Category Archives: Student Engagement

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

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.

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.


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.

Face to Face Study Day

On Saturday, the PGCert and MEd cohorts had a “live” study day at Speirs Locks.  We talked about ethics and forms of questioning, and about sourcing reading material, and citing it.

Questions of ethics are a new area for me.  Really, ethics feature more in the social sciences; they hardly crop up at all when the subjects of your research are not only very, very historical, but their descendants- if traceable – are usually flattered that you’re researching their ancestors!

Forms of questioning?  Well, it made me think about my research project, because I’m beginning to think I’ll need to use several modes of information-gathering.

  1. Draw on anonymous library surveys already done
  2. Use Survey Monkey – probably surveying the students in my own cohort, because they will appreciate what I’m doing (and why), and will also have a vested interest in anything I can organise to help them with their own research efforts!
  3. A few short interviews.  If – at the end of my Survey Monkey survey – I can ask whether respondents consider themselves “highly techie”, “moderately comfortable with online technologies”, “quite uncomfortable” or “tech-averse”, then hopefully I could conduct interviews with one or two of each.

When it came to discussing sources of information and referencing, though, I quickly found myself halfway between teacher and student, because librarians really do have a head-start in this field.  We had some interesting conversations – and it became quite clear that if students don’t initially have a satisfactory experience, they’ll quickly look elsewhere, or use Google/Google Scholar, or beg assistance from a friend at another institution.

My concern, therefore, is that students should learn how to use what we have, even allowing for the fact that our syndicated subscriptions do mean we have patchy coverage of some e-resources.  If a publisher allows the SHEDL group full access to certain journals but not others, or certain years, then it can be a frustrating experience for the reader.  We can’t avoid that, but we can try to ensure that students know what they’re doing so they won’t fail at the first login request.

It would be lovely to go to Waterstones with each student and their tablet/laptop, to help them practise logging in from outwith the Conservatoire.  Sadly, there aren’t enough of us library staff to do that!  (Nice idea, though ….  I wonder if it would be feasible with groups of students?  But then again, distance learners aren’t all local and certainly aren’t all around during office hours. Ho-hum … )

It’s always good to get together with the rest of the cohort, though.  It helps make our studies feel “real”.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember that you’re doing a certificated course, unless you meet the others and talk about common interests.

Practising What I Preach

A week tomorrow, I’m visiting a class of third year Trad Music students to talk about their research projects, and to see if the library has any resources that might prove useful to them.

I have a conviction that “parachute lecturers” – people like me, asked to give one-off teaching sessions – need to work harder to create context for their lessons. Therefore, I’ve just sent a MailChimp message to everyone, to give advance warning of what I’ll be talking about.  This way, I hope the students will be prepared to share their initial thoughts about these projects, and might come armed with questions about any resources they’ve already tried.

This is not exactly part of my PGCert project, but I’m logging it in case I need it as “evidence” later on!


I’m coming along to talk to you about your research projects – so I can see if the library can help you with any useful materials, any e-resources you might not have thought of, and maybe offer a few tips about keeping track of your research “journey” along the way.

I just thought I’d send this email to ask you each to be prepared to tell me briefly what the project is about.  If there’s anything you’d like to give me advance warning about, just drop me an email: ~~~~~~~~~~~~

And if there are any online resources you’ve tried but had difficulty with, let me know, and we can have a look at them together.  (Here’s the library’s webpage:

Reflecting upon my Practice

As a librarian, part of my practice is to help train our students in effective learning and use of our library resources.  Let’s not forget – anything in a library is a resource, whether it’s a book, score, recording or library staff, not to mention the e-resources that don’t actually live “in” the library but are accessible through our website.  A library IS a resource!

I decided to pull together a reading list about reflective practice and being a reflective practitioner.  Then I blogged about it, and used the blog text for a MailChimp message to all our staff and first-year students.  Here’s the blogpost, on our WhittakerLive performing arts blog:

E-journals, E-portfolios and Reflective Practice

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.