Archive | May, 2012

Masters schmasters? Rising fees, methods of learning and general confusion

31 May

CC image courtesy of wwarby via Flickr

As May draws to a close, it’s a scary thought that I’ll be out of a job in 3 months time. My graduate trainee year so far has been an incredible experience that has given me so many professional skills and got me really buzzing for a future career in libraries. So the next step is a masters degree in library and information science…right?

That’s the plan, in fact that’s on the job specification for most graduate trainee job posts – the intention to study for a postgraduate qualification in librarianship. A standard route into the career is by following this plan: graduate trainee year…masters…first professional post and Bob’s your uncle, you’re a librarian! But with some LIS Masters fees rising dramatically in the last year, I find myself asking whether this is still a realistic career path for most people?

When I started applying for library school before Christmas, I (like a completely sane person with absolutely no predilection for Excel whatsoever) created a spreadsheet comparing fees. I’ve now updated this to include most 2012/13 fees for CILIP accredited LIS courses. Please bear in mind this is for guidance only and by no means can I claim it to be exhaustive or even 100% accurate. The figures are the fees for UK students listed on the universities own webpages and I’ve just brought them together with a terrible colour scheme.

What’s interesting is the disparity in costs that some universtities are charging. Courses range from around £4,000 right up to £9,000 for the full-time year, and while some fees have almost doubled since last 2011/12, others have not changed. Why is this? Am I meant to infer that by paying more, I’ll get a better standard of masters? Over the last year I’ve talked to a range of professionals that all emphasised that all that matters is the professional qualification, not where you got it from and how, and every course has its pros and cons.

With fees rising to up to nine grand, this puts the masters way out of the grasp of a lot of people. Funding has been slashed in most cases and instances of employers sponsoring young professionals through qualifying are much rarer than they used to be. Career Development Loans go up to £10,000 (and paying that back would be fairly crippling) but say if I wanted to stay in London to study next year, living in my fairly cheap little room in zone 3, it would cost me around £20,000 for tuition and living expenses. And that’s a pretty conservative estimate. Even studying with a part-time job puts this out of my reach.

I haven’t quite worked out what I’m going to do next year, but a Masters course is beginning to feel like a very expensive hoop to jump through if I want to proceed with my career. I’ve met a number of other graduate trainees over the last 9 months and out of them, only a handful are going to library school next year. Others have already secured plans on different career paths or are putting the Masters off for a few years.

Whilst in some ways I can see why this is might not be a terrible thing – during a recession when jobs are few and far between and the number of applicants for each vacancy is astronomical, the last thing that’s needed is getting a whole bunch of new professionals qualified and fighting for those same jobs. But where does it stop? The problem with fee rises is that once they’re up, they’re not coming down. Are we looking at a future of librarianship where many have been put off becoming professionally qualified and graduate trainees leave the sector because there’s nowhere for them to go?

The great thing about LIS courses is many universities have made a real effort to accomodate all kinds of students by offering part-time and distance learning options. These will almost certainly be what I end up doing (hopefully) and I think it’s great for a student doing a vocational qualification to study and work simultaneously. In my opinion, the future of the postgraduate qualification is going to be just that, a huge drop in the number of full-time students but hopefully those who are really committed to librarianship, with the help of flexible and understanding university courses, can find a way to make it work for them.

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Lost and found

29 May

In my job, you sometimes come across strange things hidden away in books or in a box of donations to the library. I’m a bit of a hoarder and don’t like to throw anything away, so over the last 8 months my desk and the surrounding area has become a bit of a treasure trove for tat, some of which I thought were too good to keep to myself.

 

This little ‘gem’ was found in amongst a pile of books donated to the library. Yes, those are little stones stuck to a naff painting and yes, it now is displayed proudly next to my desk. Noone’s ever asked me about it so perhaps they think that’s the kind of thing I’m into…

 

This scares me a little bit. I think it’s the strange man-with-parrot-sticking-out-of-his-head part that freaks me out the most. Fortunately my colleague who found it has given it pride of place on her notice board.  I wish I could attribute this piece but alas, artist unknown.

 

This is definitely my favourite of the bunch. I love that someone went to the effort to get their typewriter out and commit this charming little ‘Eyeku’ to a piece of scrap paper. And then fold that paper up and hide it in a library book.

Other less fantastic finds have included a 12-year old receipt from Marks and Spencer and some spookily blurry photographs of paintings, along with all the usual stuff like long-forgotten notes and bookmarks. 

So, what weird and wonderful finds have you unearthed in your library?

