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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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Back to the (enjoyable) grindstone

Wow – what a change this week’s been from last week! Lectures started again on Monday, and it’s been all systems go since then. Getting used to commuting again has been interesting, to say the least. I’ve been so tired getting home every day this week that I’ve just sat on the sofa and stayed there until bedtime. The good news is that I’m enjoying everything that’s going on this week, which helps!

I’ve had two new lectures so far and will have two more new ones tomorrow. The dissertation lecture on Monday was quite good, but also a bit scary – I’ve got to move quite quickly on defining a topic and finding a supervisor. Luckily I’ve already got an idea, and am in the process of setting up a meeting with a potential supervisor, so everything should go fairly smoothly on this. We had a lecture on Open Access publishing today which was also really good, and although there was not a huge amount of new information for me I enjoyed the discussion and left feeling quite energetic and enthused about the whole thing. Tomorrow I’ve got Information Governance as well as Healthcare Information, and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in to both of those. All in all, the academic side of things is going well and I’m feeling very positive about the choices I’ve made, module-wise.

The other big thing I’ve been doing this week is keeping Library Society going, in many different ways! On Saturday we had our first ever trip, which was to Manchester to see the John Rylands Library and the University of Manchester’s Learning Commons. This was a fantastic day! Although I’d been to the John Rylands before, I’d never had a guided tour, and it surpassed my expectations. We got to go all over the place behind the scenes, which was really interesting, and heard about the history of the building and the stories behind all the various parts. Seeing the Learning Commons was great too – at Sheffield we have an Information Commons, and I wanted to know what the difference is between the two. Turns out there’s quite a big difference! The Learning Commons doesn’t have any book stock in it, unlike the IC, so it’s got a very different atmosphere – very peaceful and serene, with people coming in and staying for a long time, rather than just passing through to pick up some books. It was interesting that even though group working was encouraged, the overall volume levels at the Learning Commons were much lower than the group areas at the IC! My favourite thing about the LC has to be their furniture – they had a huge furniture budget and spent it on sofas with plug sockets in the arms, big armchairs and flexible laptop tables, to name a few things. Everything is portable, and apparently the students really enjoy moving tables, chairs and even sofas between floors! There’s a “reset” once a month where everything gets put back to where it should be, but students basically have free rein to design their own study spaces. I loved it!

John Rylands Library
Books at the John Rylands

Yesterday I had my first experience of running a stand at a freshers’ fair, rather than just being a punter. It was the “Ultimate Fair”, run by the Students’ Union at the start of the second semester to pick up any students who didn’t get round to joining any societies in September. As a new society this was a great opportunity for us to get noticed and find potential new members, so we set up shop in the Union for the day with leaflets, bookmarks and the all-important sweets! It was a very tiring day but ultimately really rewarding – we got 20 new names on our mailing list, which is impressive for a fairly “niche” society! I’m really pleased that we did this and looking forward to getting to know all the new students at the pub on Monday.

I’ve just got back from the Students’ Union Council meeting where our proposal for a Union Policy supporting public libraries was heard. I got the opportunity to speak to the council about the reasons for putting forward this policy, and I think it went really well. Some of the council members said that they were happy to see this policy being suggested, which is really encouraging, and I’m reasonably confident that the vote in two weeks’ time will have a positive result. Fingers crossed!

The final thing I did this week (told you I’ve been busy!) was to pop to Manchester on Tuesday night for a talk about emerging trends in technology, with Martin Bryant from The Next Web, a (really famous) technology news website that I’ve somehow never heard of before despite living on the internet. Martin showed us some of the new apps, websites and gadgets that have the potential to be really big, such as the Narrative Clip, Whisper and smartwatches. I really liked hearing about “contextual” technology, such as Google Now, because I think it’s got a lot of potential to be really useful (while also being a bit sinister, just how I like my technology!). As machine learning improves, contextual stuff’s going to get more and more sophisticated, and I’m looking forward to that, so that stuff like this happens less often:

All in all, it was a great event, and it was nice to go to a “librarians and technology” event that didn’t mention Evernote, Padlet or other productivity apps that I’ve seen hundreds of times already.

So as you can see, I’m pretty busy at the moment, but I’m having a great time, which makes the tiredness all worthwhile! Next week might be a bit quieter, which will be nice. But now I’m off to bed…

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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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News round-up

