I’ve reviewed a number of books over the years, including several little “What are you reading?” contributions to Times Higher Educational Supplement (THE). Indeed, I submitted a couple there recently. The first one appeared a couple of weeks ago. The other one will appear before long.
When I was doing my PGCert, I surveyed a cohort of postgraduate distance-learners to see what they thought of some brief instructional self-help clips that I had designed. I asked for feedback, and I got it – short videos were very welcome, it seemed, but several students particularly asked for animations – or my talking head in a corner of the screen. (WHY would anyone want to watch my talking head? Something that mystifies me, to be honest!) But I liked the idea of animations – apart from wondering how I would achieve this!
When I found Biteable.com, I was quite excited – there are a number of templates and audio backgrounds to choose from, and you can just edit in your own text, changing colours and adding pictures as you choose. I’ve done a couple for the Claimed From Stationers Hall network project that I spearhead, and a couple of months ago I made one as a library guide, too.
This week, I made two more. One is about setting up email alerts for our library discovery layer, and the video I’ve just curated today is about fake news – and basically, not leaping to conclusions about things when you haven’t enough evidence to back your suppositions up. That video stemmed from a Stationers’ Hall field trip that I made recently. It would have been great to have been able to say that I’d discovered a whole story about how certain music scores got into an old library collection. But – as you’ll see – in truth, I haven’t enough evidence to back up my guesses, and my initial ideas are probably pure fantasy!
Anyway, do have a look. I had fun making them, and I hope both videoclips will be useful.
A query in the cafe-bar yesterday concerned how to write a research proposal. I gave a few quick hints and promised to investigate whether we had anything in the library that might help with this task.
On Thursdays, I’m a researcher in the morning and a librarian in the afternoon. It wasn’t until I got back to my library desk that I started to think about the query properly. We do a lot of practice-based research at the Conservatoire, whilst my own PhD (now some years ago) was plain musicology, so I wanted to ensure that my advice suited the enquirer. Then I remembered – when had I last written a research proposal? Well, I’d done my successful application for an AHRC Networking Grant, of course – but I had also written a research proposal for my PG Cert project. To my delight, when I retrieved the appropriate documentation for the latter, I discovered I had used tracking on my Word document to keep myself right at every point of the process. There were my headings, and margin comments amplified what I should be doing under each one.
Then I turned back to the library catalogue, and tried a couple of searches, one of books and e-books, and the other using our discovery-layer, Catalogue Plus. This was looking promising. Finally, I put all my advice into a blogpost on the library blog, Whittaker Live. If I was giving a serious bit of guidance, I thought, then I might as well make it available to anyone else with the same question! I had actually worn all three of my “hats” whilst answering this query – librarian, musicologist and teacher. Some HE establishments have the role of “tutor librarian”. That’s not my title, but it’s one of the areas in which I feel most effective. That, and my research existence!
Writing a Research Proposal (blogpost on Whittaker Live)
As a rule, I tend to think I’m too old to wax all introspective about my career trajectory. So, why the sudden bout of introspection? I’m about to celebrate my sixtieth birthday. I don’t know how most people feel about the event, but for me, it leaves me questioning what I’ve done with my life, and whether I’ve fulfilled the potential I might once have been thought to have had.
I’ve written often enough about how I chose music librarianship before completing my first attempt at a PhD (a big mistake! It never got completed). I’ve been a music librarian for 33 years, but 19 years into the long haul, I registered for another doctorate.
The maths didn’t really stack up. First time round, it was full-time research, then a diversion via a library graduate traineeship, followed by a postgraduate Diploma in Librarianship – with a Distinction in the Diploma, but no PhD. Second time round, I was working full-time whilst raising a family, but I did complete the part-time PhD in five years, and I’ve since attained a PGCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Arts Education, along with a couple of Fellowships.
The student who was expected to get a PhD in some aspect of mediaeval English music at the age of 24, never did. To be honest, I had spent a summer teaching English at a language summer school immediately after getting my first degree, and after that experience, I couldn’t imagine myself standing in front of a lecture theatre, leading a seminar or taking a tutorial. (Teaching English to a lively mixed assortment of teenagers and adults who were combining a foreign holiday with language classes, bore no resemblance to any kind of learning experience that I myself had ever had!) And during my mediaeval scholarship years, I never wrote an article, gave a paper or had the chance to try any kind of academic teaching. I do regret that these opportunities never arose. On the positive side, I became the first music postgrad to collaborate with the Computer Science department in terms of a statistical analysis of some plainsong repertoire. That felt quite good. And I did a one-week course in Basic – an early programming language. That was quite fun, too.
Academic librarianship seemed a good way to continue a career that was at least related to subject specialism. But it didn’t take long for me to realise that someone who once might have completed a PhD, was actually just someone without one. It didn’t compare with those of my peers who had actually gone and got one, and no-one was remotely interested in the polyphonic cantus firmus research that never got completed! (Indeed, my first music librarianship post was in a public library, where I suspect I might not have got the job if anyone had asked just what my later university years had actually been devoted to.)
