6. Jennifer – MSc student

Jennifer Higgins

Jennifer Higgins

Last week, we heard from Delphine who is the current trainee at GSA. This week, we hear from Jennifer Higgins who occupied that post last year and is now an MSc student in Information and Library Studies at Robert Gordon’s. She tells us how the traineeship has been a useful background for her course.

The decision to apply for the SCONUL Graduate Library Traineeship at Glasgow School of Art Library 18 months ago was a bit of a gambit. After a string of jobs since graduating with an English degree, covering everything from retail to additional support needs to a few halcyon months spent in Glasgow Caledonian’s Saltire Centre, I found myself in a temporary post at Glasgow University’s Student Services. Being slid across the desk on crisp, university-crest paper was the possibility of making the job permanent; an end, at last, to the conveyor belt of rolling fixed-term contracts. But I was in a pickle! Luring me in with its golden ticket opportunity to a professional postgraduate qualification in information and library studies was an advert for the traineeship on the Glasgow School of Art website. As I read the job description, I understood that if I was successful, this side-step represented an ideal route onto a course I’d been trying to summon the courage to do for years. Faced with a choice between career security and career curiosity, I took the risk and submitted the application.

I’m very glad I did. With my wonderful year as a trainee over, I now find myself part-way through the MSc Information and Library Studies course at the Robert Gordon University. The course’s ethos of assigning students assessed practical tasks – many of which are aligned with the work of LIS professionals – went a long way in my decision to study at RGU. So too did the flexibility of the course coordinator Dr Konstantina Martzoukou and a nicely timed piece of serendipity in securing a bursary to cover the cost of my tuition fees. Quite fortuitous for a wee Glesga gal used to loitering around the Mitchell Library for book events and free PC access!

I’ll admit that returning to student life from the traineeship has been a difficult transition. My learning at GSA Library was facilitated by a vibrant and creative environment and the best possible mentorship from the School’s two erudite librarians, Duncan Chappell and David Buri. Their treatment of me as a peer and willingness to impart their knowledge and expertise had given me, among many things, the encouragement to continually network in the local library community. I felt integrated into a working group of like-minded people whose practice-sharing created a real social buzz about the job. With the stabilisers off and a more solitary learning environment stretching into the horizon, the post-traineeship blues were definitely a challenge to overcome in the first month or so of study.

I weaned myself off my M&S food shops and glutinous GSA Library diet simultaneously. Duncan invited me to co-present at the CILIP Autumn Gathering on the Library’s award-winning Infosmart portfolio – another great opportunity to quaff brandy (or rather, sip tea) with some heavyweight library professionals. This also gave me the confidence to deliver a joint student paper on the future of libraries at the Grampian Information Conference, something I’m not sure I’d have had the brass-neck to do without the previous experience. I made the leap from Glasgow Women’s Library attendee to GWL volunteer, got involved in Wikimedia events and started to build a Twitter profile, all the while participating in some lively debates with my fellow postgrads! So a social outlet has emerged and I’ve learnt to adjust to my occasionally nomadic lifestyle travelling between the Dear Green Place and the Silver City – flask and headphones recommended!

Undertaking the traineeship has had numerous benefits on the course. Most obvious are a working familiarity of library vocabulary and an appreciation of the political climate impacting on libraries that enables me to personally engage with the critical opinions on the course and complements the academic theory. One of the features of the MSc at RGU is a pretty demanding assignment schedule and the practical skills I developed as a trainee have been indispensable. In the ‘Information Studies’ module for example, students are asked to conduct an information enquiry on behalf of a researcher. My experience of handling some loosely shaped requests at GSA certainly helped when conducting a reference interview and pulling together a number of resources into a literature review. This task felt like an evolution of the skills that researching and writing the Library’s resource blogs and Business Entrepreneurship Guide had primed me for. Similarly, a titbit about the Library of Congress’ Bibframe project picked up along the way formed the basis of an article-style assignment on MARC cataloguing developments – a gripping read.

A valuable aspect to the traineeship was the ability to be a bit audacious when promoting the library and engaging with the wider community. This included sharing a selection of the Special Collections in the Mackintosh Library on World Book Night and organising a Glasgow Library Tweetup with the School’s Archives and Collection Centre. Knowing where to draw the line between being bold and resembling Bambi on ice is still a trick I’m trying to master so rather than witter on, here are five “trainee to MSc” tips:

  1. Network. Networking has allowed me to keep a contact with other library goings-on, discovered through mailing lists, blogs, CILIPUpdate and most importantly, social media. It’s amazing how much stuff can pass you by if you don’t keep your finger on the pulse!
  2. Research the options. Might sound obvious but, like any professional qualification, there’s a great deal of disparity between the content and cost of CILIP-accredited courses offered throughout the UK and one in Ireland. Some prioritse the library aspect, others are more archive-centric and a couple of others place an emphasis on the digital and information side of things. Finance will inevitably play a part, but it’s still important to recognise what’s important to you early on, and zone in on those courses.
  3. Apply for funding opportunities. Of course, there’s no guarantee of success but, as a trainee, you’ll have plenty of additional points to include in an application. Thank goodness for philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie…
  4. Be sector-savvy. The majority of traineeships seem to be offered in academic and/or specialist libraries that tailor their services towards academics. My Saturday job in a public library continually reinforces the fact that public libraries are a completely different animal. So perspective is essential.
  5. Have positive conviction. There’s much to be said about the decision to study for an information and library studies degree. Others may have reservations, so it’s important to lobby not only for libraries but for our own increasing professional relevance.

One of the things that now lie ahead for me in the second part of the course is the daunting task of applying for the professional roles once out of reach. Equipped with practical experience garnered from GSA and the formal skills and knowledge from RGU, I look forward to returning to full-time work… and resuming my custom with M&S. I anticipate that a newly qualified librarian will be among the 23 bloggers included here, and able to bestow some welcome advice for those risk-takers on the cusp of starting something new.

Thanks to Jennifer for the great tips. If you have any comments or questions for her please reply below, or find her on Twitter @Jenny_say_quoi.

For an interesting discussion on the merits of different types of qualifications from another blogger, see Contrary Librarian. The Library Trainee Network also has a relevant post by Emily Wheeler on the MA Librarianship at Sheffield.

Because of Good Friday, next week’s post will be brought forward a day to Thursday, 17th April.

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2 responses to “6. Jennifer – MSc student

  1. Pingback: Glasgow School of Art | 23 Librarians·

  2. Pingback: Happy 2015! | 23 (more) Librarians·

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