18. Claire – a university medical library

Claire Carolan

Claire Carolan

Claire Carolan is Senior Information Assistant at the Medical Library, University of Aberdeen.

Having read the inspiring previous blog-posts, I feel a little bit unusual as I can’t claim to have spent the best part of my childhood in my local public library. I enjoyed reading and being read to (still do!), and we always had plenty of books in the house, but I don’t recall being a regular at the bibliothèque municipale until I was much older – I’m Parisian born, and grew up in France.

I will say that libraries have been part of the whole of my adult life though. Having failed biology at 16, during the school year which could have led me to studying sciences and later enable me to become a doctor or a diplomat, my heart became set on becoming a librarian – the one profession which I imagined would allow me to learn about anything I could possibly dream of. For a long time I actually wanted to be an international spy, like James Bond, and that’s mainly where my passion for learning languages came from – growing up in a bilingual home probably helped a little too – but the harsh reality of polonium being poured into cups of tea put me off in the end.

After a couple of summer work-experience placements at Aberdeen University Library, I moved to Aberdeen for my studies. I worked part-time at the University of Aberdeen’s Queen Mother Library for the whole of my studies, in the role of what would now be called a Collections Assistant – which mainly involved shelving books and journals, and occasionally helping lost readers find the location of the book they were looking for, or linking them with the appropriate subject librarian. When I went to Austria on my Erasmus / study abroad year, I applied to the Musik und Darstellende Kunst Universitaetsbibliothek in Graz and was employed to do some retrospective cataloguing of music journals there for one semester. During one summer, I studied for a Teaching English as a Foreign Language Diploma and, straight after graduation of my MA (Hons) in German with Music Studies, I left the UK to teach English in China. There, as serendipity would have it, I got involved as a volunteer with The Library Project, which is a charity that builds school libraries in rural China.  At this point, I felt the MSc in Information and Library Studies offered at the Robert Gordon University was going to be my next step if I wanted to be involved professionally with libraries. So I applied, and was also fortunate to be successful with my funding applications, as I was awarded both tuition fees and a postgraduate maintenance grant.

The MSc trained me in the more traditional skills such as building reference bibliographies, cataloguing and classification, and I found the management modules very relevant to the real world, but it also opened my mind to everything that was possible within Librarianship and the wider information profession.  I spent my placement at the Pompidou Centre’s Bibliothèque publique d’information (Bpi) in Paris. If you make the time to connect with people and think about how you could work together, this is actually a very exciting profession to be in, within the non-profit sector.

The week I handed in my MSc Dissertation coincided with my first week at the Queen Mother Library as an Information Assistant in October 2009, and  I worked there for about 18 months before becoming a Senior Information Assistant at the Medical Library, a branch of Libraries, Special Collections and Museums at the University of Aberdeen. Despite occasionally missing the buzz which is almost permanent at the Sir Duncan Rice Library (which has now replaced the Queen Mother Library), I like working at the Medical Library. Working in a smaller University Library branch allows you to get to know your patrons well and offers plenty opportunities for interesting professional development.

Medical Library

Medical Library

On a typical day, I spend half the day at my ‘behind-the-scenes’ desk, and the other half at either the Issue Desk or the Enquiry Desk, depending on the rota. This allows for stimulating variety in the job.

When I am at the Enquiry desk, I help users make best use of resources available at the Medical Library via one-to-one subject reference enquiries, database navigation tuition and reference management tuition. At this point you may legitimately wonder how someone who failed biology at school can possibly help tomorrow’s doctors in their studies. The MSc helped me see beyond this limitation – my role is to pair the readers with the materials from our collections, not digest it for them – and that I am qualified to do. As often as I can, I assist our Information Consultant with the group hands-on sessions she leads, and I enjoy taking part in teaching at Summer School when the opportunity arises. My role also involves delivering routine circulation services, giving library tours, processing new books, classification, updating the new acquisitions webpage for the Medical Library, and taking a turn on the Askalibrarian online chat service. When colleagues are on holiday, I might also deal with inter-library-loans, or check records and open access permissions on the University’s institutional repository.

I have been involved in some interesting short-term projects too, such as being responsible for a pupil on work-experience placement, and creating new podcasts for the Medical Library.

Since starting at the Medical Library, I have completed a qualification from the Open University in Mandarin, and I am now the liaison person between the Library as a whole, and the new Confucius Institute at the University of Aberdeen. As part of this role, I was awarded Erasmus grants to go and learn how library colleagues at sister Confucius Institutes at other European Universities manage their libraries and professional relationships. I am just back from meeting a dozen librarians in Paris, and will be heading for Germany later in the year to complete the network.

I am running out of space here, but in my spare time:

  • I am Chair of CILIPS North East Branch
  • I have been working on my Chartership, during which I have met some wonderful mentors
  • I am attempting to re-work my dissertation into a publishable article
  • I am involved with information literacy at the recently created Women’s Heritage Trail group in Aberdeen.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any further questions. As you can see, being a librarian – albeit not in a professional post – (yet ;-))  is anything but dull!

Not dull indeed! Thanks to Claire for packing such variety into one post. If you wish to take up Claire’s offer of getting in touch, start by leaving a comment in the reply box below. You can also find her on Twitter @Libraryclaire.


5 responses to “18. Claire – a university medical library

  1. Reblogged this on StaffLinks and commented:
    Read about Claire Carolan’s intrepid international adventures in Librarianship. Claire, based at the Medical Library at Foresterhill, has been featured the 23 LIBRARIANS blog, which shares
    snapshots of Scotland’s library and information world to.


  2. Claire, I’ve been a bit hectic over the summer and somehow missed your post. Fascinating – love that you studied Mandarin with the OU, impressive. I did a Diploma in German with them and it’s not easy. You have an amazing CV, your energy and thirst for learning seem boundless. Love your enthusiasm for libraries which pores out from every sentence. Great blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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