Last week we finally finished off the stock take, having spent the last couple of weeks going round the shelves with lists of books that may or may not exist. A lot of chocolate was consumed in celebration! We were hoping for some kind of indoor fireworks display, perhaps even a mini Olympic closing ceremony, but the budget didn’t quite stretch to that. While this is great news in terms of the preparation for our move next year, it does mean that we have one less task to do, leaving big empty gaps all over my schedule.
The digitisation renewals are ticking over nicely, though; we’ve had responses from nearly all the academics, which is a far better result than I expected! We should have it all finished well before the deadline for archiving old material, which is good as it means there’ll be fewer loose ends for the next GT to have to pick up. I’ve left detailed instructions for her, so hopefully the transition will be smooth!
I went to a short training session the other day to find out more about our new search service, “Library Search”, which is powered by Summon. It’s a search engine that pulls in information from (nearly) all the library’s resources and subscriptions, including books, e-books, journals, e-journals, newspapers, Special Collections, the University Repository, images and more. It’s sort of like Google, but personalised to the library. There are tons of added extras that make it really functional and easy to use, and it looks really good. Even though I’ll have left before it’s properly rolled out, I was still interested to learn about it, as this new type of library search engine is going to be used more and more in the future. A similar system (not using Summon) has just been rolled out at the University of Sheffield, so I’ll have to get used to using it for my studies next year.
I’ve hesitated about writing about this next bit of news as I don’t think it’s appropriate to write about job interviews online until everything’s done and dusted – I wouldn’t want to prejudice anything – but seeing as it’s all over, I can now say that I applied for, and got, a job at the University of Sheffield Library as a Customer Services Assistant. The job runs for 9 months and is essentially a weekend job (with a few hours in the week), so it fits in perfectly with the course. I’m really excited to work at Sheffield as their libraries are a bit bigger and busier than I’m used to, so it’ll be a new challenge and lots of new experiences. They’ve just moved onto a new cloud-based library management system, so that’ll be something to get used to. It’ll also be interesting to work and study at the same place!
Not much else is happening at the moment; we’re just plodding along, keeping everything ticking over and getting ready for the new academic year. The term-time only staff finish tomorrow, after which we’ll be on the vacation rota and possibly feeling a little bit short-staffed. I’ll be using up my last days of annual leave and time off in lieu, so it’ll be quite a nice summer for me, with lots of long weekends to sort out all my stuff at home inpreparation for moving away.
I’ve been doing some detective work this week after finding a book that was filled with annotations in black pen. I went through its borrower history to check whether any of the borrowers had taken out any other books which now had annotations, and lo and behold, I found a serial offender! The scale of the damage is quite bad, so the borrower in question will probably end up with a fairly large fine. It’s quite satisfying to have worked methodically to uncover something like this, and finding more than one book means that we have a better case for chasing the borrower. I’m also pleased I’ve got a “story” under my belt – you hear people talking about these kinds of situations, but I hadn’t experienced it yet. Between this and the numerous “tough customers” we’ve had this year, I’ve got a nice list of stories built up now!
Today has been a surprisingly busy day! This seems to happen about once a week at the moment. We’ll suddenly have a huge uptick in the number of people coming in and out and requiring assistance. This week all the students seem to be doing the same research assignment, and they’ve needed quite a bit of help doing database searches, as well as making the usual enquiries about printing and so on. It’s quite nice to suddenly have a busy session, but it can catch you a bit off guard – I had thought I’d get quite a lot of work done in my counter session today, but instead I was in and out of my seat non-stop for two hours, relying on colleagues for back-up. I do enjoy helping people with this sort of thing, though, as it’s something where you can instantly judge how much you’ve helped someone and you can leave them knowing they’re satisfied with the results.
I’ve almost finished my last new books newsletter of the year, as well; all our e-books have now been received and almost all the print books have arrived, too. We got news the other day that there’s actually a bit of extra money to spend, so we’ve sent off a few extra book orders, but I doubt they’ll arrive before I leave.
I went on holiday to Northumberland recently and the weather was glorious. I spent the whole time taking pictures on my phone of the scenery. Here’s a shot to symbolise crossing over into the next stage of my career (just kidding, it’s just a cool bridge):

Bridge

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I also found this at Barter Books, and I reckon it’s something we should implement at work, seeing as we’ve got so many books with bizarre titles:
It’s weird to think I’ve only got 8 weeks left at work – and actually, it’s only 6 weeks of work and two weeks of holiday. It’ll be strange when I’ve left and won’t have to get up early for a few weeks, but then the new adventure begins – my life as a commuter! I’m not sure I’m mentally ready yet for the train journey from Leeds to Sheffield and back three times a week, but at least it won’t be every day. I’m already planning the journey – flask, Kindle, music: sorted. I’ve already seen a reading list for the MA course and, seeing as we’ve got a few of the books here at MMU, I’ve had a look through some of them already to get back into the swing of things. That’s possibly a bit over-keen, but I like to be prepared. I’m determined to be a good, disciplined student this time round! We’ll see how long it lasts… I’ll be continuing to blog throughout the next year, documenting how I balance my studies and my job, and hopefully writing up a few events as well (I’m planning on going to LibraryCamp UK in the Autumn, for a start).

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Silence in the library

I’m getting worse at updating the blog – it’s not unexpected though, as less new and exciting stuff happens to me these days! However, I thought I should probably just do a quick update on what’s going on with library life at the moment.

