My pandemic Library School experience #2

A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library

Shelby Foote

The beginning

I’ve always loved libraries, and I’ve always loved learning. I spent much of my childhood in my local library and then in my school one. I didn’t get the internet at home until I was 13 (in 2009) and my parents were keen to make sure I knew how to find information (for my homework) via books – which was a very useful skill when I did my undergraduate degree Brookes in Philosophy at Oxford Brookes. I spent most of my time within the shelves of Harcourt Hill library, if not searching books for my own essay, or just a bit of peace and quiet, then to help my friends. Armed with a basic knowledge of the Dewey decimal system, I could find what they were after in half the time they could. 

“You should be a librarian,” one of my friends joked when I pulled a book off a shelf about Kantian Ethics without hesitation, when they’d been searching for the last 15 minutes. In truth, I only strode to the shelf so confidently because I’d been looking for the same subject the day before, but it did plant a seed in my subconscious. I ended up getting a small part time job at Wantage Library which I loved, although I gave it up in my final semester at university to focus on my dissertation. 

I then graduated and tried a few different roles (including a school library which was an experience!) but I ended up back working for my old Wantage Library manager who’d moved to Abingdon Library. I knew I didn’t want to work in public libraries, I missed studying and didn’t really like having to work weekends, but I’d really missed the books when I tried a few non-library roles. I spent about two years searching for my calling after graduating, so never worry if it takes a bit of time. When I noticed a job at Oxford Brookes it was a lightbulb moment. “Academic Libraries!” I’d always been keen on a role in academia (I considered being a lecturer for a while) and it meant I would still get to work with books. After a few months in my new role as Academic Liaison Assistant at Oxford Brookes Swindon Library, I knew I’d found the right career path, and decided to focus on working towards becoming a librarian.

I needed a qualification.

What and where and why

So fast forward to today and I’m currently studying for an MA in Information and Library Studies at Aberystwyth University. It’s all online, and is flexible, which means I can do it in my own time, as long as I complete a minimum of 40 credits (about two modules) per year. This will keep me on track to finish in the maximum 5 years. I’m hoping to finish in 4 years. 

Apart from needing to in order to become a librarian, a big reason I’m studying this course in particular is because it’s a long-distance course and very flexible. I can continue to work in my current Academic Liaison Assistant role within Brookes Library full time, to continue to gain experience (and I just enjoy my work).

The structure of my course

  • Research in the Profession
  • Information Services: Planning for Delivery
  • Information and Society
  • Studies in Management
  • Information Organisation and Retrieval
  • Collection Management

I will also choose 1 optional module once I’ve completed the main ones listed above, and do a dissertation at the end. 

How it works

Every student gets access to Blackboard, Aberystwyth’s Virtual Learning Environment, and everything I need is on there. I can access reading lists, workbooks, and modules guides. I also get sent a printed copy of the module guide and workbook in the post, which I much prefer. There are very few lectures: I’ve had two and they were both introductions to the module. Apart from that, I work through the workbook which has diagrams, reading, activities to do, videos to go and watch, and tells you when to read what chapter from the reading list.

You have to be self-motivated, but the workbook tells you when to do what and gives you everything you need. I can always email or have a virtual 1:1 with my lecturer or academic Advisor if I need to, so I do have that support should I need it. Most modules have 2 assignments worth 50% each, and with no deadlines, you have to keep yourself motivated to submit these, so I tend to set myself personal deadlines to keep me going when they get tough. 

A pile of management textbooks on a sofa, with a pink higligter pen on top

Juggling work and study

Studying, working fulltime and life! It’s a juggling act. I tend to do a little bit of work in the evenings, and often at weekends too. But it isn’t just my job I have to work around. I own a flat which means lots of washing up and housework as well as fitting in time to spend with the people I love. Sometimes it takes dedication to pick up my study when I’d rather be watching TV or (more likely) reading a book, but in order to fit in the other essential and more important things in life, I do spend a good proportion of my spare time studying. Luckily, I’m enjoying the course so far!

COVID-19

Working from home during the pandemic has benefited me. I usually commute to work, and it can take between 1hr 30min – 2hr depending on the train and how fast I walk. Since I’ve been mostly working from home since last year, I have gained those 2 hours each way to spend on other things. Usually it means I can stay in bed a bit longer in the morning, making me less tired throughout the day, and I’ve got an extra 2 hours to study every evening. I’m going to miss that extra time when we go back to working on campus full time! (Although I do miss the books and students).

COVID-19 also negatively impacted my experience a little bit. In September 2020 at the start of my course, I was supposed to attend Aberystwyth university for a study school week. I was looking forward to this as it’s a lovely seaside town and I think it could have been a good week. This ended up being online, which was a shame but still useful as we had lectures about the course and sessions getting to know other students, so it still worked well. I was lucky really, as I had originally planned to start in March 2020, but missed the application deadline. Since lockdown happened at the end of March, the March cohort had their study week cancelled completely, as Aberystwyth didn’t have time to create an online study week for them. So I was relieved to have missed the deadline after all!

Final thoughts

Overall, I’m really enjoying my library masters, although it can be difficult to make myself study when I’m tired, I reach a difficult bit, or there’s other things I’d rather be doing. If you’re thinking about doing one, look into the different options as you could do it on campus in a year, part time on or off campus over two years, or take the long way around with a distance course like me and do it over 4-5 years. There’s an option for everyone. 

I think I was always going to end up working in a library. One way or another I was bound to try and continue to hide in the corners of bookshelves and listen to the whisper of words and the promise of knowledge quietly emanating, for those who listen, from books sitting quiet and orderly on a shelf.

My colleague Ben Chichester has also blogged about his pandemic library school experience, and it’s an interesting contrast to mine.

— Tasmin Baker, Academic Liaison Assistant

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