All posts by Karenmca

I'm a librarian and musicologist, currently seconded part-time as postdoctoral researcher at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. I'm also a church organist and choir-trainer. Last year, I completed a PG Cert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Arts Education. Addicted to music and fabric. You can find me on Twitter @karenmca

How to Keep Moving Whilst Standing Still

giphyI think I’ve mentioned before my annoyance when ambitious career-seeking professionals pronounce judgement on those of us that haven’t moved regularly in search of promotions.  Today, it happened again: I read a tweet stating that after you’ve been in a job four years, you’re the “best you can be” and should move.  What about working parents, particularly if they’re the main breadwinner?  What if moving would actually be detrimental to your family for various reasons?

So, here I am in the last decade of my career, and I’ve been looking at my CV.  There’s actually a pattern to it.  Just when the careerists insist that I should have moved on, I generally did something that changed my situation in some other way, be that starting a family or gaining more qualifications.  So, just because I haven’t relocated or been promoted, I might have failed in the eyes of the high-flyers, but I don’t think I’ve stagnated!  If I’ve added to my qualifications and experience, surely I  might even be more valuable?

  • 1984 left library school, first cataloguing post
  • 1985 moved from temp to permanent post
  • 1988 moved to my present library post.
  • 1992 By the “you’re the best you’re going to be after 4 years” rule, I should have considered moving.  Instead …
  • 1993 I stayed put and changed the status quo – we started a family and I continued working full-time.  I’m the generation Mrs Thatcher convinced into believing that women truly could have it all – family and a career (never mind the cost of childcare and minimal maternity leave!)
  • 1998 had third child.  Continued working.
  • 2002 If I had deferred the “you’re the best you’re going to be after 4 years” rule until our third child approached school age, I should have considered moving.  In 2003, I applied unsuccessfully for a job in the USA, and did a small-scale research project as I continued working in the same place.
  • 2004, the small-scale research project had finished but I wanted to do more. I stayed put and changed the status quo, beginning a PhD part-time and working full-time.
  • 2009, Certainly changed the status quo: graduated with PhD.  Stayed put.
  • 2012 does becoming a part-time post-doc in the same institution but collaborating with another institution, count as moving?  True to form, I had stayed put and changed the status quo again.
  • 2017 still a part-time post-doc but now a PI with grant funding.  Also graduated with a postgraduate certificate in learning and teaching.  Yup, I’d stayed put and changed the status quo again.
  • And here we are in 2018.  In the eyes of the careerists, I’ve failed miserably.  But … I’m certainly a master at the art of keeping moving whilst standing still!
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Conferences as I hear them

ric_stylesHere’s a very quick videoclip,  summarising the observations that follow:-

Make Conferences And Lectures Easier for the Hard of Hearing

I’m not deaf.  I don’t identify as disabled – I’m merely hard of hearing, and I wear two hearing-aids.  Most of the time I get along fine – my hearing-aids aren’t visible, and only people who know me, know I wear them.  I’m a musician.  I can hear pitch and rhythm well, indeed I can take music down at dictation with some facility – it used to be one of my party-pieces as an undergraduate.  It’s possible that I’m not hearing the tone or sound quality as well as other people, but I certainly can hear it.  It’s following speech that can be tricky. All those syllables, disappearing in people’s mouths before I can hear them!

In some situations, hearing’s particularly difficult.  When large groups of people are all talking at once, whether it’s coffee-time or a conference break-out session, then I struggle.  If a whole conference is divided into four groups in one large hall, and told to discuss something amongst themselves, then, boy, I really do struggle.  I don’t know if I should generalise, but I’d hazard a guess that many hard-of-hearing people experience this.  My hearing aids mean that my hearing is more omni-directional than the average pair of ears, and so sound comes at me from all directions.   I’d rather have break-out groups in different rooms, so I only have to listen to one discussion.