Exams and dissertation season has been and gone, and blimey, that was busy. People were banging on the doors fifteen minutes before we open, so desperate were they to get their hands on our thesis collection, and the demand for laptops was so high we had to turn people away. What amused me were the “regulars” who would come in every day for two weeks and ask for the same three theses – why didn’t they just photocopy the relevant bits?! There was also one guy who would come in every day and ask for a laptop – it got to the point where it felt like I worked in a pub (“the usual?”). There was, of course, all the stress and frustration that comes with exam season – not for me, but for the students. We had printer problems, network problems, printing credits going missing and essays disappearing. It meant I got to use all my customer service and “dealing with difficult situations” skills from those training sessions earlier in the year! 

The past couple of weeks have been noticeably quieter – yesterday we probably had about 50 people come in during the day, and it’s only going to get quieter now that the majority of the students are finishing their year and going back home. We’ll still have some nursing students and postgraduates, though, so it’s not going to be completely dead, but it is noticeably different to the atmosphere a few weeks ago. It’s just so quiet! Term doesn’t finish for another three weeks, but after that we’ll be on summer vacation hours until the Autumn term starts (and I’ll be gone by then!) – three more late Wednesdays and then I’ll be on regular hours for the rest of my job. We had a team meeting the other day and it was the first time that anyone mentioned that I’ll be leaving quite soon – it was quite weird to hear that said out loud! I know that the new GTs have now been chosen, and I’m looking forward to getting put in touch with them quite soon (or at least I assume this will happen, as it did for us last year). 

 The other week I went to a public lecture on digital humanities, which I was expecting to be quite interesting – and it was, but not for the reasons I expected! It was about Doing things Differently: writing, academic journals and social media in the online world. It was presented by the editors of an online journal, and the blurb made mention of Open Access, which I wanted to learn more about. I’m interested in social media too, so this sounded really good. However, the actual event did not live up to expectations, and there were some mentions of “Creative Commons” which made all the library staff whistle through their teeth like builders. (Creative Commons doesn’t mean you can use any old thing off Google image search!!) It was interesting to hear about journals and OA from the perspective of two academics, but it was a bit of an eye-opener too, as I somewhat naively expected researchers (and editors of online journals) to be a lot more clued in on technology, resources and social media. It shows that there is a lot of work than can be done by libraries and information professionals to support researchers and improve their knowledge and skills when it comes to these areas.

Last week I had a surprise delivery of 120 new books – rather more than I usually get! It is nice to be able to tell the academic staff that we’ve bought all the books they wanted, though, and the monthly new books newsletter looked very impressive! We’ve used up all our budget for this year now, so the book deliveries will dry up until next term. That takes a big chunk of work out of my day, but there are other projects to be getting on with over the summer, so I’m sure I’ll still have plenty of things to do.

We’re currently running a Patron-Driven Acquisition exercise with e-books, which is where hundreds of titles get loaded onto the catalogue, and if a student clicks on one and reads it for more than five minutes it triggers the purchase of the book. Some of the titles are interesting, to say the least – we found one about Jungian theory in relation to sand. Bit odd! The purpose of the PDA is to provide more material online while the book stock at one of the site libraries is unavailable as it moves into the main library over the summer. The move is now underway and we are having to keep on the ball when it comes to sending books to other sites – books might say one thing on the system while actually needing to be sent somewhere else. Needless to say there’s a lot of signage around to keep everything straight!

Now that the academic year is coming to an end the big project is renewing all our digitised material for the next year. This is the first time we’re doing it with the new software, so it’s a big learning curve for everyone. My first task was to write out the instructions for the renewals process, which is easier said than done – we kept getting updates to the instructions as people tried them out and discovered bugs. We are now in the process of contacting all the academic staff to find out what they want us to keep – if all goes to plan then we can upload or delete the relevant files before September and get everything straightened out. This has involved two new spreadsheets so far and I’ve been using my newfound Excel skills to add fancy conditional formatting and other bells and whistles, which has been fun in a nerdy way. The whole process is just a bit weird for me though as although I’m setting up a lot of the work, chances are I won’t be able to complete it all before I leave (depending on the speed of responses from lecturers), so I won’t get the satisfaction of seeing this through to the end.

We’re coming towards the end of the stock take as well – we’ll finish scanning the shelves with the digital library assistant this week, and then it’s just a case of tying up the loose ends and getting everything to add up. It’ll be strange not having scanning to do as part of my daily tasks!

One last thing that’s happened recently is that I gained two new qualifications – I’m now a Microsoft Office Specialist in both Word and Excel. I had to sit an exam for each of them to prove I’ve got the skills, which meant a lot of quick learning of things I’d never really done before. It’s already come in handy as I have been able to “decorate” some  spreadsheets with special formatting to improve their functionality. It’s a handy thing to put on a CV too, especially seeing as I haven’t got the time or money to take the ECDL, which some job applications require.

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Hello, prospective GT!

I’ve noticed that quite a few people find this blog by searching “manchester library graduate trainee” or variations of that, and I wanted to say that if that’s you – hello! I hope you find this blog interesting and helpful, and if you have any questions at all please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer. Enjoy 🙂

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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.

Digitisation

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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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