Thing 4: getting to grips with Twitter, RSS and Storify

24 May

This weeks Thing is about exploring online tools that can be used to keep up with all the exciting things happening in the library universe. While I’ve been using Twitter and RSS feeds for some time, I really don’t think I’m getting the most out of them and I had heard of Storify but not yet had a play around with it.

CC Image courtesy of toolmantim on Flickr

Twitter

I signed up to Twitter in August 2010, the motivating factor being that it was a form of social media that wasn’t blocked at my then-job at a contact centre. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and it was no use to me whatsoever – all of my friends were on Facebook and I wasn’t in a job that I wanted to pursue as a career.

It wasn’t until I start my graduate traineeship that I started to realise the potential that Twitter held for me. Over the last few months I’ve been trying (with mixed success) to use it for networking and sharing ideas. But there are a couple of issues that I’ve still yet to get over:

  • Twitter is all a bit scary. In between the RTs, MTs, DMs, etc. it’s hard to know what you’re looking at and who said it. With hashtags and links all over the shop, some tweets can be plain bewildering.
  • Most people I follow on Twitter, I don’t actually know in real life, so it is intimidating to address them directly. My problem is that I tweet as if I’m talking to myself – I find it hard to get involved in conversations and shy away from “interrupting” other people’s Twitter dicussions.
  • Everything moves so fast on Twitter. A couple of hours ago seems like ancient history on the Twitter timeline. The immediacy of it is great if you want a question answered quickly but it can often leave me feeling like I’ve missed an opportunity. Take the other night, I scrolled right down on my timeline and saw lots of fun tweets for #replaceonewordwithlibrarian. Scroll back up and it appeared I had missed the party. Although I’m sure noone would have been too offended if I joined in a little late, I felt too shy to.

Don’t get me wrong, Twitter is a fantastic tool and all of the worries I have about it are actually its strengths: it’s brief, fast and effective. I need to get over my own false perceptions and issues and get stuck in, start conversations and get involved. I’m so scared of breaking some kind of ‘twitiquette’ that I operate in an isolated little bubble and I’m not getting the most out of the medium.

Even though it’s aimed at using Twitter for libaries not librarians, I found this slide-deck by LibMarketing really useful in highlighting common mistakes. Also, Phil Bradley has a list of resources on Twitter for librarians , some of which are a bit dated, but I’ve found incredibly helpful to jump in and out of.

RSS

 I’ve dabbled in RSS in the past, I had a nice feed going for news a year or so ago, but again it’s something that I’m not using to it’s full potential. First stop in my efforts to get a handle on RSS feeds is to Google Reader and I’m already signed in with my Google account so I just click the orange ‘Subscribe’  button and start searching for blogs that I read regularly. Once I’m up and running, I can add the feed to my Firefox bookmarks toolbar and just click on it to have all the latest posts from sites I’m subscribed to.

Since I’m using WordPress for this blog I’ve been following others that way and using the WordPress reader. RSS seems like a more universal way of bringing the things I’m interested in together. I’ll certainly be using this much more in future.

Storify

This is something I’ve heard mentioned and seen briefly but not actually played around with myself. As a little test, I signed up and created this here Storify about the #replaceonewordwithlibrarian game on Twitter I mentioned earlier. Obviously because I was searching for something that only happened on Twitter, this isn’t a particularly good example of how to get the most out of this tool as you can bring in stories from a wide range of sources. I did find an article on the Huffington Post website and a Facebook link related to the story though (check out the amazing photos on the Greene County Public Libraries Facebook page, what a great idea!).

One thing that I have learnt from this little experiment is that you can only search 150 of the most recent related tweets. Since I was making it this morning, I missed out on a lot of Tweets from when the game was in full swing. Other than that, Storify was really easy to use. Hopefully I’ll have something meaningful to make a Storify about in the future.

I didn’t got around to playing with Scoop.it  or Paper.li but those are some more social media tools I hope to get to grips with soon.

Thing 3: Me, me, me

23 May

I was intrigued to get going with ‘Thing 3’ after listening to Ned Potter talk about personal branding at the CILIP New Professionals Day and I agree that it’s pretty much essential now that you should make efforts to affect your ‘brand’ in a positive way.

While the term “personal branding” does send a bit of a shiver down my spine (it makes me think of shouty people in pin-stripe suits…basically a contestant on the Apprentice), I do agree with the thought behind the phrase.

Having an online presence seems to now be par for the course for new professionals and even if you don’t publish anything online yourself, chances are your name will end up floating around in cyber space anyway. While you can’t control everything, I understand that it’s important to try and take charge of what you can.

CC image courtesy of botgirlq on Flickr.

