Thing 22: Volunteering to gain experience

This post was written for 23 Things for Professional Development, Thing 22.

Again, I’ve got behind with cpd23 but this week’s thing is really relevant to me at the moment so I’m going out of order to write about it now.  I’ve just started a full time Library and Information Studies MA and one of the things I want to do alongside the course is gain some experience of both different library sectors and practical skills.  My aim is twofold: to help me decide exactly what sort of job I want to get at the end of my masters and to give me experience which will help me get that job.

Although a certain amount of insight can be gained by library visits and talking to people doing a particular job or working in a certain sector, there is no substitute for actually getting stuck in and doing something. There may be some opportunities to gain this experience through paid work, but I’m expecting to have to do some unpaid work.  The course I’m on actually includes a two week work placement.

I’m quite happy to undertake unpaid work to develop new skills or gain an insight into a sector I am new. Importantly, I’m also in the lucky situation of being able to afford to do so as I managed to secure funding for my MA. As the number of funded places for masters courses has decreased and the fees for the courses has decreased, many students are going to need to work longer hours in whatever part time work they can get and will find it hard to find time for unpaid work (except possibly where this is part of the course). If entry level professional posts require experience that it is (usually/often) only possible to gain through volunteering, this is a problem.

Before starting my graduate traineeship I completed two short periods (2 1/2 and 3 weeks) of unpaid work experience in libraries. The first gave me an overview of both libraries and archives and helped me decide that I wanted to follow a career in librarianship, while the second gave me a chance to try my hand at a large number of tasks done by the librarian of a small academic library ranging from shelving to cataloguing, withdrawing stock to website content management. I learnt a lot from both experiences and had fun while doing them.  So, as far as I’m concerned, volunteering to gain experience is a good thing as long as you make sure that you are actually gaining experience.  Something I haven’t always done, but that is important to avoid misunderstandings and to make sure the work is mutually beneficial is to set expectations and objectives on both sides before any commitment is made.

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Back to school

The past month has seen a fair bit of change in my life.  I’ve finished my traineeship in Oxford, moved to Cambridgeshire and started an MA in Library and Information Studies at UCL.  This post is just a little bit about my induction week at UCL which is just coming to an end.

Last Sunday, having packed a bag with notepaper, pens and my induction week timetable, I definitely had a bit of a back to school feeling.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the surprisingly full induction week timetable.  The week has turned out to be interesting, useful and (mostly) enjoyable – the only session I wish I hadn’t attended was the IT induction covering exactly the same things as a piece of paper we had been given three days before.  Some highlights of the week for me have been: an (actually rather enlightening) session on teamwork; the Jenkinson Lecture about the effect that the Houses of Parliament burning down in 1834 had on British record keeping; hearing about some of the research that is being conducted in the department; and having a chance to meet and find out about other people on my course.

This week has also been a chance to start thinking about extra things I would like to do this year to complement my studies.  I’ve been impressed by the wide range of IT and skills training available to UCL students.  So far I’ve signed up for the European Computer Driving Licence course (and am waiting to hear whether I’ve got a place) and will be setting aside some time next week to consider whether there are any other courses I want to sign up for.  I was tempted by the evening language courses, but have decided to give that a miss at least until next term when I should have more of an idea whether I could realistically find time for it (and also when there is the possibility of the fees for it being a christmas/birthday present).  Of course, there are plenty of opportunities beyond UCL too.  I’ve been discussing with my fellow students what sort of libraries we might like to arrange visits to and I’ve been looking up what library related events are taking place in London and Cambridge that could be interesting – for which the London LIS Community calendar has been pretty useful.

Thing 10: So you want to be a librarian?

This post was written for 23 Things for Professional Development, Thing 10: Graduate traineeships, Masters degrees, Chartership, Accreditation.

Thing 10 is about routes into librarianship and the qualifications needed to be a librarian.  I’m right at the start of my career and so far following what is probably considered the standard route.  I completed my undergraduate degree (in geological sciences – a bit less standard) last summer, am now coming to the end of my year as a graduate trainee and am about to start a masters degree.  I’ve really enjoyed reading other people’s posts on the other routes they’ve taken into librarianship.

Graduate traineeships

As I write this I have only one week left of my graduate traineeship.  For the past 12 months I have been the graduate trainee at the Radcliffe Science Library at Oxford University and it has been brilliant.  As part of the Bodleian Libraries training scheme I had regular training sessions (roughly half a day per week) with 17 other trainees on wide-ranging topics such as library school, what it’s like to be a subject librarian, eresouces, library use of web 2.0 and the work of conservators.  We also had several library visits arranged for us and were encouraged to organise visits to each other’s libraries.  This has really widened my knowledge of the library profession, even if only at a basic level, and I think has provided me with good grounding to start my masters.  I was also very lucky in having a supportive supervisor who encouraged me to take advantage of any other training offered by staff development that I was interested in.

One important point about graduate traineeships is that they are all different.  Some, like mine, have organised training sessions while others give you the breadth of experience because you rotate round several different library departments within the year.  The day-to-day work, even between traineeships that are part of the same scheme, can vary massively.

Masters degrees

In just over a month I will be starting an MA in Library and Information Studies at UCL.  I will be studying full-time as I am in the very fortunate position of having obtained AHRC funding.  If I hadn’t got the funding it would be a different story.  I certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford to study full-time and I would have had to save up for a couple of years to afford to do the course part-time, and that would be without further increases in the fees.  Realistically I think in the end I would have decided to go for another part-time or distance learning course which didn’t involve me having to live in or commute to London.  It’s been said before but I think it’s a real shame if people aren’t able to do the course that they want just because of high fees and very limited funding.

So, why do I want to do this masters degree?  I’m hoping I will learn the skills and knowledge I don’t already have that I will need for the sort of job I would like to move on to.  I’m not saying it’s the only way to get those skills, but I do think it will be the easiest, and for me best, way of doing so.  More importantly it seems likely I will need the qualification to progress in my career.  I keep an eye on job adverts to see what is required for the sort of job I’d like to be moving on to and almost all of them require a postgraduate qualification.  I’m also hoping to enjoy the course!

Although I hope the masters will be good preparation for a professional post I think there are skills it won’t cover. IT skills are important for most library and information job roles and some job adverts I’ve come across even specify a qualification such as ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence) or similar as desirable.  So I’ve decided to brush up on my IT skills and am planning on completing the ECDL while I’m studying at UCL.  Has anyone done any other IT qualifications which they’ve found useful (or not)?

Other qualifications

One of the things that surprised me when I entered the world of librarianship was that librarians don’t generally need any qualifications in the subject their library specialises in (if it does specialise).  Most, but not all, of the subject librarians at the academic science library where I work have a background in the subject they support, but this seems less common in other libraries.  I wonder, is this because subject knowledge really isn’t important or because you can learn enough about the subject on the job?  Is it different for different subjects or different sectors?  It was interesting to read in Lorna’s post that as a law librarian she has a HNC in Legal Studies.