Sitting round a large board-room table is sometimes tricky, too.  I don’t lipread consciously – I didn’t know I even HAD a hearing problem until I was in my forties, so I’ve never had that kind of training.  But I do know I can hear better when I see the speaker’s mouth, so if someone is at the other end of a table, and on the same side as me, I will be challenged.

What about the induction loop?, you ask.  Not every room HAS an induction loop, and I’ve seldom found the induction loop setting on my hearing aid to improve a difficult hearing situation.  And not every induction loop seems to work very well.  I asked about one, once, to be told, “Well, it’s correctly wired-in, so it MUST be working.” (Ah, right. That’s okay, then.  It’s just me being silly, and I should try harder to hear what’s being said.  Do you know how HARD it is to try harder when your ears, even with hearing-aids, won’t let you hear better?  It’s exhausting!)

But there are other situations when people could actually help, with only a little forethought.  I’m not griping – obviously, people aren’t deliberately being hard to follow,  they just haven’t thought.  And I must state right now, some people speak loud and clear, not too fast, and the space doesn’t even need much amplification.  But then, I’m one of the lucky ones, because my hearing loss is not bad.  But here are my pet hates:-

  • Presenters not standing near the microphone.
  • Presenters standing halfway back a stage with no amplification.
  • Presenters turning and talking to the OHP screen, rather than to the audience.  (If the talking isn’t directed towards us, AND we can’t see their faces, things become impossible!)
  • Presenters talking too fast.
  • Presenters holding their paper so high that you can’t see their lips move.  Please! Don’t. Do. That!

If there’s amplification, then in general, please use it.  If the sound technician has any means of adjusting it for speech rather than music, that’s great.  I realise it’s not always possible.

Also – I’m not very tall myself, so I am conscious of this – if it can be avoided, see if you can avoid hiding behind a tall lectern.  Maybe stand a few inches to the side, and angle the mic towards you.

I only realised I had hearing loss when I became so resentful of accusations that I wasn’t listening, that I went and got my hearing tested.  And there it was on a graph – I wasn’t Not Listening after all – I was Not Hearing. There’s such a difference!  But to this day, if I’m in a conference and I miss a few words out of every sentence, it doesn’t take long for me to lose the thread of whatever the speaker’s talking about.  And it still takes a while for me to realise that – hang on, I’m not being spectacularly stupid here, neither am I failing to concentrate – I actually cannot understand because I’m missing too much.  In a conversation between a few people, you can ask for something to be repeated.  In a lecture? Obviously not!

I’d like to suggest a code of good practice for conference speakers.  In fact, it might be useful for other people like teachers, too.  Because there must be loads of people like me out there.  We’ll continue to struggle on – but a bit of forethought might make our struggles just a little bit less so!

Postscript: Video-clips

Here are a couple of extra thoughts.  If you’re playing a commercially-made, or internet-sourced video-clip to a group of people, please do listen to it thoughtfully first.  If there’s verbal commentary over audio soundtrack, then it can be hard to pick out what’s being said.  If the soundtrack is too loud, consider whether adding subtitles might be feasible.

And if you’re making a video-clip from scratch, then it would be great if subtitles were included from the outset.  You can Google how to add subtitles to a YouTube video.

The bottom line is, it’s hard for anyone to stay engaged if they can’t hear what’s being said.  And you don’t want that!

 

 

Librarians: Part of your Learning and Teaching Strategy

We’re having a three-day Learning and Teaching Conference here at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland this week.  Today, Information Services department gave some quick updates.  Here was my invitation to teaching colleagues to make the most of the skills that we Performing Arts Librarians can share with students at appropriate points in their courses.  I am quite keen on the Biteable format – it’s quick and snappy, and it seemed to go down quite well!

Librarians as a Learning and Teaching Resource

By Popular Request – Instructional Videoclips

Biteable Bear
Biteable.com – Instructor Bear!

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.

3 Hats: Librarian, Musicologist, Teacher

Happiness is hats
The Three Hats!

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)

Retrospective? Introspective? Prospective?

elderly-woman-311971_1280As 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.