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

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!


Supracurricular Hijinks: St John Ambulance First Aid Course

Last week, between the 25th and 27th October, I attended a ‘First Aid at Work‘ (FAW) course at the St John Ambulance training centre in Cherry Hinton, Cambridge. I am a fairly squeamish person, so my decision to volunteer as a workplace First Aider was greeted with some amusement by my family – my nan actually laughed out loud – but I really enjoyed the course. Having a First Aid qualification does inspire a slightly conflicting mix of emotions: I’m obviously dead proud of having passed the course and amassed all these skills, but I definitely hope I never have to use them, because if I do, that means something has gone horribly wrong!

I’ll try to not ramble as much as I did in my previous post (my mum actually refused to read the whole thing because she said it was too long – thanks for the show of support, ma), but here’s a brief rundown of what an FAW course is like.

The basics: the initial FAW course lasts three days, and the qualification lasts for three years. There’s a three hour Annual Refresher course you can take once a year to keep your skills up to date, and then a two day Requalification course you’re encouraged to take within one month of your qualification expiring.

The details: This is an overview of what the course covers, which I pinched from here:

The role of the first aider Head injuries
Managing an emergency Health and safety (first aid) regulations
Communication and casualty care Low blood sugar
Asthma Poisoning
Bleeding (minor and severe) Resuscitation (adult CPR)
Bone, muscle and joint injuries Seizures (adult)
Burns and scalds Severe allergic reaction
Chest pains (including heart attack) Shock
Choking (adult) Spinal injuries
Eye injuries Stroke
Fainting Unresponsive casualty

Your performance on the course is assessed continuously over a range of short practicals, rather than in one big final exam, so all the days had a mixture of theory and assessment. The assessments can be either written, practical, or both. When I say ‘written’, I don’t mean essays; they were mostly multiple choice exercises or watching a series of videos and identifying what each casualty was suffering from. Although there are a LOT of things to remember (lists of signs and symptoms for each ailment; acronyms (such as SCALD (size, cause, age, location, depth) for assessing burns); that kind of thing), the written assessments weren’t at all daunting, and the majority of course participants got 100% on every one.

With regards to the practicals: despite the fact that those words usually fill me with dread (thanks, A-Level Chemistry), in this context I was an absolute whiz at them. I know this because, when I volunteered to take the first shift as an unresponsive casualty in the recovery position practical, one member of my group leaned over to the other and said, with absolutely no detectable sarcasm, “Oh she’s very good at that.” At long last, my ability to lie on the floor absolutely motionless has been recognised! I like to think I was quite good at assessing the scene and dressing wounds too (you know, the actually useful stuff), but sadly that isn’t what my group members chose to remark upon. Oh well, at least some of my skills were recognised…

A definite highlight of the course for me was how friendly, approachable and knowledgeable all the trainers were. We had four total – one main assessor who we saw every day, and then a new deputy assessor each day. All four were really lovely and made lots of jokes (of varying quality) which kept us entertained and stopped us getting too nervous. It was also interesting to have so many assessors because they all had different stories to tell, both about doing first aid for real and about being the casualty themselves – for example, one assessor had recently had a stroke, so she was able to give us a real insight into what that is like for patients. Another had recently performed CPR on her neighbour for 25 minutes until an ambulance had arrived – we were all exhausted after only doing it for 2 minutes, so that was definitely an eye-opening story. Hearing their stories kept us thinking about how first aid could and does happen in real life, rather than in the sterile, artificial environment of the training centre.

To be honest, there weren’t really any downsides to the course, except that the training centre is absolutely freezing and the coffee they provide to warm you up again is really, really bad. (Didn’t stop me drinking three cups a day, of course – it was REALLY cold in there.) If you’ve ever sort of thought about becoming a First Aider, I would definitely recommend taking the plunge – what have you got to lose?

Thanks for reading,