Open Day: BIALL/CLSIG/SLA Europe Graduate Open Day

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The New Reading Room” by Peter Alfred Hess is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

There’s a Facebook group for current Graduate Trainees, which was set up earlier this year by Grace, one of the GTs from the University of Essex. A little while ago, someone posted a link in the group to this event on the CILIP website, and I was immediately intrigued. My entire experience in libraries so far has been in academic and public libraries, so the prospect of getting the chance to learn about lots of different kinds of ‘non-traditional’ libraries was really exciting. Chloe, the lovely trainee from St John’s College, also signed up to the day, which I really appreciated – networking does not come naturally to me, so having someone there who I already know is always comforting.

Before I start, here’s a quick rundown of all the acronyms mentioned in the post:

  • BIALL: British and Irish Association of Law Librarians
  • CILIP: Chartered Institute of Legal and Information Professionals
  • CLSIG: Commercial, Legal and Scientific Interest Group (a Special Interest Group within CILIP)
  • SLA Europe: the European chapter of the Special Libraries Association 

The event was held at CILIP HQ in London, about 25 minutes away from King’s Cross – handy, because the day started at 09:30 and my train didn’t get in until 09:05. The day properly started with coffee and mingling, but geography and trains conspired so that I missed that. For me, therefore, the day started with two speakers: Catherine Johnson from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Jon Beaumont from Shearman & Sterling LLP. It was really interesting to have these two speakers one after the other, because they have very different career histories: Catherine has worked in several different countries and worked in many kinds of libraries, whereas Jon has only had about four jobs total and all of his library experience is in the legal sector. It’s always reassuring to see that it is possible to end up where you want to be, even if you have to take a long-winded route! They both finished their talks by providing us with some good advice for when we’re hunting for our first professional jobs. Catherine emphasised being adventurous and making the most even of terrible jobs; Jon focused on the importance of genuine enthusiasm and interest in what you’re doing.

The third talk of the day was given by Neil Currams and Victoria Sculfor from Sue Hill Recruitment, whose subject was ‘How to Succeed at Interviews’. Interviews are not my strong suit, so I wrote a lot of notes on this talk. What they emphasised most was the importance of preparation – even down to the small details like ensuring you have a good handshake. They also mentioned the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) technique for answering interview questions, which is practical advice I definitely think I will use in the future. Although a lot of their advice seemed like common sense, I still found listening to the talk really helpful, especially now that I have lots of notes all in the same place to refer back to in the future.

The last presentation before our library visit was from Richard Nelsson of The Guardian’s library (they have their own Twitter – you can check them out here). He was perhaps the most pessimistic of the day’s speakers, although this is perhaps not surprising as newspaper libraries are a shadow of what they once were. He did still have some good advice to share: the two things he emphasised most were the importance of tailoring how you supply your information to your specific users – journalists have different needs to students who have different needs to lawyers etc. – and the surprising usefulness of ‘non-traditional’ library skills, such as SEO/keyword usage, web analytics and sourcing photographs. Given how many university libraries are involved in social media, blogging and the like, I think all of these could also easily be put to use in an academic workplace.

After we’d sat still and attentive for so long, it was time for us to stretch our legs and head off on our library visits. Half the group was destined for the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, which is attached to the University of London. However, at this point I’m pretty much allergic to anything with ‘Legal Studies’ in the title, so Chloe and I set off instead for the Wiener Library in Russell Square. I hadn’t heard of the Wiener Library before I signed up for this day, but it turned out to be absolutely fascinating. It is named after Dr Alfred Wiener, a Jewish man from Germany who worked against anti-semitism and who eventually was forced to flee to Amsterdam. There, he set up the Jewish Central Information Office, which archived materials pertaining to the Nazi regime. After the November Pogrom of 1938, Dr Wiener relocated the archive to London and helped the British government with the war effort. After the end of the war, the Library helped lawyers at the Nuremberg trials and also assisted in establishing Holocaust Studies as an academic discipline. Whilst the main bulk of the collection is related to the Holocaust, the library now also houses information on subsequent genocides, such as Rwanda in the 1990s. The history and politics of the 20th century has always been a huge interest of mine, so it was really interesting just to browse the shelves and see the variety of material they have. It also helps that the library building itself is really beautiful (see the photo at the top of this post).

Probably the most interesting and important, but also most heart-breaking, aspects of the library is its access to the International Tracing Service Digital Archive. The Wiener Library website explains it better than I could:

In December 2011, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office deposited the UK’s digital copy of the International Tracing Service Archive at The Wiener Library. This unique archive contains over 100 million pages of Holocaust-era documents relating to the fates of over 17.5 million people who were subject to incarceration, forced labour and displacement during and after World War II. The archive is now available at the Library to those who wish to examine documents related to their own fate or to that of family members during World War II. The digital copy is also available for consultation in the Reading Room for those interested in conducting historical research within the collections. 

After we had finished at the Wiener Library, it was back to CILIP HQ for lunch. This lasted for an hour, which I was a bit worried would be too long, but it actually passed quite quickly. Chloe and I spoke to a variety of people, including a GT from the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and several students from the University of the West of England. It was probably the first real opportunity I’ve had since the Sheffield Open Day to meet other library enthusiasts who aren’t currently in East Anglia, so it was really interesting to compare postgraduate options and swap stories about our current positions. All nerds are big fans of talking about what they love with other people who love that thing, and I am no exception.

Once lunch was over, we trooped back upstairs and settled down for four more presentations. The first was from Susie Kay, of the Professionalism Group. Susie had a big personality and an engaging presentation style, so she was a good choice to do the dreaded post-lunch slot, when everyone is sleepy. Her advice was applicable to a wide range of careers, not just librarianship: always be empathetic, honest and authentic; make sure to think about your legacy; and remember that continuing professional development is key.

Next up was Binni Brynolf from Chatham House (also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs). Binni was probably the coolest person I have ever seen – they are certainly the first librarian I have met with purple hair, but hopefully not the last! They first worked in academic libraries, both in Sweden and then in the UK, before moving into more specialist libraries. They gave us a quick overview of the main differences between academic and specialist libraries, which was helpful for thinking about what kind of environment I would like to work in after my MA.

The last two presentations were unfortunately the ones I have the fewest notes on. The penultimate talk was from Karen Crouch of the University of Law, who spoke to us about her job. Her most memorable piece of advice was, when interviewing, to specifically demonstrate your capabilities – do not think you can get away with vague statements! Lastly, Tracey South and Jayne Winch from CB Resourcing gave us a talk on job hunting and the particular importance of social media – there’s a lot of jobs being advertised on Twitter nowadays. They gave away goodie bags at the end of the day, the contents of which included their presentation on a USB stick, so I have that to peruse whenever I need some job hunting advice.

The very last part of the day was a panel Q&A with some of the day’s speakers. They reminded us that libraries can be found in many sectors: further and higher education, the legal sector, corporate firms, the third sector, even the government. To this end, we need to think laterally and be curious about all the opportunities which are out there. Finally, we must always network network network!

After everything was packed up, there was a general invitation to go with the speakers to the pub, but Chloe and I decided against it and headed back to King’s Cross. We were very tired, but overall it was a really informative and enjoyable day. I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to future GTs!

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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).