Helen Muir is Research Support Librarian at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, and has also worked in school libraries.
I loved going to libraries as I grew up and did my school work experience with Edinburgh’s Schools Library Service so, when a school friend handed me the Robert Gordon Institute of Technology (now Robert Gordon University) prospectus to look through, their BA (Hons) Librarianship and Information Studies seemed like a very good idea. It was, and I also worked every summer for Edinburgh City Libraries and during my 3rd and 4th Years was an evening library assistant for RGU. I thought that the experience gained in these temporary posts helped me to secure a job more quickly and have a bit more of an idea of the practicalities of working in libraries when I started work as a newly qualified librarian.
My first professional post was with a school library in North Ayrshire in 1994, where I worked for just over a year. I managed to complete the fast track route to chartership in that time – my main motivation being the pay differential between chartered and non-chartered librarians then! Due to my personal circumstances (I was about to marry someone who had just moved south of the border for work), I took another school librarian post in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where I went on to work for nine years. As with most posts, there were good and bad things about being a school librarian. I felt isolated at times, and was occasionally threatened by pupils, but these were things that I learned to handle much more effectively as I gained more experience. I really enjoyed the huge variety of work that there is to do in school libraries, and am still very proud that I managed to set up an automated system by myself. I met some fantastic staff and pupils, and saw the exam results climb year after year while I was there, and hope that the library helped in some way towards that. I found helping school pupils with their learning to be very rewarding, as was encouraging reading and getting the opportunity to read children’s books themselves.
Following that, I returned north of the border, again for family reasons, but this time with a 3-year-old son and a daughter on the way. I wasn’t sure at this point which way my working life would go, and decided to just see what would happen. I applied to a couple of school libraries, but wasn’t sure that I really wanted to return to this sector. Then, completely by chance, I was told of another parent who had a Saturday librarian job at Queen Margaret University, but was about to go on maternity leave and the university was looking for someone to cover this. I duly applied, got the contract, and a few months after that contract ended, got the post of the Sunday librarian. Initially, this involved working four hours on a Sunday afternoon where I was based at an enquiry desk and given various projects to work on, including checking and packing the archive ready for QMU’s move to the new campus at Musselburgh. Another four hours were worked during the week, again partly staffing the enquiry desk and also undergoing any training as necessary. Following the move to the new campus, the post became a full day on the Sunday, with less frequent training visits during the week. In 2008 the post of Research Support Librarian became available. This was a 20 hour per week, term time only post, which fitted in with school hours and holidays – an ideal opportunity to develop new skills, work with lots of different people, but also fitting in with family life.
The Research Support Librarian role has changed and developed in the five and half years that I have been in post. Originally the focus was on training researchers in using library resources, how to use reference management software and developing training for PhD and Post Doctoral students. Advocating a new repository service and open access publishing was the other main focus of the role at that point. I spent a lot of time in my first weeks and months getting to know staff and promoting the training services. With the advocacy for our repository, eResearch, and our new open access mandate, I met a fair amount of resistance, indifference and occasional enthusiasm from our academics. At this point, eResearch did not have many papers in it, and staff could not see the benefit of it. Coupled with this, rumblings of REF (Research Excellence Framework) 2014 were beginning to be heard around the university, so I started to search databases for our academics’ papers and get them into eResearch, rather than waiting for them to deposit or even make the library aware of them. As eResearch grew, so did the external, and therefore internal, interest in it and it was agreed with the research office that it could be used to inform the REF selection process. Now that the REF work for the repository is complete for this submission, we are working towards upgrading the repository and adding features to it such Altmetrics and more visible usage statistics and author profiles. Other increasing demands of the role include research data management and the use of social media in research. Open access is of much more concern now to our academics following the Finch report, research funder OA requirements and the likelihood of the next REF requiring submitted papers to be OA.
Currently, I feel that academic libraries are where I am best suited to working and I very much enjoy the varied work and new challenges that the role of a Research Support Librarian provides. I appreciate being part of a team now, after so many years on my own as a school librarian, although sometimes being the only decision maker in the library had its merits too! Coming from a school library to an academic one has been a huge change, but one that I’m very glad that I was able to make.
Thanks to Helen for her interesting account of her journey through school and university libraries. If you have any comments or questions, please use the reply box below. Helen will be happy to follow them up by email or in person. She is also on Twitter @hmuir.