Ellen Haggar, who is currently studying for an MA in Library and Information Studies at UCL, spent two weeks with us at the end of April to gain work experience in an academic library. This is Ellen’s account of her time here:
“What kind of library do you want to work in?” This is always the question other librarians ask me upon learning that I study Library and Information Studies. To be honest, I still don’t have a clear answer. I usually reply with, “Oh, I’m open to anything!” Uninspiring, but true. Some people on my course know exactly what they want to do after they finish – work in a special collection or a law library. I’ve only ever worked in a public library, and so I wanted to use my two week placement to try out something new.
I’ve always had the idea in the back of my mind that it would be interesting to be a subject librarian – to combine my BA in English and Creative Writing with my library qualification, and help students studying English Literature. So when UCL placed me at Goldsmiths, I was excited to see the day to day working life of a subject librarian.
The first day was like the first day of any new job, crammed with introductions, tours, health and safety and shadowing various people. I was instantly struck by the impressive facilities, and the bustling yet relaxed atmosphere of the ground floor, which is a social study space. Everyone I met was interested in my course and happy to help. The first day provided me with an overview of the library and the Reader Services team, who are responsible for the help desk, stock circulation and user experience. As part of the Reception Team in my previous job, being on the help desk is something I really enjoy and have experience of, and definitely something I miss. The rest of my placement would be full of new experiences with the subject librarian team.
Goldsmiths currently have a team of four subject librarians, each responsible for a number of subjects. I think my favourite part of the placement was seeing how the librarians engage with students. A significant chunk of their time is dedicated to leading workshops on academic skills such as referencing, a subject that could be very dry, but is critical to success at university, and so the librarian’s knowledge and genuine desire to help shines through, leaving the students feeling more confident in their abilities. Something else that struck me about Goldsmiths Library was the enthusiasm for getting students involved. Each year the library runs a Library Student Rep Programme, which gives students practical experience working in a library, as well as the opportunity to purchase books for their course. I attended the debrief meeting in which the students gave their feedback – they all seemed to really enjoy and value the experience. I thought it was a brilliant idea and definitely something I would have done back at university – I was quite jealous!
Another aspect I found really valuable was looking at budgets and usage statistics. As someone who endured secondary school maths with a constant headache, I never thought I would admit that statistics and budgets would be interesting. But it is definitely something I need to get my head around for the future. I was given a mini-project looking at the usage and value for money of an e-resource – it was really valuable experience and helped me to think more about library budgets and getting the best out of resources. Tip – learn to love spreadsheets and graphs!
So, what kind of library do I want to work in? Certainly, subject librarianship still calls to me, and I am so glad I’ve had the opportunity to see a subject librarian team at work. But any role where I can help the library user, and feel like I’ve made a difference, surrounded by lovely colleagues is the perfect role for me.