I want the results that come up if someone searches online for my name to represent me in a positive and fairly professional light. Performing a couple of quick Google searches was quite interesting. Most of the results are me in a more professional capacity – my LinkedIn profile, my ‘library’ twitter account, contacts page from work and a blog post I wrote for the ARLIS students & trainees blog. I was confused why this blog didn’t turn up in any of the results. Then I realised I’ve been going by both Jennifer and Jen for the last few years.

A search with ‘Jen’ threw up different results: my ‘personal’ twitter account (which is private) is top and this blog is the 4th entry. It was interesting how some sites, like LinkedIn, still featured quite high on the results even though I only use the full version of my name on it.

It’s something that I never really thought about – even though I’m using my proper name, I’m not being consistent enough which means the ‘me’ that is represented online is pretty dependent on which form of my name people search with.

This is something I should probably really need to sort out but I’m not quite sure how. I prefer ‘Jen’ (and it’s much quicker to type) but when I do anything vaguely official, I call myself ‘Jennifer’. Now, as a budding information professional I should really know more about how search engines work. So I’ve set myself the task of finding out more about them and hopefully this will provide a solution of how to bring all the things that I want to come up in a search for me, to come up no matter which form of my name is used.

In terms of a visual brand, I feel like I’m still coming up with that. I use the same photo for my library twitter and this blog which is pretty casual and not related to libraries (for anyone that’s interested, it’s me at Slope Point, the  southernmost point on the South Island of New Zealand which I’m sure no-one but me has ever bothered to go to). In the future I’d like to have a photo that people can more easily identify from me at events, and I’d also like some kind of exciting and distinctive visual “feel” to this blog. However, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I know these are the kind of things I’ll spend hours agonizing over, so I’m waiting until some amazing ideas hit me.

I feel that there’s a lot of things that I’m working on with my personal brand. It’d be great to get straight out of the blocks and have a fantastic, distinctive online presence and be clear from the start what my “brand” was, but for me I think it’s going to evolve over time. I’m still finding my feet both as a new professional and as a blogger, I’m not going to have some ready-made online presence that shows succinctly who I am and what I’m interested in, I don’t even know myself! I feel that until I know what direction I’m heading in, I can only try my best and hope that the image of myself that I’m putting out there is not too jumbled.

Lots of things to think about from this activity and I hope to have a ‘Thing 3’ update not too far in the future. Please feel free to post a comment – let me know what you think about my “brand” so far or how I can sort out the Jen/Jennifer search situation, or just say hi. I’m not picky.

London LibTeachMeet 2012

19 May

Monday this week marked the occasion of two exciting ‘firsts’ for me: my first LibTeachMeet and my first attempt to live-tweet something. Two words of warning before I get started, I’m going to bravely attempt to write up my memories of the whole event so this might turn into a mammoth post…and there will be many mentions of the amazing cake.

For those who aren’t aware, a LibTeachMeets are an informal way for library and information professionals to share ideas, experiences and skills, whilst sampling [gorging themselves on] cake. I’d first heard about the concept from someone on a visit to Oxford and jumped at the opportunity to become ‘an enthusiastic audience member’ when I heard about this year’s London event.

The topic was Supporting Diverse Learners and to kick off the evening was a nice little networking activity showing the diversity of the attendants, making us talk about how we differed and what things we had in common. Then it was down to the real business of the night, a mixture of 5- and 2-minute speakers from a range of backgrounds:

Sue Merrick: Curating with students and teachers

Sue works in an international school library and spoke about using websites to guide students through project work and actually used one of the websites she recommends – Jog the web – for her presentation. It was a great whizz through online resources, some of which I’d heard of, like Scoop it, and others which were completely new to me, like Symbaloo.

Ka-Ming Pang (presenting on behalf of Carly Miller): How can public libraries engage with homeless people through outreach activity?

This talk explored the issues that homeless people face and how public libraries can provide support for them through access to computers, bibliotherapy, literacy training and providing free study spaces. There are barriers in some public libraries, such as needing a permanent address to borrow, or even use the IT facilities, but the Quaker Mobile Library was an innovative case study of how a library service can operate without excluding homeless users.

Adam Edwards: A game to teach less confident speakers about resources

The best way to tell us about the game that Adam thought up to improve literacy skills was to get us all to do a ‘speed-version’ of it. Groups of 4 were given mixed up sets of laminated cards, one set had the names of resources (e.g. non-fiction book, journal, website) and others had descriptions of them and what you might find in each. The game was very engaging and you could see how it was a great way to get everyone involved and thinking about the types of resources out there.

