My pandemic Library School experience #1

Face-to face teaching halted overnight, the Easter holidays were brought forward a week and we all became distance learners

When I finished my undergraduate degree in 2009 at Brookes, I had little thought of doing any further study. I had been working at Oxford Brookes Library in Circulation and the Audio-visual unit initially and then the two areas combined after a 2014 restructure. By 2018, having completed an NVQ in customer services, I felt ready to study for the next step and was excited to begin studying again at Sheffield in 2019.

The Librarianship MA was an intense course, but the modules were very interesting and varied in their nature. The main ones covered management, teaching, and organisation but in addition, we got to study public libraries as well. I also had the chance to study archives and records management which reminded me of the work undertaken by Special Collections at Brookes. 

One assignment that really interested me was an examination of the role of prison libraries.

The principal role of prison libraries are

  • rehabilitating prisoners, 
  • developing practical skills 
  • education and learning.

(Stevens & Usherwood, 1995)

I found out originally that prison libraries were run by the clergy (Wilkinson, 2017) and that is still the case in Pakistan (Hussain, 2019). Rehabilitation, I discovered, was through the provision of information and resources, undertaking courses and providing qualified library staff to support library users in this. 

However, access to the library itself varied according to country, there was variable use of ICT (problematic even for library staff). Plus getting in qualified staff and borrowing items were problematic. These aspects and the provision of resources were important, I concluded, but needed careful management.

Illustration of a computer monitor on a blue blackground. On the monitor, six faces are in an online meeting

In terms of studying, it was also a year of two halves or two experiences. It started off very normally with face-to-face teaching. I had group assignments, and we could meet up and carry out the work face to face at the Information School. I spent much of my individual study time in the Information Commons library.

With the pandemic, all teaching moved online, and the weighting of assessments had to be adapted, with the removal of two assessments which were no longer feasible. I moved to my parents’ home to finish the course there.

I recently looked up the modules offered for this year, and it was interesting to note that the management module had been divided into two, perhaps demonstrating the effect of the pandemic.

The most significant change came with the dissertation which was reduced from 12-15000 words to 6-8000 words. The first half remained unchanged in its approach: setting out the introduction, literature review and methodology as if this was going to be a normal piece of research. However, data collection was no longer possible and the last three sections reflected this. Section 4 became a review of a previous dissertation on a similar topic, which carried more weighting. Sections 5 and 6 were ultimately an evaluation of the would-be methodological approach, and finally the conclusions being drawn.

The title I chose for my dissertation was:

“An Investigation exploring the evolving role of Library Assistants in Higher Education within Post-92 and Russell Group Universities”. 

I chose this principally from my experience as a library assistant working at Brookes and the changes we had encountered over the last 6 ½ years. 

These changes included payment trends, tasks, and transactions that either reduced over time or were added to the role. It was also an interesting concept to study from the point of view of a post-1992 university and from a Russell Group university. This was a study which hadn’t been done before. However, it was difficult to draw conclusions. owing to the restrictions of research due to the pandemic.

To anyone who is considering further study, I would recommend this course. I benefited in my current role and it will help my personal career development. Flexible lifelong study is regularly advocated by politicians, and I have enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity of further study. 

— Ben Chichester, Library Assistant (Customer Services Team)

References:

Hussain, T., Batool, S., Soroya, S., & Warraich, N. (2019) ‘Pakistani prison libraries: An assessment of services and challenges’, Global Knowledge, Memory and Communication, 68(1/2),  pp. 47-59.

Stevens, T., & Usherwood, B. (1995) ‘The Development of the Prison Library and its Role within the Models of Rehabilitation’, Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 34(1), pp. 45-63.

Wilkinson, S. (2017), “Prison Libraries” in British librarianship and information work, 2011-2015 (London: http://www.lulu.com), pp. 294-308.

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