Category Archives: Librarianship

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.

 

 

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Three roles – or is it four?

Four days a week, I’m an academic librarian.  One day, I’m a postdoctoral researcher.  In August, the emphasis will shift slightly to three and a half days and one and a half, for the duration of my AHRC network funding grant.

A couple of days ago I realised my SCONUL Focus article was now in print, describing how my three roles in librarianship, research and pedagogy serve one another.  I find it quite easy writing about process, and I’ve often been asked to write or speak about this kind of thing.   In fact, my PGCert project also had a focus on process: I was contemplating the best ways to support distance learners in their information needs and skills development, and although the project gave me insight into how social scientists conduct educational research, and conducting the survey and interviews was an unexpected eye-opener, at the end of the day I was writing not only about my research findings, but about process, ie, the best ways to support learners.

However, it’s more challenging and perhaps more satisfying to write engagingly and accessibly about my musicological research, because it goes deeper into my specialism.  I have several pieces of writing submitted and awaiting publication at the moment, but what’s missing is something actually on the drawing-board, being written right now.  That’s largely because I was completing the PGCert portfolio.  Librarianship happens four days a week, research a fifth, and the PGCert had to fit around family life and my spare time.   Which didn’t, to be truthful, leave any spare time for writing!

However, I remembered the other day that I gave a paper earlier this year for which I have not yet sought a published home.   Maybe, just maybe I ought to dig it out and see what needs to be done to turn it into a proper paper for submission.

Librarianship, research, pedagogy … and author.  Well, after my annual leave, anyway!

 

Blending Librarianship With Research and Pedagogy (SCONUL Focus 69, 56-59)

SCONUL is the Standing Conference of National and University Librarians.  SCONUL Focus online is an open access publication.  Vol.69 is dedicated to articles by librarians engaged in various aspects of research.  My line-manager suggested I should contribute something – this is it.
Karen McAulay, ‘Blending Librarianship with Research and Pedagogy‘, SCONUL 69, 56-59 (July 2017)
ABSTRACT: I contend that the combination of librarianship with research is beneficial both on a personal level and to the library and institution, but that the addition of a third element – pedagogy – brings even stronger benefits.

Half a Day in the Life of an Academic Librarian

I was working from 1-5 today, because I was owed a few hours.  So, I had planned two meetings, one in my capacity as music librarian, and the other regarding a research grant application.

What happened? Two more people came asking for help in the 15 minutes before my first meeting. I helped the first – it was a quick question – and asked the second to come back later.  The first scheduled meeting happened, the second didn’t happen for unavoidable reasons, and then I had what I hope was a helpful second student consultation with the person whom I hadn’t time to help earlier.

And then I blogged some notes on my afternoon, on the library blog – Whittaker Live. Reproduced here, to avoid duplication of effort.  But before I do that, I’m just going to comment that it made me realise – again – how enthusiastic our postgraduates are, and how eager to get things right.  Also, I was reminded that logging into e-resources, and referencing and citation, are things we librarians just take in our stride.  They’re much bigger hurdles for our students, especially if they’ve been out of education for even just a few years.

In library terms, we would refer to these incidents as queries, though ‘consultation’ is probably closer to the mark.  In actual fact, it’s 1:1 teaching, though some of our RCS teachers probably assume that teaching only takes place in classrooms or studios!

Day in the Life of a Music Librarian

E-RESOURCES: ACCESS
This afternoon saw a quick question about our students accessing online resources from outside the Conservatoire – and a quick answer.  RCS staff and students need to go to our Library web-pages, click on the appropriate e-resources link, and then pick their chosen e-resource (or e-book, or e-journal).  Use Shibboleth institutional access from there – pick the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, then your usual RCS login.  We don’t use Athens – so avoid anything mentioning it.

REFERENCING
Then came two two individual consultations about Karen’s favourite things.  First, a fairly in-depth discussion about saving citations, then using the Harvard referencing style, and creating a bibliography.  The Whittaker Library has guidelines about Harvard referencing on our part of the RCS Portal.  (Find them here.  If you need more, just Google “Harvard Referencing”, and you’ll find plenty of other guides!)

If you’re referencing a lot of non-standard formats, the best advice is to find an example for something approximately close to your reference, then tweak the example to fit your purposes, making sure the author’s name and date of the source are listed first.  If you’re referencing something online, then you’ll need to give a hyperlink, and also the date you accessed the item.  All this is in our guide.

