2/11. Jane – Academic Support Librarian

Jane Furness is Academic Support Librarian at Edinburgh College of Art.

I came to the library and information sector from having thrived in book retail (Waterstones) for three happy years after graduation (for my undergrad degree I did Honours History of Art and Scottish Literature at Glasgow University). I knew I wanted to work with books and people, but couldn’t survive forever on a bookseller’s wage, so doing the PG Dip ILS (Post Graduate Diploma in Information and Library Studies) made sense to me.  I really enjoyed my time at RGU (Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen), and would recommend it to anyone wondering which PG course to do. In retrospect I would have been much more strategic about where I chose to do my placement while undertaking my PG Dip ILS.

While job searching after my post-grad I volunteered at the Library of Historic Scotland and worked briefly as a Saturday girl at a small NHS teaching hospital library. I have to admit I jumped around from sector to sector, once qualified, trying out different types of library, but in fact this was a good thing, as a learning experience and also as a way to develop a strong network of colleagues and contacts. I worked as a library assistant  at the National Library of Scotland (working in the serials and old Scottish newspapers collections), the Signet Library (a private law library), and as an information officer at the Scottish Publishers Association. My first professional-grade role was at the Scottish Museums Council, and then I worked for seven years as Librarian at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, based in the Dean Gallery Library and Archive. During that time I worked hard to gain my CILIP Chartership.  (I was lucky to have a brilliant mentor from the public library sector). Since then I also have experience of mentoring a CILIP Chartership candidate which was a very valuable experience.

All of these roles helped me land my dream job at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) Library in 2007, along with the major confidence boost of being awarded my CILIP Chartership just prior to the job being advertised.  I was active in various sector organisations such as ELISA (Edinburgh Libraries and Information Services Agency) and SVAG (Scottish Visual Arts Group), and that also helped me have the confidence and knowledge to prove I was a good fit for the role. In 2007 the ECA was independent of the University of Edinburgh, and so the role was slightly different to how it is now. I was a subject librarian for Art & Design while also being the Helpdesk manager and supervisor of a team of library assistants and student shelvers. The ECA merged with the University in 2007 and now my role is entirely focussed on academic support and liaison between ECA as a School within the larger College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and IS, which is a large department of over 600 information professionals and IT experts. So my role at ECA since 2007 has been ever-evolving and challenging in lots of ways! In the run up to the merger I managed the ECA Library jointly with the Technical Services Librarian, as the Principal Librarian had already retired, and that period of time along with the period of “due diligence” working closely with our future colleagues from the University library service was a massive learning curve. At times it also felt like an eighteen-month-long job interview!

I have found that attending conferences and study weekends run by the Art Libraries Society (ARLIS), the Architecture Libraries Society (ArcLib) and IAML UK (International Association of Music Libraries) is very useful for networking and gaining a good insight into factors affecting other libraries and sectors.  The subjects I support now are Art, Design, Music, History of Art, Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and ECA has about 3000 students and about 285 staff.

Typical duties for me as Academic Support Librarian include liaising with academic staff, arranging information skills training sessions for their classes, from undergraduate Year 1 level right through to post-grad and PhD level (this can result in delivering training to small groups in a workshop or to classes of 200 in a lecture theatre);  developing and managing the ECA Library collections (both print and e-resources); liaising with colleagues in my team about promotions such as pop-up events; organising displays of special collections within ECA library, using collections such as our Artists’ Books collection; helping students in one to one sessions; answering enquiries; dealing with donations; hosting visits; contributing to the Innovative Learning Week  annual programme; writing a semesterly e-Newsletter for academic staff; offering one to one sessions to academic staff (“desk top visits”); planning and delivering tutorials for small groups of students on artists’ books; liaising with archive and art collection colleagues about using the collections in teaching; managing the ECA Library blog; representing the Library service on academic committees; organising book-artist in residence bursaries and projects; promoting the Main Library Centre for Research special collections; the list goes on and on! It is this diversity of tasks which makes the job so rewarding. Big challenges on the horizon for the University library include the procurement and implementation of a new library management and discovery system, which is scheduled to go live in summer 2015; the increasing importance of Research Data Management and big data storage; and the need to integrate our special collections into teaching and learning. My favourite aspects of the job are meeting the students, helping them with their studies and research, developing the artists’ books collection, and curating displays of our special collections.

If I was asked to give advice to someone considering entering the profession or changing sector, I would say join some organisations such as SVAG, ELISA Staff Development Group, SALCTG, ARLIS, ArcLib, etc, and get “networking”, even if you don’t like that word, as it is making connections between people that is so fundamental to our profession.

True to her word about making connections, Jane attended her first Library Camp at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, in October and led a session on Innovative Information Literacy using artists’ books from ECA. You can read about it on the GLTU blog. Jane is happy to discuss points raised on either post – leave a comment below and she will get back to you.

This is the last post of 2014 – 23 Librarians will return on Friday, 9th January. In the meantime, if you are a member of CILIP, you can read an article about the blog and its English, Welsh and N. Irish equivalents in the current edition of Update (online, or pp 30-31.) If you aren’t a member, there is a partial version accessible here.

Finally, season’s greetings to all, and see you in 2015!


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