Event: Applying to Library School Day at St John’s College, Cambridge

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Yes, St John’s really is this ridiculously beautiful… “St John’s College, Cambridge” by Steve Parkinson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Firstly I must apologise for the lateness of this post. I meant to write it and post it two weeks ago, but I was so busy preparing my Sheffield application that I just forgot to finish it. Oh, the irony.

On Thursday 10th November I was lucky enough to be given the afternoon off work to be able to attend an ‘Applying to Library School’ event, organised by the good people of CILIP East of England and kindly hosted by St John’s College, Cambridge.

The schedule for the afternoon looked like this:

14:00 – 14:15      Arrival and registration

14:15 – 14:45      General overview of studying at library school by Dr Stephen Pinfield of the University of Sheffield

14:45 – 15:30      Four students from four different courses at four different universities (UCL, Sheffield, Northumbria, and the University of Borås, Sweden) offer their take on the library school experience

15:30 – 16:15      Four lecturers from four different universities (Sheffield, UCL, City University of London, and Aberystwyth) offer their perspectives on attending library school

16:15 – 17:00      Informal Q&A with the lecturers over hot drinks

Although I was quite excited about the event, I did not have an auspicious start to the afternoon. I arrived 40 minutes early, so headed off to Costa to grab a coffee and kill some time. However, Costa was absolutely heaving – so busy, in fact, that they forgot to put any syrup in my vanilla latte (although they were obviously not too busy to charge me for it!). It was a crushing disappointment, but being the trooper I am, I somehow managed to carry on.

The event itself did not disappoint. The presentation by Stephen Pinfield was definitely thought-provoking: he started it off with a job description for a liaison librarian post and highlighted how many ‘soft’ skills are now highly desired by employers (e.g. negotiating skills, awareness of wider HE issues, the ability to network, etc.). He encouraged us to think not just about the academic course content, but also about the employability opportunities the school offers. He definitely did some major plugging for the University of Sheffield in this section, but as that is the school I have my heart set on, I didn’t mind too much! I was in fact really pleased to learn about aspects of the Sheffield course that I hadn’t heard about before, such as the fact that they do mock interview training where students take turns being interviewed and then performing the interview, so that they get a holistic look at both sides of the process. I know that I tend to perform quite poorly in interviews, so although the thought of the mock interviewing process sounds terrifying, I’m aware that it would be useful for me to undergo. Pictures of some of the slides from Stephen’s presentation can be found here.

The two panel discussions were also interesting to listen to. None of the four students were on the exact course I want to do, so I wasn’t sure how useful it would be, but I did enjoy hearing their perspectives on their courses. Only one of the four students studied full time; the others were either part-time or distance learners, and their stories of how much of a struggle they found working full time as well as studying definitely reaffirmed that I do want to study full time. Obviously full time courses are still intense, and it would be nice to be earning, but I think that it would be more beneficial for my own style of learning to go for it full time. One thing that did make me laugh was that the student from Sheffield made sure to emphasise how much cheaper it is to live up North – definitely a massive plus in Sheffield’s favour!

The panel discussion with the lecturers felt quite rushed, which is probably why it felt to me like the least useful part of the day. One of the questions asked of the students was what they wished they known before they started the course (most of the answers involved either time or money), so I thought it would be good to ask the lecturers what they wished their students knew. They said it was an excellent question, which felt nice, but unfortunately we ran out of time before they got chance to give me a properly in-depth answer. However, the lecturer from City did say that she wished her students had a fuller understanding of the dynamism of the sector. I thought that was really interesting – one of the reasons I always give for wanting to work as an information professional is the fact that things are changing quickly and constantly, which keeps things exciting.

For me, the informal Q&A with the lecturers was definitely the most useful part. I had approximately 1000 questions for Stephen of Sheffield, and he answered them all with very good grace. I found out that Sheffield neither interview nor charge for applying, both of which made me very happy. I was also very relieved to find out that they offer support for doing research for your dissertation; for my undergraduate degree we were heavily steered away from empirical research, so it was good to know that there would be the resources in place if that is the route I choose to take. In fact, the session was going so well that it almost seemed inevitable that I would somehow ruin it – and I did. Just after I thanked Stephen, I turned to leave, and in the process stood squarely on his foot. Fortunately he was extremely gracious about it, but I still wanted the ground to swallow me whole. ‘The ability to ruin any given situation’ is, unfortunately, kind of a sucky superpower.

Overall, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon, and left feeling really energised and enthusiastic about going to library school. I’d been slacking on starting my Sheffield application and it actually gave me the push I needed to get on with it. I’d definitely recommend attending to next year’s Graduate Trainee(s).

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