Kate Lomax: Teaching technical skills to non-technical types

Kate spoke about how library staff could learn technical skills and how the usual barriers to using e-learning where a lack of collaboration or understanding about how or why you need training. She gave cpd23 and the Code Year programme as examples of successful tools for learning technical skills, due to the community that has formed around them, providing support and feedback. Kate had an interesting suggestion that we need 23 more things for cpd with a more technie focus. (I’ll need to get this 23 done first!)

Anne Pietsch: Engaging diverse learners through audio technologies

Having learnt a bit about audio technologies when I visited the library at the RNIB, I was really interested in Anne’s talk. She spoke about the potential for using things like voice recognition software and text-to-speech for all students, not just those with physical or learning disabilities. Since everyone has different ways in which they best learn and work, it’s great to raise awareness about technologies like these.

Barbara Band: Start at the beginning – differentiated uses of covers and starts

I loved Barbara’s talk about the activities she uses to improve the levels of literacy and interest in younger pupils at secondary school and it really put some ideas in my head about wanting to work in a school library. Barbara scans a variety of book covers and prints them onto card to give out to groups (less intimidating than presenting them with a pile of books) and asks them to match the genres to the covers. She can vary the difficulty but asking them to assign more than one genre or giving them tricky covers to suss out. Another activity involved typing up the first page or paragraph (type instead of scan so you can choose where to end it, preferably on a cliffhanger!) and ask them to pick their favourite and explain why they think it’s good.

Suzanne Rush: Cultural awareness

Suzanne showed us an activity that she’s used to help front-line library staff working in a university with a high percentage of international students. Members of the audience were given one of three sets of cards which told them which planet they were from and their traditional greeting. They then had to go round the group, greeting everyone and finding other people from their planet. After a few moments of silliness and LOTS of handshaking, they were asked how the activity made them feel. The response was that it made them feel awkward and isolated, but then relief when they found someone from their ‘planet’. It was a really interesting method of helping counter staff empathise with international students.

Alison Chojna: Skills Days

This talk really got me excited (you can tell by the amount I tried to tweet during it) and I’d love to be able to take the ideas back to my library. Alison told us about the Skills Days that London South Bank University has started holding on topics such as referencing, searching techniques and plagiarism. Faced with issues of timetabling and non-attendance for skills training, they came up with the solution of holding all-day drop-in sessions with workbooks on the various topics for students to work through, ask for help when they needed it and take it away when they left. The monthly skills days were a success and the attendance numbers that Alison mentioned were pretty impressive. Although printing and staffing for the events were an issue, they were outweighed by the benefits that students gained by being able to see people face-to-face and take material away with them.

Julia Abell: Search preparation – reaching mixed users

Julia spoke about how information professionals can support a variety of users with limited searching skills with their research. She stressed how important it was to have a search strategy, regardless of the level/experience of the student, and that students could not restrict themselves to one medium any longer, they had to use all the resources available to them.

Phew, it’s fantastic how much information all the speakers got across in the limited time they had and I came away from the event absolutely buzzing with excitement and ideas. Overall there was a really welcoming, informal and positive feeling to the evening and there was a great variety of speakers. It was one of the most informative and interesting events that I’ve been to and I’ll certainly be looking forward to next years LibTeachMeet.

Finally, I’d like to thank the organisers: the event was extremely well run and the cakes and snacks there were amazing! I think I overdid it on the beautiful lemon cake during the break half-way through but it was completely worth it! More details on the talks should be added to the London LibTeachMeet website sometime soon.

Thing 2: …can’t…stop…reading…

17 May

I’ve really had to tear myself away in order to just write this – once you get started reading other people’s blogs, it’s really hard to stop.

I’ve been a longtime lurker around library blogs for a while now and had been reading blogs like the wikiman, Librarians on the Loose and Girl in the Moon but not interacting in any way because I didn’t feel like I had anything worthy to say. It still does feel a little bit strange and nosy to be poking around someone elses blog but in the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to get a bit more social in the social media malarky, which is good because cpd23 Thing 2 is all about visiting and interacting with other blogs.

I’ve been going through the list of CPD23 participants on Delicious and finding so many fantastic blogs out there. Some great ones that I’ve found are Adventures in the LibrarySiobhan B in the library (I absolutely love her pictures), the Neon Librarian and Dewey Decibelle. I could spend all day following links and jumping from one blog to another and never stop reading and to me that’s very encouraging – the online community of librarians seems to be really interactive and lively.

In the past I’ve tended to think of blogging as a bit of an isolated activity where you broadcast and others read, but it’s much much more about sharing and communication. So I’ve been brave and posted a couple of tentative comments, hit the ‘follow’ button more than a few times and I’m really looking forward to getting more involved.