E-RESOURCES: RESEARCH

The next query was back to e-resources again, but this time about content rather than access.  We talked about finding info about specific musical works.  Naxos sleeve notes are useful.  JSTOR can be useful, too. Oxford Music Online is better for facts about the works’ composition dates, opus numbers, where they stand in the composers’ output, etc, but may not necessarily give you anything in-depth about individual works.

So, having delved briefly into online resources, we also looked at CD and vinyl sleeve notes – plenty more info in that direction!  And good old Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music.  It may be old, but could be a good starting place.

And more Reading for me!

I’ve just got an email about the latest SCONUL Focus issue.  It looks highly relevant, so I’m posting the text of the email here to remind myself to follow up!  Admittedly, it’s more about librarianship as a profession, than librarians as teachers. Nonetheless, it’ll be great for up-to-date commentary on the profession of academic librarianship.  It’s a bit of a blurred line when it comes to librarians sharing expertise with researchers – but still teaching of a kind!

“The new issue of SCONUL Focus, with staff / professional development as a key theme can now be accessed via the SCONUL website. See http://www.sconul.ac.uk/page/sconul-focus.

Amongst a wide range of articles you may be interested to read about the following:

  •  A selection of views from academics teaching at library schools about the skills that librarians of the future will need;
  • An illustration of some of the ways in which academic librarians are developing new support models to meet the needs of researchers engaging with research data management and open access;
  • A case study of how one service is encouraging “knowledge exchange” between their staff to ensure that information learned from training and attendance at events is shared across the service, as well as general information about current projects.

The SCONUL Focus editorial team is currently gathering submissions for issues 68 and 69 to be published during 2017. They will be themed around support for teaching and research respectively.  Guidance for authors and a list of key contacts are available on the web page for anyone who would be interested in contributing.

In other news – I submitted an article about combining librarianship, research and pedagogy, to issue 69. It should appear around June 2017, by my calculations.

Gearing up: Trimester 1

Girl on beach digging
Remember digging for information?

It’s that time of year again.  In order for our library teaching to take place, we need to get ourselves booked into our teaching colleagues’ timetables.  Every year our communications get a bit more finely-honed, and today’s is undoubtedly the best so far.  I’m emphasising the scope of what we can cover, and also clarifying the limitations of the traditional lecture format.  (We’re happy to work within it, but can do more in other teaching situations!)

“We’re trying to get organised bright and early this year. Colleagues will already have had an email asking for updated reading lists.  (Didn’t get it? Check your Clutter folder!)

“And now we’re offering our services to help inform and train our students in getting the most out of our library and electronic resources.

“We can talk about the catalogue; give an overview of particular electronic resources; explain how to access e-books and e-journals; give advice on referencing; or tell students about RefMe, a quick and easy way of saving bibliographic details for an assignment. We can give an overview suited to your students’ level, whether new undergraduates or more advanced students wanting to research information for their reflective journal. Or we can introduce some of our historical resources, if colleagues are teaching something that would be enhanced by them .

“We’re happy to appear at the beginning or near the end of a lecture or seminar – small chunks of information can be more palatable than a long spiel.  Obviously, we can’t arrange any collaborative learning activities in the context of a lecture theatre, but we’re very amenable to discussion as to how best to engage our students in other settings, if this would help.

“”Relevant and Timely” is our motto, so colleagues are urged to get in touch so we can organise our calendars accordingly.  Let’s start the conversation!”

 

Better Engagement = Better Results, by Michael Smalle (University of Limerick)

Panlibus 40 cover

A useful article in what is essentially our LMS (library management system) trade magazine, Panlibus.  Issue 40, Summer 2016, pp.4-5. The author has experience both as a teacher and a librarian and has recently been hired by the University of Limerick to a new role, Librarian: First Year Student Engagement and Success.

Interestingly, after hearing at one of yesterday’s ISME sessions that students welcome alumni advice about careers, and the importance of slightly older peer support, this article specifically mentions “peer advisors” in a library capacity, to help students learn what works best in their library and information searching activities.  An idea worth bearing in mind!

Read the article here.

Also saved in my Mendeley and Diigo accounts.