‘What does a librarian want with a PhD?’, someone once asked in a meeting. I wasn’t at that meeting – I was told this years later, after I’d successfully completed my second attempt at the age of 51. I just wanted to do research again, and most of all, I wanted to prove to myself that I could complete a PhD! The subject seemed relevant to the institution where I work, and I could achieve most of my research without leaving Scotland. That was important, given the other pressures on my time.
Second time round, I’ve published a book and a number of articles (not to mention the social media and blogging); I’ve given papers on my subject specialism, I’ve talked about various aspects of the research process – and I’ve done no end of sessions about online-searching and bibliographic software! The PGCert was the final validation for the timid music graduate who couldn’t see herself teaching in any kind of group situation. Stand up in front of a group? Well, yes – no problem!
Right now, I’m combining librarianship with a second postdoctoral research secondment, so I’ve moved in the right direction. I successfully applied for a research grant – my first attempt. I’m achieving quite a bit. But a little voice inside me still nags at me. Could I have achieved more? I stayed in the same library job. A colleague who didn’t stay long, said that you weren’t successful if you didn’t keep moving onwards and upwards. Does that mean I failed, spectacularly and resoundingly? Juggling working parenthood and other responsibilities, staying put seemed both pragmatic for myself, and fair to the family. Someone else without those responsibilities really has no idea of the way one is tugged in all directions as a working mother.
I haven’t make it to a full academic position. Does that count as failure? I’ve got three music degrees, but the only performance I do is as a church organist. That might be seen as failure, too. Am I even entitled to aspire to achieve greater things? Does anyone expect me to?
A stupid, trivial occurrence yesterday was the final straw. I went to see about getting a concessionary bus-pass, and that meant getting a photo. The photo-booth didn’t seem to be working, and the enquiry desk man was derisive. “Do you want me to come and look at it for you? Sorry, folks, I’ll be back in five minutes. THIS LADY can’t work the photo-booth.” So that’s it, is it? A wee, late-middle-aged lady who can’t even take her own photo, fit only to be humiliated in front of a queue of people? Is that who people see?
Deflated, I took a little perverse satisfaction in the fact that THAT YOUNGER MAN couldn’t work the spanking-new, just-installed booth either. (Truth to tell, I should have looked round the back to see if it was even turned on, but by this stage I was just a little irritated!) I did manage to work the second photo-booth (I’m good at second-time-around opportunities, after all!). Indeed, the machine refused to take payment – how good is that?
My concessionary bus-pass might even lure me off the trains and onto the buses for future research trips – I won’t be going on pensioners’ mystery trips “Doon the Watter” for a good while yet. Bingo on the way to Blackpool? Not on your life! I’d sooner spend a summer picking strawberries!
Meanwhile, folks, please don’t write older colleagues off as finished just because we’re sixty. You might be surprised by what we achieve in the years that the government has determined will still be our mature working lives.
I’m playing the waiting game – I have had a veritable splurge of writing, and now I have to wait to see if anything is accepted. I sandwiched two Georgian-era musicology pieces with a couple of pedagogical ones about teaching online research skills – this is what happens when a music librarian does a musicology PhD then a postgraduate certificate in higher arts education!
- Earlier this Spring, I collaborated on an article about women and music in the Napoleonic era. We’re waiting to hear …
- More recently, I wrote up and submitted my PGCert project as a rather long article. Again, I’m waiting for feedback.
- I immediately followed that up with a shorter, more informal article about a recent teaching session I organised for our B.Ed students. To date, this latter one has been accepted, so it should appear later this year.
- And lastly, I wrote and submitted a book review over the weekend.
More news in due course ….
Ever since I got my PG Cert, I’ve been meaning to write up my project report into a journal article. I finally did so last weekend, and it was submitted to an appropriate journal a couple of nights ago. Now, I have to wait to see if it meets with approval!
There’s only one way to keep one’s hopes up at this point, and that’s to have more than one article submitted. Flushed with success, I wrote a second one, this time not such a mammoth effort, but sharing a recent user education success. That one has just been emailed off as well – to a different journal, I hasten to add.
What I need to do now, is some research-based writing. Mind you, it’s only a few weeks since a joint collaboration was submitted to a historical journal; at least that article did directly touch on my recent researches, so maybe I shouldn’t feel too guilty…
Feeling a bit rattled at a recent exchange in which I felt I had been very much dismissed as a mere librarian by someone nearly one third my age – not a colleague, I hasten to add! – I expressed due thanks for the advice, then fumed and raged (mainly internally) for a few days until a thought occurred to me.
Have I not got a certificate of excellence from one of my professional associations? And a fellowship from another two? Okay then, here it is. May I introduce myself, modestly, as a virtuoso music librarian? No concert platforms for me. My postdoctoral research is shared with musicologists, librarians, book and library historians, and although I’m a published author, I very seldom – though by no means never – perform my research. But it doesn’t make me less good at what I do. I’ve been a music librarian for 34 years – I generally know my stuff. I have three music degrees, professional qualifications in librarianship and teaching and – surprisingly enough – a performing diploma in an instrument I no longer play.
Why do some people assume librarians are unskilled? I wouldn’t tell any of our community how to perform, compose or dance, but in my own areas of expertise I like to think I’m pretty competent as I approach my thirtieth anniversary at my workplace!