Hi, my name is Jo and I'm a newly qualified librarian working in several academic libraries in Cambridge.

I originally created this blog as an electronic learning journal whilst participating in an extended shadowing programme prior to starting the MA in Information Services Management at London Metropolitan University.

The views expressed here are entirely my own.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Interim Review Meeting

This afternoon I met with the ALL (A&L) who has been co-ordinating my shadowing programme to discuss progress to date and whether my original aims and objectives are being met.

My main reason for participating in the programme is to gain a deeper insight into the role of the professional librarian before fully commiting to a Masters course in September. At our preliminary meeting we identified the following core activities to be included in the schedule as a means of fulfilling this goal:

Observation of the Enquiry Desk
So far I have observed four different librarians at the desk and have compared their different styles and ways of working. Although most of the enquiries have been fairly routine, I have still been able to collect a number of useful tips for working at the Enquiry Desk. As described in earlier posts, there were even a couple of ocassions where I was able to put some of these into practice to directly assist one or two of our readers. These sessions have therefore increased my confidence in dealing with routine enquiries at the Reception Desk and have equipped me with some valuable examples of best practice for use in my future career.

Assisting a User Education Session
Although I have assisted with several user education sessions in the past, I wanted to learn more about what goes into planning and delivering this type of training. I was therefore able to focus on the various factors that need to be considered such as: the type of students involved and the level of detail required (undergraduate or postgraduate? 1st, 2nd or 3rd year?); their previous experience (are they likely to have used the library before?, what resources might they already be familiar with?); the timing of the session (are they completely new students already overwhelmed with information?, have they already completed assignments and are more aware of the help they might need?).

It was also interesting to observe how the smaller group size and venue elicited a more relaxed atmosphere and a less formal style of delivery. This made it easier for me to get involved and help those students who needed further one-to-one support.

Visit from Graduate Trainees
When I first considered applying to Library School, I was worried not having followed a graduate traineeship might put me at a disadvantage to those who have. Talking to the trainees, however, I was soon reassured that I have had an equivalent, if not a richer experience working as a Library Assistant.

Comparing our roles it was apparent that most of our daily tasks, such as shelving and reception duties, are much the same. Although some of the trainees have been given additional para-professional tasks such as basic cataloguing and classification, my involvement in the Inter-library Loans Team and special projects, such as the stock edit, have given me a similar insight into professional tasks. Also, although the trainees participate in a programme of group training sessions and visits to other libraries, the Library's own Learning Hour programme and summer visits to other libraries have given me similar opportunities to learn more about libraries and librarianship in general.

I was equally reassured to learn that, although they were mostly recent graduates, many of the trainees shared my apprehensions about returning to study and my worries about finding a professinal post in the future. Through talking to other people with similar aspirations and concerns I was therefore able to re-evaluate the value of my experience and to rationalise some of my fears and insecurities about returning to study as a mature student.

Academic Liaison - Attending the Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Faculty Board Meeting and Course Validations
After shadowing the ALL (A&L) in the summer (see my Summer Shadowing Report), I was keen to learn more about what the role involves in practice. It was therefore suggested that I observe a Faculty Board Meeting which would also allow me to see the course validation process in action.

As mentioned in my earlier post, I was particularly interested in the comments made by the student representatives as these helped to explain some of the negative, even aggressive behaviour we frequently encounter in the library. The students aired their frustrations with issues such as IT network outages, changes to student e-mail and teething problems resulting from the restructure of the Student Information Centres. This seemed to suggest that tensions don't necessarily originate from within the library itself but from an accumulation of perceived failiures with our university's systems and procedures generally. These perceptions also seem to stem from the increasingly high expectations which are bred by increasingly expensive tuition fees.

The discussions surrounding these issues also suggested that frustrations can occur when students have not fully understood what is expected of them. This is a common problem especially when it comes to library fines. Often our readers feel aggrieved when we explain that the fines stand because it is their responsibility to check their library accounts regularly and renew their loans online. As one of the academic staff suggested, perhaps this highlights a need for our university as a whole to do more to make our informal expectations of students more explicit.

The other aspect of the meeting which drew my attention was the consideration of proposed new academic pathways as part of the course validation process. As discussed in my earlier post, I was surprised that some academic staff proposing these new courses feel able to judge the extent of their impact on the library's resources without actually consulting the ALLs. I think this highlights a need to raise the profile of the library and the value of the services that we provide which unfortunately seems to be generally true of all libraries.

Remaining schedule
The second half of my shadowing programme will cover the other areas that were identified as being core to the profressional librarian's role. These include sessions on cataloguing, ordering and collection development as well as more sessions observing the Enquiry Desk. I also plan to accompany the ALL (A&L) to the cross-site Staff Learning and Development Group meeting but as this requires additional time to travel to another site, it may not be possible if any other Library Assistants are absent on that day. If this is the case then the time will be given to additional sessions observing the Enquiry Desk and possibly observing a one-to-one appointment between a Subject Librarian and a student.

Another factor which may disrupt the planned schedule is the current restructure of library staff which initially comes into effect on 1 April. This means that most of the ALLs will become Faculty Liaison Librarians (FLLs) with cross-site responsibility for their respective subject areas. The ALL (A&L) is likely to become the Staff Learning and Development Manager which means that, like the FLLs, she will no longer be staffing the Enquiry Desk. As my final shadowing session was planned to be with the ALL (A&L) this is therefore likely to have to be changed.

So far the shadowing programme has certainly met and, in some respects exceeded, my expectations. I had anticipated that my involvement in the various activities would be purely as an observer but was delighted to be given the opportunity to get actively involved where appropriate. This hands-on experience combined with the enthusiasm and encouragement of those people I have shadowed has certainly boosted my confidence and helped to confirm that librarianship is the career for me.

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