CILIP New Professionals Day 2012

16 May

I just wanted to commit some time to writing about my experience of the CILIP New Professionals Day 2012 that I attended last Friday. There are links to some excellent blog posts about the day handily gathered on the Ned Potter’s post about the day, so check those out for a more comprehensive overview of the day.

The New Professionals Day is a free event run by CILIP to give information, inspiration and advice to those us of taking (or thinking about taking) our first steps in the world of library and information management. The day had a great friendly and enthusiastic atmosphere and there was lots of networking to be done throughout.

The first presentation was from Ned Potter (@theREALwikiman) on branding and how new professionals can positively impact their personal brand. You can tell that this presentation had an effect on me, because look, here I am getting online. I’d been rather neglecting my twitter account of late but was motivated to get tweeting and start a blog after hearing Ned’s sensible advice on the matter. In the past I had been rather put off by social networking as professional development – it seemed like a lot of work for very little pay-0ff. But Ned’s motto of ‘dont panic’ and his helpful instructions of how to ease yourself into the online sphere made me think that it may well be worthwhile (and fun) to develop my personal brand online.

The key message was to do something; we didn’t have to be ‘super-librarians’ (damn, I wanted the cape) but we all have a brand that we can either let be decided for us or we can take steps to try and impact it positively. The great thing about Ned’s talk was the amount of options and practical ideas he gave us on influencing personal brand: from getting online, organising, publishing, sharing or presenting, there was something in there to suit everyones interests and strengths.

Having seen and heard a lot of the Wikiman on the web since I’ve become a new professional, it was great to finally attend an event where Ned was speaking. His presentation was engaging and informative and I’ll certainly be looking back to his Prezi on 5 ways to influence your brand in the future to help my professional development.

After this talk the new professionals split into three groups to take part in various workshops. My first one was Continuing Professional Development (CPD) adventures by Emma Illingworth (@wigglesweets). Emma was great at getting everyone involved and thinking about all the different CPD opportunities (to be fair, we nicked a few ideas from Ned’s presentation). We were given scenarios for information professionals with certain goals in mind and asked to suggest ways in which CPD could help. The result of this was a set of impressive lists of various CPD activities which I’ll try to keep in mind throughout my career.

The second workshop I attended was by Richard Hawkins (@usernametaken10) and Lisa Hutchins (@MyWeeklyBook) onCyberLibrarians: information management jobs in the digital age, which was a fascinating look into the more technology-based side of information management. It was great to hear that the skills that I use in my current job in a fairly traditional library could be used in roles like those of an information architect or website manager. I hadn’t ever considered this side of information management because I didn’t think I was “tech-y” enough, but Richard and Lisa were great at helping us realise how the things that they do weren’t all that far away from what a “traditional” librarian does. It’s all about helping users find the information they need easily.

After the second workshop we stopped for lunch, and at some point during this post it was bound to happen – I had to talk about the burritos. Lunch was amazing. Good call from the CILIP organisers! Food aside, there was plenty of networking to be done and when suitably stuffed, we headed on up to our final workshop of the day. Mine was Have you tried logging out and then in again? with Simon Barron ( @simonXIX) and Abby Barker (@abbybarker). I’m involved a little bit with e-resources in my current job but I was eager to find out what types of things a dedicated e-resources librarian gets up to. Abby and Simon talked us through their jobs and how they ended up working with e-resources, deliberate or not. They showed us that you don’t have to know all the technical bits and bobs, it’s all about understanding what the user is trying to do and how they’re trying to do it – more about people skills than being a computer-whizz.

With all the new professionals back together again after the workshops, the day was rounded off by presentations from Bethan Ruddock (@bethanar) and Phil Bradley (@PhilBradley). Bethan spoke on How to assemble your New Professionals Toolkit: tools needed were a network, a mentor, resources, a plan and a voice. As I listened, it was good to tick things off my mental ‘toolkit checklist’ and helped me identify what could help me further as a new professional.

Phil Bradley spoke about social media and your future career and I loved the uncompromising approach he took to the subject (yes, the rest of us DO have to get on Google+). It is vital for us all to engage with social media as a professional tool and it is our job to understand how to use it. Phil showed us how social media affected the results bought back by search engines and how social media allowed information relevant to you to be brought straight to your attention.

The day was a really useful and thought-provoking event and I took a lot away from it. It gave me a lot of ideas of how to get more involved, further my professional development and it led me to spend my weekend trawling through previously-unbeknownst-to-me social media!

All of the presentations from the day have been listed here on the CILIP website.

…Well, so much for keeping this post short!