Student Engagement and Library Classes at Limerick

I found a useful article in what is essentially our LMS (library management system) trade magazine – Panlibus, issue 40, summer 2016.

‘Better engagement = Better results’, by Michael Smalle, Librarian: First Year Student Engagement and Success.

It’s about the University of Limerick’s hiring of three new professionals to assist with transitions of students from school to university, making sure they know how to get the most out of the library and how to hone their study skills.  The author, Michael Smalle, has been a teacher as well as a librarian for a number of years, so is well-equipped for both aspects of his role.

Clearly, we can’t have a librarian just devoted to first years, in a small conservatoire library, but the ideas are still relevant.  The article can be read online here.


PGCert Day, 24th September

It’s the weekend when we all gather together to talk about research projects or just the practicalities of starting the course. I found enough to say about my planned project, even if it’s not under way yet!

I need to get a move on – don’t want to miss teaching opportunities that could be included in the surveys that will be an inevitable part of the project. (Well, the actual teaching will clearly happen, but surveying the students needs a bit of forethought!)

I do plan on drawing upon evidence from existing student surveys that we did in recent years.  We didn’t ask how effective our library teaching was, but there might be evidence of how many attended induction or used/knew about e-resources.

Our course leader asked:-

  • What is the project?
  • Where will you gather data?
  • Why do this project?
  • Can you see any ethical challenges? (I can’t.)

The goals-barriers-options-actions circle.

The big rocks in the jar. (Commit to do the big things first.)

Jamie talks about levels of reflection. What level do we reflect at?

 Finally, a discussion about reflecting on your blog, and what it means to different people.  There’s so much I could say about blogging and referencing, but I don’t want to sound a know-all, so I’m just sitting quietly. I’ve done the blog for about 16 years, as well as my own blogging. And referencing and that kind of thing is just what I do professionally. But I haven’t introduced myself as having a professional interest. Even saying, ‘when I did my PhD’ feels a bit like I’m showing off, in this context. I’m embarrassed by myself!

Practice-Based Research Project Proposal

In this second year of my PGCert, I have to do a practice-based research project into some aspect of my teaching – and it all begins with the research project proposal.  There have been just two problems.  As well as my day-job in the library and my one-day a week music research secondment, I found myself with five musicological papers to write and deliver between September and mid-October.  I can be partially held to blame for that – after all, I cheerfully accepted them! – but the dates just coincided in an unfortunate way!

But I’ve also been struggling with another challenging situation which is totally not of my making.  I freely admit that I have been more stressed by this than by almost anything that life has thrown at me in recent years.

For these reasons, I have fallen behind with the writing of my research project proposal. My tutors are aware.  To my peers, I apologise.  For someone that takes a pride in achieving a lot, all the time, believe me that I do not like being behind with commitments that I’ve taken on.  “I’m stressed” sounds like a lame excuse.  But it’s very real.

have been thinking about the project. I’ve even done some reading, which I’ve blogged about.  But what you see below, is the beginning of the research proposal.  It’s nowhere near finished.  However, I thought that some words “on paper” would at least be an indication that my intentions are well-meant!  I have written what needs to be said under the first heading – the Overview. The other headings are, sadly, still blank. I’ll get there.  I won’t transfer this piece of writing to my Portfolio until it is complete.

“There is an associated word count of 1000 words for this element of the submission.”  Well, it will be at least that long when I finish it!

“This module begins with the development of a proposal for a practice-based research project that will allow you to address a challenge you face as a professional responsible for the development of learners.”


I currently spend 80% of my working week in the role of Music and Academic Services Librarian in the Information Services Department at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  As such, I provide library induction and user education to higher education students at all levels, from new undergraduates to doctoral students, including distance learners on the PGCert and MEd courses.

In today’s conservatoire environment, we welcome students from across the globe, and also strive to ensure equality of opportunity for students with visible or hidden disabilities, and for distance learners and others who may have been away from formal education for a while.

In addition to these challenges, teaching-librarians have extra challenges not generally experienced by teachers responsible for regular courses:-

  1. Initial orientation cannot be too detailed, because new students are prone to information overload, with much information to take in from a variety of different sources.
  2. Subsequent instruction is arranged by liaising with course leaders, and the time and venue are determined by timetabling and room-booking arrangements. Often the teaching-librarian has only 15-20 minutes in which to impart meaningful and memorable instruction.
  3. The format of the session is often in a lecture room, and the hands-on experience of online resources which might be desirable, is often not feasible.
  4. Parachuted into classes for one-off sessions, the teaching-librarian neither knows the students, nor what they have already learned, and it is incumbent upon them to try to establish the context in which their instruction is being given, and to achieve maximum engagement with minimal opportunity in which to do so.
  5. Good pedagogical practice, eg active learning or a constructive alignment approach, is often precluded because of the class location and duration.

The present project will endeavour to establish the most effective ways in which user education can be delivered, given the constraints outlined above.

Research Context

Professional Aims

Research Question(s)


Meanwhile in Scotland … 1808 (Exchange Talk)

On S11228598145_661aa7a45d_zunday 2nd October, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is reenacting a benefit concert that was staged for Beethoven in 1808.  Details of event – click here.

But before that, on Monday 26th September at 6 pm I’m giving an Exchange Talk at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland  in the Ledger Room, to tie in with the 1808 theme.  Be prepared for an interesting auditory experience – we’re playing music that may not have been played for nearly two centuries!

Actually, the pieces by Nathaniel Gow are the most commonly known! Concerto Caledonia performed them on their latest CD, Nathaniel Gow’s Dance Band.  (We have it in the Whittaker Library).  But there’s also an early Scottish song arrangement by Beethoven, a piano trio by Kozeluch, and a duet for harp and piano by Sophia Dussek.  Can you resist?

And this is what happens when music librarians get immersed in historical research!

Exchange Talks: Dr Karen McAulay– Box Office Link

‘Can’t you do a Podcast?’

I’m thinking about podcasts for user education. Why? Well, on several occasions, different people have suggested them.  Enter a new article by Tara Brabazon:-

‘Press learning: the potential of podcasting through pause, record, play and stop’ (Knowledge Management and E-Learning 8 (3), (2006), 430-443.

Press Learning: the potential of podcasting through pause, record, play and stop

I found the article on, which I frequent quite regularly.  I follow Tara’s research outputs.

Tara is a great advocate of podcasts – audioclips that oblige people to listen closely, without visual distraction. She cites John Cage’s 4:33 and how the listener has to listen to the sounds around them.  But one thing is clear.  It wasn’t clear to me before, and it probably wasn’t clear to people I’ve been speaking to.  Podcasts are audio. What I think is needed for user education, is videoclips (Tara calls it vodcasting) – a brief audiovisual clip.  I am pretty sure people need to see how to use the catalogue, use the e-resources, and so on.  It’s a bit like learning how to sew – you need to see it done. Much library user education is training in methodology, not so much challenging readers to think about a subject a certain way, but instructions on how to use new databases or resources.

What is a Podcast?, by Yaro Starak

Already, before I’ve even finished the article, I have questions!  These are the three potential models, if I know which software to use:-

  1.  Screencapture and audio would probably do for most situations.
  2. As for video-ing in the library, what would be the easiest technology ?
  3. If I were to find a situation where podcasting really WOULD be best, what would be the best technology?
  4. Do I need to know about RSS feeds, if I’m looking to put material on a portal which is primarily for students and staff?

I’m sure our learning technologist will be able to help me answer some of these!