enormous! They’ve got tons of resources and space, and even put on free concerts on Saturday lunchtimes! I learned some interesting statistics on the trip as well – did you know that public libraries have more visitors per year than professional football? I certainly didn’t! Derbyshire Libraries apparently get more visitors per year than Manchester United, which is pretty impressive. All the facts and figures, plus the great tour of Chesterfield Library, contributed to a much brighter picture of public libraries than I had had previously. Here’s the obligatory “I visited Chesterfield and saw the wonky spire” picture:

Nice morning visit to Chesterfield.

A post shared by Emily (@heliotropia) on

On Thursday I went to visit a librarian at a law firm. He showed me around the library area and explained about the sorts of things he does as part of his job, which was interesting because I don’t have a great amount of knowledge about what actually goes on in corporate libraries. Some of the tasks are similar to what an academic liaison librarian or a health librarian would do, for example running inductions for the trainee solicitors, finding legal information quickly for lawyers and getting documents from the British Library. There’s a catalogue, subscriptions to journals, and a physical collection of books, just like what I’m used to. The librarian and knowledge managers also contribute to regular bulletin emails, keeping the lawyers up-to-date on developments in their fields, which health librarians also often do for doctors, and which is similar to the sort of work I used  to do producing newsletters for academic staff. There are differences, though; in this company most of the “knowledge managers” are embedded within legal departments, rather than working in the library. The librarian is the only person who actually has an office next to the books and journals, which makes him quite isolated. Also, some of the materials are different, such as looseleaf services, which I have seen but not worked with before. The librarian also collaborates with the libraries in the firm’s overseas offices, sharing information and resources with them, which isn’t something I’ve seen much in the departments I’ve worked in. Overall, I feel much better informed about the mysterious world of corporate and legal libraries, and would definitely consider working in one if the opportunity arose, as the research aspect of library work is something I really enjoy.

Something else has happened in the last couple of weeks which I’m really proud of – I set up Library Society! It’s a University society for all Sheffield students who like libraries, whether they’re historians, architects, scientists, geographers, or anything else you can think of. We’re aiming to go on trips to unusual and beautiful libraries, as well as eating lots of cake and generally having a lovely time. I’ve got the Committee sorted now, so we’ve just got to decide where to go for our first ever trip, and what sorts of cake we like to eat. Oh, and we need to get some students involved. Easy! I’m really excited about Library Society as I think it’ll be a great way to get people thinking about (and hopefully using) libraries, which will hopefully translate into more people fighting to keep their local public libraries open and professionally staffed. Fingers crossed!

What with all these things and #libcampuk13 coming up soon, I’m having a great time with libraries at the moment, albeit an extremely busy one. It’s all very exciting and I feel like I’m doing a lot of things, and meeting a lot of people, which will all contribute to my future as a librarian (hopefully of the Roquefort variety!). Hooray for libraries!

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Being a student: week 4

I’m already a third of the way in to this term – that’s one sixth of the way through the taught part of the whole course – and everything’s moving very quickly. The deadline for our first essay (unassessed) was yesterday – although thanks to my action-packed life (ha ha) I actually submitted mine last Thursday. We’ve already got instructions for our first few bits of assessed work, so life is about to get even more hectic as I’ve got to learn how to do a literature review then do one, as well as a group presentation, some reflective writing and a team blog. I’ve got to-do lists as long as your arm and I’m having to write down most of my thoughts so I won’t forget them. It sounds hectic but I’m actually really enjoying myself – I think I function quite well when I’m really busy, as I can plan out and structure my days rather than just floating about the house wondering if I should be doing something important.

It really helps that everyone on the course is really friendly – we’ve really clicked as a group and have gone on a couple of pub trips already. We’ve been having great discussions in lectures (and in the pub) and I’m feeling great about the whole thing.

Aside from the course, my other life is going well too – I’m settling in at work and am feeling more confident about answering enquiries – although I’ve regressed to being quite rubbish on the phone, and I haven’t learned any of the weekday staff’s names yet. I’ve had some stressful journeys to work (trains! argh!) but on the whole things are running fairly smoothly. I think the hardest thing to get used to is cross-site working – some procedures are done in different ways at different sites, and it’s been a challenge to remember the “right” thing to do at each place. Generally, though, I’m doing work that I enjoy, and it’s all good experience!

Last weekend I attended Manchester NLPN’s Autumn Event, and I’ll do a full write-up of the event later in the week. It was a great day, full of interesting talks and tasty baked goods! More to come on that later.

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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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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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