Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Library School -1 year down, 1 to go.

So this post has been brewing a little while, further inspired by this post by Ruth.  In May I finished the first year of my Library Masters, scary.

Library school has not entirely been what I was expecting.  I am studying the MSc Information and Library Management at the University of the West of England and it has so far been…underwhelming.  BUT I think this has much to do with the fact that I am studying part-time and just have not covered as much ground as many other people I know who are doing their courses full time or by distance.  Certainly the full-timers at UWE have been struggling over the year with a pretty relentless workload.  I’ll leave it up to them to explain the best bits of their experience though..!

I suppose I am left feeling slightly short-changed because I have yet to study any real nuts and bolts librarianship.  Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised since my course is not titled Librarianship (indeed, few are) but has so far been heavily management focused and after all, I have only just finished the first year, which is just four modules.  I would have liked to looked deeper into collections and the management thereof, e-resources and even the differing classification systems, rather than more than a cursory mention as has been the case so far.  To be fair though, our assessment specifications often forced us to undertake our own research on certain issues so you could really spend as much or as little reading up on it as you liked.  I need a bit more structure though!

The two options modules to choose from for this year were library-centric: Academic Libraries or Public Libraries. I chose Public Libraries since I have precisely zero working knowledge or experience in this area – apart from being a very grateful and regular user of my local one!  These options were the main modules where any sort of depth was plumbed and real current issues and practices were discussed.  

Our assessments for each module were 1 essay and 1 group presentation + additional individual mini-essay.  Here is a brief overview of the four modules:

Library and Information Services
A broad introductory-type of module which looked at things like copyright and data protection legislation, ethics and equality of service, introducing self-service (and the different types), Web 2.0 tools, virtual referencing tools and having a play on QuestionPoint during one session.  We chatted about collections and policies pertaining to these, very briefly.  This module was a pretty good start to the course as it covered a lot of ground but I would have liked to have gone into more depth on issues as censorship, legislation and the issues facing the profession.  This though was supposed to encourage our own investigation and research I think, and set us up for future modules.

Transferable Management Skills
This was another kind of sweeping module, featuring all the usual topics to do with general management – change management, staff attitudes, report writing, presenting skills, running meetings, information literacy.  OK that last one is VERY relevant to libraries, and several sessions were dedicated to it.  This was quite a tedious module, in that you think it is mostly common sense but you have no theory to back up why you think like this!  So theory ahoy!  Oh well, at least it will all be useful in practice. The module also encouraged reflective thinking and part of our presentation assessment was to submit a Reflective Log evaluating the process of writing and forming the group presentation.

Management of Information and Library Services
This module featured sessions from guest lecturers who were also LIS professionals, from some different sectors.  This was a sort of follow on module from TMS and focused entirely on Library and Information Services, which was good.  It tried to look at all sectors but obviously this is difficult as time was limited.  I said above that I was disappointed the course had yet to look at some nuts and bolts, but this module taught us all the other things that library managers have to do.  The stuff that you maybe don’t do as a library assistant, and that the public (and certain politicians)  don’t even realise qualified Librarians do, such as: staff management, budget planning and financial management, marketing, project planning (e.g. a library move), staff appraisals, service evaluations etc etc.  Although the management speak got a bit jargonistic at times, it was a very useful module that I did get a lot out of.  I was able to speak to my colleagues about a lot of the topics and get the Corpus spin on it too.  Working alongside studying has really been a blessing and a curse – I’ve been able to draw on loads of experience for coursework and seminars, but felt totally drained on time and energy levels!

Public Libraries with Services for Young People (Option module)
I think the biggest disappointment with the ILM course so far is that we had to choose between Public and Academic libraries.  I would really have enjoyed the Academic module as well but as I already work in one I thought I’d get out of my comfort zone and opt for Public Libraries.  I am really pleased I did as it was a lovely small class (just four of us!) and covered a lot of ground, such as: Public Libraries’ purpose and policy, reaching non-users, social justice, collections for families, children and young people, equitable service, reading development & literacy, managing staff, evaluating performance and working in partnerships.  I found it all fascinating and some sessions were just downright fun! I enjoyed discussing planning collections and literature for children and young people and we had an excellent talk from a secondary school librarian.  Most sessions included talks and presentations from professionals in the Bristol area, all really engaging and switched on.  My classmates were all public library assistants so I felt slightly behind but it didn’t matter as everyone was really happy to share stories and experiences as well as give tips and advice which work in any library and helped with coursework.
My main criticism of this module is that it hadn’t been updated enough in regards to the politics and economics of this coalition government.  That would have been worth a session in its own right – the fight that libraries are facing and the success stories, and the sad stories.  How libraries are adapting to the new legislation and cuts and showing the world: you still need us!  Much of the recommended reading was several years out of date and focused on standards, organisations and policies introduced by New Labour but then, as we all know, in 2010 the new government swiftly put the kibosh on all of that.

The UWE course seems to be one of the courses most geared towards people who are working at the same time - obvs not including the distance learning programmes.  My own circumstances meant I couldn’t afford to do it full-time and cut back on work so I chose part-time which is one day a week (Tuesdays) while I work slightly reduced hours at Corpus to fund myself.  When I started to think about applying for library school I got a lot of advice and pretty much everyone recommended doing the course part-time and working if that was a realistic situation for me.  Even full-time at UWE is only two days a week, so working a library job is totally doable (and expected I think) but like I say above, the workload can be pretty punishing so it wouldn’t be for me...  I also liked that much of the teaching is delivered by library professionals who are, crucially, still in the field.

After meeting my new course mates it became clear that we were all there for slightly different reasons.  Many people doing the LIS/ILM qualification (anywhere, not just UWE) are doing it in order to secure a job – perhaps even their existing one, such is the unstable nature of our sector at the moment.  I feel quite sheepish when I really think that actually I’m only there because I want to do more than be a library assistant for the rest of my life, I’d like to tackle more of the big stuff and get to make professional decisions using my professional knowledge and opinions.  I suppose we are all there because we want to be more employable and are ambitious enough to realise the library profession can benefit from our wicked skillz.  I am enjoying exploring and learning as much as I can and gradually finding out where it is I fit in all of it.  Having faffed about in so many awful and temporary jobs since leaving Aberdeen where I was an undergrad,  it was so brilliant when I had the light bulb moment and landed on libraries.  I got applying and was unsuccessful at every interview – hurrah!  The rest (and beginning) of that story probably deserve a whole other post, so moving on…

The course has done a lot for my confidence, in my own thoughts, knowledge and experience, as well as being conducive to doing a lot of networking as every librarian I meet loves to talk about library school!  I am able to take it in to work to discuss and find out what happens in practice.  It is helping me to ask all the right questions to steer me on some sort of career path.  (Although, I have to be realistic and say that when it’s all over, it basically comes down to what jobs are available. Sigh.)

At the heart of all this I do want to have a career in a profession that allows me to make the best of myself, continue learning and to help folk find the best and right things for their own learning and development.  The best thing is that there are a hundred and one routes for me to take and find one that suits me.  The Masters helps me reach the level I want to be at and make the most of myself, my skills and experience  gained as well as providing me with myriad other opportunities.  I just have to get through another year at UWE then the real adventure will begin!

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